Nicole’s story “The Undertaker’s Son” appears in Issue #15.
How did “The Undertaker’s Son” come to be? What inspired it?
The Undertaker’s Son is actually (as of now) the 8th chapter of a novel I have under construction called The Witches Knot, which features a lot of standalone chapters that I feel work well as short stories and, in some cases, were conceived in that way. The book is loosely based on some weird family history. I had actually forgotten about this before you asked this question because Albert’s just been in the book for so long, but he actually came from a story my grandmother told me about a boy in their neighborhood whose family ran a local funeral home and, as teenagers do, he liked to joyride. Except he would take the family hearse. That mental image-a hearse loaded down with wild teenagers, tearing through the streets of a small town, really stuck with me. As the book was shaping up to be about magic in one way or another, the speaking with ghosts thing seemed a natural evolution of a character who was growing up in this house of the dead. Albert does use the hearse for all sorts of extra-curricular activities in the novel, but he didn’t wind up actually being the joy-riding sort. He’s a more contemplative guy.
American Horror Story — favorite character and why?
A good question! That’s a little like choosing a favorite stab wound, isn’t it? They’re all such terrible people! But I have a soft spot for poor Violet and I think Taissa Farmiga is really impressive actress, both for her age and in general. She did some really cool stuff with Violet. And I think everyone who watches that show is actually federally mandated to love Jessica Lange as Constance.
What’s the best thing you took away from Clarion?
It’s really tough to narrow an experience like Clarion down to just one important thing. So much about my life changed after Clarion and those changes were not at all confined to writing and writing-related things. Writing-wise, the most important thing I learned was that writing was a job that I was doing. Not a kind of ethereal ongoing vision quest (though there can sometimes be elements of that). It’s about putting the words on the page, putting the pages in the mail and doing it again and again and again. And then you die, I think.
Non-writing, but kind of similar: the best time for everything is now. Nothing’s going to wait for you to get your stuff together and, quite frankly, no one has so much time that they can go around wasting it. Move towards happiness, a greater sense of fulfillment and do it now because what more important thing do you have to do?
Favorite book you read in 2011?
I’m not going to remember the name of this because it was a while ago, but around winter of 2011, I was reading a lot about the early Hollywood and I read this really fascinating book about Birth of a Nation, as a work of art, as part of a history of racial panic films, and as the life-long project of the writer (fun fact: the writer once wound up playing the male lead in a stage show adapted from the novel-it was originally a novel-because, while taking a cast trip to the beach, the original leading man was attacked and killed by a shark. That story is amazing and I love it.)
What piece of advice would you give writers for the coming year?
The best writing advice I can always think of is the simplest: remember that writing is important and treat it that way. There’s no need to be starving in a garret, but prioritize writing and make it a daily part of your life. It’s your job, even if you’re not seeing immediate tangible benefits. Basically, I think it’s important to be what you want to be. If you behave like a data entry temp or a greenhouse attendant who also writes, that’s what you’ll be. Instead, be a writer who also enters data or tends greenhouses.