Author Interview with Nicholas Conley

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Pale Highway, a novel by Nicholas Conley.  Nicholas has been a longtime follower and supporter of The Eye-Dancers blog, and I am thrilled to feature him here.

In this season of thanksgiving, I am reminded of all the wonderful virtual friends I’ve made since launching this website over three years ago.  As I’ve said several times in previous posts, when I began The Eye-Dancers blog, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’d never blogged before, and was a neophyte in ever sense of the word.

The great people of WordPress welcomed me right from the start, and it’s been a pure joy to be a part of this very special community.

Nicholas was one of my earliest followers, and it’s an honor to interview him today.

If you haven’t visited his blog, I highly recommend that you do so, and his latest novel, Pale Highway, is a fantastic read and an impeccably crafted work of literature.


I hope you enjoy the interview!


1. I’m always fascinated by titles. I know, for me, sometimes a title comes before I even write the first word of a story. Other times (as with the WIP I am writing now), titles are elusive, shy, hiding in the literary underbrush and daring you to find them. How was it with Pale Highway? It’s a wonderfully evocative title. Did it come to you early on in the process? Or did it come much later?

I know what you mean, I love titles. For me, I can’t even start writing a story until I know the title, because so much of my central narrative is always framed by whatever concept the title evokes. When I first started researching for Pale Highway, I spent a long time pondering possible titles, most of them relating to Gabriel’s dementia, but nothing felt like it quite captured it. Then, there was one night where I just got this lightning bolt to the head, and this title—Pale Highway—came to me out of nowhere. When it did, it was the first time I truly understood what the novel was about, and the message that Gabriel’s story had to say about the human condition.


2. In a similar vein, each individual chapter has its own title. Did that prove to be a challenge at all? Or did the chapter titles flow easily throughout the process? Did you name each chapter prior to writing it, or did some of the chapter titles come later?

Chapter titles I tend to play around more freely with, changing them as I go, and seeing what jumps out at me. Since I tend to use shorter chapters that are focused on a single idea or moment, the chapter titles will often pop out to me midway through writing the chapter.


3. It’s interesting to hear how writers tackle a long work of fiction. Before you started Pale Highway, did you have a detailed outline of each chapter? Or–did you have a more general outline, with major plot points and perhaps an ending in mind? Or did you have essentially very little idea where the story would take you, and just decided to enter into the project without any concrete or firmly predetermined plans?

I’m the sort of person who always has to-do-lists, reminders, alarms and all of that stuff, so I’m definitely a detailed outliner. I outline a long time before I even start writing, usually on a chapter by chapter basis. Once I start writing, I do give my characters and story room to break free from the outline and do what they want—which they often do—but having a basic road map helps me stay focused, and keep the narrative tight.


4. Sort of a follow-up to the previous question, but, during the writing process, were there things that occurred that greatly surprised you? For example, did a character say something or do something, almost out of his or her own volition, that you just didn’t see coming? Was there ever a twist in the plot that just “happened,” on its own as it were, and afterward, you thought to yourself, Where did that come from? In short, how many surprises did you experience during the writing of Pale Highway?

Oh yeah, those surprises are one of the best parts of writing! The plot itself stayed pretty on track all the way through, but Gabriel himself often surprised me with his cunning insights, his occasional sardonic cracks, and the decisions he made. Victor, the rather strange fellow resident who Gabriel befriends, surprised me many times as well.


5. The novel is wonderfully written and beautifully layered. It flows so well. How long did it take to write, from beginning (first-draft stage) to end (ready for publication)?

Thank you, it’s amazing to hear that. After putting so much work into it for such a long time, that sort of comment makes my day!

I started coming up with the story ideas that would lead to Pale Highway back in 2012, even before The Cage Legacy came out. These concepts went through a lot of transformation after that point, but as a whole, Pale Highway was something that I worked on for the better part of three years. I’ve been anticipating its entry into the world for a long, long time.


