I didn’t begin to write seriously until the fall of 2008, when I attended a convention called Context in Columbus, Ohio, and participated in a short story critique workshop led by Gary Braunbeck. That workshop taught me many valuable lessons (the most important being that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew).
I decided writing was a serious goal, not just a hobby, and pursued it pretty much each night. If my writing career was a Rocky movie, this would be the training montage. Except it’s far more boring than a Rocky movie training montage, because I didn’t have to punch frozen beef in a freezer or jog on frigid Philadelphia mornings. My training montage would consist of me sitting on my ass and reading, writing, proofreading, editing, submitting, then dealing with rejection after rejection after rejection.
That’s why they make movies about aspiring athletes and not about aspiring writers. No action scenes.
Over time, some of my short stories started to sell. At first it was a trickle, just one or two a year. But it grew from there. I started to sell more stories and started to sell to stronger and stronger markets. The work started to ocassionally get noticed, too (reviews, honorable mentions, etc.)
For some time I just assumed I would be a short story writer, and I focused on accepting that about myself. But then, out of nowhere, my stories just – very naturally, without me forcing the issue – got longer and longer and longer. I’ve written and sold two novellas, and am now finishing my first novel.
It’s been a rewarding journey, so far, and I suspect the best is yet to come.
What do you love about being an author?
I love hearing from readers. In my opinion, a story isn’t a story unless/until somebody reads it (just like a painting isn’t really art unless/until someone sees it). Sometimes writing fiction feels a little like sending a message in a bottle out over the ocean. Sure, sales numbers provide some assurance the books are actually being read, but there’s nothing like an enthusiastic fan letter to assure you that the connection has been made.
I especially enjoy hearing from readers outside of the U.S. I’ve only been out of the U.S. once (for a brief visit to Canada), but I love that my ideas and my stories travel abroad all the time. Each time I hear from a reader in the U.K. or Spain or Germany, I smile. I’ve not yet visited those places, but my characters have, in a way.
If you could have dinner with any literary character, who would it be and what would you eat?
Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House. I’m originally from Maryland, so I’d arrange it so that we’d have a crab feast. I’d get a big roll of butcher paper to drape over the table, and we’d have a bushel of crabs sitting there within easy reach, and a crab mallet and all the tools we’d need to take those critters apart and eat them.
I suspect she’d be anxious, grossed out, and upset at the whole thing – but that would be part of the joy. She’s only a literary character, not a real person, so I wouldn’t have to feel any guilt about messing with her. I could tease her, for example. Tell her I thought there were ghosts haunting my dining room. “Did you hear that? They’re coming to get you, Eleanor!” You know, that sort of thing. I’d make sure to drive her home, though. She has a particularly bad driving record, when she’s upset.
If any of my books were made into a movie I’d probably stay out of casting (and other choices). There are trained professionals who handle all that. Besides, I’m a bit eccentric, in that I rarely watch films made after 1989. I don’t know who many of the up-and-coming actors are, these days.
If you had a time machine, which era would you go back to and why?
My wedding day, because it rocked.
What life advice do you wish you’d been given sooner?
There’s that old saw, “be yourself”. Sounds trite, but there’s a lot of wisdom in it. For years, I didn’t read or write horror because I had this anxious feeling that I’d be a bad person (or, at least, judged to be a bad person) if I let myself do those things. (This is partly because horror was frowned on, in my house, growing up).
As horror writers, we look to scare readers – but what scares you?
My cat cornered a mouse in the living room the other day. I wasn’t aware of this, until the mouse started to let out this piercing, shrieking distress call. I was in the middle of writing and was pretty flipped out at the whole thing. I thought maybe there was a bat in the house – that was kind of what it sounded like. But it was a mouse and it made me scream.
I was also pretty frightened when I ran afoul of a skink lurking in our basement, during the summer time. I wish I could say I was made of sterner stuff than that, but I’m not.
Where do you write best?
When I first started writing, I wrote down in my basement, on a card table. I still write on a card table, but now I have an office. Sometimes I don’t use the office, though, and just write on the couch, using the coffee table as my desk. I don’t really feel like I need a special room to write in. That might be more the case for writers who have kids, and need to have a special area where the family knows they aren’t to be disturbed. But for me, I’ll pretty much write anywhere at home. And if I’m ever traveling on the road, I can usually find a good place to write in a hotel room, too.
The only place I’ve found it difficult to write, honestly, is in a coffee shop. Too many distractions.
What was the last book you read, and what were your thoughts on it?
I recently re-read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time in about 25 years. I was less sympathetic to Holden Caulfied this time around. I kept wishing one of Hubert Selby, Jr.’s characters would show up and kick his ass.
If you didn’t write in your genre, which other would you prefer and why?
Romance, because I’m told that stuff sells like hotcakes. Alas, I’m just not wired to be a romance writer. Ask anyone who knows me. If I wrote a romance novel, it would look something like Harold and Maude. Harlequin would can me in a heartbeat.
Where can fans find you online?
NicoleCushing.Com is my website. The best place to find my books is Amazon.com. Right now DarkFuse is offering my latest book, I Am the New God, for pre-order on Amazon. They’re selling it for $2.99 (a dollar off the regular price of $3.99, which kicks in on the release date, April 8th) so this is a good time to grab it.