Former film studio copywriter Nancy Van Iderstine wrote Twentieth Century Fox: The First 75 Years as part of a film anthology. She’s a contributor to No Kidding: Women Writers On Bypassing Parenthood (Seal Press) and The Total Cat Manual: Meet, Love & Care For Your New Best Friend (Weldon-Owen). She self-published the cookbook Vegan and Gluten-free Recipes to Live For. (A second edition has just been completed.) Nancy has also penned a number of short stage plays that have been produced in Los Angeles. A selection of those will be available in a compendium sometime in 2024. Her solo piece 7 Years I Could Have Spent in Vermont was produced for the stage at the former HBO Workspace by the studio (now MAX), and more staged readings and fully produced works are to come.
What inspired you to start writing this book?
On a visit to see my family in Vermont, I was struck by the beauty of the barns, the mountains, and many well-cared-for animals. I saw a man walking through a field delivering a bunch of hay to his cows, his breath and theirs sending out vapors on this winter day. He looked happy. I remembered how soulful and rewarding it was for me to have grown up on a farm, and I began writing.
It later occurred to me that much of the poetry and most of the nursery rhymes that my generation was exposed to were filled with tragedy. Of course, a lot of them were biting political commentary, so it was an odd choice to make them these discordant mantras for school children. There are some wonderful children’s authors out there. I want to join them in creating gentle, hopeful poems for children.
Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
The first poem (The Farmhands) came to me right away, and I decided that if I created more poems, it would remain the most important one. It sets the tone for the collection, which is an homage to life in harmony with the environment and others.
Describe your dream book cover.
There’s a barn set against a wonderfully curved mountain in New England that I’ve photographed during every beautiful season there. I’d like it in the background of the artwork, with two or three people in overalls tending to chores near it. Then, we should add in a wooden fence with a couple of cats perched on posts, and a handful of cows, chickens and goats milling around. This is a family farm, where animals are lovingly cared for throughout long, happy lives.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
I’m taking a bold step by writing some original music for this collection. The dream soundtrack by more accomplished musicians would be pretty diverse: “The Walker” by Fitz and the Tantrums is great for one of the funny poems. The instrumentals “Colors/Dance” by George Winston, “At the Ivy Gate” by Brian Crain, and Opus 35, Movement 2 from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” are candidates for some of the more sweeping poems. “Renegades” by X Ambassadors and “Gray Wolf on the Mesa” by the Mesa Music Consort would also be wonderful, as would a collection of world music.
What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?
In addition to lots of poetry, I’m now reading Stone by Stone by Robert M. Thorson, subtitled The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls. I’m also poring through song lyrics.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I’m an actress and voice artist. Having mostly laid to rest my copywriting work, I’ve returned to acting (and other forms of writing) full-time. I’m thrilled to be narrating these poems.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
An eccentric middle-aged woman lived next door to my family when I was a child. She noticed a creative streak in me and engaged me in storytelling exercises during summer breaks from school. She introduced me to L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. I didn’t know then that I’d write professionally as an adult, but she certainly sparked my imagination. Books from childhood have stayed with me—namely Dandelion Wine and To Kill A Mockingbird, and although I’m not sure I have a knack for writing sci-fi, I’ve always loved reading it. In college, a wonderful lit professor, Rhoda Orme-Johnson, ignited a love for the written word in me. I think now, too, that Maya Angelou sets the standard for power in poetry. Any time I read one of her works, it feels like I’m reading it for the first time. That’s inspiring.
Where is your favorite place to write?
On the couch with my laptop. But I sometimes head for a sunny spot on a patch of grass.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I usually read a few news articles or just headlines before I work, and I’ll meditate before I really dive in. Break time often has me taking a run around the neighborhood or scrubbing a floor, or doing some other housework to clear my head—and get the housework done.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
Comfort, optimism, and upliftment! I’d consider it my life work if these poems become familiar to a generation of kids. But I also think that the rhythm and gentle nature of these poems appeals to adults. My mom used to read the titular farmhands poem to anyone who visited her in Vermont. According to her, it made their day. Music always transports us someplace, doesn’t it? And although the written word is less visceral than music, rhythm and rhyme can amplify the emotional response we have to writing. I want children especially to celebrate life simply, and apart from digitally—connecting in a meaningful, healthy way with others, and help safeguard animals and the planet. It’s never been more important for sweet emotion to guide us, and I want to be part of ushering that in.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.