Alumni

May 11, 2021 at 3:02 pm

Alumni News | Nicole Willson Dubs Her Debut Novel ‘Historical Cosmic Horror’

Nicole Willson, portrait

Nicole Willson

Ohio University alumna Nicole Willson came to the plate six times — book in hand — before she finally hit a home run.

She did it her way — with a dark and scary novel she describes as “historical cosmic horror.” And she has some advice for OHIO writers getting into the field.

Willson earned a B.A. in in English in 1990 and has a resume full of writing and web roles. And now her debut novel.

Q: Tell us about your debut book, Tidepool…and what advice do you have for authors just starting out?  

A: Tidepool is historical cosmic horror set primarily in 1913. Sorrow Hamilton’s search for her missing brother takes her to Tidepool, Maryland, a small shoreside town that’s the last place her brother is known to have visited. When she discovers the town’s ghastly secret, Tidepool’s denizens—human and otherwise—become hell bent on making sure she never leaves.

The novel comes out from Parliament House Press in August 2021, and a Spanish translation will be coming from Dilatando Mentes Editorial in Spain in October 2022.

Tidepool is the sixth novel I’ve written and the first to get a publishing deal.

After coming up with the bones of the story during a walk on the beach in Delaware, I wrote the first draft in November 2016 for NaNoWriMo, the worldwide “write a novel in a month” challenge. In 2017 an early version of Tidepool was selected for Pitch Wars, an online mentoring program, where I worked with author Peter McLean to get Tidepool into publishing shape. I connected with Parliament House in 2019 during a Twitter pitching event.

I’d tell new authors to write whatever genres you truly enjoy writing and ignore anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. I’ve had a near-lifelong passion for horror fiction, but several people in my formative years advised me to stick to writing “serious” (i.e. literary) fiction instead. The “serious” fiction I wrote was seriously dull, because my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t start seeing any success with my work until I refocused on horror and dark fantasy, the type of literature I’ve always liked to read and write.

I’d also tell new authors not to fear social media—it’s an invaluable tool for meeting other writers and learning about opportunities to get your work out there! I found both my publisher and my agent via Twitter.

Q: You’ve been doing a lot of other writing before the novel; how would you describe your vocations and avocations since you graduated from OHIO?

A: I had visions of becoming a journalist who wrote fiction on the side, but discovered that getting big jobs at newspapers and magazines right out of college wasn’t as easy as the movies and TV made it look. I did editorial work at a few D.C. companies before becoming interested in website design. I taught myself HTML well enough to get a job working on a corporate website, and I’ve juggled both editorial and web work since then.

After living in Maryland and Washington, D.C., I moved to Virginia with my husband. I also achieved a longtime goal of appearing on Jeopardy! in 2011, and I’m so grateful I got to be on the show while the late, great Alex Trebek was the host.

As for my fiction, I started going to writing workshops and submitting to magazines almost immediately after graduation, but a few really negative experiences soured me on that for a while. Nothing like having an instructor throw your story in a wastebasket in front of an entire workshop to make you want to do something else for a while. I turned to blogging to satisfy my ever-present need to write. It took me until 2011 to start writing fiction again, and I didn’t start submitting to agents and editors until 2016, after I’d finally developed the thick skin I didn’t have in my early ’20s.

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?

A: I loved the Honors Tutorial courses I took with Drs. Susan Crowl and Lawrence Bartlett. Though I wasn’t in the college, they allowed me to join the English program after another professor took me to Dr. Bartlett’s office and recommended me. I’d never before had an opportunity to sit in a professor’s office and just discuss the assigned reading one-on-one for an hour every week. They both hosted picnics and parties for the students in the program, and it truly felt like I had a family away from home. And I’ll never forget the colorful comments Dr. Bartlett left in the margins of my papers; whether you’d written something he really liked or something he really didn’t, he wasn’t shy about letting you know.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

A: One afternoon, my creative writing professor (I’m not naming names) showed up to class having very clearly enjoyed an early Happy Hour somewhere. He was absolutely brutal with everyone else’s work, but still really liked mine. I figured if my writing passed that test, I had to be on the right track.

In all seriousness, I’m 52 and I’m not sure I’ve ever had an “I’ve got this” moment. The thing about writing—and about life—is that no matter what personal milestones I might reach, there’s always another goal to focus on, and you have no idea what life might be about to throw at you. Whenever I can, I take workshops and courses to improve my craft and always try to be working on something new.

Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?

A: My father died suddenly halfway through my freshman year, and that blew apart the world I was just getting accustomed to. Coming back to OU after his funeral and trying to get back on track was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The friends I’d made helped me to get my emotional ship righted again, but concentrating on coursework was really hard for a while. I wanted to get into Phi Beta Kappa (and eventually did), and that gave me a concrete goal to pursue whenever I felt my focus slipping.

And while I miss a lot of things about OU, I don’t miss Jeff Hill one bit.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: Early in my freshman year, two sophomores I’d just met took me to hang out in front of Æthelred Eldridge’s incredible mural at the Siegfred Hall amphitheater, and I’d return there again and again just to meditate on it and regroup throughout my time at OU. I also enjoyed watching my friend Bob Nebel perform his live final for Mel Helitzer’s standup comedy class at the Front Room, a very OU experience. And I sold off almost all my tapes at Haffa’s Records in order to get enough money to see the Replacements play at MemAud in 1987. Great show, and completely worth having to rebuild my music collection.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

A: Everything! Seriously, Athens is a wonderful town and you’re going to be closer to more varied and affordable cultural events than you might ever be again, so take advantage. Go to the literary festivals and film festivals and concerts and talks and anything else that catches your attention. If a course sounds interesting to you, take it even if it’s not part of your major. Whenever I think of the times I’d sit in my dorm room complaining about being bored, or pass up an interesting class because it wasn’t part of my degree requirements, I want to go back in time and bonk Past Self on the head.

You can find me on the web at http://www.nicolewillson.com.

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