From Senior Comp to Award-Winning Book, Nancy Williams ’90
Nancy Williams began her literary career as a senior at Allegheny. She just didn’t know it at the time.
Nearly two decades after writing a piece of historical fiction for her senior comp, the basis of that project became Hawkmoon, the first in a series of novels that has garnered Williams acclaim across North America. Released in late 2009 by Loon in Balloon, a Canadian publishing house, Hawkmoon has emerged as a finalist for the 2010 Colorado Book Awards, sponsored by Colorado Humanities, in the category of genre fiction (historical and romance). The movie rights have since been sold to a Canadian film production company, and a rebranding and full-bore U.S. rollout of the book are also in the works.
“At the beginning of 2009, it was like ‘Bam! Bam! Bam!’—some really good stuff was happening,” says Williams, who quit her job as a grant writer last August to devote herself full time to writing. “I found out I won an award and got a movie deal within a span of a couple of weeks.”
The award was for her soon-to-be-released second novel, Grace, which won first prize in the historical fiction category at the 2009 Pikes Peak Fiction Contest. Williams is now in the process of writing Blood Truth, the third book of the trilogy.
“It’s a learning process—every day brings something new,” she says. “Things are really going into high gear. It’s a little scary making public appearances, but that’s what I want. It’s been my dream since I was in seventh grade.”
A writing career may have been her dream, but Williams took a bit of an unusual route to get there. In fact, she spent nearly the first decade of her post-college career doing everything but writing. She spent five years doing outdoor work in Colorado: fighting fires, working in law enforcement, and making long patrols on horseback. She then returned to her native Meadville after the death of her parents and took over the family farm.
It wasn’t until 1998 that she began to write again. The manuscript for Grace took nearly ten years to complete, and when it was finished Williams had trouble finding an outlet for it. As she shopped it, though, she thought about resurrecting her senior comp. Hawkmoon was a much shorter work, which meant a much smaller investment from a publisher to get it off the ground.
“So I took Hawkmoon from the attic and reworked the hell out of it,” she says. “The basis of the story is the same, but you obviously mature as a writer, as you do as a person as years go by. I had a different perspective when I did the rewrite, and it’s much better now.”
As a comp, it was still pretty good, earning Williams an A-minus. She credits Professors Dennis Johnson and Diane Goodman with giving her the encouragement and validation she needed to continue writing.
“I’m tremendously grateful for having mentors like that,” she says. “The validation and confidence it gave me was huge. Even though I put it aside for a few years, always in the back of my mind, it was something I was going to go back to. It was an itch I had to scratch.”
—Patrick S. Broadwater ’93