6. The novel explores scientific and medical ideas–they are integral to the story. How did you balance the need to provide sufficient scientific details but at the same time not inundate the reader with too much information? It would seem this is like walking a tightrope. You need enough to make the material resonate but not so much that readers’ eyes glaze over. Pale Highway accomplishes a perfect balance. Was this something you consciously “game-planned” for before writing the first draft?

You said it perfectly, about how it’s like walking a tightrope. In order to explain the scientific ideas that impact the story—and on a character level, to demonstrate what kind of person Gabriel Schist was before Alzheimer’s, as his ideas were the most defining aspect of his persona—it required that I put in just enough information about his theories to explain what they were, while also not doing a massive info dump that takes the reader out of the story. I hope that I struck a good balance.


7. The novel, through the point of view of its protagonist, Gabriel Schist, explores several fascinating theories about the immune system. Prior to writing Pale Highway, did you need to perform a lot of research on the immune system? Or was it a subject you already had studied and pursued previously?

The Alzheimer’s aspect of the novel was one that I had already researched with my own experience, working in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home. Gabriel’s theories about the immune system, however, I needed to do an insane amount of new research about in order to understand. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books, essays and articles I read on the subject.

I saw it like this: if Gabriel was the kind of man who was defined by the world as a “mad genius,” then it was important that I had a good understanding of what his work was about. I also figured that in this sort of alternative reality that Gabriel lives in—a world in which he found an AIDS cure back in the 1990s—Gabriel’s theories were going to have to be unconventional, strange, something that isn’t usually explored by the establishment. Once I started reading about the work of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, something clicked, and I knew where to focus my studies on.


8. There are several flashback chapters expertly placed throughout the story that show different sides of Gabriel, and at different periods of his life. I found it interesting (and highly effective) that most of these flashback chapters were presented in points of view that were not Gabriel’s. The chapters, therefore, not only allow us to see Gabriel at various points in his life, but they also allow us to see him through the eyes of others, rounding out our perception of him. When did you make the decision to write these flashback chapters in different points of view? Was that something you knew you wanted to do right from the start? Or did that come about later in the process?

You got it. I knew early on that for the main story line—Gabriel being an Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home—I wanted to keep it in Gabriel’s POV, to show that world through his eyes, to show what a nursing home looks like when one is a resident suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. But on the same token, I also knew that I wanted to tell the flashbacks from the perspective of others as much as possible, so that we could get to know Gabriel as a young man in the same way that others would encounter him—brilliant, quiet, introverted—while also having that slice into his older mind, so we’re able to understand him, form a full mental picture, and hopefully relate to a character somewhat outside the norm.


9. Pale Highway is a multi-layered novel, tying together medical themes, the plight and care of the elderly, not to mention various metaphysical and even theological ideas. It is also an in-depth character study. How did such a layered idea come to you? The novel is a mosaic of so many themes. Was this an idea that came to you all at once, or did it evolve, piece by piece, over a period of years?

I knew back in 2011 that I wanted to write a book about Alzheimer’s, and with that in mind, I started piecing together what kind of book I wanted to write. Once I knew who Gabriel Schist was, I knew that the central narrative had to be centered on his final attempt at redemption, a quest to do one more meaningful thing in his life. With him being an immunologist, this meant that the clear thing to do was have him try to cure a bizarre new disease, and so the book became science fiction.

The idea of writing this book as a literary novel, or even just a sci-fi novel, seemed limiting to me. It would have prevented me from delving into the more metaphysical aspects of what I wanted to express. Because while Pale Highway is about Alzheimer’s at its core, it’s also about death, life, and what it means to be a human being. Finally writing my way to the third act of this novel, and delving into these issues, was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life.


10. What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing Pale Highway?

The research was the hardest part to start with, but by the time I started writing I had a good handle on that. Writing about the traumatic experiences that Gabriel goes though, as more and more pieces of his brain fall away, was painful. By the time that Gabriel’s Alzheimer’s symptoms begins to worsen, I’d developed such a connection to him that it felt much like watching a friend with Alzheimer’s, and knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help him.


