Interview with Nina Berry

by - August 01, 2012

Today I have with me the lovely and amazingly talented Nina Berry author of the debut novel Otherkin.

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Where are you from? Favorite part of that place? 

            I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I had no idea how lucky I was till I went to college in Chicago. As much I love Chicago (great people, art, food, music), the contrast in the weather was startling.
            My Dad still lives in Hawaii, so I go back twice a year, and I always visit my favorite place – there or anywhere: Bellows Beach, a pristine stretch of soft white sand you can only access on the weekends because it’s on a naval base.  The summer I turned nine, my Dad taught me to bodysurf at Bellows, which has perfect, friendly waves. Whenever I go back there, even though I have to be slathered in sunscreen, it feels like I’m where I belong.

Where is your favorite place to write?

On the right-hand side of my big green couch, feet up on the coffee table, cat by my side, laptop on my lap.

What do you think makes a good story?

Conflict is the most important thing in a story. It drives everything – internal character conflict, external forces in conflict with the characters, characters conflicting with each other. I have to remind myself of this as I write because in real life I want everyone to get along. That’s death to a story.

After that, a good story needs characters with depth that actually do something. I’m not fond of passive types who lounge around moaning about life.

What are some of your favorite books?

            Oh, so many! Books that are very special to me tend to be from when I was a kid: Charlotte’s Web, the Chronicles of Narnia, Mary Poppins, anything by Judy Blume. 
            But I’m also passionate about Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and good old William Shakespeare. I gobble up all of George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” novels whenever a new one finally comes out, am still madly in love with Lymond from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. John Vaillant’s “The Tiger” is my favorite, thrilling work of non-fiction.
            Also, my dad (Paul “Doc” Berry) wrote a fascinating book on the history of Waikiki called “In the Wake of Dreams” that I never get tired of paging through. I know I’m a bit biased, but it’s great!

What are your favorite forms of shifters (ex, Wolves, Lion, Tigers, etc.)

            Well, the tiger is my favorite, as you can probably tell from the cover of my book. Tigers are fascinating creatures, monarchs of their realm - fierce, clever, beautiful, and deadly. In “The Tiger,” John Vaillant says: “The impact of an attacking tiger can be compared to that of a piano falling on you from a second story window. But unlike the piano, the tiger is designed to do this, and the impact is only the beginning.”
            Just sends chills down my spine. I’d like to know how it feels to be that tiger. It was really fun trying put myself into those paws and write about it.
            I’d also love to be able to shift into some kind of bird form, though, just so I could know what it’s like to fly.

How important do you think villains are in a book? Favorite book villain, any book?

            A good villain is key, as important as the protagonist. When writing the villain you have to try to look at things from his or her perspective, because nobody thinks they’re the villain – they’re the hero in their version of the story.
            The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz is the perfect villain, one who set the standard for all evil witches to come thereafter. You understand why she hates Dorothy. After all, the girl killed her sister with a house! And those slippers – we all understand the desire for an item of power, especially if it’s embodied in a gorgeous pair of shoes.
            I’m also a big fan of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello. He’s on stage so much and we get such a detailed idea of him as a character that the play could be called Iago instead of Othello. He’s so clever that you almost cheer him on, even as he destroys the lives of innocent people.

Which of your characters would you be most or least liking to invite or for dinner? And why?

            I’m not much of a cook, so I need understanding guests like Siku, the bear shifter, or Dez’s Mom, Caroline. Siku would be happy if I gave him nothing but a lot of fruit and honey, and Caroline would step in and cook something way better than I ever could, so I’d have a great meal myself.
            I’d be least likely to invite November, the rat shifter. She’d eat me out of house and home and still be hungry!

What is one book or series you can’t live without, yours or other?

Charlotte’s Web by EB White. I get teary just thinking about that book, which is so beautifully written and is all about the power of friendship, something that I hold very dear. Part of the wonder of it is also Garth Williams’s illustrations, which made me feel like I could reach out and pet Wilbur or Templeton the rat. I think it may even be partly responsible for my love of animals, given how specific and loveable the animal characters in that book are.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

That’s something I still struggle with. But about six years ago I decided that I was going to get published one day. I took my writing (but not myself) seriously enough to dedicate a lot of time to it, to get better at it, and to be as professional about it as I could. I called myself a writer, even though I hadn’t made money at it yet. I’d never set such a firm goal for myself before, and it took awhile, but it worked!

What has been the toughest criticism you’ve gotten as an author? What’s the best? 

            Before I got my agent, I got a critique of OTHERKIN from someone that really discouraged me. This person spent a lot of time telling me all kinds of negative things about the plot, the characters, and the concept. The only thing they liked was maybe the way I put the sentences together. It made me feel like I was crazy to think this would ever get published. Thank goodness for my critique partner and then my agent, who reassured me I wasn’t insane.
            The best was the first time I talked to my editor at KTeen. I could tell right away that she “got” what I was going for, and every note she had enhanced the story, the themes, and the characters. It was, quite seriously, one of the highlights of my life.
            So if you want to be a writer, keep writing! Listen to the voices of people you trust, and trust yourself. Keep learning and growing as a writer and you too can be published.

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I want to thank Ms. Berry for being here today. And Otherkin is available wherever books are sold, so do yourself a favor and get it. You will not be disappointed.

To learn about Nina Berry and her books please visit her website

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