Next Chapters is a biweekly feature spotlighting graduates of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, which has been running since 2010.
Novel Incubator Year: 9
Current Project: The Weather Girl, a dark comedy/literary fiction
What writers have most influenced your writing?
I’ve fallen in love with authors, but usually it’s specific novels that make me dream big. I’ve been a devoted fan of Michael Chabon forever and often revisit Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I love the athleticism of Chabon’s prose and his commitment to story. I’m currently rereading Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, which was a seminal novel for me. Other novels that’ve recently inspired me are Maggie Shipstead’s The Great Circle and Nathan Hill’s The Nix, Elizabeth McCracken’s Niagara Falls All Over Again, and James McBride’s Deacon King Kong—the most joyous book ever. I’m a sucker for sweeping novels that dance between humor and pathos, and I love a writer who puts his or her delight in language on the page.
How have you changed as a writer from 10 years ago? Five years ago?
I’ve always been a writer, but after my first child, my ambition to write started feeling indulgent. I spent the next 20 years on the other side of the desk, working in publishing. Three kids later, the itch reappeared, and I finally gave myself permission to fail. I write as near to daily as I can, and study craft voraciously. I treat writing as equal parts play and work. I tackle paying freelance projects during the first part of the day so I can play in the second half. But as publishing professionals will attest, the world is not hanging in the balance, awaiting my opus—so I take the work part of writing very seriously, assigning myself deadlines and the like so I never forget this is a job, even though no one is currently paying me to do it.
What is your greatest struggle on the page, and what would others say is your writing superpower or strength?
I’ve always felt relatively secure in my ability to write dialogue and construct fully realized characters in wacky situations—I take great pride in every scene I’ve ever written that involves bad driving and small cars. It wasn’t until I went through the Novel Incubator that I understood my greatest challenge was plot. (It’s not a dirty word.) Specifically, the character-plot connection. My characters had great voices and were prone to snappy dialogue—if I was hosting a dinner party, I’d invite my characters just to watch the sparks fly—but I struggled to name their desires in a way that drove an engaging story. Now, I’m always trying to hone in on ways to harness my characters’ sense of urgency so my stories have the human energy a solid plot requires.
What motivates you to get out of a writing rut?
Well, rereading one of those seminal books listed above and grueling labor, like cleaning my basement…but also my three kids because how can I continually preach the merits of hard work and the notion that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, and not walk the walk? And also my mother because every day she calls me (or just shows up—we live near one another) and she says, “Did you send it out yet?” and I say, “It’s not done.” And she says, “How much longer?” And I give her a distant date because I know how this will go. And she says, “I’ll give you a week.” But also my husband because I really want to delight him when I put a final manuscript in his hands. And my friends—you know who you are. I suppose what I’m saying is, the people I love most heard my intention to finish a novel and so now I have to. I sit in the chair and remember sometimes all that’s getting in my way is figuring out which decision I’m trying to avoid.
What is your favorite punctuation mark? Why?
If you can’t tell by now, I have a fondness for the em-dash. More than a comma-delimited clause, but not quite a parenthetical, and far more intriguing than a colon—especially in dialogue. (Who amongst us speaks with a colon? No one—that’s who.) It’s a way to make those sentences perform as if they’re flipping over a set of uneven bars—they swing up, down, do a little loop-da-loop—taking your reader on a rigorous—albeit, not terribly swift—ride that I find altogether thrilling.
Nicole Vecchiotti has worked in publishing since 1997. In 2006, she founded Union Park Press, a Boston-based book publisher specializing in regional nonfiction, which she sold to Globe Pequot Press in 2019. Her Novel Incubator manuscript, Mommyland, is currently locked inside a drawer while she finishes a second novel, The Weather Girl.