11. What did you find to be the easiest aspect?

Writing about the nursing home itself, with all of its flaws, problems, humorous moments, and overall this pervading sense of bittersweet tragedy. In all honesty, I could’ve written at least 30 books about Bright New Day, the residents there, how it all works. I never see nursing homes properly represented in the media, so it was great to put that out there.


12. Who are some of your favorite authors and literary inspirations?

So many. I always say Stephen King first, primarily because reading his Dark Tower books as a teenager was one of my most inspirational experiences, and I don’t think there’s ever been another book series I’ve been so enveloped in. I also love Richard Matheson, Kurt Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, and Philip K. Dick.


13. If you could offer just one single piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

It’s all about perseverance. Inspiration is the electrical charge that powers your work, but perseverance is the cord that connects it to the wall.


14. What are your future writing plans? Are you currently working on a new project?

I have multiple works in progress, all in various different states of development. Part of my writing process, after finishing a first draft, is to put it aside for at least a month and then come back to it with fresh eyes, so I’ll often write another first draft between these two drafts. There’s one novel in particular that’s rising to the top right now, so I’m pretty sure that’s going to be my next book.


15. Where can readers find and download your work?

You can find me on, and my blog is linked to from there. You can also follow me on Twitter at @NicholasConley1. Always happy to meet new readers! I wish I could send complementary coffee cups over the net, but unfortunately technology has not yet advanced to that level. Someday, maybe…


Nicholas Conley’s passion for storytelling began at an early age, prompted by a love of science fiction novels, comic books and horror movies. When not busy writing, Nicholas spends his time reading, traveling to new places, and indulging in a lifelong coffee habit. In order to better establish himself on the planet Earth, Nicholas has currently made his home in New Hampshire.


To learn more about him, take a stroll over to


Thank you, Nicholas, for a great interview, and thanks so much to everyone for reading!



What You Need (Or, Hopefully, Want!) to Read–a Cross-Genre, Multi-Author Promotion

In the first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “What You Need,” which aired on Christmas Day 1959, an old peddler named Pedott walks into a drinking establishment, carrying with him his sack of wares.



He approaches a young woman, seated alone at a table, and asks her, “Something for you, miss?”



She hands over a bill, asking for some matches, but the old man stares at her, looks into her eyes, and exclaims, “You don’t need matches, miss.  I’ll tell you what you need.”  And he hands her a small bottle of cleaning fluid, “guaranteed to remove spots of any and all kinds.”

“It’s what you need,” he assures her, and she takes it, no doubt baffled by the display.



Pedott approaches the bar, where a man referred to as “Lefty” is drinking liberally.

“Whaddaya got, pop?” Lefty asks between drinks.

“Many things,” the old peddler answers.  “Many odds and ends.  Things you need.”



Lefty tells him there’s no chance he has what he needs in his bag full of merchandise–a new left arm.

The bartender breaks in, explaining that Lefty used to be “quite a pitcher in his time.”  He even pitched a couple of years for the Chicago Cubs.  But then “his arm went sour.”  Now Lefty comes into the bar each night, “looking for a baseball career at the bottom of a bottle.”

Pedott tells Lefty there are other opportunities, new career paths he can pursue.  Pitching isn’t the only way he can earn a living.  Lefty scoffs at this, his demeanor downcast, bereft of hope.



Suddenly the old man has a brainstorm.  “I think I know what it is you need,” he says, reaching into his bag and fishing out a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Lefty laughs.  “Now, what’s in Scranton, Pennsylvania, old man?”

But then the phone rings.  It’s for Lefty–a job offer from one of Lefty’s old managers to coach for a minor league baseball team in Scranton.  He tells Lefty to take a bus to Scranton and meet the GM to interview for the job.

