Mason Cooley said, “Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”
A Center Stage Moment shines a spotlight on writers who give us great places to visit with the characters we love and want to call friends.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you Nicole Evelina!
Nicole Evelina is a multi-award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her most recent novel, Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, was awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G Medallion and was the first place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.
Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews, took the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Reader’s Favorite Awards, and was short-listed for the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. Its sequel, Camelot’s Queen, was awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G Medallion and is currently a finalist in the Ozma Awards for mythological fantasy. Been Searching for You, her contemporary romantic comedy, won the 2016 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Award for Romance, the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests, was a finalist in the chick-lit category of the Readers Favorite Awards and is currently a finalist in the Chatelaine Awards for romantic fiction.
Nicole’s writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Independent Journal, Curve Magazine and numerous historical publications. She is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. As an armchair historian, Nicole researches her books extensively, consulting with biographers, historical societies and traveling to locations when possible. For example, she traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.
Nicole is President-elect and self-publishing liaison for the Romance Writers of America (RWA)’s Missouri chapter. She is also a member of and book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society, as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Alliance of Independent Authors, the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Midwest Publisher’s Association.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Yes, but I didn’t really realize it consciously until about six years ago. I’ve been writing since I knew how, but it was really just a hobby, something I did when I was bored. What I didn’t realize is that was practice, and the skills I learned writing those really horrible/incomplete stories were me cutting my teeth and learning how to tell a story.
I never considered writing as a career option because I didn’t think I was good enough (and at the time, I wasn’t), plus I’m not a write-on-demand type writer, so I wouldn’t have done well in creative writing classes. I’m a very practical person, so I wanted to get a job where I knew I would have a steady income, rather than relying on the fluctuations of book sales.
My mindset started to change when I finished the first draft of what eventually became my debut novel, Daughter of Destiny. I realized it was long enough to be a book (plus I had future plans for the characters so I knew it would be a series). Then people started reading it and really liking it, so I looked into how one gets an agent/publisher/etc.
Now, I still have a day job because I don’t make enough to live on, but as soon as I can afford it, I’m going full-time with my writing.
Why did you choose to write your genre? I love history, so I ended up writing historical fiction. Part of me wishes I would have gotten a degree in history in college, but I didn’t want to teach and that practical part of me didn’t know how I would make money from it. [I had the same quandary in college. I ended up in communications.] So now I can be a never-ending student in my research for my books.
I’m also very passionate about telling women’s stories that are likely to be forgotten if someone doesn’t raise them into the public consciousness again. My official mission statement is “To rescue little-known women from being lost in the pages of history. While other writers may choose to write about the famous, I tell the stories of those who are in danger of being forgotten so that their memories may live on for at least another generation. I also tell the female point of view when it is the male who has gotten more attention in history (i.e. Guinevere to King Arthur).” [Love this!]
I fell into writing contemporary romantic comedy. It’s actually ironic because I once publicly swore I’d never write a romance. I’m not a fan of the traditional steamy bodice-ripper style; I like old fashioned love stories. But I found that there aren’t a lot of contemporary romances out there where the heroine is still looking for Mr. Right past the age of 30, unless she’s been widowed, divorced, etc. I’m currently 37 and I haven’t found my soul mate yet, so that made me feel very marginalized. As a result, I wrote the kind of story I wanted to see, trusting that it would find readers who felt the same way. And it has. In fact, so many of them demanded a sequel to Been Searching for You, that it is now the first book in an anticipated five-book series.
What is the strangest story you’ve ever written? It didn’t make the final cut of the book, but in researching Madame Presidentess, I came across the historical tradition of The French Ball. Every year in the mid-late 1800s, the wealthy, powerful men of New York City rented out a music hall for what was basically a huge Bacchanalian orgy. All the madams and prostitutes of the town came out and the wealthy men patronized them at this party, some right in full view of everyone else. There was music, dancing, drinking and every kind of carousing imaginable, all enthusiastically embraced by the cream of straight-laced Victorian society. Even the famous female reporter Nellie Bly reported on it. Totally opposite of what we picture when we think of that time period in American history. [Wow! That has to be in a book.]
By the way, if you want to read my fictional depiction, it’s on my web site here: https://nicoleevelina.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/the-french-ball.pdf. Victoria, her sister and her husband really did attend at least one such ball, though what exactly they did there is lost to history, so I got to make it up based on what I knew of the Free Love views of the historical people.
What are you currently working on? I am writing my first non-fiction book this spring. It’s about the evolution of the character of Guinevere over the course of Arthurian legend, beginning with the first references to her in the Celtic triads and going all the way through my own books and others published in the last year or two. There are a few theses and dissertations that trace her changing nature from their origins through works written in the early 1990s, but they are hard to find, sometimes highly academic and don’t cover more recent history. I’m hoping my book makes the information accessible to the average reader and I’m excited to cover books that have come out in the last 20 years. I’m hoping for a summer release on that book. [Interesting.]
After that, I am going to do some research for Mistress of Legend, the final book in the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy. I have a draft written, but it’s getting a major re-write. That likely will take me into summer at least. My goal is to publish it by the end of the year.
