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An Interview with Nancy Brashear, author of Gunnysack Hell

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Nancy Brashear lives in Southern California with her husband, Patrick, where her grown children and seven grandgirls support her writing. She began her teaching career as a credentialed k-12 teacher and reading specialist and ended as a university professor. She has published short stories, poems, academic articles, textbook chapters, and educational website content. Gunnysack Hell, her debut thriller, was inspired by a true-crime event. And, yes, she did live off-grid with her family in a homestead cabin in the Mojave Desert when she was a child.

You can buy Gunnysack Hell here!

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve had a wide variety of jobs in my life, which included being a teenage soda jerk working in an amusement arcade at a mountain resort (where I also learned to make cotton candy and become a whiz at Shuffle Board), to being a proofreader/editor for NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (as a college student) while also working for a catering company (which has held me in good stead during my adulthood–I’m not afraid to cook for an army of guests!).

I began my teaching career as a credentialed k-12 teacher and reading specialist and ended as a university professor. I’ve published short stories, poems, academic articles, textbook chapters, and educational website content, and I currently review books written for children and adolescents for the International Literacy Association.

Gunnysack Hell was inspired by something creepy that happened to my family when I was a child. What I’ve discovered is that life is cumulative, and no experiences are wasted; I can use everything I’ve learned or done in my writing. Something my readers might not know about me (don’t judge!) is that I lived in a UFO commune (yes, flying saucers were daily discussion topics, and I could spell “clairvoyant” by age eight) with my family when I was in the second grade for about six months! Read another short-story prequel, Flashes from the Rock to see how I used a bit of that experience in my writing.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Gunnysack Hell, the title of my thriller, came to me immediately as I wrote the first chapter since it refers to a predator kidnapping women in the Mojave Desert and leaving them in gunnysacks (alive) to be found. In Gunnysack Hell, family members tell their stories of living under this threat from rotating points of view of characters: “There’s more to fear in the desert than scorpions and rattlesnakes. It’s the summer of 1962, middle of the Cold War, and the O’Brien family has moved off-grid to the Mojave Desert in Southern California. After all, the desert has to be a safer place to raise a family than the crime-ridden city, and there they can build a new future. But evil also stalks dusty desert roads, and eight-year-old Nonni finds herself harboring a terrible secret: Only she can identify the predator who has been terrorizing the community. And he knows where she lives.” And, thus, the title stuck, and I was happy that my publishers didn’t change it.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

My debut thriller was published by a small, independent press (The Wild Rose Press) during the pandemic, and I didn’t know what to expect because the process was new to me. After filling out the paperwork about the theme of my book including the type of cover I envisioned and references to several covers I liked of published books written by others, I anxiously waited for the results. When the desert-themed artwork arrived in my email, I jumped for joy (literally!). It was perfect and created the semi-creepy vibe I was going for.

When I finally received my box of published books, I opened it while a friend taped me so she could catch my authentic response to use in my newsletter and on social media. There’s something uniquely exciting and confirming about creating something that others read and enjoy (and that you can hold in your own two hands!).

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I wrote Gunnysack Hell to show the resilience of the human spirit (in this case, of an entire family) living through life-threatening events—and how truth and love carry them through. My perfect reader is someone willing to take the plunge and suspend disbelief while learning something new. I want my readers to immerse themselves in my writing and “feel” the story long after they’ve finished it. I respect my readers and do my best to craft materials worthy of their time and attention.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I have several projects on the burner right now about ready to be served to readers in the near future. I’m in the revision stage of another thriller, Love on the Fly, about a flight attendant who becomes agoraphobic after suffering through a fire and how she is terrorized by someone from her past. I’m also completing a historical time-slip novel for middle-schoolers that takes place along the California Mission Trail. And I recently visited a wolf sanctuary as I worked on another retold fairytale for grownups, Lucas and the Speakeasy Queen (a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood). And then there are always those other ideas percolating in my brain and on paper in some stage or another.

Sign up for my once-in-a-while (usually monthly) newsletter to see what I’m researching or working on along with other news, to participate in occasional contests, and to learn about current projects of my writer friends through blog interviews. You’ll also receive a free prequel short story (to Gunnysack Hell), “Dare to Wish Upon a Star,” starring the mother in Gunnysack Hell when she was a 10-years-old child living in a Victorian mansion in Santa Ana, California.

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