Lefty of course wants to know how Pedott knew he’d get a call from Scranton, but the old man has quietly departed the scene, exiting the bar.  Oh well.  Lefty isn’t about to stress over the details.  He finally has an opportunity.  He just wishes he had nicer clothes.

“I sure wish I could get this out,” he gripes, pointing at a stain on his jacket.  “I’d like to look halfway decent when I meet the GM.”

The woman with the just-procured cleaning fluid walks up to him, shyly saying she couldn’t help but overhear, and that she has just the thing.

She tries it on the spot, applying the fluid to Lefty’s jacket stain.  “When this dries, you won’t even know you had a spot there,” she says.



As she applies the cleaning fluid, their eyes meet.  There is an unmistakable attraction.

The old peddler certainly knew what each of them needed . . .


I am especially fortunate to be a part of a multi-author, cross-genre promotion that, just maybe, can give old Pedott a run for his money.  The talented wordsmiths taking part in this promo offer a wide assortment of stories and styles–there is something here for everyone.



The details of the promo are straightforward.  Each of the authors involved will run their own special promo on their books, beginning today and ending on November 22.  What titles are they featuring in the promo and what, exactly, does their promo entail?  Where can you find and download their books?  I invite you to click on each of the links below to discover the answers.

I hope you enjoy this eclectic literary smorgasbord!

Barbara Monier –Contemporary Literary Fiction

John Howell — Fiction Thriller

Shehanne Moore — Historical Romance

Janice Spina –Middle-Grade Junior Detectives Series

Luciana Cavallaro –Historical Fiction–Mythology Retold

Evelyne Holingue –Middle-Grade Fiction

Jo Robinson –Nonfiction Publishing Guide for Newbies, Short Stories, and Mainstream Fiction

Sonya Solomonovich –Time-Travel Fantasy

Jennifer Chow –Adult Cozy Mystery (The beginning of a new series)

Nicki Chen –Historical Fiction–WWII China

Katie Cross –YA Fantasy


As for The Eye-Dancers, as part of this joint promotion that includes authors from around the globe, I am discounting the e-book version to 99 cents, straight through to November 22.  You can find it at the following online retail locations . . .




B & N:




I thank each and every author involved for joining together and taking part in this cross-genre event.  It is an honor to be a part of this with you.



And I thank everyone for reading!


From Frost to Thor, with a Cup of Hot Cocoa (Or, the Literary Dualism of a New England Stick Season)

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live year-round in balmy, gentle conditions, where palm trees sway in midwinter and heavy, insulated coats are strange accoutrements only seen on television.  I’ve never experienced anything like that–not even close.  I grew up in Rochester, in upstate New York, famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for its long winters and the lake-effect snow machine that produces blizzards and white-outs with alarming regularity.


So, what did I ultimately do?  Move to Southern California, the South of France?  Tahiti?  Not quite.  I moved to Vermont, colder and harsher still than Rochester!  I have no regrets.  Vermont is a rural gem, a rugged little state tucked away in the far northwest corner of New England.  It’s one of the most beautiful places you will ever see.  It is also, to put it mildly, a land of extremes.  Few locales on earth experience such robust, exaggerated seasons–there is nothing subtle about the weather in New England.  The region, according to Henry Cabot Lodge so many years ago, yet still as appropriate today as when he proclaimed it, “has a harsh climate, a barren soil, [and] a rough and stormy coast.”


And yet . . . there is one time of year in New England that is more subdued, nondescript, and soft-spoken, almost shy in its fundamental drabness . . . The month of November, tucked away in hiding for so long, creeps up on the calendar, whisper-quiet, as if inching forward on its tiptoes.  And, once arrived, it has a personality, a starkness, all its own.


The flowers and blooms of spring are a distant memory, as are the ripe fields, muggy nights, and poolside gatherings of high summer.  October, with its breathtaking, almost narcissistic display of reds, golds, and oranges, is still fresh in the mind’s eye, but it’s a brief performance, a limited run.  The hillsides, afire with splashes of color only a fortnight ago, now lay stripped, with row on row of gray tree trunks and skeletal limbs reaching for the cold, late-autumn sky.


