Nancy Scott Hanway

Being away. really away

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

I just got back from sailing on Lake Superior in wilderness areas, mostly without cell service. Before we left, Cecil and I decided not to look at news for the entire two weeks. No Flipboard, no Slate, no Guardian, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram—none of the usual ways we get information (and lots of stress). And it was pretty damn blissful.

Instead of asking each other at dinner—”OMG can you believe what that idiot you-know-who just did?” we talked about the water—how it looks when wind hits it and it looks crosshatched some times and rippled other times. Where sea smoke (wispy fog that hangs above the water) comes from. The angle of waves. About how it’s both scary and wonderful to get stuck in a thunderstorm on a boat. We discussed how—when we’re away from home—we don’t miss 99% of our possessions. We laughed at the dog discovering her echo.

And then we got back home to two massacres and the news that Toni Morrison died. At first I wanted to climb back into the car and drive to the boat again. Stare at the water and fog and ignore everything that’s happening. But it’s too serious. And avoidance has never been a good strategy. So time to dig in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

At anchor off Suzy Island

At anchor off Suzy Island

My story "The Mooring Field" in Diverse Arts Project - Winter 2017

Published FictionNancy Scott HanwayComment

Excited that my short story "The Mooring Field" is in the latest issue of Diverse Arts Project, with a wonderful photo to illustrate it by Amanda North.

This story is another in the series of stories I've been writing that take place in northern California, in a hospice facility and in a women's prison.

Photo credit: Amanda North

Photo credit: Amanda North

Characters want to get out

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

My favorite quote from the great Elie Wiesel, who died yesterday after a lifetime of breaking down walls as a writer and activist for peace.

Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories.


"Underside" published in Crack the Spine

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

My short story, "Underside," just appeared in the latest issue of Crack the Spine, the online literary journal. The story is about a mother-son dog therapy team working in a hospice facility in California. The son is paralyzed from the waist down, and one day he and his mother come upon the cop who knows what caused the son's injury.

This story is the fourth to be published from a series that I'm working on. The stories all take place in Northern California, in a hospice facility or a women's prison. The mom in "Underside" is the character who connects the two places. She's an Episcopalian pastor, and along with her work on the dog therapy team, she also ministers to death row inmates in the prison.

I'm really fascinated by the way that dying creates intimacy among strangers--as well as by the few degrees of separation between all of us.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Fantastic Stories

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

I'm reading Ransome Riggs' Miss Peregrine series, finally. (The first book has been on my list for years.)  I usually experience a terrible sense of loss when I finish one--but it's unusual to fall in love with first page.

What makes this beginning so good? In the prologue, we're taken into this new world through a grandfather's crazy stories, in which the narrator, Jacob, only half believes. In Chapter One, the novel jumps forward in time, and the now sixteen-year-old Jacob realizes that one of those stories may have murdered his grandpa. It's endlessly inventive and very peculiar. And has fantastic photos. 


Rule Breakers: a chef, a writer, and a bottle of wine.

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

Francis Mallman, Helen Oyeyemi, and the Anko winemakers of Salta

Like every great chef, Francis Mallman’s a born rule breaker. Trained in Paris and New York, he specialized in French haute cuisine for many years, until he abandoned it for the homey woodfire cooking of his childhood in Patagonia.  

Cecil and I ate at his restaurant 1884 in Mendoza in 2012, one of my favorite restaurant meals ever.

So when I heard Mallman was coming to town last year, I got us tickets for the event at Cooks of Crocus Hill in Saint Paul. A 3-course dinner from his latest book Mallman on Fire


After we met Mallman--an approachable and quirky man in his 50s--we went upstairs to dinner.

Three glasses of wine sat at each place setting: an Albariño, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a Tannat, all from Bodega Garzón, in Uruguay. But when someone asked, “Which wine should we pair with each course?” Mallman responded, “Oh, I don’t believe in pairing rules.”

Of course not. His talk that evening had been about how breaking rules led to discovering his life’s work. About how we need to lose our fears about the world, starting with our fear of the elements. (We are supposed to picnic outdoors in the winter in Minnesota . . . )

The meal was amazing, by the way. I still think about. Here are my personal pairings: 

  • Sauvignon Blanc with grilled pears wrapped in Iberico ham appetizer, because the acidic wine was perfect with the creamy and smoky flavors of the food.
  • Tannat--an Uruguayan grape that’s like a slightly more tannic Malbec--with roasted leg of porkwrapped in rosemary with orange, black pepper and rosemary salmuera. I love dense red wines with meat.
  • Albariño with dulce de leche ice cream with charred bananas. The Bodega Garzón Albariño is light and crisp. A strangely good combo.


And this brings me to another rule breaker: Helen Oyemi, author of the brilliant novel Boy, Snow, Bird. I just discovered Oyeyemi’s work, and she has quickly become one of my favorite authors.

The Plot: An extended play on the Snow White tale, Boy, Snow, Bird starts on the lower east side of Manhattan in the 1930s. Boy--the novel’s female narrator-- tells the story of her childhood with an evil rat catcher. She runs away from home and ends up in the town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts: a dreamy, fairy tale village of old-world artisans. Boy eventually marries a jewelry maker, a widower with a young daughter named Snow.

