“I don’t know if I have literary influences. Probably. But I know for sure that several books I read early on were (for good or bad) life influences: The Cat in the Hat, Harriet the Spy, A Little Princess, Far From the Madding Crowd, and Jane Eyre.”
The author of 12 novels so far, Nancy Werlin (she/her) grew up in Massachusetts, USA. She decided to become a writer in the fourth grade when she realized that her beloved novels didn’t appear by magic—there were actual, real, living people whose job it was to write books.
“I will become an author,” quoth she. “Like unto my favorite, Charlotte Bronte.”
(Not having gotten far into Jane Eyre at this point, Nancy believed it was about a little girl in an evil Victorian school, sort of like Miss Minchin’s in A Little Princess. Catnip.)
Nancy did become an author. But it’s not all she is, work-wise. During her senior year studying English at Yale, Nancy panicked (and with reason) about earning a living. She learned just enough programming to land a high-tech job. She still works part-time as a technical writer for a software company. “Being employed gives me the financial freedom to take the time I need with each writing project,” she says. “I work for them, and they work for me.”
Nancy’s first novel, Are You Alone on Purpose, surprised her by being realistic young adult (YA) fiction instead of the adult novel she originally thought it would be. Her second novel, The Killer’s Cousin, shocked her more by being a YA suspense thriller, and it won the Edgar award. Nancy’s suspense fiction (And Then There Were Four, The Killer’s Cousin, Locked Inside (an Edgar award finalist), Black Mirror, and Double Helix) has been praised by Sarah Weinman, The Crime Lady: “The same depth and punch as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters… simply one of the best crime novelists going right now. Period.”
Nancy returned to realistic YA fiction (though it is arguably also suspense) with the National Book award and L.A. Times Book Prize finalist The Rules of Survival, and then moved to fantasy with Impossible, Extraordinary and Unthinkable (the three books form the Scarborough Fair trilogy). Impossible was a New York Times bestseller. Her books have been translated into Danish, German, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, French, Korean, Russian, Polish, and Turkish.
Her latest book (out from Candlewick Press in April 2021) is the contemporary comedy Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good, in which a buttoned-up overachiever works overtime to keep her inner nerd at bay—failing spectacularly. Zoe features cons and cosplay, obsessive fans and friends, a cat, a life-sized portrait of Aragorn, a whole lot of shenanigans, and some absolutely necessary lying.
Coming in 2022 (also from Candlewick) is Nancy’s first historical middle-grade novel, Healer and Witch.
Nancy is also working on an adult graphic novel memoir about the question: How can a smart woman be so stupid about a man? Its working title is One of Those Guys Who Lead Multiple Lives. Everybody is invited to binge-read the entire early draft of this true story in comics. One day it too will be a book, Nancy hopes.
Nancy has served as chair of the judging panel for the National Book Awards in Young People’s Literature, and as a judge in the YA and Juvenile categories for the Edgar awards. Once a year, Nancy teaches the writing of novels at the Highlights Foundation, in their Whole Novel Workshop.
Nancy is happily married to life coach, writer, and birder Jim McCoy. They live in Massachusetts, north of Boston, though she also continues to live right where she always has: in her own head.
P.S. Jane Eyre is still Nancy’s favorite book. And yes, as an English major, a reader, a thinker, and a storyteller, she knows there are serious problems with Mr. Rochester. But character problems do not destroy a good book; they make it richer and deeper and more relevant to life (and again, reference Nancy’s Graphic Novel Memoir). If you find yourself spending time with Nancy, and the conversation falters, bring up Jane Eyre.