Welcome to the second post in my Author Spotlight series! Every month, I showcase an indie author and interview them to find out more about their writing life.
This month, the author in the spotlight is Madeline Nixon! Maddi and I became friends through Bookstagram, and I ordered her book as soon as I knew she had one! Feathers, her nonfiction collection of short stories, gave me chills. Note to self and others: don't read that book right before bed.
Bio: Madeline Nixon is the author of a collection of paranormal short stories (Feathers), an educational children’s series on different types of sharks, and a historical article about the Halifax Explosion. She is also the co-author of four books in Beech Street Books’ Heathy Kids Canada series. Madeline graduated from the University of Toronto, where she double majored in Professional Writing and Communication (PWC) and English, in 2018. She works in educational publishing, doing jobs from research, to writing, to editing. Writing consumes her spare hours and she longs for the day she can call herself a fulltime author. She is currently working on her second novel. When she’s not writing her novel, she’s writing and hosting murder mystery parties for friends, baking all the cakes and cookies, or creating multiple Halloween costumes. She lives near Toronto, Ontario.
Q: What made you want to be a writer?
A: I’m not sure if there’s a moment where I decided that I wanted to be one. I can’t remember a time where it wasn’t an option in the back of my mind. I grew up in a house where I was encouraged to pursue and do what I wanted, so author wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. My mom and older sister are writers as well, so I also grew up with people writing around me and having it be totally cool to disappear into a room for a few hours to scribble something down. I’ve also always been a reader. I convinced my friends to join Battle of the Books with me (a competition in elementary school where you get a synopsis and have to name the book and author), went to book signings with friends as a kid, loved silent reading time while other kids complained about it, etc.
It was grade nine when I finally took writing as a serious career option. Though I’d been writing all my life, I had a string of bad Language Arts teachers in elementary school, so I kind of stopped thinking anything was any good. I had a fabulous English teacher in grade nine who told me and my parents after a short story assignment that I was a good writer. She was the first one outside of my family to say that I had something. My grade twelve Writer’s Craft teacher was also an amazing person and further encouraged me to follow through on writing in university and after. I thanked both of them in the acknowledgements of Feathers. Their support means the world to me.
Q: How do you choose your characters' names?
A: Sometimes I choose names that I really like. Other times I dig a little deeper. I actually have a baby names app where I’ve made different categories for things that I like and what they would fit with. For my current WIP, it’s mix of things. Two are names I love, but most of them have something to do with the character or their background. Back when I was first sketching out what this story was going to be and who my characters were, I texted a few of my closest friends my top two contenders. One friend texted me back that the name I sent was the same as a Pokemon. I picked that name.
Q: Have any of your characters surprised you? If so, how?
A: I feel like eventually the characters take on a life of their own and can surprise you. I always thought this was a weird question and concept before I started writing a full length novel, but I get it now. There’s things that you plan out originally that just don’t work once you get to know who you’re writing. There’s a relationship that my character has questioned recently. It’s not something I had in my outline—in fact, I had it working out in a far different way—but I’ve spent months on this and with her. She wouldn’t do what I planned. I think that’s a surprise. It surprises me that what you plan can be dashed away so easily, but I think that’s better. If your characters don’t surprise you and act totally static and stuck on your plan, then they might not be true to themselves.
Q: Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g., lighting a candle before you write, meditating before you write, going for a walk to get ideas, etc.)
A: I’ve gotten into this weird ritual lately of turning on my music, turning on my Christmas tree, then sitting down to write. It weirdly gets me into the zone. I don’t know what I’m going to do once the tree comes down next week!
I thought about it, and I realized I have a routine for writing my murder mystery parties, but apparently not my books. Whenever I write a murder mystery, I go and grab a specific pint glass with a dinosaur on it, fill it with water and ice, then go sit by a window. I also write my murder mysteries by hand in a journal first. I don’t do any of this for any other kind of writing. Not sure what that means.
Q: How much research do you do, and how long do you spend on research for one book?
