Authors Helping Authors

Interview with Nancy Taber

Today we are talking to Nancy Taber. Let’s dive right in!

Your debut novel A SEA OF SPECTRES is set to release in June. Can you share
with us a little about the premise and how you came up with such an original idea?
A SEA OF SPECTRES is a multi-timeline and multi-POV novel about an ocean-phobic
police detective on Prince Edward Island (PEI), who evades the deadly lure of a
phantom ship by delving into her family’s history and harnessing her matrilineal powers
of premonition. The novel follows three protagonists: 21st century Raina, 19th century
Celeste, and 18th century Madeleine. At the heart of A SEA OF SPECTRES is a mystery
about the phantom ship, spectres and ghosts, and familial relationships.
The idea for the novel began when my mother sent me an article about my ancestors’
experiences in the 1758 Acadian Expulsion from PEI to France. The focus of the article
was on a man, with only brief mention of his wife, Madeleine. And I thought, I can’t have
that—Madeleine deserves to be the heroine of her own story. Celeste came into the
novel when my father asked everyone in our family to enter a contest for an 1864 PEI
almanac so he could get one for my mother. I somehow ended up winning two copies.
When I flipped through one, I read an entry about the case of two bank cleaners
accused of stealing bank notes. I wondered why they were accused and if they were
guilty. Raina, a police detective, is a compilation of my research about women in
(para)military contexts, situated in the contemporary context of small-town PEI life. To
bring in the speculative elements, I asked myself, if Acadian folklore were true, how
might it have affected my characters?

How did your background as a retired military officer play into the book’s premise?
I feel quite comfortable writing about women’s fictional experiences in male-dominated
professions, particularly paramilitary and military ones, due to my own background as a
military officer and my research about women in the Canadian Armed Forces. Uniforms,
rank, regulations, standard operating procedures, and training are quite familiar to me.
Moreover, I can understand and imagine what characters such as Raina might feel and
think as she navigated the context of her work and the men with whom she interacted.
For my novel, Raina’s character needed to be tough, avoiding any displays of emotion
or vulnerability and hiding anything otherworldly (not that I have matrilineal powers of
premonition, but I could envision how she would deal with that!). It is these elements of
her professional and personal life that are most challenged in the novel, as she learns
about the implications of her matrilineal history for her present life. Other elements of
military and paramilitary contexts come into the novel, in both Madeleine’s and Celeste’s
timelines, as they each negotiate life in times of war and criminal accusations.

What do you believe to be the most challenging aspect of novel writing for you?
For me, the most challenging aspect is creating the speculative elements to ensure that
anything fantastical makes sense in the context of the novel, contributes to the narrative
arc and character development, and is consistent throughout the story. The fantastical.                                                 in my novels is based on specific folklore (in the case of A SEA OF SPECTRES, on
Acadian and maritime folklore), which gives me inspiration and guidelines, but also
much freedom in how I incorporate it. As I write, I continually revise who has what
abilities, and how they affect the story, which entails much revision, mapping, and
cursing. But once it snaps into place, it’s as if I had figured it out from the beginning.

What did you edit OUT of this book?
Almost an entire other book. When I first began drafting, my contemporary character
had a completely different narrative arc to the one Raina has now. That character wasn’t
working, so she went into the deleted file and I started over with Raina. Then, before
going on submission to acquiring editors, my agent at the time commented that, in the
middle of the novel, there was too much of a gap between the historical and
contemporary timelines. She suggested taking 10,000 words from Madeleine and
Celeste and giving them to Raina. After my initial thought of “Holy crap, how am I going
to do that?” I knew exactly what scenes to cut and which to add. So, it was brilliant
advice and I actually ended up cutting 15,000 words. I’m thinking one of the cut scenes
might work as a short story for bonus content for newsletter subscribers. My favourite
chapter in the novel is one near the end that didn’t exist until that rewrite.

Did you find it difficult to balance your job as a professor with your writing? What tips
would you have for others trying to juggle similar schedules?
No and yes. As a historical fiction author, much of my writing is based on research
about women’s lives in the eras and settings in which my novels take place, which also
connects to my contemporary research about women in the Canadian military. So, my
fiction writing is part of my academic job. But as I still publish in journal articles and
academic books, the fiction writing is in addition to that work, which can be a juggle.
What works best for me is setting aside time to focus on my fiction, scheduling it in my
calendar, and protecting it. If someone asks for a meeting or for me to fulfil a
commitment during that time, I do my best to book it for another time. I also write on the
weekends, which is (usually) fun for me. Fiction writing is productive and challenging
work, but it also feels like play.

When did you realize and/or succumb to your aspirations of becoming an author?
As a child, my dream was to be a fiction author. Then an actor or a dancer. Looking
back, it’s interesting how those creative pursuits called to me, yet I joined the military
instead, which is not known for being a creative institution. In another unexpected twist
to my career, when I left the military, I became a university professor, developing
expertise in the area of gender, militarism, and learning. I often used creative forms of
writing but the idea of writing fiction was not at the forefront of my mind. This changed
when I read a non-fiction book about a Canadian woman who had been travelling with
her children on a civilian ship that was attacked during WWII. She was slated to be sent
to an internment camp as a prisoner of war and was given the option of either keeping
her children with her or giving them into the care of missionaries until the war was over.

The implications and difficulty of that choice astounded me, yet there was no
information in the book about how she made her decision. So, I fictionalized a narrative
around the context of that choice, which I ultimately published as a short story. Since
then, fiction has been a central component of my research and writing, as I focus on
women’s complex lives as they intersect with state and individual violence, (found)
families, and folklore that is hidden in the everyday.

What’s the best way for fans of Nancy Taber to follow your writing journey?
Go to for buy links, to follow me on social media, add my
book to your Goodreads TBR, sign up for my mailing list, and contact me. I’ll also post
updates and bonus content on my site.


Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your journey with us. We look forward to following you. See you soon, y’all!