Author Interview with E.H. Nolan

e-h-nolan-headshotLet’s get to know you a little bit first, Ms. Nolan!

Are you a career author or do you have another job, and if so what?

Goodness, no! Writing is a hobby. When people ask me, “What do you do?” I usually answer, “I’m a secretary,” completely forgetting to add anything about writing to my answer. I am a secretary, and I’m fortunate enough to have enjoyed my steady job for five years—I just celebrated my work anniversary this week!

How long have you been a writer? When did you start writing for yourself?

I started writing my first book five years ago, when the characters suddenly appeared in my head and begged me to write down the events of their lives. But I’ve always enjoyed writing in school: term papers, book reports for extra credit, etc. My senior research paper on The Great Gatsby was so much fun to write, and it is one of the pieces I’m most proud of having written, even to this day.

Where do you like to write? Is there a special place that fires up your creativity and your fingers?

Sorry, a boring answer on this one. . . I can write anywhere. I’ve written alone in the house or on the couch with the television blaring, and there have been countless times when I’ve come up with a song in the car—I have to keep singing it over and over until I get home and can write it down!

What was your first story, published or unpublished?

I’ve never met a writer who hasn’t trashed his or her first story, myself included. I wrote my first book in college, and I remember as soon as I finished it, I read it once and promptly deleted it from my hard drive. The title was Dawn in Seattle but I barely even remember what it was about.

Have you always written Contemporary literature, or do you dabble in other genres? What was the first genre you wrote in? Which is the most fun?

No, this is actually my first foray in the contemporary world, and it’s been a blast! My other books are historical fiction, early 20th century England. You know, I don’t know if I’ll be able to choose which genre is more fun to write in, but surprisingly they’re similar. No matter what I’m writing, the element that’s most important to me are my characters. Characters have to be real and relatable for a reader to care about your story. You want the reader to say either, “That’s totally me!” or “I know that person!” so that he or she cares about the character and wants to read more of the journey. Historical or modern, the people have to be three-dimensional, flawed, and struggling. Granted, a big difference is the writing and language style, but another similarity is research. I did a lot of research for the battle scenes in my historical novels, but I also did research for certain medical details in my contemporary novel. It’s kind of like buying a car. You pick different details, but in the end you get a box on wheels. Keep driving ‘til you’re home.

Now, let’s talk about your upcoming novel Like a Closed Fist.

Where did you get the idea for this story, to talk about love, sex, and tragedy?

I like to write stories in which the characters stand in their own way. I find it to be a very realistic and tragic conflict when the reader sees a solution the character does not. In Like a Closed Fist, the protagonist has been hiding from life for four years, hoping to avoid pain. But, just like in real life, no matter how hard you try to hide out, love and tragedy will find you. That’s one of the main lessons of my book. My novel is also a classic cautionary tale, so I’m assuming lots of readers will be shouting at the protagonist from time to time, begging her to stop what she’s doing. What are the classic elements of a cautionary tale? Love, sex, and tragedy.

How about this love hexagon? I’ve heard about love triangles and even love squares, but nobody calls it that, but a love hexagon-that’s new! Where did you get the idea to fit so many loves into just 400 pages?

I know, isn’t it funny! I wanted to bombard my main character with love interests for several reasons. When it rains, it pours. She’s been hiding from love for years, and when she finally dips her toe in the water, she’s overwhelmed by male attention. If there was only one or two men in the picture, she wouldn’t be as overwhelmed, and she wouldn’t make as many mistakes. Second, I didn’t want one male love interest to become a sacrificial lamb to the entire male species. All six of my men are different, so the readers are free to choose who they like, who they don’t like, and most importantly, to wonder about their different motivations. Also, if I only gave my main character one shot with one guy and it didn’t work out, the readers would be left thinking, “If only she got a second chance!” This way, given six chances with six guys, the readers are able to see her patterns, what she learns, and what she doesn’t.

How would you describe your heroine, Phoebe? What’s she like?

Phoebe is twenty-four, but many times she doesn’t act her age. When she was twenty, she endured terrible tragedies, and she reacted by hiding from life for four years. So, sometimes she acts like she’s still a teenager. But other times, she surprises herself and the readers with unexpected wisdom, showing that she is trying to mature, even though that plan doesn’t always work out.

Given one word to describe her, I’d choose “fragile”. Many times in the book, Phoebe will meet a character and say “he adopted me like a niece” or “she took me under her wing”. She emits a “take care of me” vibe that is enticing, endearing, and dangerous all at the same time.

How would you describe Phoebe’s multiple love interests? Were any of them based off of people that you knew?

Ah, the question everyone asks! Who is the real Mason? Who is the real Mitch? I actually had one reader approach me and tell me that Danny was her favorite of the love interests. They’re all real, because all the characters I’ve ever written are real, to me and to my readers. Okay, here is the truth: If they are real, the only people who know are the men themselves.

