Self-publishing, ghost hunting lesbians, and Dolly Parton

On the Why We Write podcast: Nicole Mello ’18 talks about the freedom of self-publishing and the gumption it takes to call yourself a writer....plus advice from Dolly Parton.

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Episode notes

It's our season finale, and we've got recent graduate and thrice published author Nicole Mello. Nicole talks about how hard it is to actually call yourself a writer, the freedom of self-publishing, and of course, ghost hunting lesbians. Chris Clark, one of Nicole's former creative writing teachers at Lesley University and an alumnus of our MFA in Creative Writing program, conducts the interview.

Chris Clark and Nicole Mello stand back to back smiling
Chris Clark and Nicole Mello

Bio
Nicole Mello is a fiction author who has been writing since before her memory was a functional thing. She has three published works: Venus (2017), The Modern Prometheus (2018), and Phantasmagoria (2018). She has her B.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts, with her partner and two best friends. She daylights as a museum educator and loves to talk about history, space, movies, dogs, cryptids, true crime, and human rights. Read more on her website.

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  • Transcript

    Announcer: This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Each week we bring you conversations with authors in the Lesley community to talk about books, writing, and the writing life. Today, we've got an interview with Nicole Mello. Nicole published her first book, Venus, while an undergraduate in creative writing at Lesley. She's now the author of three books including The Modern Prometheus and her most recent, Phantasmagoria. For today's interview, she speaks with her former writing teacher, Chris Clark.

    Chris Clark: Hi, I am Chris Clark. I am the administrative coordinator for the MFA in Creative Writing program and a couple of other programs over at the graduate school of arts and social sciences. I also teach creative writing with the undergraduate program. This isn't about me. It's about the person sitting across from me, Nicole Mello. Hello.

    Nicole: Hi, I'm Nicole Mello. I'm an author and also a historian which has been a lot of what I've been doing lately is those two things.

    Chris: Historian-wise, how does that factor into the writing? Let me step back a second, when you were here at Lesley, were you a double major?

    Nicole: Double major with a minor.

    Chris: With a minor.

    Nicole: Yes. I went hard while I was here. I had a creative writing major with a focus with my whole fiction, which is why I had you as a professor. History on the American history track and then a digital filmmaking minor.

    Chris: Okay. I knew about two of those, but I did not know about the digital filmmaking. How did that, as you put it going hard, influence-- We're here to talk about your books in general and Phantasmagoria specifically. How did the history part and maybe even the digital filmmaking part play into your writing?

    Nicole: I chose history, initially, when I first got here to be a teacher. That did not work out. It was not for me but I enjoy history, I think, because it's about stories and basically everything is a story and going into that, that's what I really liked learning about. History, also, gave me a more comfortable space to write because I knew that I didn't have to depend on writing so that I could do other things that maybe were a little more grounded that I can rely on and that means that I can write more freely. I pull from history a lot, especially with this being a series of short stories so I had more space to do whatever I wanted instead of one cohesive story. A lot of them are pulled from-- There's one that's like the King of England and then there's one that's like Joan of Arc and stuff like that. Always pulling from history for what I'm writing to.

    Chris: I was in a meeting a couple days ago with alumni from the MFA program here and we were having a conversation about something one of them was working on that was set in Concord, Massachusetts and she knows all the historical stuff about Concord but it turned out that in writing about the middle school and the high school, she had gotten their proximity wrong and so she was giving herself a very hard time about the fact that she'd gotten that one detail incorrect. So, I wonder, for you as a historian, what's your comfort level with bending the historical fact to suit the needs of your fiction?

    Nicole: It's high. I am very comfortable with just messing it all up. When I was looking for-- Through the book earlier today, I was reading the one with the King of England and the way that they're speaking is as if I were speaking to somebody today but more because the energy is what I want and not so much historical accuracy like it's not supposed to be historical fiction. It's more like if I'm getting the energy across that I want, it doesn't matter to me what language or what setting or anything because it all serves that larger purpose.

    Chris: I don't know how much historical fiction you're steeped in prior to your own time in the fiction world but do you feel like things like Hamilton where Lin-Manuel Miranda is using hip-hop as a way to tell the story. Does that free you and people following him up to-- And David Elliot, one of our faculty members here on the MFA program, he has written these books that are retellings of very popular tales but in a more modern-- I don't know. I just wonder how much you feel freed up by things that had come just before you.

