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An Interview with Nancy Werking Poling, author of Leander’s Lies

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After Nancy Werking Poling’s essay, “Leander’s Lies,” won the 2018 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize, she wondered WHY did the man lie? That could only be answered through imagination and historical research, hence, a novel.

Her publications include While Earth Still Speaks, an environmental novel, and Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987), non-fiction. She has contributed to numerous anthologies, most recently Wholeness (Wising Up Press, 2023); Wild Crone Wisdom (Wild Librarian Press, 2023); and County Lines. She maintains a website at nancypoling.com and posts on Facebook and Instagram. She lives in the North Carolina mountains.


Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I’ve always asked questions, not all of them appropriate. Even as a child I recognized that the answers were stories: about adults’ adventures and misadventures, about history, politics, homicides in the Orlando Sentinel. Also, I possessed a persistent creative drive. I was the one to write a skit for an occasion; the student-teacher chided for creative activities “beginning teachers don’t try.”

The possibility that I could be a writer didn’t occur to me until later in life, when I started to value my wisdom and my words. What an exciting discovery!

What inspired you to start writing this book?

Scoundrels make interesting protagonists. When genealogical research revealed that the real Leander, my husband’s grandfather, had lied, I knew I had uncovered a scoundrel—a minister at that. In late 1910 he showed up in Missouri, claiming his wife and only daughter back in North Carolina had died. In fact, he had two wives and five—possibly six—children. (My mother-in-law, a daughter by Leander’s third wife, had no idea she had half-siblings in North Carolina.)

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

Use the name of the real man behind this work of fiction or create a new one? Leander seemed perfect, and the man lied. So the title, Leander’s Lies, was a natural. Alliteration at that.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I love this question. I hear the music now.

1) Appalachian folk songs played by fiddles, dulcimers, and banjos (Leather Britches, Barbry Ellen, Sally in the Garden)

2) Old-time hymns sung by untrained voices (I Would be True, I’ll Fly Away, Rescue the Perishing, Are You Washed in the Blood?)

Describe your dream book cover.

In black and white, as in a photograph, with only a man’s eyes (as in lying eyes) and his mouth (as in a lying mouth). The title would provide the only color.

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

In Chicago I was a textbook editor, which I hated. I had to punch a clock, drive to and from work in the dark during winter months, and spend my days in a windowless office. (To better understand the impact of this, see “Something about me” below.) Later I worked in college learning centers as a writing tutor. I especially enjoyed my work with international students, who expanded my understanding of other cultures.

Something else about me? “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” Were it safe, I’d spend my summers on the beach in a swimsuit (admittedly unsightly). Last winter I moved my computer to a table by a large east window so that the morning sun shines directly on my face.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Did I read! I often got so absorbed in research that I neglected to write. I read about bootlegging, southern religion, women’s work, tenant farming, and parts of the Foxfire series related to butchering, funeral practices, and mundane tasks. I was especially interested in the politics of white supremacy and the establishment of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina between the Civil War and the turn of the century. (For his time, Leander was politically broad-minded.)

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

I know, earlier I said Leander’s Lies is about a scoundrel, but I want readers to understand the impact of time and place upon an individual’s choices. And what about the casualties—the wives and children Leander abandoned so that he could realize his ambitions?


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