After Boy gives birth to a daughter named Bird, the novel suddenly becomes very real. The narration jumps in time and shifts from Boy to Bird, now a smart-ass adolescent. The town has previously seemed isolated from the world, but now we’re now smack in the middle of U.S. race relations in the 1960s, as the family comes to grips with racial hatred within its ranks. Boy returns to narrate the end of the novel, and there’s a bizarre and incredible plot twist.

This novel breaks so many writing rules. Among them:

  • The tone is inconsistent.
  • So is the style. Sometimes it’s magically real, sometimes not.
  • It deals with the issue of race in ways that are often didactic.
  • It introduces new characters and concepts at the end.

And yet it all works.

Oyeyemi trusts herself. She leads with her narrators' voices—Boy is sarcastic, scary, and yet adorable. Bird is a smart and appealing teenager. And the Snow White tale gives the novel a deep structure that seems to appear and disappear like a face in the mirror.


A toast and tasting notes:



So I toast Mallmann and Oeyeyemi--rule breakers who inspire me to take risks--with a 2011 Anko Malbec Flor de Cardón. It’s grown in the rugged highlands of Salta, Argentina, 750 miles north of Mendoza where most Malbec is planted. At 5700 feet, the vineyard faces more extremes of temperature and more intense sun, which changes the grape in ways you can taste. I didn’t think I’d like it at first, because it has a powerful fruit that hits right away. But then you note its dark complexity, with nice tannins and spiciness. In another wine, it could be unbalanced. But the Anko winemakers somehow make it work--just like all inspirational rule breakers.

"Fluke" - my flash piece appears in Limestone

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

Excited that my flash piece, "Fluke" appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Limestone."Fluke" is another piece that takes place in Northern California. It's about a man sitting beside his wife's bed in a hospice facility, considering the fact that he never understood her need to hear stories.

I'm interested in couples who met when they were very young. I met Cecil in high school, so even though we only got married a few years ago, I have a deep sense of who he is. When that feeling comes with love and attraction, it's really magical. (Can you tell how much I love my hubs?) 







Close to the Water

Published FictionNancy Scott HanwayComment

Proud that my flash piece, "Close to the Water," appears in the latest issue of Diverse Voices Quarterly. (I love that journal!) I've been writing a group of interconnected stories that all take place near Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco. It's one of my favorite places in the world (thanks to my wonderful father-in-law and stepmother-in-law for taking us there every summer.) Beautiful and yet also atmospheric. A fog bank hangs near shore, waiting to invade. 

Lately, I've been trying to stop censoring myself--to write about what I think. "Close to the Water" is the outcome: it's about death and violence against women.  I wrote it in an intense day and then spent a few weeks tinkering and editing.



McKnight Fellowship Finalist

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

I was excited to be named a finalist for the McKnight Fellowship in Creative Prose. It's a highly competitive award, so getting this far was an honor! Congratulations to the 5 very gifted writers who won: Susanne Aspley, Shannon Gibney, Josh Ostergaard, Susan Power and Kelly Barnhill. And congratulations (and some hand holding) for my fellow honorable mentions: Danielle Sosin, Tami Mohamed Brown, Eric Vrooman, Megan Atwood, Laura Salas and Lynne Jonell.

Words Foretold

Work I loveNancy Scott Hanway8 Comments

García Márquez died today, and I feel strangely destitute, as if a friend passed away. In homage, I want to gather your favorite quotes from his work. So please let me know your favorite lines. He was such a great teacher, and I'd love to know what he taught you.  I’ll post them on my web page if you put them on Facebook or Tumblr. Post in English or Spanish, doesn’t matter. Or on Twitter #marquezquotes. I wouldn't say that García Márquez is my favorite writer--I haven't reread his work in years--but he's one of the writers who convinced me that fiction can change reality. The first time I picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude, it was as if the sea had swallowed me whole. Such was the force of his words. And here’s my favorite line, from a man who was reborn through his work. It's from Love in the Time of Cholera -- my own translation.

He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give them life, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.


Love is the Language

Fiction and LanguageNancy Scott HanwayComment

2013, the year Love became the official language of Minnesota This year, my two dear friends Anne and Anna were married in Minnesota, after eighteen happy years together. I have known Anne since college, and so I was involved in all the preparations: buying dresses, agonizing over shoes, consulting on matters of etiquette, discussing flowers and music, reception venues and invitations.

Despite the groundbreaking political context, the preparations were incredibly familiar. Just as in every other wedding, the couple kept some traditions and reinvented others. Anne and Anna were married in a church, with loved ones reading poems and bible passages, and with a sermon dedicated to their union. There was beautiful music. A flower girl heralded their procession. As their loved ones beamed proudly, they were given away by family members. Later we celebrated with an elegant buffet reception. In a nod to modernity (and the environment) Anne and Anna decided to go with emailed invitations instead of paper. The reception included karaoke.

