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Nancy Chase’s fairytale life is one for the books

By Terry Robinson

Nancy Chase’s first book, “The Seventh Magpie,” a self-published novel, was released on Feb. 15. The book is described as a dark fairytale of loss and renewal, involving a princess, a magical book, a mistake and the trials she endures to correct that mistake. Born and raised in Maine, Chase resides in Virginia, in a pre-Civil War farmhouse on 26 acres. She lives there with her husband and has a number of pets, including a herd of goats. She was interviewed for the Advertiser Democrat through email.

Q: In what town were you born?

A: I was actually born at Mercy Hospital in Portland, but my family lived in South Waterford. That’s where I spent the first 19 years of my life.

Q: Tell us about your family.

A: I was the baby of the family. I had two brothers and two sisters who were all much older than me. They were pretty good to me, though, and didn’t pick on me very much. It was like having a lot of mentors, because they would each teach me a little bit about whatever they were interested in. Rick taught me reading, chess, astronomy and baseball. Alan showed me things about gymnastics and outdoorsmanship. Both of my sisters, Donna and Debra, shared their love of horses with me and riding became a huge part of my childhood. There were miles of nearby woods and mountains to roam around on, so I spent a lot of time out observing wildlife and enjoying nature.

Q. How did you end up living in Virginia?

A: Unlike the rest of my family, I always hated the cold. I didn’t enjoy any of the winter sports, like snowshoeing, skiing, skating or ice fishing. And obviously, winters in Maine last a long time. So I always knew that I wanted to move someplace warmer when I grew up. It didn’t happen right away, though. Over the years, I lived in Portland, Boston, the Chicago suburbs, but it wasn’t until my husband finished grad school and we could decide on a permanent place to settle down that I suggested we try Virginia. I had traveled through there a couple of times on trips and fell in love with the rolling green hillsides everywhere. So we moved there and rented a wonderful old Victorian house for several years before finally buying the little pre-Civil War farm where we live now. It’s in a very rural area, so it’s not all that different from where I grew up, except that it’s much warmer.

Q: When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?

A: Reading, of course, but I think every writer would say that. I also like to learn different old time country skills for making things. For example, I make cheese and yogurt with milk from my goats. I make homemade soap starting with lard from my own pigs. I used to raise sheep, and I learned how to spin their wool into yarn and then knit, weave, or crochet it into clothing or accessories. I’ve made bread from wheat that I grew and threshed myself. There’s something fascinating about starting with raw materials from nature and learning how to turn them into something useful or beautiful or delicious.

Q: When did you realize you enjoyed writing?

A: I loved writing all the way back when I was very first learning how to string letters together to make words. Right from the beginning, I was always making little “books” out of folded and stapled drawing paper, trying to tell stories with drawings and scribbles and what few words I had learned.

Q: Did you attend Oxford Hills High School?

A: Yes, I graduated from Oxford Hills in 1984. I was an honor student, graduated sixth in my class and was even voted “Most Studious.” But after high school, I didn’t want to go on to college. I just wanted to get out into the real world, so that’s what I did.

Q: I understand that your grandmother, Otta Louise Chase, was a known local poet who had two of her own books published and your ninth grade teacher, Myra McLarey, is now a published author as well. Can you talk about how they, and perhaps others, may have influenced you?

A: My grandmother and I rarely talked with each other about writing, but certainly because of her I grew up knowing that writing poetry and getting it published was something that one did, so later it seemed natural for me to do the same. She can also take credit for introducing me, at an early age, to fantasy and fairy tales. She was a devoted fan of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books, and collected early editions of all his works, which she would loan to me, one at a time, to read when I was small. She eventually left me her whole collection, which I still have.

All of my English teachers during my years at Oxford Hills Junior High and high school were great, but Myra McLarey, my ninth grade creative writing teacher, was the first person to start teaching me to treat writing as a craft and give me my first lessons in finding ways to improve my writing. To this day, thanks to her, I still feel guilty if I ever use an unnecessary adverb. Myra and I are still in contact, so it was gratifying to hear her say good things about my writing when she read my book.

Q: What made you decide to write “The Seventh Magpie?”

A: I actually started writing the book 30 years ago, when I was 19, as a way to process my emotions after a youthful heartbreak that, at the time, felt like it had shattered my world. I wrote the majority of the book in my early 20s, but eventually set it aside because I just didn’t have the writing skill or emotional maturity to finish the revisions needed to bring it to the point where it was ready to be published. I always believed in the story, though, and a couple of years ago a heartbreak of a different sort — when a chronic knee injury forced me to give up running my small farm, which I loved — reminded me of the same feelings of grief and loss, I picked up the manuscript again and was able to finish it. Interestingly, when I first started writing the story, I was only a couple of years older than Catrin, the main character. Then when I finished it, I was closer to the age of the Crone. It gave the writing process a nice sense


Nancy Chase at her desk where she writes, when she isn't doing everything else.

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