When Ms. Juanita told me I needed to write a blog post so she could formally introduce me to the 48fourteen family, I was at a loss for words, and for someone as loquacious as I am, that’s a tough feat to accomplish. I mean, I teach English in a secondary classroom by day, and I write by night–words are sort of my thing. Yet, here I am, writing this post, and I’m still not sure how this will end, so please, deal with me as we journey together down what might be a very, very bumpy road. (But there will be cookies at the end for your patience and understanding. I promise.)
So, I guess we start with the introductions, eh? My name is Nicole Aube. I am from Southern Mississippi, bred, born, and raised. I have a family–one geeky husband, 2 normal children, and 3 fuzzy ones. My life, for the most part, is simple, quiet, and understated, and I live in a town with literally one red right. I’m not kidding. We got it like 4 years ago.
I don’t innumerate all these things to bore you. I do so because I think, as a writer, everything I craft comes back to where I have lived and how I was raised. You see, I grew up going to my great grandparents’ house in Alabama, where we’d lay out, under these big, old drooping oak trees, and I’d get wrapped up in the stories they’d sling around, of relatives I’d never meet and adventures I’d never go on. Somehow, these people were alive to me, breathing, whispering in my ear as the stories were told, but they were dead, stiff in the ground but kept forever young in their legacies. It’s through these stories I bonded with my great uncle who danced with the devil to meet the woman of his dreams, my great-great aunt who robbed a bank with a Tommy gun, and my grandmother who saw black cats before a relative’s passing. As much as these people are characters in stories, they are my family.
So, speed to the winter of late January 2014. I sit with my daughter at my feet. She’s drawing in a notebook I normally record manuscript ideas in, and the news tells us that we’re iced into our house for a week. No leaving. No teaching. So what do I do? I bribe my daughter with a cookie for my notebook (Yes, cookies can, indeed, work miracles such as this.), and I start writing. A girl named Hilaria had been on my mind for sometime, and her best friend, a handsome fellow named Anthony, also started talking. A few chapters in, Job, a beautiful yet imperfect boy who vies for Hilaria’s heart, makes his introductions. Four months later, I had 65,000 handwritten words and a little novel called On the Other Side.
Yes, I hand-wrote every single word of the manuscript before I typed it! Why? I have expressive issues which make typing much of anything difficult, and when I hand-write my stories, I feel them pulse within me. I know that’s weird, but my brain slows down, and I not only see the words; I feel them, too. The hand-writing process gives me extra time to read and revise as I am going so that it all makes sense at the end. (I actually wrote this out before I typed it. My husband proofed. Send all errors found his way, please.) And it makes for a pretty sweet first draft, with all my professional editing squiggles, doodles, and various notes of “The Future Mrs. So and So” carved into the margins. (I do this routinely. Book boyfriends are the best!) In the end, I literally have a notebook where my characters were born with my hand. How friggin’ awesome is that?!
On the Other Side, my first official novel through 48fourteen, is the story of a girl who lives in flooded Orleans. In our future, the Mississippi River rises and floods most of the greater city of New Orleans, as well as the cities along its banks, and half of the city remains underwater permanently. Hilaria, my protagonist, lives on this side of the city, behind a great Wall that also serves as a dam to keep the other side of Orleans bone dry.
When Orleans was growing in my head, I didn’t want to do the normal dystopia thing. I wanted to write a dystopic experience that was as real as it could be. (Yes, we could end up killing each other in a gladiatorial style battle 400 years in the future, I admit that, but been there, read it. Sorry, Suzanne Collins. I love you. I really do!) So, I turned to real life inspiration. I pulled up pictures of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and I remembered how, when the storm struck, the last thing I heard from my parents was my dad throwing down the phone, screaming that a tree had come flying into their house. I didn’t talk to him for another week, until I drove home and saw the damage to my home myself, and I used those images and that terror to develop the reality of Hilaria’s hometown.
I don’t want to give too much away about the novel, but it follows Hilaria as she enters an intense trial to earn a life on the dry side of the Wall. In doing so, she must trust those who can’t be trusted, and she must sacrifice her relationship with the one person who remembers, at her core, who she truly is. There’s blood. There’s death. There are hot make-out scenes, too. (You know that got your attention.) In the end, I wrote On the Other Side to ask a specific question about the human experience: What makes us human? It can’t be our skin. It isn’t our gender either. Hilaria is stubborn, but when she does learn the answer, she realizes it’s compassion and empathy as well as our desire to preserve those qualities that make us rise above our inherent barbaric natures. Unfortunately, one man in Hilaria’s Orleans will stop at nothing to kill her hope that she can do better–that we can do better when given the choice–and Hilaria is left to decide not only her own fate but that fate of her entire beloved city.
And that, my new found friends, is On the Other Side. I can’t wait for you all to meet my girl, one Hilaria McCleod. Thanks to 48fourteen for giving her the chance to live outside my notebook!
See! I told you I was loquacious. You didn’t believe me. Did you? Ah yes, one more thing… here are you cookies for making to the end. (I baked them myself.)
Until next time,