    Nicole: Absolutely, very freed up because once you start dismantling the system, it's just like the tiniest crack blows it all apart which is awesome because sticking to the same old stuff all the time like how many times do I have to read about John Adams doing the same old boring stuff? Why can't I write about something actually interesting happening then? That's the thing about fiction. It doesn't have to be the real, actual reality. That's not what truth really is in fiction because truth is more-- Like the energy of something or the aesthetic or what people were actually feeling.

    It's hard sometimes for people to look into history and feel how people were actually feeling because they don't see them as real people. They see them as these old men characters which they are but they were once real people which is always what I'm trying to be like, this was a real human person doing weird human things and sometimes they're gross and sometimes they're funny but they're not always just like, "Not in there. The child independence was born." That's not how people actually were.

    Chris: You mentioned the Queen of England and a couple other more notable, it's queen or king?

    Nicole: King. A made-up King of England of the real England.

    Chris: Got you. I was going to ask where does he fit in the very complicated history of English kings but I was wondering, are there other lesser historical figures that somebody would be surprised to find in the book?

    Nicole: In this book? I'm not sure because it's more of things that strike me and sometimes random things will strike me. One of them is these two women in the '70's who were ghost-hunting lesbians which is what I've always wanted from a ghost-hunting story is a ghost-hunting lesbian but it was mostly me watching movies like The Conjuring and The Exorcist and being like, "This would be better if they were gay." Which is a lot of the things that I consume, I want to see myself in them so it's a lot of me taking things and being like, "But what if I was there?" What if people I know were there?

    Chris: I like the notion of this would be better if as a way to get started writing-wise. My approach had been, I remember the first interview I did way back in 2002 for the local newspaper. They asked me what inspired me and one thing were tabloid headlines because I had done a bunch of years working as a cashier and bagger at the grocery store. The other thing was trying to understand people that I had previously either not understood or not tried hard enough to understand. There was a question for you in there somewhere. I find that your approach is great too because there's a central this is who I am as a writer.

    Did it take you a while to come to understand that that's what you do because I think a lot of younger writers don't have that mission statement for them. Not that it's a mission statement but they don't have that clarity.

    Nicole: I was going to say when I first started writing but I've been writing since I was a kid and I didn't know what I was doing but in writing things that I want other people to consume, it's more of a what doesn't exist and approaching what doesn't exist realize that a lot of things don't exist. Me watching movies and reading books, it's a lot of the same stuff over and over again. The deeper you go, the more you find people like me who have been writing stuff that are never going to be in the main stream of things which is agitating but also, if I'm creating it then I can read it and I can watch it and I can explore with it and find other people who are also wanting to do that.

    The Exorcist is one of my favorite movies and Jaws is one of my favorite movies but you watch movies like that and you're like, "This is very similar character-wise and plot-wise to a lot of other things out there."

    Chris: Yes. There's a sort of formula that the mainstream, as you put it, falls into because the mainstream, in a lot of cases, is profit-driven. I was just talking about this in a class the other night. Walt Disney has a famous quote that I might butcher here that they didn't make movies to make money. They made money to make more movies. On the on the surface of that that seems like, "That's actually that's great," but that motto taken forward by people who aren't Walt Disney they interpret it their own ways. Then when something doesn't go so well they go like, "We're not going to do that." I think a lot of the mainstream press media just in general is risk averse because there's so much money involved. If they're going to make something like, "Jaws was successful," they're going to go and make another Jaws and they're going to basically copy the same template and they're not going to look at it from the perspective that you are and saying, "You're afraid. What could be different?" How did you phrase it?

    Nicole: This would be better if.

    Chris: This would be better if, right. They're not thinking, oh, this would be better if we had a female protagonist here or this would be better if this perspective or this marginalized community-- They're thinking, okay, we got to have a shark. Maybe it's not a shark it's a bear. We need to have a couple of guys in a cabin. Somebody's going to say, "No, we need a bigger boat but we need-" They're not expanding that far beyond the formula that they see. You mentioned having to go outside the mainstream to find people like you who have been doing what you do.

    Correct me if I'm wrong. You put Phantasmagoria out yourself?

    Nicole: I did.

    Chris: What freedom did you feel doing that? Deciding, actively deciding I'm going to step away from the mainstream here and I'm going to go over here and do my own thing. What was that like? What was the freedom?