For a brief, and hopefully not confusing, description of the six men in Phoebe’s life in order of appearance:
Mitch—older and wiser, sympathetic to Phoebe’s youth and understands the consequences of his actions
Mason—mysterious but sensitive, has the capacity and patience to talk Phoebe through her problems
Frankie—playful, carefree, funny, and filthy!
Justin—classy, like a gentleman from a bygone era, and has a way with words
Danny—a star-struck young kid who remembers Phoebe from her golden years
Kennedy—a ghost from Phoebe’s past who uses escapism to cope with the tragedies of adulthood

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but your story sounds a little bit like a Coming of Age story. Phoebe is no longer an adolescent youth and it seems like she has some pretty hard lessons to learn as she makes her first strides as an adult. Could you tell us some of the broader things that she’ll have to learn by the end of the book?

Absolutely. I like to call it a coming-of-late-age story, which I think is just as important as a coming-of-age story. People grow up at their own pace, and while Phoebe is a little young for her age, it makes her story all the more tragic. If she’s supposed to have learned her lesson by now and she hasn’t, she feels embarrassed, alone, and without a support system to help her out of her mess. I wanted my readers to know they are not alone, no matter what age they are or what situation they’re going through. This book sheds light on women’s secret thoughts when they’re frightened and hurt, thoughts that most books or films don’t like to expose. For one example, it’s commonly portrayed that twenty-somethings are completely satisfied having one-night-stands. This perpetuates an expectation that young girls are supposed to act that way, even when they feel differently. Maybe they’re frightened, maybe they want to go home, maybe it starts to feel good but a fleeting thought distracts them, maybe they’re cold or have a pulled muscle—these are the realities of a bedroom encounter. These are the realities that aren’t talked about, and I wanted my readers to know they aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced them.

But in answer to your question, readers will hope Phoebe learns the difference between sex and love, and using sex in order to get love. Hopefully she learns that doubts are healthy, but not to let them consume her, and that her all-time goal of “growing up” is really just finding a balance between wisdom and hope.

What audience do you suggest read Like a Closed Fist? Who do you believe would gain the most by reading your story and who do you think will enjoy it most?

I think women will enjoy it the most, but men will get the most out of it. I’ve spoken with male and female readers. The men have been surprised by how realistic it is, and the women have had more of an emotional reaction. One women told me she cried in five different chapters. Another woman told me she couldn’t stop laughing at the internal monologue. For some it will be like reading their diary; for others it will be like stepping back in time twenty years.

This question is like the previous one, but since Christmas is around the corner I have to ask, do you think this book would make a good gift? If so, who do you recommend to give it to?

I’m totally giving it as a Christmas present—to all my men! Just kidding, we’ve already been over that. Books are always great gifts, because when you’re done reading, you can talk about them. Like a Closed Fist would be a good gift to anyone who’s just had a heartbreak, is drifting, has a close relationship with a parent, or remembers the humor and sadness in the journey to find true love.

If you could persuade my readers to buy your book with just one sentence, what would you say?

If you’re looking for something realistic, like an old diary shoved under the bed, that will make you laugh, cry, and cringe, give Like a Closed Fist a try.

Finally, I’m going to close with a few more questions, ones that will hopefully allow you to impart some wisdom or advise to my readers.

What was the hardest part about writing this story and why?

The ending. I wrote and re-wrote it, and wrote versions that ended up on the cutting room floor. Since Phoebe became so dear to me, I wanted to give her a perfect ending. I wrote about eight different endings to the novel. I even went so far as to include half of them and have the readers choose which ending they wanted! But, after reading the manuscript over and over, and giving it months of thought and analysis, I finally settled on one ending. The other endings will remain unread, but it ends very realistically and where it needs to for Phoebe’s journey.

What was the most enjoyable part about writing this story? Is there a favorite scene that you wish to share with us?

The characters are the most important part of a story, because if you don’t care about the characters, you’ll care even less what happens to them. I love my characters. They’re real and flawed and lovable. Since Like a Closed Fist is written in first person, there are some characters the readers don’t get to know as well as others, and that is realistic. People only show us what they want us to see. So, in answer to your question, the most enjoyable part of writing my book was developing, or keeping the mystery of, my characters and falling in love with them in the process.

Every time I read it, I have a different favorite scene. Hopefully my readers will feel the same way, that each time they’ll glean something new or choose a different character as their favorite. There are a couple of great scenes with Phoebe and her dad, and of course some wonderful scenes with Mitch and Mason. This last time I read it, my favorite scene was when Phoebe and Kennedy are talking about how they’ve changed and grown up. It is a very sad scene, since they knew each other when they were kids, and they both know they can’t return to that youthful bliss.

What is the greatest piece of advise, when it comes to writing, that you can give?

Read your work aloud to check for typos or to make sure everything’s the way you like it, and pay attention to the alarm bells ringing in your head. If you’re reading to yourself and something sticks in your head, whether it’s just a single word, or an entire sentence or section, chances are it’s because you need to change it. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s really your brain’s way of trying to be helpful. Every time I’ve actually remembered something I’ve written, it was something I wish I’d changed. I don’t remember the beautiful prose or eloquent first sentence—I remember the one I wish I’d changed or cut out entirely.

If you’re interested to learn more about Ms. Nolan or her newest book Like a Closed Fist, you can check out the following links:

Here is the Amazon link to the book:

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