Nicole Willson writes horror and dark fantasy. Her debut novel Tidepool (Parliament House Press) came out in August 2021 and is a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in publications by Cemetery Gates Media and hinged.press on Medium. She has attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp, the Futurescapes Writers’ Workshop, and the Fearscapes Writers’ Workshop. She lives with her husband and a rotating cast of cats in Northern Virginia. Find out more about Nicole at www.nicolewillson.com.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
I live in Northern Virginia with my husband and a lot of cats. In my non-writing life, I’ve been a publications editor, a web maintenance specialist, and a Jeopardy contestant. I’m a member of the Horror Writers Association, as I write primarily horror and dark fantasy; it’s just how I’m wired. I enjoy writing both short fiction and novels.
2. What drew you to that particular genre?
From a very young age, I was captivated by books that had a horrific tone. Even if the stories weren’t considered horror (such as L. Frank Baum’s Oz books), the grimmer details in those works were what stayed with me and kept me up at night. Discovering Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dracula in grade school sent me further down the dark fiction path, and I started trying my hand at my own scary stories. Although I tried writing literary fiction after graduating from college, I was much happier and more successful when I went back to writing horror, my real love.
3. What’s your best known work?
That would probably be my debut novel Tidepool, which came out from Parliament House Press in August 2021 and is currently a finalist for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. (That’s a mouthful, but I will never get tired of saying it.)
4. What inspired you to write it?
Several years ago, I was walking along the beach in Delaware and my mind wandered. I started thinking about setting a story in an oceanside town several decades in the past. Terrible, murderous things lived in the ocean, and the only thing standing between them and the townspeople was a lone woman who could control the situation. The story evolved and became far more complex, but that was the beginning of my idea.
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, pantser or somewhere in between? How do you research?
I’ve tried everything! My very first NaNoWriMo novel was almost completely pantsed other than a few scenes I’d envisioned ahead of time. But for Tidepool and the next novel I wrote, I outlined first. My current WIP is something I came up with on the very first day of NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I work with a project in whatever way it comes to me, basically.
I tend to write first and research later when I need to go back to the manuscript and add or verify details. Mostly, I’m adding things. My first drafts are very sparse.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
Because Tidepool is set primarily in 1913, I had to figure out how my main character would get from her hometown of Baltimore to my fictional town of Tidepool. I purchased a subscription to the online archives of the Baltimore Sun and immersed myself in the 1913 issues so I had a sense of what her world would have been like. I was also able to use information from the old newspapers to figure out how she traveled between those towns. It involved taking a steamer boat from Baltimore’s inner harbor, something I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
My father died when I was 18, and even today I revisit that in my works. I wrote a short story several years ago titled “One Man’s Trash,” based on a real thing that happened when my mother and I were cleaning out some of his belongings. It centered around the way that little by little and bit by bit, a person who has recently died is taken out of the world as you give away, sell, or throw away their things. I’ve called on that experience in several of my other works as well. I think I’ve written maybe one novel draft in which the main character has two living parents.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I’m very drawn to writers like Shirley Jackson, especially the stark prose style she used for “The Lottery.” Writers who can use fairly straightforward, unadorned language to absolutely shock and terrify me are very inspirational. There are, of course, very strong Lovecraftian cosmic horror influences in Tidepool.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood by Eric LaRocca and Benny Rose, The Cannibal King by Hailey Piper. No wonder I have trouble sleeping!
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
You can find a fair number of my short stories online at this link: nicolewillson.medium.com/a-handy-list-of-my-fiction-on-medium – they are free to read.
Tidepool and anthologies I’ve appeared in are available at Amazon or at any online bookstore of your choice.
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