Nicole Disney interviews Nan Higgins:
There are few things I love more than talking about a great book, particularly with the person who wrote it, so I’m super excited to be chatting with Nan Higgins today about her debut novel, London Undone. First of all, congratulations! There’s so much that goes into creating a book both before you submit it for publication and after it is accepted, but that moment of signing your first contract is what most of us are dreaming about when we start pursuing this career. How did it feel reach that moment, and what did your writing journey up until that point look like?
Thank you, Nicole! I tried to think of a way to describe signing my first contract that was less nerdy, but I decided to embrace who I am and nerd it up. It was like having Wonder Woman tell me I got to join the Justice League. I have admired and fangirled over Bold Strokes Books authors for so long that it was absolutely unreal to learn I got to join their ranks. As far as my writing journey, I’d written a few novels over the years for fun that continue to languish in their rough draft form. When I was nearing the end of the rough draft of London Undone, I felt as if I had something there that might be worth polishing. I had a few beta readers who gave me feedback, and after that round of revisions, I hired a professional editor, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, to work on it with me. Once I was satisfied with it, I decided to submit. I sent it to Bold Strokes Books in late August of 2018, and received my contract thirteen weeks later, at the end of November.
I saw in your bio that the first story you wrote was a ghost story when you were ten years old. Did you try out any other genres before you discovered romance and the lesfic world? Do you think you’ll go on to try others?
Writing has always been a very cathartic outlet for me. I’ve dabbled in a lot of genres, but it wasn’t until I discovered lesfic as a reader that I thought I might have found a good fit for me as an author. I’m excited to explore many genres within the lesfic world, since my interests as both a reader and writer are really broad. I just sent the revisions to my editor for my second book, The Mortician’s Daughter, which is a paranormal mystery. I'm a sucker for any story with a ghost element, so it was great fun to tackle, as a writer.
London Undone includes a fairly diverse group of characters. The story features lesbians, naturally, but also gay men, trans men, an interracial relationship, foster care, and belief systems ranging from the most progressive to fundamentalist. Did you consciously decide to include characters from such a broad spectrum and take on the accompanying conflicts, or was that just the way the characters came to you? How much did you worry about getting all those experiences right, and how did you do it?
When I first began to think about London Undone and what the cast of characters might look like, it struck me that I very rarely see a group of friends portrayed in books that is reflective of the people I’m close to in my life. Like London, I have a chosen family, and we are a diverse bunch. I’m also a mom of two biracial sons, and conversations surrounding diversity are one of the norms in our house. It occurred to me that I had a unique opportunity to represent a fictional family that looks like mine, in terms of widely varied heritage and sexual and gender identity. In that way, yes, it was a conscious decision to include a broad spectrum of characters, but it came from a place of wanting to honor the diversity in my own relationships.
You successfully portrayed a lot of nuance with the issues you handle in London Undone with the use of a lot of mirroring. There’s London’s crushingly unsupportive family juxtaposed with Reggie’s beautiful and accepting family. There’s Tate, an adult trans man far along his path next to Quentin, a trans boy at the very beginning of that journey. There’s London and Reggie’s separation contrasted with Grant and Thomas’s breakup, along with a few others. Combined, it felt like a comprehensive look at some incredibly complex topics. Was there anything you wish you could have looked at from a different angle that you couldn’t fit in?
Thank you! This book is so different from the story I intended to tell. I had envisioned a comedic, fish-out-of-water story in which a very nontraditional woman puts herself into the traditional situations outlined in a letter from her childhood self. I realized very quickly that the story I’d started was not what I thought I’d write, and I had to pause to give myself permission to let go of what I thought London Undone was going to be so I could make space for what it could become. I truly had no idea where the story was going to go, and most days when I sat down to write, I didn’t know what was going to happen until my fingers started moving on my keyboard. I think this book unfolded exactly as it was meant to, and I’m happy with how it turned out. Since I didn’t plan to delve into such complicated topics, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about points I wanted to hit. Maybe that’s why I have no regrets about anything I could’ve touched on, but didn’t. I will say, I do still want to write a more comedy-driven story! Maybe someday.
