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Tor Novelist Mindee Arnett on Wrapping Up NIGHTMARE, Her YA Urban Fantasy

Mindee Arnett is the author of the “Nightmare” YA magic academy series and the “Avalon” YA space opera series. She loves and rides horses. She is a fan of Josh Whedon, Veronica Mars, Firefly, Doctor Who, and Mumford and Sons. Her license plate holder says, “Leaf on the Wind, Wash is my Co-Pilot”; and if you know what that means, she can definitely be friends.

She talks with Carl Slaughter about the origin and evolution of her main character and her decision to conclude the series. She also talks about her experimental feedback software for first readers.


Jacket copy for The Nightmare Affair:

Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.

Literally.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues?both within Eli’s dreams and out of them?to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

CARL SLAUGHTER: The premise, setup, and character profile in the above jacketcopy for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR intrigued me like few book summaries do.  How did you develop and synthesize these various fantasy, mystery, romance, magic academy, and character elements?

MINDEE ARNETT: It’s just sort of how my brain works. I’m usually going a mile a minute—and anyone who ever speaks to me in person will confirm this. I even talk superfast, and often have to tell myself to slow down. As far as synthesizing these elements together, I take my time writing a first draft, and I do a lot of double-checking on how the story is coming together. I’m able to do this successfully, I think, because I do a lot of revising as I go. Oh, and I also track the story elements in an excel spreadsheet. That way I can see where I’m neglecting certain threads.

CS: I’ve never heard of a nightmare fantasy creature.  Did you create this fictional species or is it a lesser known species in fantasy literature?

MA: I wish I could say yes, but no, nightmares are straight out of folklore. They’re often associated with different creatures, such as the “mara” in Germanic folklore or the ever-popular succubus. For my nightmares, I pulled in aspects of all the various myths and creatures to create something new.

CS: Why not a vampire or werewolf, witch or wizard, dragon or unicorn, or some other established and proven popular fantasy species?

MA: I think the answer to that question is in the question itself—those creatures are too well established and they’ve been done so much. I wanted something unique to explore. Also, I’ve always had a fondness for the idea of the nightmare, mostly because of the “mare” part. I’m horse lover, with several of the fuzzy beasts in my backyard. My first exposure to the idea of a nightmare came in a fantasy story about a rodeo rider who rides a bronco that’s really a nightmare in disguise.

CS: The last time we spoke, there was only one NIGHTMARE story.  What happened in sequel and what will happen in the finale?

MA: Both the sequel and the conclusion take on a brand new mystery while also dealing with the overarching conflict of the series.

CS: Do the staff at Arkwell Academy figure prominently in the series?  If not, who does Dusty turn to for guidance and assistance?

MA: Many of the staff do feature prominently. Some of them help Dusty and her friends and some are a hindrance.

CS: How does Dusty evolve over the series?

MA: Dusty gets more and more comfortable with who she is throughout the story. These books deal a lot with the issue of identity. In the beginning, Dusty struggles with the fact that most of the magickind world thinks Nightmares are no good. They have pretty evil reputations, and for a while she’s not sure how to handle that stigma. But by the end she’s come to accept that she’s more than the sum of her social identity.

CS: Why did you decide to end the series at three?

MA: The story had run its course, at least for now. I was able to write the ending I always hoped for, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it came out.

CS: How did you chose the playlist for the NIGHTMARE series?

MA: Pretty randomly. I have a love of both the old and the new, and I think that’s reflected in a lot of my playlists. Funnily, though, I don’t actually write to playlists, at least not the ones I share like this one. I do most of my writing either in silence or listening to scores and soundtracks. I can’t write if there are words being sung in my ear. That said, my current favorite writing tract is Una Mattina by Ludovico Einaudi. It’s pure writing magic.

A NIGHTMARE PLAYLIST

“No Light, No Light” by Florence and the Machine
“Say You Will” by Mona
“Below My Feet” by Mumford & Sons
“Lullaby” by One Republic
“Leave My Body” by Florence and the Machine
“King and Lionheart” by Of Monsters and Men
“Hellhound On My Trail” by Robert Johnson
“Mind Eraser” by The Black Keys
“Stand” by Fly Leaf
“Awake and Alive” by Skillet
“I Will Wait” by Mumford & Sons
“I Seen” by Mona

CS: You’re using experimental software to experiment on an experimental manuscript with the assistance of some experimenting readers.  How does all that work?

MA: I was approached by the developers of the new software to help them give it a try, and I was pretty happy to say yes. Basically, it’s a new eReader that has built-in features that allow readers to leave feedback for the author. In some instances, I’m asking specific questions, but they can comment anywhere they want, and it all goes back to me. It’s specifically designed for writers who are looking for feedback on developing stories from beta readers.

CS: Besides dusting off an almost published manuscript, what’s on the horizon for Mindee Arnett?

MA: My next series is a YA high fantasy.

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