What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
I tend to be a little melodramatic, so one time when I was pretty broken up about a guy after he called off our relationship, I went hiking in early June to the top of a range nearby called the Wellsvilles. They're incredibly steep, and just over 9,000 feet--not the tallest range, but, like I said, steep and sheer. The tops of the peaks were still covered in snow in some areas. The very, very top is like this hairline ridge in some spots. I went by myself, to be dramatic, and get some perspective, but it was soooooo dangerous. It was very windy up there and one swift, unexpected gust could have sent me flying down a very steep cliff. No one knew I was there. If I'd gotten hurt, I might have died. At the time I obviously didn't care, because my heart was broken. Ha. These days it's like a daily news feature to hear about some hiker who's disappeared or died in a stupid stunt like I pulled. I'm thankful now that my stupidity didn't kill me. But it could have!
What impact does a bad review have on you?
Usually it lasts for a few hours to a day, but I've learned to roll with the punches. I have coping strategies to help me hear criticism. I'm thankful to any reader who takes the time to review something, but there are those reviews that are no help at all. They're actually the ones that are hardest to deal with. I go through all the expected emotions--why? What does it all mean? Should I even keep writing? And I do, because I'm a fighter and I want to improve. Constructive criticism often presents itself in a negative review and I learn from that. It just takes a few days to digest.
How would you describe your protagonist?
The protagonist from Blue Hearts of Mars, Retta Heikkinen, is a fighter. She's young and impressionable, and so she's willing to learn, but she also approaches things with a healthy dose of skepticism. She's a bit of a dreamer and she's definitely a romantic, and sometimes she's dramatic, though she tries to overcome that tendency. Retta's been through some hard stuff, and she's survived by laughing things off and interpreting the world with her dry sense of humor.
What is your dream for yourself as an author?
It used to be to earn a living through my writing. Now I'd like to also be able to interact with people who enjoy my stories. It's really satisfying to get a good review from someone who just stumbled across my book and would love to see a sequel. That's an amazing feeling!
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Yes. But it's not for everyone. Love is an abstraction, though, and because there's nothing concrete associated with it, it can mean many things for many people. What I believed was love when I was fifteen is so different from what I know of love now.
Do you have a favorite author? Why is he or she your favorite author?
I have a lot of favorites because I love a lot of stuff and it's all different. But if I had to pick just one (or two) to take with me to a desert island, like who's work I'd have unlimited access to, even their new stuff, at this very moment I'd pick Brandon Sanderson and Wallace Stegner. See, world's apart! Brandon is a favorite because he comes up with amazing ideas and he has a unique ability to make the endings of his books absolutely EPIC. I've seriously never seen anything like him before in the history of fantasy writing. Stegner is a favorite because he makes the mundane gorgeous. His books are usually about relationships and his writing is so lyrical it can make me weep.
What inspired you to write Blue Hearts of Mars?
When I wrote down the first lines, I really became intrigued by the idea of what makes us human, and I don't mean just flesh and blood. I think there's something more, and I wonder if it's something substantial or quantifiable? I wanted to see where the ideas took me. Would I be able to come to a satisfying conclusion about what the soul is? I've wondered for a while as our civilization approaches a technological singularity what will happen when we have the capacity to create near-human machines. Is there a threshold where the metaphysical merges with the technological and a soul or spirit suddenly inhabits something we considered almost inanimate? This question has perplexed many people before me, and now it is also my question. I still don't have an answer.
Do you have a favorite YA novel?
Yes, well. I have a lot of favorites. I like a lot of old YA, like stuff William Sleator published when I was growing up. It's so different from what teenagers read now, but Sleator's books are what made difficult physical concepts digestible for me. The ideas in his books blew holes in my mind, in a good way. He made me want to be a theoretical physicist and I still wish I'd gone that route. I also enjoy a good romantic YA book, like Twilight. Shhhh. I know that's heresy these days for so many people. But I read Twilight after a long stint in college where I only read lofty, noble literature, and after a couple years as a copyeditor where I only read badly written manuscripts about religion and how to manage church businesses. So Twilight was an amazing divergence for me. I'm reading more YA than ever before, but I'm also a slow reader these days. There's so many good books out there. I have an endless TBR pile.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
All over! I want to see every place I can before I die. I'm just not very good at traveling, sadly. I subscribe to a site on Facebook called Our Amazing World (or something). They constantly have stuff up about amazing, impossible places. I want to go to them. All of them.
Now that you read criticisms about your work, do you wish you could re-write it and start over or not and why?
In some ways, yes. But I also believe that any artist is constantly evolving. When we look at Jane Austen's early books, there's a visible difference between them and her later books. If Jane had been super annoyed that her first books weren't as articulate and refined as her last books, and she'd never published them because they weren't quite there yet, we might not have Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Same with Brandon Sanderson's evolution from Elantris (his first book) to The Way of Kings. We see the same thing with the Beatles early albums to their later albums like Abbey Road. You have fans who hate Hard Day's Night and love the White Album, but one might argue that the White Album couldn't exist without Please Please Me. So, I think we should value the early writings of any author, including me. I hope I'm not writing in precisely the same way when I'm forty-five that I am today. That would be sad. I want to grow. But to grow I have to accept who I was two years ago, including the books I wrote then and chose to publish. But, as you know, it's not easy to accept that a work is ever finished. Haha. If I didn't accept that a work was done, however, I'd never publish anything.
Can readers expect more books from you in the future?
Not only yes, but hell yes. I have several works in progress, including a couple novellas and short stories. My plan is to release three full-length novels this year and at least one novella and short story.
Nicole wrote her first fantasy novel in 7th grade on her mother's old Brother typewriter. It was never finished but it strongly resembled a Dragonlance plot and she's forever wondered what happened to the manuscript and Tonathan--the handsome elven protagonist. After living in Nashville where she worked as an editor, she returned to the Utah desert where she was raised. Nicole now lives near the Wasatch mountains with her husband. She writes and raises her son and three cats full time.