I am very pleased to welcome Nicola Mar to Modern Jo March. Nicola is an author, poet, and essayist. She is the author of five books, including three poetry collections, and several short stories. Her latest release is Roses by Moonlight, a wonderful collection of poems and prose that was released in June.
MJM: You were born and raised in the Caribbean. I would imagine your surroundings had an impact on your writing, or at the very least, your early writings. Would that be a fair assumption?
Nicola: Absolutely. In fact, my first novel, A Red Tale, is a young adult fantasy about a girl who lived in the Caribbean. Most of my poetry is also pulled from images and memories growing up on St. Maarten. For example, I write about the ocean, sun, stars, and just feelings of peace and tranquility because those are the memories that have stayed in my mind all these years. It's funny how a moment in nature can linger in your mind for a lifetime.
MJM: I can relate to that, being affected by nature myself. I was born, raised, and still reside in Upstate NY, in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and the scenery here has had a huge impact on my own writing. Nature is the ultimate beauty, it’s art in its purest form.
Nicola: I have been there; it's so beautiful! Eventually, I hope to leave the city and settle down in a house in the woods. I have been living in NYC for 10 years now, and I love it, but I do miss the quiet, peaceful moments that country living can provide.
MJM: According to your bio, you started writing at the age of 7. What got you started?
Nicola: When I was a kid, I always loved to read, but I also had such a vivid imagination that sometimes I remember being disappointed with the endings of stories. I started coming up with different, more unusual and surprising, endings for my favorite books. And naturally, at some point, it clicked that if I didn't like a story, I could just write my own! Thankfully, I had a teacher who encouraged me to write, so at age 7, I wrote my first short story, and it ended up being published in my school's yearbook. That solidified my decision to keep writing and made me believe that I may be good at it!
MJM: That’s a wonderful story. It only takes one person to believe in you and encourage you. You moved to the US at the age of 18 to attend college. How did that come about? Were you at all apprehensive about moving to a new place, starting a new life, so to speak?
Nicola: I was always excited about traveling, so naturally, when my mother wanted me to attend a US college, I was pretty excited. You see, St. Maarten is lovely, and I miss it terribly, but when you're young, you take everything for granted, so when people told me I lived in paradise on the beaches, all I could think about was that I wanted to see snow. I grew up watching the holiday movies with the white Christmases, so that was something I wanted to experience. By the time I was 25, I had visited 15 countries in Asia, traveled to Machu Picchu in Peru, and took a safari in Africa. Best decisions I ever made!
MJM: Wow! You’ve lived quite an interesting, full life already. I would imagine all of those experiences and places just broadened your writing/story possibilities.
Nicola: Absolutely. I always pull from those experiences when writing. I feel so blessed to have had those opportunities so young. I'm forever grateful to all who helped and encouraged me to chase my curiosity and dreams.
MJM: I read that you earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a specialty in creative writing. Could you tell me what drew you to anthropology and how that has shaped your approach to writing?
Nicola: St. Maarten has over 100 different cultures represented on its small 37 square miles, so I was always around people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. That's where I fell in love with people, so to speak. People have always fascinated me, because here we all are, living to tell our unique stories and what our cultures mean to us. And I was always definitely more of a listener. So, from a young age, I knew I was interested in studying people. When I got to college, I didn't know what I wanted to major in until I took a cultural anthropology class. I never knew that I could actually major in studying people! Those classes have definitely shaped my writing because I am able to incorporate more unique characters into my novels.
MJM: That’s wonderful! It’s amazing how things fall into place perfectly in order to help shape and prepare you for the future. You started writing at the age of 7, as we’ve already mentioned, but I’m wondering how did you get your start writing professionally?
Nicola: Even though I majored in anthropology in college, I knew I wanted to continue to develop my writing, so I decided on a minor in creative writing. Those classes definitely helped lay the groundwork for my writing career. Although I was writing for years, it was in college that I really learned how to write by using technical steps to develop a novel properly. My writing classes also inspired me greatly and taught me that writing is a disciplined profession just like anything else. Sometimes you will wake up and won't want to write, but it's something you have to commit to if you want to succeed. A few years after I graduated college, I started writing my first novel, which was published in 2014.
MJM: You went on to release your second and third books, and then you released your first collection of poetry and prose. Have you always had an interest in poetry, or was it a new outlet for you?
Nicola: I've always loved poetry since I was a child. My mother bought me Shel Silverstein's books Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic when I was around 10 years old, and I fell in love with his funny poems and drawings. It was at that time that I started trying to write my own poems. In college, as part of my writing minor, I was required to take a poetry class, which brought back memories of reading Silverstein's books with my mom. I really enjoyed that class, and my professor encouraged me to continue with poetry.
MJM: Your collection of poems and prose in Roses by Moonlight is truly beautiful and meaningful. The connecting themes are love and relationship. What was the inspiration for this collection? How did it come to existence?
Nicola: My poetry is inspired mainly by my mother who passed away in 2010. It is about things she taught me, things I learned through her example, and feelings that developed from her passing. When you experience tragedies like this in life, you must find a way to allow grief to expand and then dissipate. For me, that was through writing poetry. But what I love about poetry is that it's really just words that an individual assigns their own labels and feelings to. I can write a poem about my love and loss of my mom, and another can interpret it as a poem about a lost love, a hard breakup, or even the death of a beloved pet. At the end of the day, words do not hold the same meanings for everyone, and poetry is a way to combine words to make a person feel that a poem is speaking uniquely to them.
MJM: I’m sorry for your loss, but glad that you’ve found such a beautiful way to channel it. I think that’s the beauty of poetry, that it’s not really black and white or concrete. It’s open for interpretation more so than any other form of writing, and in return, I believe it’s easier to fully relate.
Nicola: Absolutely. Anyone dealing with a loss and finding trouble speaking about it should really try writing poetry. Emotions and words you may not expect somehow come out on paper. And they help you make sense of what's going on in your mind.
MJM: What are you currently working on? Will we see a new book or collection from you in the near future?
Nicola: I have been working on (and really trying to finish) a time-travel novel for longer than I care to admit. But I keep getting distracted by the poems that randomly pop into my mind. Every time that happens, I text myself the poems and then type them up when I have some time to write. So, I guess I am working on two different projects; we'll see which one crosses the finish line first. Time will tell. :)
MJM: I would like to thank Nicola for taking time out of her schedule to chat with me, it was both fun and insightful, and I look forward to her next publication, whatever it may be! Thanks Nicola!
Be sure to grab a copy of Nicola Mar's latest release, Roses By Moonlight. You can buy the book here.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....