Meet Nerissa Montie

Meet Nerissa Montie

NAMontiepicBorn and bred in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, Nerissa Montie (one of the creators of Sammi-Zowa) has always had a love of the written and spoken word. With a librarian grandmother, a bibliophile mother and countless wonderful storytellers in her early life, she spent many hours delving into books on countless subjects from Early Japan to the works of Victor Hugo and listening to hours of stories of ancestors and personal recounts. Originally Nerissa trained in archaeology and some history but found her greatest passion was passing on the love of reading and stories to children. For the last 14 years she has been working as a classroom teacher for independent First Nations schools in British Columbia. She jumped at the chance to work with the Ernest Gygax Jr. on a project that really spoke to her love for children, writing, Japan, and fantasy. She was just as enthusiastic when Simon Todd joined them. It reinvigorated her dormant love of drawing and painting. She is now living in a quiet corner of British Columbia with her loving partner and beloved two dogs. Currently, she is pursuing her own writing on a historical food blog and developing notes for her own book project.


Today Nerissa gifts us with an exclusive interview!

Have you always enjoyed writing?

At one time I would have said no because there were times I struggled with writing for school. I kept a lot of my early school writings and I find some of them boring or awkward. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I know I have been creating characters and stories for a long time and writing them down since I was at least in my teens. They were more often unfinished and unpolished but the passion for story and character are obvious in them compared to my school writings. Creating story lines and characters have always enthralled me in an unconscious, subliminal way. It was just something I did. It was something my family just embraced as just the wayward daydreaming of an overly-imaginative, bookish daughter. I think I probably consumed that image of myself, too, until recently. I became awake to the notion that I was happiest when I was exploring and creating new worlds of my own. I realized the quote from Carol Shields, which I’d heard many times, was true: “Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find”. I know it’s said, sometimes, that when something finally knows what it really is, it loses its potency, its magic. I think that is false. The magic is just beginning and the well of ideas is deeper and bubbling up faster than ever before.

What books did you love growing up?

The first four books that immediately come to mind when I am asked this all have something in common. “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower” by Rumer Goden, “Cat in the Mirror” by Mary Stolz and “Anne of Green Gables” by L. M. Montgomery are all about girls who feel different and out of sync with others. Yet I don’t feel any of the protagonists really wanted to “fit in”. It’s probably why I identified with them so much. You really don’t want me to keep going on and on about books of my youth or we’ll be here a very long time.

I know that from an early age my mother tells me I was forever pulling out all kinds of books about Japan since I was quite young. I must have been one of only 4year olds that asked to be a “geisha” for Halloween and who actually knew that my borrowed fan was NOT appropriate. I’ve had a love for many things Japanese since then and I guess that’s why I didn’t even hesitate when Ernie asked me to help with Sammi-Zowa. I’ve tried carefully to keep elements of my past reading and love mixed with the dear story of which he asked me to be a part.

Sometimes it’s so hard to keep at it – What keeps you going?

It’s easy enough to get mired in work that seems to endlessly spin out drivel and forced prose. I have a few tricks that can loosen my imagination. I have a few movies, books, shows that I like to call my “touchstones”. They are well-worn and I know them backwards and forwards. They’re not always to inspire me but more like a way of relaxing myself into something I know so well that my mind can drift in the familiar and safe. I also like daydreaming in a hot bath or surrounded by lots of new, crunchy library books on a hot summer’s deck. Inclement weather can be a boon to the wandering mind that needs peace away from the usual to-and-fro of human life. Most people don’t like it, and I’m not a huge fan myself, but when I need to be alone with thoughts and away from people, rain, wind, thunder, slush are certainly to be relied upon for quiet streets and pathways. I think most of these helped me through the months of honing Sammi. I spent more than a few nights walking the dog through slush as I pondered plot elements.

Are you a city slicker or a country lover?

As I have grown older, I have found that the quiet life of the little village is for me. For the past 12 years I have become more and more estranged from the bustle of the suburbia that became my life by my twenties. There are aspects of city life that I love—exotic foods I’d never get in my little corner of the woods, book stores where one can browse for hours, the thing-filled store. But at some point it just becomes too much. The noise, the faceless throng, the traffic rushing everywhere and nowhere, the general feeling of indifference leave me feeling hollow and alone. I’ve become so accustomed to living far away from this kind of life for most of the year. I spend most of it in a tucked away, little valley far from traffic lights. Waving at complete strangers and having them wave back is the norm for me now. Watching with awed pride as a group of neighbours pulls together to put out a brush fire before the firemen even have a chance to get there is the norm for me now. Watching mobs of children still tear up and down the street together on their bikes to the best wild strawberry patches is the norm for me now. Walking outside at night and seeing the Milky Way from my own back deck is the norm for me now. I like living in a place where the sound of a helicopter is a novelty and the sight of a fishing bear is not. In there, like in my imaginings of a Miyazaki kind of countryside for Sammi, I feel most tied to my small-town childhood.

How has your upbringing influenced your writing?

In the first week of April ’73 I was born. By the second week of April ’73 I was a weekly visitor to the library with my mother. I don’t recall a time when my mother didn’t have a mountain of books around her. I remember listening in horror, as a child, to people who told their kids that they could “take out just one”. I was relatively free to take as many as I wanted so long as I could carry them. I was allowed to indulge my curiosity in many subjects and could often be found browsing the adult stacks at a young age for books in my interest range. I had a rapacious curiosity about the world and I dove into reading head first. It was only the odd time that my mother guided me to a book or two that I might like (and she was very right, too). It might have helped that I also had a librarian grandmother. It might also have helped that all my mother’s sisters and my mother herself were keen to practice wit, word games and other word-related entertainments. Must have been osmosis that led me down the path of pun and Boggle.

Another big, big influence in my life was story-telling. I was fortunate that I had many members of my family could weave magical tales of their childhood exploits and the tales of ancestors past. Many stories of wicked men, embarrassed train conductors and locked-up brides bang around in this head of mine. Both sides of the family wove their magic over me in this manner. I know the power of this kind of magic so I think that’s why I tried to capture some of those elements as I helped Ernie with wording and story flow.

I can’t express how happy and thankful I was when I was proposed the idea of assisting Ernest Gary Gygax with a story he’d written for his grandsons. I read the story and immediately fell in love with it. It did take longer to fulfill than I initially thought but that’s really because I didn’t dare alter the core beauty of the story itself. I had fun putting the story into the form of a bedside tale and pulling forward one character a little more for sake of that element. I’m in love with Sammi and hope everyone else will feel the same.  

Do YOU feel like you could fall in love with Sammi? Click HERE

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