Managing Mental Health, Writing, and More with Nicole Zelniker: A Spoonie Authors Podcast

This week’s interview is with multi-genre author Nicole Zelniker! Find out more about her at https://www.nicolezelniker.com  

Don’t like the podcast format? You can view the podcast as a YouTube video (CC available) or read the transcript below.


Dianna Gunn: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to this Spoonie Author’s podcast, a podcast where we explore the life and stories of a different disabled author each week, I’m your host, Diana Gunn. And joining us today is Nicole Zelniker, Nicole Zelniker. She her is a writer, activist and podcast producer at the Nasiona. Nicole is also the author of Mixed, a nonfiction book about race and Mixed Race Families and Last Dance, a collection of short stories. You can check out the rest of her work at Nicole Zelniker.com. Hello, Nicole.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:00:34] Hi, how are you?

Dianna Gunn: [00:00:36] I am great. I’m very excited to have you here to chat about your myriad of projects. And in particular, I’m excited to talk about your upcoming novel.So can you tell us a bit about Letters That I’ll Never Send?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:00:52] Yeah. So I started it around January of this year, started really getting into it. I had had some ideas before and then had written kind of some separate excerpts, but sort of putting them together earlier this year, doing some edits. And it’s going to be published soon date TBD with Atmosphere Press.

Dianna Gunn: [00:01:18] Awesome. And so Atmosphere presses a small publisher.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:01:24] Yeah, yeah. They’re a small publisher. They had published my short stories previously and they have a bunch of awesome a bunch of awesome books on their website.

Dianna Gunn: [00:01:33] So awesome. I’ll have to check them out. I’m always on the lookout for a good news from my publisher. Well, new to me.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:01:41] Yeah, I think they’re, I think they’re pretty young. So New new would be fair.

Dianna Gunn: [00:01:46] Fair enough. So this is your first time writing a full length? Well, first of all, what inspired you to actually take on this challenge?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:01:55] Yeah, I it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I it’s it’s been different. But also not just I think the way that I write is kind of short story-esq like writing little bits and pieces and then kind of seeing how it all came together. And Letters specifically has kind of a lot of different moving parts there, actual letters that the protagonist sends or it doesn’t send to to people in her life as part of a therapy and part of her healing. And the protagonist is also a writer. So there are excerpts from them, you know, as as she’s kind of figuring out how to cope with what had happened to her, her own writing. So it wasn’t so different in that way. But then also, you know, just writing a longer connected piece was a challenge in and of itself meant maintaining the tone, maintaining that the voice of the narrator and the other characters. So, yeah,

Dianna Gunn: [00:03:02] Awesome. So what was the most challenging part? Was it that the challenge of maintaining tone or?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:03:09] Um, I would say the most challenging part was figuring out what was missing? I think because I had previously largely written short stories, if they’re, um, I’m kind of in the mindset of condensing in with the novel, you know, there needs to be more in people there space to answer the questions that people might have that readers might have. So I think figuring out what those questions might be and anticipating them before I would be able to be asked, what’s the biggest challenge?

Dianna Gunn: [00:03:50] Oh, boy, that’s yeah, yeah, I can see that being the biggest challenge. Sounds like to there was just a lot going on, both, you know, like in the story and in the process.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:04:07] Yeah, for sure.

Dianna Gunn: [00:04:10] Well, thats cool, so this is your first novel, but you’ve also written a bunch of short stories, I know you were in the anthology Nothing Without US, which is a great anthology. We’ve actually interviewed both of the editors on here. And you also have your own anthology and a non fiction book and a podcast. First of all, how do you how do you manage to have time for all of this, all of these projects?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:04:41] And I think the OCD definitely helps with that is the kind of frantically needing to do everything all the time. So that’s that’s the answer. But, you know, that’s kind of my main mental health answer. But, I mean, I think that it’s you know, it’s important to me and definitely with you know, with the first two books, with the short stories and with the nonfiction, that I was able to work on them with the nonfiction and grad school and with the short stories and undergrad, so that making time in my adult life has been different working on this. But I don’t, uh. I mean, I guess it’s important to me and, you know, I guess instead of watching Netflix and writing it, the them and, you know, in the last couple of months especially have been, you know, I think it’s been hard for a lot of people just with the pandemic and everything that’s been happening with the Black Lives Matter protests and, you know, the upcoming election. And I think a lot of how handle my stress is focusing on these projects. So, you know, it’s been a good time for editing for me.

