Women Who Work: Author Nicole Zelniker

It seems like Nicole Zelniker has done a little bit of everything. A graduate of Columbia University, Zelniker is a photographer, journalist and a published author of Mixed, Last Dance, and Letters I’ll Never Send, which will be published very soon. Her work has been featured in several publications, including URevolution, USA Today, and the Nasiona.

I got the chance to chat with Zelniker all about writing, her latest book, and so much more. And, after chatting with her, I did order one of her books to read on my Kindle, and am so excited to check it out.

Author, photographer, and journalist Nicole Zelniker. Photo Credit: Leah Whetten-Goldstein

First off, tell me a little about yourself.

I’m a writer (obviously), both fiction and journalism. I’m also an activist and hope to communicate that in my writing, whether it’s through introducing new ideas or just challenging stigmas and ideas of what characters should look like, if that makes sense. In Letters, for example, the main character deals with mental illness in a way that hopefully challenges stigmas around depression and anxiety. Other than that, I’m a vegan, Gryffindor, and sarcasm queen.

What was your inspiration for your later novel, Letters I’ll Never Send?

It started with writing actual letters, honestly. I didn’t really know yet how these characters came together, but it was clear that whoever it was writing these letters (later my main character) had a lot she was dealing with. Everything just kind of fell into place after that.

How was this novel different from writing your other two?

Letters is my first novel. My previous book, Last Dance, is a book of short stories, and my first book, Mixed, is non-fiction. So it was a different type of book, but similar in tone and style, especially to Last Dance. This was also the first book I wrote in its entirety that I hadn’t started in college or grad school, so this was the first time I didn’t have a professor guiding me through the first part of the process.

Has the pandemic affected anything about the process of writing or publishing a book?

It hasn’t affected my process, necessarily, but it’s definitely changed the way I think about the publishing process. I can’t do a reading or attend any in-person book festival, so I’ve had to get creative about how to market Letters.

How did you get started writing?

I feel like I’ve always been writing, honestly. Like, five-year-old me was really into writing and illustrating her own stories, even if neither the words nor the pictures were particularly good. I didn’t really consider publishing though until after undergrad, when I had my first short stories and poems published in literary magazines.

What is your process of writing a novel/short story, if you have one?

It’s very all over the place. For a novel, I’ll write whichever part I feel strongly about writing at the moment, and fill in the little details or moments later. With short stories, it’s more linear because there’s less content. The only thing I write are the moments I feel strongly about. But of course, with publishing a book of short stories, it’s a similar process of putting things together toward the end.

In your experience, what is the difference between writing fiction pieces versus nonfiction/journalism articles?

The biggest difference is that with journalism, I do a lot more interviews with real people. But fiction still requires research and dedication to getting the story right, even if the characters aren’t real people. The main character’s friend, for example, has leukemia, so I did a lot of research to get the medical component right.

Who are your writer inspirations?

Oh, so many! Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri, Toni Morrison, Lisa See, and Amy Tan are just some of them.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished The Underground Railroad by Coleson Whitehead. Four years later, but still, incredible.

Finally, do you have any advice for those who want to enter the publishing industry?
Keep going! I had about 100 rejections from small publishers and agents before finding a home with Atmosphere Press (they also published Last Dance). That, and write what you’d want to read. If you enjoy your work, someone else will, too.

If you’re interested in Nicole’s books (including when Letters I’ll Never Send will be coming out) be sure to follower her on Twitter and on Instagram. Both Mixed and Last Dance are available on Barnes and Noble and Amazon as well.

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