London and Reggie are a lovely and sweet couple, and it’s easy to root for them. Even their separation comes across as mature, compassionate, and about as antic free as anyone could ask for. How did you go about maintaining the tension of their separation without resorting to emotional outbursts or drama?
Like so many couples who love each other, London and Reggie came to a crossroads, and I really tried to let that situation be the source of tension. I felt as if they had never had a lot of drama in their relationship, and I wanted them to be the same people to each other as they had always been, even in their separation, as they navigated whether they could be together again.
One of the reasons London cites for not wanting to get married at the beginning of the book is that marriage is, “an archaic institution created by the patriarchy.” Reading that line at such a tense moment made me laugh out loud, and while London’s reservations turn out to go deeper than that, one could argue that she wasn’t totally wrong. What are your own thoughts on marriage?
Well, London’s not entirely wrong, it is an institution, but that’s also an oversimplification. Marriage can and should be defined by the people entering into it, with whatever parameters that feel right and comfortable to them. My fiancée, Misti, will be relieved to read that I have no such similar reservations about marriage.
It seems like there are always some characters that come to you effortlessly while others can take many looks. Who was your easiest character to write? Who was the most difficult?
I had a clear vision for London from the moment I got the idea for this book, and that never wavered at all. So much of the story was a surprise to me as I was writing it, but I knew who London was from the start, and writing her felt natural and effortless. The most difficult characters were probably Reggie’s parents. As much as I wanted them to be loving, supportive parental figures for London, I worried a lot about making them too perfect. It took me a bit to get into a good rhythm with them, but once I started having them bicker with each other, it became really fun to write them, because they felt more like humans and less like heroes.
Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you binge write or hit a reasonable word count on a daily basis? Plotter or pantser? Coffee shop writer or locked in an office?
I tend to mostly binge write, and don’t pay much attention to my word count until I’m finished writing for the day. My favorite writing spot is in my recliner, always with the door closed and usually with some white noise in the background to help me focus. In writing, as in life, I’m much more of a pantser than a plotter. I have a theory that connects writing style to road trip style. On my best road trips, I have a vague idea where I’m going and maybe a few thoughts on places I’d like to see along the way, and the most important aspect is that I have great people with me. If one of the planned stops doesn’t seem as great as I thought, I skip it. If something pops up that looks interesting, I’ll pull off and experience it. My way of traveling is almost identical to my way of writing. I have a few ideas about the points I want to hit, but I’m always open to follow where the story goes. The majority of my planning consists of character development, and getting to know the people I’ll be spending so much time with once the writing starts.
It’s a classic question, but I feel like you can always learn a lot about someone based on what they read. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Oh, how long do you have? Kristen Lepionka, Mindy McGinnis, Jackie D, Radclyffe, Jenny Frame, Neil Gaiman, Ruth Ware, Erin Zak, Toni Morrison, Paulo Coehlo, Barbara Ann Wright, Stephen King, Kris Bryant, Octavia Reese, Ariel Lawhon, Annie McDonald, Shirley Jackson, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Paula Brackston, Ali Vali, Ashley Bartlett, Clive Barker, CF Frizzell, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Agatha Christie, Nell Stark, Judy Clemens, Josh Malerman, AJ Finn, PC Cast, Charlaine Harris, Nnedi Okorafor. I could go on and on!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my third book, Colliding with Yesterday, which is a romantic reunion story. It’s set in both the late 1990s and today and follows the story of high school sweethearts Luka and Bailey. They meet at the bookstore in which they both work, and years later have to come together to care for the woman who owned the store, when her health begins to decline. Writing a story set largely in a bookstore has been really great so far. I was a teenager in the nineties, and revisiting some of the music, trends, and fashions from back in the day has been a blast!
Sounds fantastic! Well, everyone, I hope you had a blast getting a look inside the mind of the awesome Nan Higgins and that you all hop on the Bold Strokes store right now and get London Undone!