Dianna Gunn: [00:06:09] I was about to ask that because what I found in my creative communities is that the pandemic has really got a lot of people stuck, like really, really deeply, creatively stuck.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:06:22] Sure.

Dianna Gunn: [00:06:22] And I have other friends who have written three books since they went into lockdown. I seem to be going back and forth week by week. What’s it been like for you? How has the pandemic had a big impact on your process or your schedule in terms of your creative work?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:06:42] Well, I think it’s definitely pushed me to focus on this more as an I think it has been sort of a distraction for me. It does. It has really kind of bothered me when I see, you know, people on social media or just post saying, you know, because of the pandemic, we should all be writing four novels and, you know, learning a new language and, you know, doing all these skills. And even though I’ve managed to write this, I don’t think it’s fair to to put that on people, you know. I think that this is if the only thing you can do right now is survive. That’s that’s pretty awesome.

Dianna Gunn: [00:07:22] Absolutely. You know, you might be at home, but it’s not like you’ve been given just a casual six month vacation. Every everything is upended. Yeah. Here in the middle of a pandemic, everything is upended. You can do the things you would normally do during time off. Like there’s and there’s just this low level anxiety. It’s exhausting.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:07:45] Yeah. And I think with writing specifically, you know, it’s you know, maybe people have writers groups that help them that they can’t go to. Like, it’s not I don’t think it’s fair to just say that everyone should be able to, you know, be the next Stephen King because we have six months of being inside.

Dianna Gunn: [00:08:04] Absolutely. I think that’s really important perspective to keep in mind. And it’s just it’s sickening how much capitalism just pushes us to this toxic idea of be productive at all times, no matter what your circumstances are.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:08:24] For sure. Yeah, especially, you know, we’re talking about mental health and disability and physical disability and I mean, I think it’s also just a really ableist idea that, you know, we should always be productive all the time, people with depression and anxiety, that this hasn’t helped, you know, people that might have a physical disability that, you know, doesn’t allow them to do things the same way that someone who isn’t physically disabled might be able to do. I think it’s just, you know, I think we need to normalize the idea of that. It’s OK to not be productive all the time.

Dianna Gunn: [00:09:07] Yeah, absolutely. So bringing things back to the art side of things.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:09:14] Yeah. 

Dianna Gunn: [00:09:15] We’ve talked about how you make time for it, but why is it so important to you to be working in all these different mediums rather than being hyper focused on, say, just novel writing?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:09:28] Yeah. I think it’s important to when one is accessibility, like with the podcast specifically, I started it with the Nasiona l and it was based on my non-fiction book, which is about race and mixed race families. And we talked about how to get the stories out to the maximum amount of people and they’re written down in this book. But then also maybe it’s easier for some people to listen to podcasts or maybe people just prefer podcasts and, you know, getting getting that out. Definitely my kind of main creative channel is is writing, but it’s also been really cool to learn about podcasting. And I mean, you get it, this is your podcast. But, you know, it’s been cool to learn how to do things in different mediums. And then kind of second is that I think with. With learning these different skills, whether it’s podcasting or whatever kind of other mediums I’ve taken on, you know, it’s been helpful to kind of bring those skills back into writing. And yeah, I guess I guess that’s the answer to my question. And I’m going to trail off awkwardly now.

Dianna Gunn: [00:10:53] Oh, that’s all right. That. 

Nicole Zelniker: [00:10:57] Is a big move for me, honestly.

Dianna Gunn: [00:10:59] I love doing this podcast, especially when I’m doing interviews with other people who have anxiety because, you know, there’s just this this camaraderie where we both just say silly things and sometimes trail off. You know, I had a brain fart in the middle of one of my podcasts recently, and it’s just this this lovely understanding atmosphere that has been created with the Spoonis Authors podcast that I’m really grateful for. And yeah, I think the coolest thing about writing is that everything informs our work.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:11:39] Yeah. For sure.