What motivated the plot of your latest book? My most recent book, Madame Presidentess, is biographical historical fiction about Victoria Woodhull, the real-life first woman to run for President of the United States. (She ran in 1872, forty-eight years before women got the right to vote.) Although she was born dirt poor and had very little formal education, she was also the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street (along with her sister, Tennessee (Tennie) Claflin), the first woman to speak before the House Judiciary Committee of Congress, and one of the first to run a weekly newspaper (also along with her sister). Victoria was also very outspoken, a proponent of Free Love and a Spiritualist healer and clairvoyant.
I never learned about her in school and I bet very few others did, either. I knew we had an election coming up (this was about two years ago), so I thought it would be great to get her story out there while we had a woman running for President. I ended up publishing it on the first day of the Democratic National Convention where Hillary Clinton ended up getting the nomination. [She hooked me right a way. I bought the book. Still trying to find a moment to read, though.]
What was the hardest story for you to write? I had a heck of a time with Camelot’s Queen, the second book in my Guinevere trilogy. My then-agent and I figured out it was because I was trying to do too much, to cover every part of Arthurian legend, so my book had lost its focus. She had me cut everything that didn’t have to do with the core group of characters whose relationships I developed in the first book – around 60,000 words. And she was right. The book is so much better for it.
What process do you use to plan your novels? I have a plan? Seriously though, since my books are mostly biographical fiction, I pick my subject (actually, they pick me, but that’s another story), and then I read everything I can get my hands on about them. If possible, I visit where they lived (and if not, I at least look at pictures and use Google Earth) and talk to experts. As that goes along, I find not only the skeleton of my story (the basic facts about their life that have to be included) but also the details, events, and missing connections/motivation I can enhance as a fiction writer to bring their story to life and entertain my readers. Once my research is done, I write the first draft. From there, my editing process is similar to what I would do for any type of fiction.
Who has been your favorite character to write and why? That has to be Isolde. I love that she is so authentic; she never pretends to be what society or anyone else wants her to be. She’s open, free and unrepentant for her “sins.” I love that she makes her own happiness out of every situation and lives life to the fullest. When she came into my head, she actually demanded her own novel, which turned out to be a very good thing because I had to cut most of her scenes from Camelot’s Queen in order to maintain the pace of the story. So as soon as I finish Mistress of Legend, I’ll be working on Isolde’s story. I already have around 40,000 words from the deleted scenes. I can’t wait to see what trouble she’s going to lead me and the readers into!
I also really loved Victoria’s sister Tennie, because she was known to have a very similar personality.
Do any of your characters reflect facets of your personality? Oh yes. I think there is a part of the author in every single character. The ones who are most like me are Guinevere and Annabeth from Been Searching for You. I have Guinevere’s selfishness and jealousy, but also her reverence for the gods (call them what you will). I have Annabeth’s trust issues (but for different reasons) and we’re both hopeless romantics, but we also share a love of history, literature and theatre.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it? Of course. I’ve come to realize that all writer’s block means for me is that I’m taking the story in a direction it isn’t supposed to go. If I can figure it out, or get out of the way and let my characters figure it out for me, everything will start flowing again. The two best things I can do to let that happen are take a shower or meditate.
If you were to choose another genre to write in, what would it be? Probably dystopian, but not YA, since I have no desire to relive my high school years. I’ve been fascinated with dystopia since I had to read 1984 in high school. There’s something disturbingly attractive about reading about a world that is messed up, where rights and identities have been taken away. It’s like a train-wreck. You don’t want to look, but you have to.
Which authors inspire you? So many. I think my top are:
- Deborah Harkness (I got to take a week-long master class from her and have never been the same)
- Anne Fortier
- Jennifer Lee Carroll
- Susanna Kearsley
- Carol Goodman
- Patricia Bracewell
- Robin LaFevers
- Geraldine Brooks
What novel would you read multiple times? The ones that are tied for most are Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell, Juliet by Anne Fortier and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I also really love Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey and The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.
If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or deceased, who would it be and why? (Person could be a fictional character)
Historical: I usually say Queen Elizabeth I, but today I’m leaning toward Christopher Marlowe. I have a firm belief that I knew him in a previous life (long story) and I’m a believer that he wrote Shakespeare’s plays (yes, I will write a novel about that someday), so I’d want to meet him and find out what really happened.
Fictional: Moll Flanders because she is one of the most awesome, before-her-time heroines in literature. (Followed closely by Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing).
What is your favorite quote? Either: “Dreams don’t work unless you do” or “She believed she could, so she did.” [I like them both.]
What is your favorite animal, real or imaginary?
Real: Cats. I am such a crazy cat lady. I only have two, but they are my children, and I get kitten fever like most women get baby fever (I have no desire for human children.)
Imaginary: This is tough. I love unicorns, but I also am fascinated with centaurs.
What is your favorite color? Purple. It is probably an echo of having been royalty in a past life. (I’m obsessed with castles and crowns, which I also blame on being nobility in past lives.)
When you’re not writing… It’s not full time for me, but I do make some money speaking (mostly to writer’s groups) and I’m looking to convert my presentations and blog posts over into online classes.
Catch up with Nicole online at:
Thank you for joining us this week, Nicole! It was a pleasure getting to know you.
Next week, Heather Sutherlin will be stopping by!