So, yes.  In many ways, November (what the locals sometimes refer to as “stick season” around here) is a somber, even depressive month.  The days grow successively shorter, colder, as the interminable New England winter approaches. There is a stillness to the land, a sharp crispness to the air, and all too often a succession of leaden-sky days with low-lying clouds hovering like bruises over the earth.

There is also, at least for me, a sense of slowing down, of stepping back, looking over the bare, windswept terrain and pausing for reflection.

It’s easy to see, walking along a Vermont country road littered with the desiccated harvest of fallen October leaves, or climbing a knoll and looking out at the ancient, rounded spine of the Green Mountains, how this area has served as an inspiration for some of the world’s great writers and poets.  Something in the rocky soil, the rugged, unyielding terrain, the windswept contours of a rolling New England field in the fall instills a serious quality to an author’s prose, or a poet’s verses.  Frost, Emerson, Thoreau, Plath, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Dickinson . . . the list goes on and on.  Surely, there is something special about this place.




I feel it throughout the year, but at no point does it affect me more than the month of November.  November brings out the serious and the brooding in my writing, makes me want to try my hand at poetry (a proclivity I rarely feel over the course of the eleven other months) and pen an introspective novel, light on the action and saturated with layered themes, obscure symbols, and tortured, existential characters.  I want to reach, pursue, challenge myself to write about the subterranean undercurrents of life, raging beneath the surface, often hidden beneath a civilized and well-practiced facade.  I want to produce art, works that inspire and examine, question and illuminate.


Worthy aspirations, all, but sometimes, when unchecked, they can become an albatross, long-winged and sharp-beaked, weighing me down, choking off my airflow.  I appreciate the masters of the craft and serious literature as much as anyone, and hope a small smattering of my own output can be labeled “literary,” but at the same time, at least for me, there is an element even more important than the profound, more essential than the sublime.


Thankfully, the month of November also speaks to this lighter aspect.

I find November, with its protracted evenings and roaring, crackling hearth fires and frost-covered windows, to be one of the coziest times of the year.  There are few treats I enjoy more on a cold fall night than preparing a mug of hot chocolate, maybe popping a generous portion of popcorn, and settling in to watch an old black-and-white classic–nothing extraordinary, not necessarily an Oscar- or Emmy-winning masterpiece, but rather something fun, silly even.  Perhaps I’ll binge-watch episodes of The Honeymooners, or tune in to a corny old sci-fi movie with bug-eyed monsters, mutated spiders, or ever-expanding gelatinous blobs from outer space.


Other times, I’ll dig into my vintage comic book collection, perhaps pulling out a science-fiction title from the 1950s like Strange Adventures or Mystery in Space.  If I’m feeling more superhero-minded, maybe I’ll flip through an old issue of Journey into Mystery with the Mighty Thor or, Mitchell Brant‘s favorite, The Fantastic Four.  Whichever choice I make, a classic sitcom; a cliched but riveting movie produced decades ago, short on character but high on smiles; or a vintage comic complete with nostalgic ads and the musty, old smell all comic book collectors know and love, I’m just glad that Old Man November, with all its grays and dark, wistful sighs, has its lighter side to help me keep things in balance.


It’s a noble thing, a calling, really, for artists and writers and creative souls the world over to want to imbue their work with meaning and thoughts, words, and images that move their audience from tears to laughter and back again.  It’s something every serious artist should have, and cultivate.  But if our creative process isn’t also fun, if we don’t love what we do, that, too, will be reflected in the final output.

“Write only what you love,” Ray Bradbury once said, “and love what you write.  The key word is love.  You have to get up in the morning and write something you love.”


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with some hot cocoa, freshly popped popcorn, and a legion of telepathic crab monsters.


Thanks so much reading!


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