Dianna Gunn: [00:11:40] There’s you know, it may not be direct, but every piece of knowledge we gain, every piece of experience we gain, it can somehow be related back to writing.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:11:54] For sure. Yeah. I mean, I think that that’s especially true with with letters. And working on that is that it’s very I mean, it’s fiction, it’s fictionalized. But a lot of it is based on my own life. You know, the main character goes into a psych hospital at the very beginning and is like learning how to how to deal with depression and anxiety. And that’s very much based on my own experiences. I went into an inpatient facility when I was 14 for almost a week and very different than the eight months that the central character finds there, but definitely like pulled from my own experiences. And it’s definitely been cathartic in a lot of ways. And then also just I’m excited to just have those conversations with people and, you know, have some part in normalizing things like depression and anxiety and mental illness.

Dianna Gunn: [00:12:50] Yeah, I think it’s really important to have those stories out there, and frankly, it’s a lot easier to tell a fictionalized version of it than to actually spill your guts about your own.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:13:06] For sure. 

Dianna Gunn: [00:13:06] I mean, I don’t even like writing in this world, I’m like, nah, that’s way too close to my own personal experience.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:13:13] Yeah, well, I you know, I’ve experimented with kind of like fantasy and dystopian stuff, never published. But I think the hardest thing for me is world creation. So if that’s what you do, kudos to you.

Dianna Gunn: [00:13:28] Well, thank you. So and this is a contemporary work, I’m assuming. Have you dealt with the pandemic in your work? Have you included that? So I know that’s something that a lot of contemporary authors have struggled with the decision around. Do we even mention it? 

Nicole Zelniker: [00:13:50] Have not? I think I would be open to it. I think right now I know a lot of what I need to read is not about the pandemic when it comes to fiction and when it comes to just leisure reading. So I think that, you know, I want to put out there what I would be interested in reading, because hopefully there are other people that would be interested in it as well. Maybe when I get a little bit of distance from the pandemic, which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, but maybe that’s?

Dianna Gunn: [00:14:24]  Fair enough. I think it’s an interesting thing to wrestle with. You know, how do you write contemporary when? The contemporary world is kind of on fire and like eight different ways.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:14:38] You know, I’ve talked to people about writing dystopian. You know, it just seems like the market for that right now is rather small because we’re living in it. So, yeah.

Dianna Gunn: [00:14:53] Yeah, it’s like I have a copy of The Road that I’ve been meaning to read forever. I don’t know at this point. I don’t know what’s ever going to happen. 

Nicole Zelniker: [00:15:01] I have a friend’s mom, who’s a professor who is putting together like a pandemic reading list and I’m like, all I want to do is read Harry Potter and, um, you know, things that are not about the pandemic right now, even though there are plenty of good books out there about pandemic and dystopia.

Dianna Gunn: [00:15:18] But I’m still reading dark books. But yeah, I’m sticking firmly in the fantasy realm. I haven’t read a science fiction book or a contemporary book of any kind in a long time. And honestly, it’ll probably be however long it is until we get a vaccine before I do. Really, I’m just.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:15:40] Yes, for sure.

Dianna Gunn: [00:15:46] Anyway, bringing things back to the disability a bit. So what would what advice would you give to authors who want to include disabled characters and especially authors who want to include representation of mental illness in their work?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:16:03] Yeah, I would say that it’s a balance between, you know, they they have lives outside of being disabled and also that it does affect them. So writing a character like with the main character in Letters, not that I’m like the shining example or anything, and I can only really offer what what I’ve done. But, you know, what I try to do with this is something that obviously is very is affecting her, especially, you know, over over the course of the novel. But then also she has relationships with friends and her wife and her daughter and other people in her life, in her life. And she is someone who has depression, but she’s also a writer. And, you know, I think making making it clear that she isn’t depression. It was important to me. But then also making it clear that, well, at the same time, this is something that very. It is very important for her to focus on right now, so I think it’s about finding that balance.

Dianna Gunn: [00:17:17] Yeah, absolutely. Though I must say some days with some of the conversations I have, it seems like her being depressed and her being a writer might just be. 

