Tag Archives: the hardest thing in this world

“I Don’t Think It’s That Simple” by Nicole Eva Fraser: The Interview

IfItWasThatSimple_highResNicole Eva Fraser talks about
hating first drafts,

writing like a man,
and the unspeakable
life-draining specter
of loneliness in 
I Don’t Think It’s That Simple ~
coming this month

from Second Wind Publishing

 

Interview by Carole Howard

 

Carole Howard writes:

Though Nicole and I haven’t (yet) met in the flesh, we are fellow authors in the same publishing house, and I’ve gotten to know her – perhaps better than I know some people I have met in the flesh – through her writing.

Nicole once said, “Reading gives me a sense of belonging and community. When I see myself in someone else’s story, I remember that other people are in the same boat, that I’m not alone on the journey.”  Her latest book, I Don’t Think It’s That Simple, is a perfect example of that kind of story.

And so I introduce you to my “friend,” Nicole Eva Fraser.

Carole: First, would you briefly summarize I Don’t Think It’s That Simple, for those who haven’t yet read it?

Nicole: A high school basketball coach forms a father-son bond with his star player and falls in love with the boy’s married mother—until a surreal accident changes the course of all their futures.

Carole: And what’s the significance of the title?  No spoilers, please!

Nicole: What if someone told you one relatively simple thing that could give you the key, the freedom to make a new start in your life? Would you listen?

Carole:  I’m interested in your writing process.  Are you a seat-of-the-pantser, or someone who knows what is going to happen in the book before she starts writing it?

Nicole: My writing process is slow and involves years of rewriting. I hate writing first drafts; getting things down the first time just about kills me. Rewriting is easier. I start out with a general idea of what’s going to happen in a book, but not many specifics.

Have you heard the saying, “Most people don’t want to write; they want to have written”? I think that’s what separates writers from pretenders. Yes, writing is endlessly painful, difficult, and messy—and we love it. We can’t live without it. It’s how we’re wired. And whether or not we receive acclaim, even if no one ever reads our work but us, we keep doing it.

Carole: I’m absolutely fascinated that you could write in a male narrator’s voice.  What was that like?

Nicole: I assumed I’d write the book from Julia Atwater’s point of view, so that how I started out. But it kept feeling wrong. I couldn’t get any momentum. A voice in my head said that I should write in Evan Leighton’s voice, so I switched POVs, and the story started flowing.

It probably helped that I’ve always felt comfortable in male environs. I was a tomboy growing up. I used to know some pro ball players and coaches—the unglamorous parts of their lives. I’ve raised two sons who are athletes. For years I’ve worked out at a hole-in-the-wall gym with grunting, sweating guys, because we’re just there to get strong.

Carole: On your website, you say, “My dream to be a published writer was…. always about the fact that our stories matter, and it’s important to share them.”  When I wrote my own novels, I incorporated experiences and observations from my own life.  I assume, based on your saying that “our stories matter,” that it’s true for you, too.  Is that so?

Nicole: Another reason why Evan Leighton’s voice came naturally to me is that I am him…or I was him, at another time in my life. Growing up as a completely unwanted child. As an adult, successful on the outside, dying on the inside. An introvert who is expected to be an extrovert and can’t quite manage it, is always on the run from people. Stuck in emotional quicksand. And lonely, so desperately lonely inside.

I remember when I started out on this project, I thought I was writing a book about love…then realized I was writing a book about loneliness.

Carole: Yes, definitely a book about loneliness. And I’m guessing, from the book, that faith plays an important role in your life?

Nicole: My spiritual journey has been circuitous. In my spiritual life (and most parts of my life), I’ve always been an outsider. I’m the one who feels perpetually outside in the cold, face pressed against the glass looking in at the warm and happy group, desperate to belong but knowing that’s not my true home. At times in my life, I’ve been part of a close church family, and loved the safety of that. But something always put me on the road again. Evan Leighton personifies some of that spiritual struggle…a struggle Julia also understands, but she sticks with church for her son’s sake.

Carole: And how did you get the idea for the book in the first place — was it a plot-spark? or a character-spark?  Or something else?

Nicole: A million times through the years, I’ve shuddered thinking about how utterly alone I would have been in this life if not for my children. In the past, I wasn’t always able to stop the nightmare-thoughts about how that unspeakable life-draining specter of loneliness would have destroyed everything I tried to do if I didn’t have my children to love and love me back. Evan Leighton and Hunter Atwater came out of that.

Carole: I love-love-love the essay Hunter wrote about his three fathers.  Can you tell us (again –no spoilers, please) about writing that essay?

Nicole: That essay was one of those gifts we writers sometimes receive from the invisible plane. It popped into my head one day, just the way you saw it in the book. I didn’t change a word. The whole time I was capturing the words on paper, I cried, and my shoulders were shaking, and I cried afterward, those deep soul-sobs that feel like they’re swallowing you up into oblivion. A mystery.

