Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and various other anthologies and e-zines.
According to your bio, you have a degree in elementary education with a minor in history. What role does history play in the education of elementary students, or how soon should we start teaching our children history?
One of the ideas that I keep returning to, both in The Continuum and in other stories I write, is how important it is to learn from history so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Fortunately, we have so many books and resources nowadays that can help even small children learn about history in ways that they can understand and relate to. My kids are currently six and eight years old, and one series we’ve read through most of is the Magic Tree House, which features a brother and sister who go back in time to historical events like the Gold Rush or Great San Francisco Earthquake or the Titanic. Time travel stories and other historical fiction are great ways to help kids see how people lived long ago, what things were important to them, and how the things that happened in the past have an effect upon us today.
On your website, you list a host of different all-time favorite books—The Book Thief, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Pride and Prejudice, Scorpio Races, and Brave New World just to mention a few. What do you look for in a book for it to become an all-time favorite?
My all-time favorite books are ones that I keep returning to over and over, where each time I revisit them, it’s a new experience. I love books that allow me to immerse myself in different places around the world or different eras in time, and that really makes me think, while still telling an exciting story.
You have written a number of different short stories which have appeared in dozens of different publications. The Continuum is your first novel. What was the biggest challenge in writing a novel as opposed to a short story? And how did you overcome it?
The Continuum was actually one of the first things I wrote when I got back into writing after my kids were born and my very first attempt at a novel. I’d never finished anything longer than a short story before. Because of that, it had to go through a lot of revisions and various forms as I learned more about the writing process and how to turn my manuscript into a strong, cohesive, well-paced, story.
In a lot of ways, writing short fiction has helped me work through these elements. With short fiction, it’s easier to experiment with different tones and styles and points of view. There’s less time investment, and thus the risk is less, which makes it great practice for trying things out and building confidence. I’d often take what I’d been working on in my short fiction (layering characterization, building tension, delivering snappy dialogue, etc) and use that to improve my longer manuscripts during revision.
In your story, The Continuum, Elisa travels to the day Titanic launched from Southampton. Our writer Eddie Louise is also fascinated with the Titanic (we even have a live episode that takes place on board). Please tell us a bit about what fascinates you about this ship.
The Titanic has been a topic that’s interested me since I was a kid and first discovered the nonfiction section of the library. It’s such a tragic tale, taking place at such a unique and pivotal point in American history. I’ve always been drawn in by “what if” questions, and the history of the Titanic is full of them—so many factors had to go exactly wrong in order for the tragedy to play out as it did, and you almost can’t help but wonder how even the smallest differences could have changed everything.
March is Women’s History Month. Who is a woman in history you most admire and why?
One woman whose life fascinates me is Katherine von Bora. A Catholic nun in the early 1500s, when she learned about the teachings that would later define the Protestant Reformation, she wrote to Martin Luther himself for help and, with his assistance, escaped from her cloister along with eleven other nuns by hiding in fish barrels in a deliveryman’s wagon. The leaders of the Reformation tried to help these women out by finding husbands for them, but she insisted she’d only marry one of two men, one being Luther himself. Throughout their married life, it’s clear that she was a force to be reckoned with. She was a strong-willed woman with sharp business sense, who ran the family’s household — including running a farm, brewery, and occasional hospital — in a time when most women had little control over their own lives.
As a woman science fiction writer, what are some of the differences women bring to science fiction writing?
Women have always brought their own unique individual experiences to science fiction — going back to Mary Shelley, who said about writing Frankenstein: “What terrified me will terrify others”. Each writer takes the things that terrify us, that excites us, that fascinates us, and we use them to tell our stories.
Who is/are your favorite author(s) and why?
My tastes are rather eclectic. I’m a big fan of the classics: du Maurier, Dumas, Austen, Fitzgerald, Huxley, Finney, and others. Some contemporary authors I enjoy include Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield’s historical mysteries, Victoria Schwab’s magical worlds, and Neal Schusterman and Kenneth Oppel’s YA speculative fiction.
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