Nicole Zelniker: [00:17:29] Synonymous.Yeah, I think yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever met a sane writer, which, you know, is a big mood.

Dianna Gunn: [00:17:37] I’ve met recovered writers who have, you know, put in like 20, 30 years of trauma work.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:17:43] Yeah, for sure.

Dianna Gunn: [00:17:44] But most of the writers I know have you know, they have that deep emotional wound. They give their characters all the time.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:17:51] Yeah, I was actually I was talking about this with a writer friend the other day that, you know, how much of our characters are just us projecting trauma onto this page. And I said probably a lot.

Dianna Gunn: [00:18:04] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It varies from one writer to the next, but.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:18:10] Oh, yeah. I mean, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, though. I mean, I think that it’s a human experience. And, um, you know, for me, like I mean, I said before, it’s it’s been really cathartic. And, you know, I’ve written essays and short stories about mental health in the past that know I’ve had people reach out and say, hey, I’ve gone through something similar. And, you know, I didn’t know of anyone that had gone through this openly. And it’s really cool to see that I’m not alone or, you know, hey, just that that story I read really helped me kind of work through some things. And that’s been really cool for me is seeing that I’ve been able to connect with people that way.

Dianna Gunn: [00:18:57] Yeah. And that’s one of the really cool things about fiction. You know, that’s that’s one of the things I love most about it, is that, yeah, it’s cathartic for us as we write it. But, you know, if we do it right, we can also reach across the table and give a similarly cathartic experience to our readers or, you know, our watchers, the people who are experiencing our stories. I have been watching through the show Killjoys, which is like the most underrated sci fi show ever. And I’m kind of just on a quest to get everyone to watch it. And it just has the most powerful and healing representations of trauma I’ve seen in really any TV show. You know, I’ve seen this kind of powerful representation in books, but for TV it goes above and beyond. The whole series is out, so you don’t have to worry about not getting an ending.And unfortunately, it’s only on Netflix in the U.K. I don’t know why it’s a Canadian show.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:20:01] Fascinating.

Dianna Gunn: [00:20:02] But yeah, anyway,

Nicole Zelniker: [00:20:05] I’m very like one track mind with TV shows, like I can only manage to watch one at a time. So right now it’s Poes and I will only watch Poes.

Dianna Gunn: [00:20:15] Fair enough. I think, you know, that’s important because there’s only so much time in a day. If you want to have eight different creative projects, you got a limit.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:20:26] I think any time you know, I know I’m going to get so invested in the characters. There’s only so much emotional capacity. I have to get invested in these fictional people.

Dianna Gunn: [00:20:34] Yeah. Using so much emotional capacity for other things, including my own fictional people. I’ve only got so much for other people’s fictional people.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:20:45] Uh. Got it, got to strike that balance somehow. Yeah.

Dianna Gunn: [00:20:49] All right, so that brings us to our final question, which is where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

Nicole Zelniker: [00:20:58] Yeah, so I do have a website. It’s nicholezelnikercom. I also because I’ve done podcasts with the Nasiona, I have I have some stuff published there. And both of my books are on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so you should totally check them out.

Dianna Gunn: [00:21:19] Awesome. 

Nicoles Lovely Mom: [00:21:19] Their Great.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:21:20] That’s my mom. And well, if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be a good mom. Oh,

Nicole Zelniker: [00:21:27] There you go. One way of looking at it.

Dianna Gunn: [00:21:31] It’s the mom’s job to be supportive.

Nicole Zelniker: [00:21:34] Mm hmm.

Dianna Gunn: [00:21:36] I know, unfortunately, too many people whose mothers don’t really understand that but,

Nicole Zelniker: [00:21:42] For sure, I don’t think she understands a lot of what I write, but she supports it.

Dianna Gunn: [00:21:47] So that’s the important thing. All right. Well, thank you for joining us and having me have a lovely day and good luck surviving 2020. Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of the Spoonie Authors’ podcast. The Spoonie Authors’ podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors’ Network, a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoonie Authors Network. To learn more or become a contributor, visit SpoonieAuthorsNetwork.blog. And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a five star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.