Welcome to the first edition of Cheri's 20 Questions! My first interviewee is the amazingly talented Nola Nash. Originally from south Louisiana, Nola Nash now makes her home in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband and three children. Growing up in Baton Rouge, she spent long hours onstage or backstage in the local community theaters, and writing stories that refused to leave her head any other way than to be put on paper. Her biggest inspiration was the city of New Orleans that gave her at an early age a love of the magic, mystery, and history. Nola has a Masters degree in education, which means when she isn’t writing, she’s teaching English and co-directing the school plays and musicals. She is also a certified Teacher Consultant for the Middle Tennessee Writing Project.
Tell us a little something about what you write: Historical paranormal mystery/suspense and a splash of historical romance.
Cheri: What is the first book that made you cry?
Nola: To Kill a Mockingbirdand it still does to this day, even after having read it 5 times and teaching it for three years. It’s powerful and precious. Mrs. Dubose and Boo get me every single time.
Cheri: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Nola: It energizes me! Getting the stories that are swirling around in my head out and onto paper frees space for more ideas.
Cheri: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Nola: Keep reading all those huge literary classics. They will be your foundation as a writer.
Cheri: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Nola: I can’t wait to find that out!
Cheri: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Nola: Is it cliché to say the best money I ever spent as a writer is on books to read? Honestly, I write on my work laptop that I bring home (I don’t actually have one that I own) and use free Google apps, so I’m a pretty cheap writer!
Cheri: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Nola: When I was in kindergarten, I had the chance to be in a production of Macbeth. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I loved the language and rhythm of the lines. William Shakespeare captivated me as a theater kid first, and as a reader when I could finally read those word for myself. I was pulled in by the witches, which may have something to do with what I write today. Thanks for that one, Billy Shakes!
Cheri: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Nola: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I absolutely love that book. It’s creative, weird, and witty. More people should read it if for no other reason than to get the joke on the dash of the Tesla they launched into space. On the in-dash screen of the car were the words: Don’t panic.
Cheri: As a writer, what would you say is your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Nola: A dragon. Which is weird because I don’t write dragon stories. I do, however, have a dragon tattoo because I say as a mother, teacher, and writer its my job to light the fire within.
Cheri: How many published, unpublished, and half-finished books do you have?
Nola: I have one accepted and in process for publication, another in as a submission, and a couple unfinished. One of those, I recently pulled out for an overhaul and will, hopefully, get that one finished soon.
Cheri: What does literary success look like to you?
Nola: This is a tough question for a southern girl raised to be self-deprecating. Part of me says, “I’ll feel successful when I can go to a bookstore or library and find my own book on the shelves.” The other part of me says, “Let’s put this story on the big screen!” It can be hard to reconcile the pragmatic with the outrageously optimistic.
Cheri: What do you feel is the best way to market your books?
Nola: I’m a social person who likes to get out there in the world. I think social media, interviews, and events are good ways for me to market my books because I like to meet folks and talk writing with them. When people can feel the energy you have about what you do, they want to be part of that! I’m not a “sales” kind of person, but I’m definitely a relationship person.
Cheri: What kind of research do you do, and how much time do you typically spend researching before beginning a new book?
Nola: TONS! I’ve always got books with sticky notes and highlighting all over them and a list of bookmarked websites as I write. Since I focus on historical fiction and my beloved New Orleans in particular, I want to do right by those places and times. It’s important to have the basis in fact so you can weave the fiction around it. I also write about mystical practices and I’m a believer in experience breeding good writing, so I go through those rituals and practices learning what they feel like, sound like, smell like, and what sensations or emotions they evoke. By experiencing those things, I can write more authentically about them and let my reader experience them too.
Cheri: How do you select the names for your characters?
Nola: It depends on what I’m writing. For books set in New Orleans, I tend to research names from that place and the era I’m working with to keep it authentic. Sometimes I make them up like the heroine in my first Pandamoon novel. Other names, especially for more modern characters, I gather from people I meet or know. I first name here, paired with a last name there…..The main character in the book in submission right now has the first name of a steakhouse waitress and the last name of a college admission counselor from a school my son applied to.
Cheri: Do you hide secrets (or Easter Eggs) in your books for people to find?
Nola: I wish I could say that I did. There are allusions to books that are special to me, but no Easter Eggs. I tend to get too carried away with the story I’m telling to do that. When I’m writing, it’s like I’m watching a movie in my head and writing as fast as I can to keep up with it. There’s no way I’d keep up with Easter Eggs, too!
Cheri: What was your hardest scene to write?
Nola: There was a scene where I had to kill a character I loved. I tried so hard to find a way to let her live, but it was best for the story that she didn’t. It was torturing me to do it, but the panic and pain in having to kill her in the story translated to the characters in the scene and it turned out to be exactly what the book needed.
Cheri: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Nola: Having to walk away in the middle of those moments where the words are rushing onto the page. I’m a wife, mom, and teacher and those things have schedules and needs that must be tended to. It doesn’t matter how powerful the inspiration may be, when the bell rings to start school, inspired writing takes a back burner. It’s especially difficult because you regret what could have come from those times if only you had the ability to give into them when they hit.
Cheri: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Nola: That depends on what’s happening in my life when I’m writing. Since I’m usually doing most of my focused writing around school breaks, it can take about a year to get one finished. Although, I started one last summer and it sort of took off. That one was finished in 8 months.
Cheri: What is your favourite childhood book?
Nola: My favorite book was P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? My grandmother used to read this book to me in her high-pitched Mississippi drawl and I loved every minute of it every single time she read it. She must have read it hundreds of times over the years. Those memories are so vivid, even decades later. I can see the room, the lamp on the table, her on the edge of the bed, and smell the familiar smells of their house. The memory of that book brings back so much of the times spent with my grandparents.
Cheri: Where/when do you find yourself most inspired?
Nola: Well, this one is so easy. The French Quarter. Hands down. Period. Everything about it. The architecture, the history, the people, the spirit of the place. New Orleans has a soul. It lives and breathes. It reaches out to you, wraps it’s arms around you, and whispers stories of times and crimes gone by. I can’t explain the connection I have to that city other than it’s a part of who I am. One day, I’ll get back there to stay and be inspired all day every day.
Cheri: Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Nola: Write something. Write anything. And keep doing it. Learn from the process who you are and what speaks to you. Take the risks and play with words and ideas. No one has to see that part if you don’t want them to. You might be surprised what you can do when you let yourself cut loose.
Cheri: Thank you so much for answering my questions, Nola! It's been a pleasure having you. Next month the wonderful Matt Coleman will be joining us, so stay tuned!
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Award winning historical romance author, Acquisitions Manager for Pandamoon Publishing, wife, and stay-at-home mom of four. Chocoholic, nerd, & bath bomb enthusiast.