Author Interview with Nikki Loftin

NightingalesNest_CatalogGet to know Nikki…

Nikki Loftin is the debut author of THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY (Razorbill, 2012), which Publishers Weekly called “a mesmerizing read,” and Kirkus Reviews called “deliciously scary and satisfying.”

Nikki’s short children’s fiction has appeared in Boy’s Life and Pockets magazines, among others. She also writes literary fiction, poetry, and essays for adults, and has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Her essay is included in the anthology, Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves (Zest books, Nov. 2012). Nikki is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency.

Nikki enjoys public speaking, and served as keynote speaker at the Houston Writer’s Guild conference in the spring of 2012, as well as a presenter at libraries, SCBWI conferences and meetings, and various panels and workshops throughout the year. She is an active member of the Austin SCBWI, the Writer’s League of Texas, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and the Junior League of Austin.

A native Texan, she lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband (a Scottish photographer), two sons, and an assortment of dogs and chickens. 

Nikki attended the University of Texas at Austin for both her BA (French, ‘92), and MA (English – Fiction Writing, ’98). She speaks conversational French and limited Spanish, and has spent most of her professional life working with children and young adults. After teaching in the New Braunfels Independent School District as a Music and Gifted and Talented teacher, she pursued a career as a Director of Family Ministries at Presbyterian churches.

Currently, Nikki writes full-time, although she also teaches Zumba dance/aerobics in an attempt to combat the ever-threatening Writer’s Butt. She volunteers with students at local schools with the Reading is Fundamental program, and at her own children’s schools in the classrooms and libraries. When under extreme stress, or on submission with a novel, she bakes obsessively as a coping technique. Her favorite food is ice cream, preferably Blue Bell Moo-llenium Crunch. For more info, visit her home on the web.

Quirky Questions

Describe your ideal day.

I like this question. It makes me daydream, and that’s one of my favorite parts of my job. I think an ideal day would start with sending my kids off to school, relaxing with a cup of hot tea, sleepy warm dogs at my feet, re-reading the five thousand inspired words I’d written the day before, then having one of those bursts of inspiration that makes my fingers fly to the keyboard. I’d look up a few minutes – hours? years? – later and see I’d reached my word count for the week. Then I’d go play the guitar for a while, feed my goats a snack, have a late lunch with one of my writing friends, take a walk, and settle in for a quiet night at home with my boys. I guess I’m pretty tame. I’m a homebody!

What’s the naughtiest thing you did in school?

Well, I had one teacher who didn’t like me. I can’t imagine why not! I was a perfectly well-behaved child, never causing a bit of trouble. In second grade, she called me up to the front of the class and shook my paper in my face, and yelled “Nikki Loftin! This is the messiest handwriting I have ever seen in my life! It’s terrible! What do you have to say about that?”

So I looked down at the papers on her desk, and calmly replied, “Well, yours ain’t so hot either.” She sent me to the front of the room with my nose in a circle on the chalkboard until I apologized. Which I would not. Finally, I ended up in the principal’s office—just fine with me, as she was one of my mother’s best friends. We had a chat, I agreed to apologize as long as everyone understood I didn’t mean it. And that was that. (That teacher was the inspiration for Mrs. Morrigan in my debut novel, by the way. Scariest woman I ever met.)

Who was your favorite teacher?

Oh, I have so many! With the exception of the teacher I mentioned above, I pretty much won the Teacher Lottery every year of my life. So many amazing ones: Aunt Trudy Lester, Linda Herrington, Elizabeth McGonigal, Linda Bolding, Marcia Hilsabeck… They all changed me, formed me, in fundamental ways.

I did something in my latest novel to say thank you to them in a small way for making such an amazing difference in my life. I gave the characters in Nightingale’s Nest the names of the very best teachers my children or I have known. I think great teachers don’t hear thank you often enough. I didn’t want another year to go by without showing these women and men that their work changed my world, and I will never forget them.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

I was reading, I think, in a playhouse near where I lived until I was four. I loved to read, and I can’t remember a time I couldn’t.  Books have been my life for a long time.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

 Hot dogs. Just… ick.

NIKKIWriting Questions

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Neil Gaiman’s excellent The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Magical and mysterious and frightening… his masterful storytelling always makes me want to be a better writer! I also read Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy, which I adored. It was one of those books I absolutely could not put down. Magic again, and heartbreak, and a strange, wonderful twist at the end.

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who has helped so many others in the writing community, gave me advice, a shoulder to cry on, and more when I poked my nose into the Austin writing scene! In addition to being a phenomenally talented author, Cyn is wise, kind, knowledgeable, generous, funny – pretty much my role model in the writing world! I feel very lucky to call her my friend.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

This is scary.

No. Not one thing. I say it’s scary because this means that Nightingale’s Nest is exactly as I want it – which is to say, as close to my vision as I can possibly make it – and so, if readers dislike it, I’m afraid it will hurt more.

I know, of course, that no book is written for every reader. I wrote this one for myself, when I was ten or so. Some reader out there will be like I was then, I think, and I hope she or he will find this book, and read it, and hear what I am trying to say to him or her.

 What’s your favorite writing quote?

It’s not a writing quote, exactly. It’s a poem, my favorite, from Mary Oliver. I’ll give you the last lines from “The Summer Day:” 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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