    Nicole: It was incredibly freeing because a lot of the writing that I did while I was at Lesley because I'm working with professors who were like, "I know how to get into this market and these are the things that I want you to be able to do but you're not going to be able to if you want to sell." It frustrates me because it's true. I'm being told the truth thing that I don't want to hear because I want to write when I want to write. In writing Phantasmagoria with the knowledge that I was the one publishing it. I could write whatever I wanted because I'm writing not for some like old man who's been doing this job for 60 years and doesn't want to read about ghost-hunting lesbians and doesn't want to read about a king who becomes a werewolf, he doesn't care but like for people like me who want to read it. If it exists to me it doesn't matter for me in my life, right now, what the name of the publisher is or what kind of money I'm making on it. It just matters to me that it exists.

    Chris: I think it's fantastic. I also DIY my books and I feel certain envy for your generation in that there is a certain attitude that you just like really encompassed there in your answer of like I-- I'm not going to try to restate it. You know from having me as a professor I'm terrible at restating thing no matter how hard I try, but there is a great attitude there that I feel like I was maybe 15 or 20 years. I was born 15 or 20 years too early. We do a sort of a disservice sometimes when we as faculty can't see past this is the way things are done and I'm always refreshed stepping into the classroom.

    It's one of the great things about Lesley and its students of like my students are teaching me things and making me challenge preconceived notions about that. We were talking before we even started recording about how great looking your cover is. You said you did that yourself. I'm not sure how aware you were of self-publishing and those sorts of things prior to when you became aware of it. How do you feel like technology and an access to technology has improved and the ability of people like you to go out there and put your work out there like this?

    Nicole: I'm all for technology. I'm a big advocate of technological advances and people like, "But the internet." I'm like, "There are amazing things about the Internet too." It brings me to The Martian which I know we've talked about a lot because it's one of my favorite books. I love The Martian, but when Andy Weir was writing The Martian he was putting it up online chapter by chapter doing it himself because he didn't think anyone would care about this book. As I'm reading it, I'm like, "This is the greatest thing I've ever read in my life. What do you mean?" Without the internet, without him having that access I would have never had this book.

    That is the greatest things in my life that I love so much. It's an equalizer that anyone can put out anything and that means that there's going to be a lot of bad stuff, but there was always bad stuff. It just that wasn't out there before. It means that people can create anything and they don't have to rely on other people to do it. They can just create and just put out what they want. Anyone can consume what they want in return which is amazing.

    Chris: You mentioned that there is this potential for bad stuff but somehow that has-- I think it's less so now but for a long time that old self-publishing is going to create a whole bunch of bad stuff notion kept fiction writers in particular from pursuing this path. Poets have chat books and musicians self-release stuff all the time. Filmmakers have had YouTube and before that small film festivals and things. For whatever reason I remember coming up as a fiction writer even though I saw all of my like-minded musician film making poet friends doing exactly what I wanted to do, I was afraid to do it by that notion of like bad stuff out there. Do you feel like we need any gatekeeper on-- Part of what we're trying to get away from is gatekeepers, but is there a reason to have anybody who's sort of that's the good stuff from the bad or do we just trust the reader? We trust the audience to find the good stuff. I don't know. Any thoughts on that.

    Nicole: Yes, I think definitely this structure of like some guy on the subway handing me a CD and being like, "Listen to my mix tape," and me being like, "Okay, I don't have a CD player. This is fun." Is that like there was him and then there's like Hozier and there's him and there's like Fleetwood Mac of like-- They have labels and they have records. There's always going to be Penguin Publishing and there's always going to be books like Harvard Bookstore has a huge display for. That's always going to be there and it's good that there is because I want to hear from those authors too and I want to hear these amazing books that are coming out with these beautiful hardcovers and all that stuff.

    I think that has a place in it's right to have a place because everything has tiers and a structure and that's good, but having that guy handing you stuff on the subway and having the poets reading things to you at open mics and stuff and being able to self-publish is our version of that and it's always been like you self-publish if you can't get published which I think is ridiculous because you self-publish because you've created something amazing and there's a structure in place that might not have a spot for you. Just because of how it exists. That's why people don't get published.

    Chris: Yes, I wonder how much the stigma of self-publishing when I was coming up was the result of people of privilege being all-- How much of that being at the top, being the professors, being the publishers all of that and maybe you're lucky enough to be at the tail end of it and so you're getting that advice which can be frustrating. "If you want to publish you're going to have to change this about yourself or change that about yourself." Maybe we're entering an era where that got dominance of people who want it to be the old way. I don't know, not quite a question in there but something you maybe think about. This book you put out entirely on your own and your previous one, Modern Prometheus, also on your own. How did that differ with the collaboration you did with backpack digital on Venus which was your-- Was that you're very-- That was your first.

    Nicole: Yes.

    Chris: How did that experience differ from this experience of having full control.

    Nicole: My situation might be an outlier because in creating Venus, the team that I was working with were incredibly like totally loose people of like create what you create, love what you love kind of people. They were not super holding me back, but I also in that knew that I was representing them and meeting certain like structures that they had because of its travel media. That was a lot of what I was writing which is good because that's what I was doing but also it's not ever going to be 100% authentically you. Just because that's how it is. I personally enjoyed it because I really liked the people that I was working with which was awesome. That's something that a lot of people got to do but it is definitely different in that I had someone else to answer to. In this I was only answering to me, which I also really enjoyed. Like I said before, it lets me do anything I want.

    Chris: One of the things that people thinking about self-publishing, maybe don't end up realizing is, although it is very easy to go to Amazon and upload a Word document and use one of their standard template covers and just type your name in. To do it well requires a certain amount of resources. Whether it's training yourself or hiring people. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about-- You mentioned that you-- I don't know if we mentioned here on the show or beforehand that you did the cover for Phantasmagoria yourself.

    There's editing, there's layout, there's all the things that are involved in a book where if you go through a traditional publisher, they handle a lot of that for you or all of it. You're handling all this yourself. I want to talk about resource constraints and how you've gotten around not being able to hire the world-famous cover designer or the world's best editor. How did you get around that stuff?

    Nicole: It's interesting because if you look at like my first run of The Modern Prometheus, the covers are horrible, because they got super pixelated and the cover goes under the spine, and it was a mess. One of my friends looked at it and was like, "What is wrong with you?" I'm like, "I just wanted to publish it." I had to do better the next time. I was going to say I'm never going to have enough money to hire a cover editor. I don't know how true that is. I hope someday I will be. In the time being, I don't have that kind of money. If I can make something that I'm proud of, why not have something that's 100% authentically mine. This is my justification for having no money.

    Chris: Well, no. I don't think so. I mean, I didn't mean to put you on the spot in terms of not having any money. I think it's a really interesting question of one of the complaints about self-publishing that we've been talking about is lack of quality. Yet, I think if we give ourselves permission to have a long career in the same way that a traditionally published author is given, they usually have based on their contracts and whatever. Maybe gets to have a long career. We can go, yes, the first book cover we did was not great, but the second one was a little better and the one after that was a little bit better. Now, I'm in the process right now of doing a full-scale sort of redesign of all of my covers because they did get better.

    Now if you go to my Amazon author page. If you look at the first one is like-- I mean, I've done a slight tweak of that one in the interim, but still, those first two look nothing like the rest. It's just one of the freedoms that we have is, if we're doing it for ourselves, when we get the chance, we can update the cover. We can update the cover on something like Amazon, a digital platform very easily. Then when it comes to doing the print book, it's a little bit more involved because as you probably figured out, you go ahead you send it to whoever your printer is, and then you get it. If you just say, "Yes. Go ahead and put it on sale, then you end up with the cover on the spin. Sometimes it involves an extra process of getting in one back and then going. It's a mess. Having to fix it. How much extra patience do you have to have to do it yourself?

    Nicole: So much. So much extra patience of creating the cover and the spine and the back and deciding what's going to go where and does this look good? Amazon says it doesn't look good. The pixelation is a little bit weird, but Amazon said these dimensions anyway. Then editing it myself and then having my friends edit it. Ren always edits. My boyfriend Ren always edits them and a couple of my friends. My friend Joanne, was like, "I'll also edit it." and went through it. She has different eyes than Ren does. They both have different eyes, but I do. It's so much of-- None of us are professionals and nobody working on this does this professionally. I just want a product that I am proud of in the end. I'm a very delayed gratification person. I'm kind of like in the moment this is frustrating, and it's hard and it kind of bites. I know that at the end it's going to be amazing because I put in all this extra time. It's kind of reminding yourself like this is all going to pay off even when it doesn't seem like it's going to.

    Chris: You said you're not professionals. I don't think this is a hardball question. Maybe a difficult one. What keeps you from saying that you're not a professional? Here we are, we're putting our books out there and maybe our thesis in putting our books out on our own is that our books are just as good as any other books out there. Yet, just then you stop yourself from saying you're a professional. What keeps you from saying that?

    Nicole: That's true. You busted me.

    [laughter]

    I guess I'm seeing it as how another person looking at me would see it. That's not really fair to me. Is it someone looking at me would be like, "Oh, this isn't what she does as a job. She can't support herself this way. It's not professional." Which is really not super true. I'm still kind of thinking of this and how other people view it which is not fair to myself or other artists like me. I guess in that way, I am a professional of in this changing definition of what professional is. I am doing this and I consider this something that I am putting out there. I am a professional author. I have authored three books. I have done that and they exist in the world. I can point to them and say, "This is what I have created as part of my profession as an author, historian person doing things."

    Chris: Yes. I asked you that question because people ask me that question. I ask it myself and I also have a hard time saying, I'm a professional at this. Know that I'm coming from a place of love and respect. The first book came out while you were still in college, what was that like to have a book out there and get you still-- What year were you in when it came out?

    Nicole: Oh, gosh.

    Chris: Sophomore, junior.

    Nicole: Yes, sophomore, junior.

    Chris: You still had a year and a half, two years of school ahead of you and you kind of reached the pinnacle of what a creative writing student is aiming for, right? They're trying to go through this program. They're investing this money and this time to get to publish a book one day, but you've already done it, and now you have to motivate yourself to get through another year and a half of school. How was that like?

    Nicole: I had a lot of imposter syndrome of people being like, "Oh, you've got a book out. That's so great." And me being like, "Yes, but." All these yes, buts. It like yes, but it's not a real book. Or yes, but it's not like it's with Penguin Publishing. Yes, but it's not that big of a deal. All of this, it doesn't-- It's not a big deal. Constantly, it's not a big deal. I felt like I was lying. I'm not lying. I wrote a book and publish it. There's so many-- Every step of the way there's always a yes, but unless I'm like, JK Rowling putting a book out there. I'm always going to be saying, "Yes, but." It's not exactly the same.

    It's a lot of me not entirely knowing what this means about me and what I'm doing and how others view me because I've written for so long that it just feels like something I do. To have other people acknowledge it was incredibly strange. Especially as something to be proud of. Dr. Miller, who was my professor at the time, when she found out I had written Venus was like, "What, let's go talk to the bookstore. Let's do something about this." I'm like, "They're going to know I'm lying.' I'm not actually an author. They're going to figure me out." It was still a lot of growing that I had to do and being able to assert myself with like, I did write that and that's something to be proud of, and there's still space to grow and figure things out while I'm accomplishing things.

    Chris: I mean, I think it's great. I on Twitter the other day, I posted this image of one of my characters with her younger self. The caption that I posted along with it is, what would you say to your younger self if you can have a conversation with them. One of my friends, an author, she wrote back, I would tell myself-- The first thing was, don't worry what boys think about you. The second thing was don't wait so long to start sending your work out to start doing exactly what you've done. What you, Nicole, have done. I think it's great that-- She would probably want to get in and want to give you a big high five because you're doing what I think as I said before people of my generation felt a little bit uneasy about doing. I think it's great. Maybe that makes it--

    If one of my daughters who are-- One just turned 13, the other is turning 9. One of them wants to get to be a writer. I love the notion that you're paving a path where they could be in high school and be like, "You know what, I'm putting down--" You're doing it with care. Right. I think that was the other thing as you were talking about your boyfriend and then your friends reading it is that you're not just doing the, I finished typing it, I'm going to upload it and then put it on sale. You're actually taking the same amount of care that somebody putting it out traditionally would take.

    Nicole: Yes. That was one of the struggles I had with The Modern Prometheus, which is my sophomore novel in the middle there that kind of came out and not a lot happened around it. Then once Phantasmagoria came out and people looked and were like, "Oh, there's a second one in here," that I had spent years writing that and then spent years reading back through and I edited that one basically all by myself. Ren read through it was like, "This is really cool." I was like, "People are enjoying this." When truly you're doing all of the work yourself and so you get so bogged down in it all that I thought The Modern Prometheus was the worst. I'm like, "I just have to put it out there so that it exists and I don't worry about it anymore." That's the one that people have been telling me they like the most.

    Chris: It's funny how that happens. Right?

    Nicole: It's so weird.

    Chris: Phantasmagoria is stories. Has it happened that way with stories where one that you dashed off really quickly ends up being the one that people identify the most with?

    Nicole: Yes. The one with the king who's a werewolf. It's one of my favorites now, but when I wrote it-- It's not goofy, but it's not super deep. It's like a king and his manservant, and the manservant is a woman pretending to be a man and the king is a werewolf pretending he's not and they're just both revealing these secrets to each other and goofing around. I wrote it and I was like, this is fun. I like this. Ren was reading them and then he's like, "That's my favorite. I want you to end on this one. I think it's going to be the strongest ending you can have." I was like, "What? I wrote all these other stories about the human condition, and you like the goofy werewolf one?"

    Chris: That makes me think of a question that I never get to ask because I'm never getting to geek out with somebody about short stories in this way. Very often we're talking about novels and all of that. One of my favorite things about short story collections, whether I'm putting it together myself, or I'm reading through one is the sequencing and the way that that reminds me of musicians and how they sequence an album. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about Ren was like, "You got to end on this one." What was the rest of deciding the order of the stories like?

    Nicole: This one, I was thinking because all the stories-- I had things that I wanted to do with each story, all of them had to have elements of horror. All of them had to have queer characters, like these things that I wanted to meet and then in looking at them, thinking what is my overall cohesive narrative. All these stories are saying similar things if you get down to the core root of them. In what order do they most cohesively say this thing that I want them to say, of there's a spot in horror for queer people like me and for women that previously is not super present.

    It was most of like, in this way, the stories grow and they have an arc like a parabola of goofy stuff and going up to a point of like true horror, grotesque things, monstrous things and monsters and suspense and thrillers and then going back down and like, but it doesn't all have to be that. It can still be me and one of the things that I would do in your class when it's the test of write something you wouldn't normally write here are the things you can't write and I wasn't allowed to use humor in mind because that's constantly what I'm doing.

    That's what I come back to in the end of like, it's kind of how it's bookended for me, the human condition has all these very serious things like death and trauma and all these horrible, horrible things but in the end, it's fun. People are fun and they love each other. That's really what I wanted people to get out of this. It’s like, in the end, it's not going to matter what horrible things have happened or if you're gay, or all of this stuff, it just matters that you're a human person and you're being human with all the other humans. I wanted to get that across even in this gay horror romance monster book.

    Chris: Ending on that funnier one kind of does that.

    Nicole: Yes. One of the things that my dad-- my dad also writes and he always reminds me, as we both like Dolly Parton a lot. She has this thing that she says if you want a hit make it hurt. I want people to feel things and I want them to hurt and I want them to feel all these very human emotions, but I don't want them to be pessimistic leaving my book. I don't want them leaving thinking there's no point. I want to leave them on a high note, which is maybe me pulling a little bit back from Dolly and maybe me not doing what I'm sure a lot of like serious authors would do like, let them feel the pain.

    I'm like, "Don't we feel enough pain?" They can hurt in the middle of the book and they can feel happy at the end.

    Chris: That's a really good point and it's something that I know I struggle with when putting books together is that while I, in reading something or watching something, I tend to get very suspicious of happy endings, I love them when they're done well. I always want to end on something that isn't 100% happy is exactly what you're saying. I mean, yes, bring them down in the middle but let them go on a high. That was when sequencing I think of this quote that I remember Trent Reznor saying in a behind the scenes during-- The guy from Nine Inch Nails.

    Behind the scenes documentary from the ’90s and he was sitting there I think with a lighting designer and he starts with his hand on one side and he gives the same gesture that you gave me a second ago. This gesture of like you start at one place you kind of going up like a mountain and then what he wants to do is bring you all the way down in the middle and then bring you all the way back up. That I feel like is what I'm striving to do. It sounds like what you're striving to do too. Yes, the middle I think is a safe place to have everyone go yes. The nodding along and feeling the hurt. Let them go with some hope.

    Maybe that makes me not a serious writer either but I'd like to be in your company. We'll be not serious writing this together if that's what it makes us.

    We've been talking a lot about the book. I have to confess-- have I read any of these?

    Nicole: A couple of them.

    Chris: Drafts of these you did in my classes.

    Nicole: Yes.

    Chris: I haven't read the whole book. I guess before we get to that one, one last question then stuff that went through classes, how did that end up especially if it was something that maybe you got a high grade on? How did that sort of stuff continue to evolve as you got closer to the book? I always wonder, especially as a teacher, I will sometimes give a high grade because my rubric set I always want to get but my rubric will agree with me and want to give a high grade, but then I think there's still sometimes work to be done. I wonder with some of those, was there additional work that you did?

    Nicole: Absolutely. A bunch of them are things that I wrote in your class. There was the one with the aliens who only eat salmon and use it as gasoline and there's the one of the guy who goes up to the castle and hangs himself so that he can live with the ghost that's there. There were things that I was writing because I had got an idea and I'm like, let's do this week. No. All right, this is the idea. I write it and then I'm like, is it too far to have someone hanging themselves or like is this too goofy because like I have two aliens in the running joke is that they can understand what women say. Does this function? Does that work? It doesn't matter.

    I'm writing it for class if I fit the rubric and I'm technically crafting something, it's existing. Then in coming back to it being, what was actually successful and what did I really like about this? Why did I write this in the first place? That's why not all of the short stories I wrote in classes are in it but the ones that had something in them that I could kind of pull out of. I did end up including the hanging and the woman, I decided it was not too far.

    Chris: It made sense. It's a really interesting process. It's true for every writer I think that and if you take the word revision apart, it's to re vision. Even stuff that seemed successful in college, you're going to come back to it and go yes.

    Nicole: Truly, always.

    Chris: You picked out something to read, I wonder if we could hear that?

    Nicole: I did. It's funny because I mentioned a whole bunch of different stories, and this isn't from any of them. This one is one that I think is one of my favorites in the whole book. It's called “We Who Stand Together.” It's a whole bunch of ladies being vampires. One of them is one who's just been through what, in my eyes, is like the trauma of becoming a vampire of some guy mauling you in an alley. That's horrible.

    Chris: It doesn't sound good.

    Nicole: That's how it always is. These people becoming vampires. It's horrible. This is one of my favorite ones and I have not mentioned it yet so I'm going to read a little bit from it. Just starting in the middle of it.

    "'Becoming a vampire kind of feels bad,' Avery tells her but Bonnie kind of nods. 'That's the understatement of the century,' Bonnie says. 'It feels really bad but I'll be right here, all right? I am here the whole time.' 'Okay,' Avery says. She has a taste for a second and then says, softly, 'Please don't let go.' 'I won't,' Bonnie tells her, and it is the last thing Avery hears before her heart stops.

    Avery's whole life doesn't flash before her eyes like she assumed it would. Instead, in this moment, she could only think of everything she didn't get to do and it's even worse. It's cruel, in a way, because regardless of what Bonnie said, she's pretty sure she was going to die and there's so much she hasn't gotten to do. She tells herself that if she does live, she'll do a little more. Trying to brave some of those things she's thinking about so she doesn't waste any more time. It hurts for a little while and then it doesn't then it's more like she's underwater and she can't feel or see anything but she can think distantly.

    Her thoughts are disordered. She can't hold on to any one concept before it flips away. Awareness comes back to her in pieces. Things are cold and they ache and she forces herself through it because she thinks she might just survive as if she does. She wakes up again and it's still dark and Bonnie is still there looking slightly harrowed. When she sees Avery's open up, she smiles. 'You're allowed to scream here,' Bonnie says. 'You don't know the half of it,' Avery replies without a second thought because everything seems so loud. 'I didn't even know I was screaming. I'm so sorry. Dying is scary,' Bonnie tells her, 'You're allowed to scream.' Avery doesn't hurt anymore.

    The illness that's been weighing on her for days is suddenly lifted. It's suddenly just gone. When she sits upon her own, she lifts her hand, tapping her teeth with her fingertips. She runs the pad of her index finger of her one sharp canine tooth. It definitely wasn't that sharp before. She looks to Bonnie, 'This feels better,' Avery says, almost questioning how she feels. 'Do I have to eat people now?'"

    Chris: The thing that struck me most, it goes back to everything you've said over the course of the whole chat here is it's a vampire story but it's your vampire story and it feels like it's the type of story only you could have written. Not that you need me to tell you to be proud of it but you should be proud of it. I think it's you're a professional.

    Nicole: Thank you. You're a professional.

    Chris: Thanks.

    Announcer: Thank you for listening to Why We Write this season. We hope you've gotten some inspiration, added books to your TBR list, and enjoyed hearing from authors from our rich and varied community. We're already working on season two, and we'll back in your feed in the fall. Until then, please take time to rate and review us on iTunes and share the podcast with a bookish friend. As always, you can find more information in all of our episodes on our podcast page, Lesley.edu/podcast. We hope you have a great summer.