Nicole O’Dell is an author, speaker, wife and mother of six — including a set of triplets! I (interviewer Lynda Schab) met Nicole a few years ago through an online critique group. She had just signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for her first book series, Scenarios for Girls, an interactive fiction series for tweens about the tough choices they face every day. Since then, Nicole has gone on to publish several more fictional books (including her most recent series, Diamond Estates), as well as non-fiction and devotionals for young girls and teens. She is also a sought-after speaker and founder of the successful CHOOSENOW Ministries, which includes an annual mother-daughter conference in Chicago. If you have teens, or know someone who does, I encourage you to visit her website (http://nicoleodell.com/). It contains loads of excellent information for parents and teens.
In the meantime, Nicole has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her journey to publication, the writing life, and how she does it all!
LYNDA SCHAB: As the author of several YA books focused on the choices that tween and teen girls are faced with every day, it’s obvious that you have a heart for girls of this age. Was there one particular event that sparked your passion or did it evolve gradually?
NICOLE O’DELL: I do have a heart for teen and pre-teen girls. I think it’s because I suffered through those years and want to help girls avoid the same mistakes I made and not have to face the angst that resulted.
The evolution was gradual as life experiences piled on top of one another. But the Diamond Estates series is loosely based on my own experiences as a resident of a Teen Challenge center when I was a teen. Most of the stories come from either my own life or the lives of girls I met when I was there.
Just as the tales of trouble and pain are a conglomeration of all the girls I met at Teen Challenge, so is thread of redemption a picture of what I saw God do in the lives of the residents over and over again.
LYNDA: Your ministry involves writing, speaking, and even radio host. So what came first? The desire to become a writer or a speaker?
NICOLE: The writer part of me showed up at a younger age and it’s definitely a part of who I am. Speaking publicly is too, though. I took Speech twice in high school because it was fun and my only other alternative was Study Hall. People usually groan when I say that, and I can understand that. I know people who are terrified to get up in front of groups, but I really enjoy it.
LYNDA: Briefly share your journey to publication.
NICOLE: When I was in elementary school, I wrote a children’s book for a literary contest, and I won. My book, The Girl on the Runaway Pogo Stick was published and put in the school libraries throughout our district. Wow! I knew even then that something really cool had happened, and I was hooked!
But, I put writing on hold after that and became a reader–a book devourer, actually. I read so often that I would run out of books and read the same ones over and over because sometimes it wasn’t even about what I was reading, just that I was reading.
Over time, I decided I didn’t just want to read or write; I wanted to be an author. But I had no idea how to go about doing that. The publishing industry was such a huge unknown-world to me. So I bought The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published. I read it cover to cover and followed its advice to the letter–well, most of it. And, while I was waiting for my triplets to come in 2008, I contracted and completed my first two YA books. I haven’t stopped since.
LYNDA: You clearly knew the audience you wanted to write for. But what would you say to those writers who just aren’t sure what genre path to take?
NICOLE: Well, yes, I knew I wanted to write for teens, but I also knew from the start that I had some non-fiction in me, and some adult fiction too. Personally, and this kind of disagrees with most industry advice you’ll find, I don’t think we need to limit ourselves. If we’re listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit and taking notice of the passions God has birthed within us, our audience will become clear to us.
For writers who are unsure, maybe you’re in a refining stage. Maybe it’s just time to focus on the craft of writing a great story as you continue to work out whom you want to reach with your words.
LYNDA: Good advice, Nicole.
You are a fiction writer, but you also have several non-fiction books published. Both come with their own set of challenges and perks, I’m sure. What are a couple of major differences between fiction and non-fiction, regarding the publishing process?
NICOLE: Great question! Personally, I love both fiction and non-fiction for different reasons. The process of writing fiction is therapeutic for me. I enjoy crafting characters and stories that will stick with the reader long after The End. And I love using fiction to reach teenagers about consequences and choices.
On the other hand, I love being able to get a message out there in a straightforward way, as with non-fiction. I like the process of research and delving deep into what others have said on a topic. And I love the end result of non-fiction. It presents more opportunities in the media and for speaking engagements.
Honestly, I think they work very well together.
LYNDA: As a busy mother of six – including a set of triplets! – how in the world do you find time to do it all?
NICOLE: Well, I’m a work-at-home mom—which often means a retreat to Panera for some quiet. It’s not always easy, but my husband and I have committed to making sure I have certain hours to write or do other writing-related work. We try very hard to protect those hours. It doesn’t always work, and family comes first no matter what, but we do our best. So far, so good.
LYNDA: What words of encouragement would you offer a not-yet-published writer? Maybe something you know now that you wished you knew then?
NICOLE: Don’t begrudge the process. By that I mean that the publishing journey takes time and a lot of effort. Many aspiring authors would love to speed up the process and see their work on a bookshelf A.S.A.P–if not sooner. That’s kind of what happened to me. And, although I’ve been so very blessed on my journey, I’ve learned so much since my first couple of books were published. I’d love the shot at a do-over. If I knew then how little I actually knew, I might have given the process a bit more of my time.
LYNDA: Thank you so much, Nicole, for taking the time to chat. I have watched your progress over the past few years and am amazed at how far you’ve come. Looking forward to seeing what else God will do through you and wishing you continued success in your journey!