In fact, while there were significant legal and cultural battles that had to be won for this ceremony to happen, there were no important traditions that need to be reinvented for a same-sex wedding. Here are the ones that Anne and Anna had to change: 1) Instead of one bridal dress, there were two lovely cocktail frocks. And 2) Well, there is no number two. Just the dress. Every other change was a matter of language.

After all, the traditional promise--and the central idea behind every wedding ceremony--is that the couple vow to love and honor one another against all odds, in a sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, something that Anne and Anna had already done for nearly two decades.

The rewording (spouse instead of husband, woman for man) in the ceremony didn't alter that profound vow. When my husband referred to himself as a "groomsman," I reminded him that he was a "bridesman." He loved that. "It sounds almost medieval," he said. "Like I'm the member of a royal wedding party."

And it did feel like the wedding of royalty, because it was both an intimate celebration and a public joy. Anne and Anna's union represents the happiness of so many other people. Not only the many friends they have gathered around them during their long and loving partnership, but the thousands of Minnesotans who are now free to marry.



Stories about Breasts

UncategorizedNancy Scott HanwayComment

I read at least a dozen literary journals every month, and lately I've noticed stories about breasts. In these stories, there are breasts, always called boobs, that bob and slump and bounce and jiggle. Sometimes the boobs are compared to zeppelins or air bags. The woman with description-worthy boobs is always untrustworthy. The stories are beautifully written. There is often a quirky woman--a bearded lady or tattooed teenager--who is the center of things, symbolizing the strange state of being that is the male narrator’s life. Sometimes she has description-worthy breasts, sometimes she is flat-chested. Sometimes the narrator has sex with her, but more often he is denied his desire. She is demanding. The narrator uses fuck. A lot. The narrator uses nouns as adjectives. “He got all oracle-y on me.” The narrator downs vodka shots as a way of demonstrating his secure masculinity, often at a party where the other guests make strange statements. There is spaghetti-strap lingerie. And they use the word ‘dusky.’

Did I mention that these are often beautifully written? And that--from the attitudes about women--you can't tell that nearly a century has passed since Hemingway began publishing fiction?


Reader, I Divorced Him

Fiction and LanguageNancy Scott HanwayComment

My short story, "Reader, I Divorced Him: Famous Literary Couples Untie the Knot," was just accepted for publication by Amarillo Bay to be published in November. This is a story in which I imagine divorce narratives from Jane Eyre ("Reader, I married him" is the most famous line from the novel) and  Pride and Prejudice (Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy do a "he said/she said").  


On fiction and language: Reading The Confederacy of Dunces in Paris

Fiction and LanguageNancy Scott HanwayComment

For years I hated American English. It was silly: the result of a childhood spent watching British television,and from studying Spanish and French in college. I was convinced that everything across the Atlantic was better, more sophisticated, more ironic. In particular, I hated the sound of Americans, especially the voices of U.S. tourists when I traveled. When I lived in Paris, I was unkind. If tourists came up to me on the street to ask directions, I pretended I didn't speak English. (That still makes me cringe.) And then came July. Everyone I knew had gone to Provence, and I was stuck in the city with the tourists and the stifling heat. I hadn't spoken or read in English for months, it seemed, when I passed by Shakespeare & Co. and saw John Kennedy Toole's The Confederacy of Dunces on an outdoor display. I had never read the novel before, so I picked it up and brought it home.

I learned several things from reading The Confederacy of Dunces that summer. I learned that the harsh, jangly American accent I had despised for so long was really something I loved. It was the most jarring experience to be laughing at Ignatius P. Reilly in English one minute and then hear neighbors going past my door speaking in French: their sounds so elegant and precise. And I realized that I was homesick for the language of America, which suddenly seemed rich and full of possibilities I had never imagined.

Shakespeare & Co. - by John Hurd / Creative Commons


Fiction is Dread 2 or Adam Novy on happy endings

Nancy Scott HanwayComment

The novelist Adam Novy was recently interviewed in Outlet: Electric Literature‘s blog. And he said something about happy endings that made me think more deeply about fiction and anxiety (see my recent post Fiction is dread.)

I need a happy ending as much as any American and I feel existentially abandoned if I don’t get one, but I think happy endings make us stupid. It’s a little embarrassing that we have to cheer up the reader so much. Aren’t there drugs for that? I know why writers imply that we’re supposed to teach the reader to be more generous and more sympathetic, and that we create the possibility for something better by putting that better vision in our work, but I also feel like we have a job to give the reader the tools to understand loss. One way to say it is that writing can help us repair the world, but it can also help us understand loss, and maybe to know if loss didn’t have to happen the way it did. 

I love the sense that writing helps readers repair the world, and it sounds beautiful to help readers replot narratives of loss. But isn’t that the way to madness, to replay those stories of loss in our heads? Maybe his novel The Avian Gospels will answer that question. (I’m planning to receive it as a b-day present.)

The Outlet interview is wonderful,go ahead and read it, especially for his comments on how the internet makes him anxious. You can tell that from his web site, which has Hieronymus Bosch repros and crazy birds.


Adam Novy from When I asked Adam for permission, he told met that this photo followed an evening of calamities, including seeing the film Avatar.  I love this pic because of what it says to me: humorous alien being.