Carole: How moving.  Thank you, Nicole, for telling us about your life, your book, and your writing process.

 

Nicole Eva Fraser Photo 2250x1500 BrighterNicole Eva Fraser is the author of The Hardest Thing in This World, released by Second Wind Publishing in October 2013, and I Don’t Think It’s That Simple, forthcoming in March 2015.

 

 

carole howardCarole Howard (carolejhoward.wordpress.com) is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.  Set in West Africa, Deadly Adagio gives the reader a peek into Senegal, amateur orchestras, the Peace Corps, the State Department, and a tribal custom that the book’s protagonist finds brutal. All of that, plus a murder to solve!

 

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Ghosts of my past and present – by Nicole Eva Fraser

Mikmaq womenWhen I was in my thirties, I discovered major secrets on my mother’s side of the family: she was Pennsylvania Shawnee a hundred years back on her father’s side, which was forgivable—but her maternal great-grandmother and many other female relatives were full-blooded Micmac Indians from Canada. My mother’s disowned brother was the rebel who had hunted down this truth.

Having Micmac blood was kept a family secret because, in early 20th-century Boston, Micmacs were considered contemptible, inferior creatures, similar to the low-caste untouchables of India.

My mother’s parents were social and professional climbers who benefited from the Scottish heritage that lightened their hair and skin. Their Indian blood, however, explained the fierce eyes, the broad foreheads and faces, the silent endurance and the melancholy that persisted through the generations to me.

My mother’s mother’s side of the family descended from Scottish Highland troops, who came to Atlantic Canada around 1800, and their Micmac Indian wives. The women were native to the region that became Campbellton, New Brunswick, across the Restigouche River from Québec.

Those original Scots settlers married Micmac women, had sons who grew up and married Micmac women, and so on. In the 1890s, some of these men packed up their wives and children and emigrated from Canada to Boston in search of better lives. The full-blooded Micmac women, my great-great grandmothers and aunts, were closeted away, and died before I was born in Boston in 1959.

Soon after learning about my hidden heritage, I found out through research that the Micmacs are a tribe with very little recorded history. The one book I uncovered is a cobbling-together of disparate historical items dating back to the 1500s—journal notes from French and Scots explorers; a few drawings and, later, photographs; Quebecois census pages; transcriptions of brief conversations with Micmac elders.

A few of those disparate pieces of history gave me an immediate sense of connection to my ancestors.

For example, the first French explorers who sailed into an Atlantic Canadian harbor in 1534 were greeted by tribesmen who ran into the water bearing gifts and calling, “Nikmaq! Nikmaq!” which means “My kin-friends! My kin-friends!” The innocence and naiveté of the Micmacs’ open hearts led ultimately to their destruction—a fractured innocence I relate to.

French explorer Chretien Le Clerc, writing around 1680 in Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, said, “One cannot express the tenderness and affection which the fathers and mothers have for their children. I have seen considerable presents offered to the parents in order that they might give the children to certain Frenchmen who would have taken them to France. But this would have torn their hearts, and millions would not induce them to abandon their children for a moment.” That fierce, tender, all-consuming love runs also in my veins for my sons.

And the eighteenth-century missionary priest Abbé Maillard documented the Micmacs’ affinity for rhyming metered verse: “I take care of observing measure and cadence in the delivery of my words…I affect, above all, to rhyme as they do…If I read this (language) to you myself, the rhyming talent of these people would be obvious.” I was born with a flair for rhyme and meter, a quality that led me into a surprisingly successful career writing verses for commercial products.

Beyond the connections of history, Micmac myths and legends rang true to my own difficult growing-up story.

Micmac legends are dark; nothing is as it seems; no one is as they seem; very few of the tales have happy endings. Hideous, violent beings stalk the innocent ones, and at any moment, a seeming Hero could become a Villain and vice versa, because the universe is unpredictable and unreliable.

Many of the Micmac legends are universal—they would ring true for lots of people. Tales about marriage being a dangerous partnership. Cautionary tales about the mistake of flaunting your Power. Stories about the strong bonds between siblings, and between people and animals. One story about a grief-stricken father who braves the terrors of Ghost World in a desperate attempt to bring his child back from the dead.

I could see that the universality was one reason the Micmac legends had endured.

And that was the beginning of my novel The Hardest Thing in This World. I decided to weave, with universal threads, a story about ghosts, mental illness, and family—threads that many of us share.

I wanted to write a story that whispers to the reader, This is a little bit of what it was like for me, for us. This is how I see it. 

A story that asks Do you want to know what it was like? or Was it this way for you, too?

A story that invites the reader in and says I hope you try to understand, or You belong.

Your stories matter. Your life matters. And when you’re gone, your stories remain to affirm I was here. My life had meaning.

Nicole Eva Fraser is the author of The Hardest Thing in This World, released by Second Wind Publishing in October 2013.

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