A: For Feathers, I didn’t have to do too much research because it was about my life. The only research I did for it was when I needed to know the details/story behind a haunting. So for places like The Rouge Restaurant, the Britannia Mine, the Screaming Tunnel etc., I did research just to make sure that what I already knew was correct. Books that I’ve done for work are primarily research based so there’s typically days of that with those.
My current WIP has surprisingly taken a lot of research. I did some when I was first planning out the book, but I didn’t realize how much I needed so a lot of it has been on the go. Unfortunately there’s a chunk of physical research that I can’t do because I’m not actually there. My book takes place in Nova Scotia and I live in Ontario. I had a research trip planned for the week of March 15th of 2020, but as you can imagine, that got cancelled. I’ve done the best I can using photos and Google Streetview, but there’s nothing like actually being somewhere.
Q: Do you have any specific authors or books that you've learned from on your writing journey?
A: Absolutely! There are two authors that have helped me greatly throughout my writing journey. One has been my goal since I was fourteen, and the other I found much later, but still changed my life.
The first author is Kelley Armstrong. My friends and I went to Chapters (our chain bookstore in Canada) after school one day and one of my friends found this cool looking book that had a shiny red gemstone on the cover. The book was The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong and by the end of grade nine, I was obsessed. Kelley Armstrong was so important to me because I found her around the same time my English teacher told me I was a good writer. These two things connect because KA is a Canadian author who lives about an hour and a half away from me, so it was like this moment of, “Hey, I can do this and I can sustain myself on this.” She was the first Canadian author I knew of that got so big writing things that I wanted to write. I latched onto that and I still love her books.
The second author is Louise Penny. Anyone who has known me within the last year knows how much I love her books. She’s also Canadian and extremely well known inside and outside of Canada. I started reading her books at the end of 2018, took a big break, and then read one a month throughout 2020. Not only was it the best escape during the pandemic, it also taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted to be as an author. Her books made me want to continue writing and inspired me to turn something I never thought was possible into something bigger. I haven’t done it yet, but I have all kinds of plans. She’s everything I want to be as a writer. Everything in her work from the Canadianisms, to the resonance outside of Canada, to growth and depth of her characters throughout her series, to every successful mystery is something I want to do. I’m so thankful I came across her.
Also, special mention to Simone St. James, who I recently found out was Canadian and got me thinking about agents.
Q: How did publishing your first novel change your writing process?
A: It made me aware of the fact that I need to carve out time for myself to write. I had the luxury of time when I was writing Feathers. I took fall semester off of university before diving into the publication side of things during the winter semester. Giving myself the time to write and not write and sometimes just exist allowed me to write something I was proud of. I realized that I don’t write well when I have a lot on my plate and force myself to do it. I need to be in the zone and actually feel like I want to do it. The more I do it and the more free time I have to do it, the more I write. It also made me less afraid to make mistakes and less afraid of having people read the first draft of what I did. Not strictly about process on that one, but still something I recognize changed in me.
Q: What's your number one tip for tackling imposter syndrome?
A: This is probably a terrible tip, but it goes along with the last question. Publishing Feathers and having it out in the world made me a lot more confident in myself and my ability. I guess the tip there would be, do it. You have to believe in yourself and just do it, regardless of if you think you don’t deserve it or not. I’ve definitely had moments where I don’t believe in myself or think that what I did was shit. I think we all do. I always try to keep in the back of my mind that I did it. I did it and no one can take that away from me, not even myself or my brain thinking I didn’t deserve it.
Q: What's your go-to snack and/or drink while writing?
A: I usually have some chocolate stashed somewhere on/in my desk. If I’m feeling salty, it’s popcorn or nacho chips. My go to drink, as boring as it is, is water. Gotta keep hydrated!
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I’m working on a paranormal murder mystery that takes place in Nova Scotia. It has all my favourite things: ghosts, mysteries, and Canada. It’s feeling like a new adult book right now, especially since my main character is a student at Dalhousie University. The mystery focuses on an old ghost story in Halifax that may or may not have actually been a murder (in my mind). This book has been my baby for about two years now and I cannot wait until it’s finally out in the world!
If you'd like to follow Madeline on her writing journey or find out more about her books (or buy them!), this is where you can find her: