I’d never worked with author Nicole Clarkston before my anthology Rational Creatures. Rita Deodato, Portuguese blogger of "From Pemberley to Milton," recommended her books to me. Her Rational Creatures story, "Every Past Affliction," how Marianne Dashwood fell in-love with the colonel was sweet, thoughtful, and clever. I started following Nicole on social media, and we said we would meet if Rita ever visited the Pacific Northwest. (Nicole lives in Oregon; I live in Washington.) I later met Nicole for coffee when my daughter was swimming at the 2018 Speedo Sectionals, Mt. Hood, Oregon. Nicole was as friendly, generous, and insightful as I had hoped.
CHRISTINA: When did you first think you had a book to write and how did you start? And what did your family think?
NICOLE: I know this story always makes you giggle! Okay, so I was a young mom of three, recovering from a series of miscarriages (that was rough), closing down our RV rental business, and looking for something else to keep me occupied, and fill my head with more than single-syllable words. I’d been going back and devouring every classic book I’d ever missed out on, including Pride & Prejudice and North and South. Then I found my first P&P Fan Fiction at the library, and it was all over. It got to the point that I couldn’t sleep at night because I had stories in my head. I’d have full paragraphs and scenes, word for word, written in my head whenever I was driving somewhere. But I was too embarrassed to publish… What would my family think? No way!
But it wouldn’t stop nagging me, and I thought… Well, maybe I could keep it a secret. So, one night, I snuck out of bed (I’m from West Coast America, and here it’s “snuck,” not “sneaked,”) and by the time I went back to bed, I had two chapters written of my first book. That was No Such Thing as Luck. I was having a jolly time writing it on Google Docs, so I could write on my phone (in the shower…actually ruined a phone that way.) A couple of months later, however, I got hit with my first case of writer’s block, and the idea for Rumours & Recklessness came to me. So, I crept out of bed again and had about three thousand words written that night. I kept working on them in tandem and, about nine months after I first started writing, I published No Such Thing. A 99-cent pre-order, and I got a couple of good reviews almost right away. Whee! So, I finished Rumours.
This was the one that scared me. I had it up for about two weeks on a 99-cent pre-order (because nobody knew me) and it went gangbusters. I still don’t understand it. That book had almost a thousand pre-orders, and I was actually panicking. I didn’t know what to do! The morning it launched, I checked my sales platform and about had a heart attack. My husband was on his way out the door for a job interview that morning for a promotion, (which he ended up getting). I kissed him goodbye, and he was a little nervous. I was shaking and giddy and, by way of encouragement, I told him my news. He just thought I’d been on Facebook a lot for the last year! I said, “Whatever you do, don’t tell your mom!”
Guess what he did?
Pretty soon, the whole family knew, and they were all super supportive. My mother-in-law asked me once, “Do you really have stories in your head all the time?” Yeah, pretty much. I still don’t really let them read my stuff, but I have a sister-in-law who gets it on the sly. I’m always embarrassed to let people I know read what I write because I put a lot of stuff into my books. Some of it is actually personal experiences and feelings, and some of it is stuff that I pull from thin air, and heaven forbid if they think…well, I just try to close my eyes and pretend “This isn’t happening.”
CHRISTINA: I love that story. That could be a book too.
What is your current project or latest release?
NICOLE: Haha, which one shall we talk about? I have three that can really qualify as “latest” releases, because I’ve been writing like mad lately. Mr. Darcy and the Governess came out about a month ago. It was supposed to be a silly, fluff piece, very, very, very loosely inspired by the old Cary Grant movie, Father Goose. It ended up being nothing at all like my first concept, and I loved how it turned out. Right after that, I published a free short called Mr. Darcy’s Fair Trade for my newsletter subscribers that also turned out bigger and richer than I’d intended. Someday, I might have to go back and expand that one to a full novel. And my first Christmas story is making its way through the final publishing process and will be out by midnight tonight. That one is titled How to Get Caught Under the Mistletoe: A Lady’s Guide. A bit of holiday escapism for you!
But I actually have three pen names, and if you’re counting, those releases were all under Alix James’s name. I’ve been neglecting my "Sweet Cowboy Romance" series written under Tess Thornton, so as of today, I’m back on book five of that series. This guy has a brooding, “still waters run deep” personality, and I’m dying to get to him. My last cowboy from the Walker Family will be up sometime this winter (release date will depend more on the holidays then when I actually have it ready for publication).
My third pen name is actually the one I started with—Nicole Clarkston. That name is now reserved for classic, non-P&P Regency romances. Bess and the Highwayman went live earlier this year, so I have books two and three in the hopper for the next six months. Hopefully!
CHRISTINA: You are one busy woman!
Pantser or plotter or hybrid?
NICOLE: I’ve done all the above at one point or another. My first books were all straight pantsers. These Dreams forced me to make a bit of a plan. Now, I have a rough-beats outline that I hit. I always have a little cache of research links in the back files for each book in process and scene highlights that I want to make happen. Sometimes the road getting there changes from the original, so I don’t try to dial it in too tightly. However, I will say that for my latest, the Christmas novella, I actually had a very detailed plot. I did that because I did a fair bit of research on actual Regency Christmas traditions, and I wanted a specific outline for dates, events, etcetera. And it actually did speed me up.
CHRISTINA: Ooh, a Christmas novella! That's fun.
What do you think is your strength as a writer?
NICOLE: This is a tricky question because self-delusion is a real thing, no matter what you do! But when I read what people say about my work, and when I compare what I write to other authors I admire, I feel like I have a couple of strengths. I feel like I am good at dialogue and pacing, keeping things lively and interesting. I also work hard to get deeper inside my characters’ heads, so the reader can feel what they feel, and hopefully without too much navel-gazing. And another thing I care a great deal about is taking a real historical setting and making it feel exciting without getting in the way of the story. Yes, I’ll tweak certain things to make the story work, but I try to make it authentic. In the end, though, the story is king, not the historical research.
CHRISTINA: Makes total sense. I love historical accuracy, but I can allow a little blurring of the lines if the story works better.
Which of your own novels is your favorite?
NICOLE: Also a tricky question. My least favorite is the one that was the most successful—Rumours. I’ve just learned so much about craft since then that I can hardly stand to go back and read it! From a technical standpoint, I think Tempted, Nefarious, These Dreams, and Nowhere But North all have points that I was very proud to have pulled off. They all made me a better writer. And when I started playing with novellas, I really had to tighten down my technique. You wouldn’t believe how much more care has to go into every single word when you only have twenty thousand of them. So, I’m proud of all those, because of what they forced me to learn. But I guess I have to say that my favorite is almost always the one I just finished. The most recent book is always the one that most closely reflects where I am as a writer and a person (emotionally and mentally) at any given moment.
CHRISTINA: Ha! Why yes, I do understand how much tighter a short story needs to be. Remember the seven anthologies I've curated and edited?
What are you reading now?
NICOLE: Don’t hate on me, but I’m reading my own books. I’m going back to write book five of a series that’s been on the shelf for a few months, so I need to immerse myself in that world again. This weekend, I started A Home for the Cowboy, which I published as Tess Thornton, and I’ll go through the series as I write the final book. I just had the sweet opportunity to read Melanie Rachel’s Christmas WIP, and boy, oh, boy, are you guys in for a treat! I’m also looking forward to whatever my friend Joy Dawn King is working on. But honestly, I almost never read Jane Austen Fiction anymore, unless it’s a friend’s book. I learned early on that it is way too easy for my brain to pick up threads and expressions and make them my own, and I don’t want to take even the slightest chance of plagiarizing anyone. Plus, we all have our ways of interpreting the characters, and if I need to get a Darcy Check, I’ll go back to Jane Austen’s original.
CHRISTINA: Yes, that makes so much sense. That would be unfortunate to have someone even suggest a writer copies someone's work.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
NICOLE: A horse trainer. A starving one, probably. Good thing I married an engineer!
CHRISTINA: I always love when you post photos of your life with your animals on the farm.
Do you hide any secrets in your novels only a select few might know?
NICOLE: Every book has little Easter Eggs, but I can’t remember most of them now. Terrible, isn’t it? But I do love using certain phrases over in each book, as well as little nuggets that you have to read between the lines to discover. There’s one in the Christmas novella, in Mr. Bennet’s letter to Elizabeth while she is in London, when he laments that he’s looking forward to the day when someone writes a Christmas chorale on the wonders of “silence.” (Silent Night was composed in 1818). And the word “Nefarious” finds its way into my writing in almost every book since then. I think.
CHRISTINA: How did writing your first book change your writing process?
NICOLE: Technically, I don’t suppose I had a “process” to “change,” but I definitely set certain patterns that I continue to this day. One is that I block out time to write, but my writing doesn’t stay at my desk. I do treat this like a full-time job, but like any small business, it doesn’t confine itself to eight to five hours. I always have a way to sync whatever I’m writing to my phone, and I will work on it when I’m waiting for my kids somewhere or relaxing at the end of the day, etcetera. Sometimes I will go outside to do chores and dictate a scene into my phone. I always write on camping trips. A Good Memory is Unpardonable was written entirely on my phone while we were camping in the desert, and it launched on my twentieth wedding anniversary. I’ve refined my writing/editing/launch patterns as my back list grew, and they’re about to change again to adapt to some new things I want to do over the next couple of years. However, I would say the chief hallmark of my “process” is that I write anywhere and everywhere.
CHRISTINA: I am impressed that you write so much while on your phone. I can blog and do social media, send out emails, and even write notes about story ideas, but an entire book? That's crazy talk!
Thank you for your time and sharing such great stories. I hope your next release goes smoothly. Best wishes this holiday season. We must get together again if Rita Deodato ever gets to the West Coast. I want to do a dune buggy trip in the desert!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Clarkston is a book lover and a happily married mom of three. Originally from Idaho, she now lives in Oregon with her own romantic hero, several horses, and one very fat dog. She has loved crafting alternate stories and sequels since she was a child watching Disney’s Robin Hood and is never found sitting quietly without a book of some sort.
Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties. (How does any book worm really live that long without a little Pride and Prejudice?) She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days), she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole’s books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.