Special Feature: Author Interview with Nicole Peeler
By Lesley L. Smith
Nicole D. Peeler received an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. Currently, she resides outside Pittsburgh, to teach in Seton Hill's MFA in Popular Fiction. When she's not in the classroom infecting young minds with her madness, she's writing the Tempest Rising Urban Fantasy series and taking pleasure in what means most to her: family, friends, food, and travel.
The fourth book in your Tempest Rising series Eye of the Tempest came out recently. Congratulations. What can you tell us about it?
Thank you! Eye of the Tempest is very much the dreaded bridge book, but I tried to keep it fun and fast paced. Basically, it's the book in which Jane has to come into her own so that she can finish out her heroic journey. The fact that she is the least likely heroine, ever, is where the fun comes in. She'd much rather be eating or shagging as she is still half-selkie, after all. ;-)
In fantasy there are certain tropes that readers love; what do you think it is about The Chosen One/Champion that appeals to readers so much?
I think there are a lot of reasons this trope is so effective, but I think one big reason is that we'd all like to hear the call of destiny. It'd be nice to know why we're here, and to have that reason be something really important.
I've heard you say there's often an aspect of hedonism to urban fantasy, so why did you put so many obstacles between Jane and 'satisfaction' this time?
I have three reasons. The first is that I know that I get bored, as a reader, if things get consummated too early. I really miss that sexual tension when it's gone, and I want to keep things tense in the series for as long as I can. The other reason is that I'm a reader who loves that tension. I'm one of those weirdos who loves those middle books in which all of these new possibilities are forged, but where nothing very concrete happens. They're so open to me, in terms of choice and my own fantasies. Finally, I'm a terrible, terrible tease.
The mythology in this series is fascinating. Where did you learn about selkies, barghests, baobhan siths, nahuals, and all the rest? What about them appeals to you?
I've studied mythology and religion all my life, so a lot of them have resided in my brain pan for a while now. But I also love doing the research on new creatures. I've got a drude in book three, and I was really psyched to discover and read about them, as they were new to me. As for the appeal, it's why I've always loved mythology. I think we learn so much about our societies and ourselves from both our collective and individual fantasies.
What can you tell us about the next book in the series, Tempest's Fury?
It's all about Jane realizing it's no joke to be a hero. I put her through the ringer in this one, poor wee thing.
In books one through four Jane has changed quite a bit. In the beginning she was a little bit on the pathetic side, but by book four she's fully embraced her kick-ass-ness. Did you plan a character arc for the entire series? Did you plan the plot arc for the entire series? Generally, how should authors deal with series?
I did plan a character arc, and it was built on my desire to show a female character who becomes a hero, rather than is born a hero. I think there are a lot of women out there with heroic tendencies, despite what society wants us to believe about women being soft and vulnerable. I love it when I meet a woman who has embraced the challenges of her life, and has come out swinging. Those women inspire me, and I wanted to do them justice in the series.
As for how to deal with a series, I don't think there's one true way. There's my way, and I'm happy to discuss with people my way. And I would suggest that people do more planning rather than less planning. But every writer has their own way.
Is it challenging coming up with titles with the word Tempest in them? If you had to do this over again, would you?
It's been ridiculous. I keep threatening to call one of them Tempestt Bledsoe. I don't know if I'd do them over differently, as I do like the titles we've eventually come up with, but naming them is always a complete nightmare.
Your background, a Ph.D. English Literature, is different from many urban fantasy authors. How have your academic studies informed your fiction writing?
I wouldn't be writing this successfully at this age if I hadn't done my Ph.D. I think it did for me what Seton Hill's MFA does for its students: it forced me to sit down and write till I finished a huge project. Then I had to edit it. The I had to defend it. Then I had to edit again. And only then was I rewarded with a degree.
That's basically what it is to be a writer. It's as much about "butt in chair" as it is talent, and finishing a big project is about 1,000,000 times harder than coming up with an idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but the ability to see that idea through to a full rough draft is the real challenge.
You are currently an assistant professor of English. How does this impact writing urban fantasy? Do you ever feel the need to censor your writing so you'll be taken seriously as a professor?
I've always had a super bolshy personality. I've always been comfortable in my own skin, and have had a fairly take me or leave me attitude that's given me a lot of confidence. I was also lucky in that I got my first job at the same time my first book sold, so Nicole "the author" and Nicole "the Professor" have grown up side by side.
So I don't censor my writing at all, and I publish under my own name. That said, I do actually censor my social networking a little bit. I'm still fairly out there, but it has nothing on the constant stream of filthy meanderings that is my actual mind.
You're teaching a class this semester on Writing About Popular Fiction which includes writer's platforms, online marketing and self-publicizing. In a nutshell, what do writers absolutely need to do in this arena?
I'd say the only thing every single author must do is to have a clean, easily navigable, and updated website. It should include your bio, your books (in order, with blurbs and links to buy buttons, and links to reviews if you're comfortable with that), upcoming appearances, and links to anything else you use (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, whatever).
Everything else is negotiable, depending on your time constraints, personality, genre, etc. But the website is non-negotiable. You have to have one.
Can you describe Nicole Peeler's public persona for us? How did you develop this?
I had no idea what I was doing when I published my book. I'd never used social media and certainly hadn't interacted with other authors to see examples. So I've totally winged it. I've ended up with a persona that's pretty much me, although I actually do edit out quite a bit of my private life and personal thoughts. Nicole Peeler the author is far, far less political than she is in real life, but I think that's one of the only major differences. Other than that I'm pretty much what I say on the box: stupidly upbeat, sweetly sarcastic, and pretty passionate about what I do.
Some scholars say literary fantasy was created as a reaction against the rationalism of the scientific method/industrial revolution. Do you think this is consistent with urban fantasy?
I'd say that's a hard sell for urban fantasy, since we've ripped fantasy back into the world of cold steel. I'd argue that urban fantasy is more akin to fairy tales. They're about how to navigate our real world, and they offer glimpses of undervalued values, such as courage, heroism, and fighting for what we believe in.
I've also heard it said that all fiction can be considered fantasy. What do you think?
This is a big question, full of critical nuances. But my gut reaction would be to say that yes, we're all creating fantasies. Even the most grittily realistic tale, like Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, is a sordid fantasy of a fantastically sordid individual. I think all fiction is born from ideas, that moment when an author asks, "What if?" Sometimes those ideas lead to literary fiction ("What if I had a man who lives underground, viewing his world and his role in it with disdain?") and sometimes those ideas lead to genre fiction ("What if I had a heroine who didn't want to be a hero?"). But all fiction springs from such ideas, such fantasies.
What new projects are on the horizon for you?
I'm finishing up Jane's story with books five and six. Then I'm working on a YA idea, and another urban fantasy. There are also whispers of short stories and manga on the horizon.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Make yourself finish something. It will probably suck; that's okay. It's not about writing the Great American Novel, it's about learning that weird combination of audacity and temerity that is writing every day about stuff that amuses you, until you finish an entire draft.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
O'Doyle Rules! No, that's it. I'm tapped out. But you can bother me all you want on my website, (http://nicolepeeler.com) my Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/nicolepeeler) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/nicolepeeler).
Thanks alot! This has been fun!