Monday, August 22, 2011

Getting to know Nicole McCaffrey

Have you ever walked through a forest and looked up to see tall pine trees stretching toward Heaven, or paused to admire an impossibly wide maple tree? Beneath that dense shade squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits scurry about, deer munch lazily on nearby shrubs and song birds tweet from branches above... Well, welcome to my neighborhood.

Unlike most of the Sweethearts, I don’t live out west.  I make my home in the northeast, in a town nestled against  the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York.  Also unlike most of the Sweethearts, I’m a born and bred city girl.  I grew up in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rochester, NY, in an area called Maplewood where old Victorian and post Victorian style houses and even older trees made up our  neighborhood.  I spent long summer days lounging on our porch swing reading—lucky for me our local library was just a short walk to the end of our street.  Most weeks during summer found my mother, sister and I making that trek and returning with bags of books.  

Which is not to say I was idle—swimming, biking, tennis and soccer were part of the daily neighborhood routine, but my favorite games were when we’d splash around in our pool and pretend to be mermaids, or jump around on our wide, open front porch and pretend to be pirates sailing the wide open seas—we’d stand on the railings and use an old cardboard paper towel tube as a telescope and look for any sign of land (at least until the streetlights came on, when we had to go inside.)  Other times, we’d play in the cool shade of the carriage house behind our house and pretend to be “outlaws”; we’d borrow my dad’s handkerchiefs, tie them about the lower part of our face and guard our buried treasure (some rocks my dad spray painted gold for us).  There’s no doubt in my mind all this pretending sparked this budding author’s imagination.  


Jump forward about twenty years and just a handful of miles from where I grew up.  I live in a town called Irondequoit, which is Iroquois for “where the land and waters meet”—and that’s a pretty accurate description of my neighborhood.  My backyard backs up to a park, and Lake Ontario is just a quick walk from here.  I live on less than an acre of land, yet I have eleven trees in my front yard and twenty in the back.  My husband and I have lived here for nearly eleven years now.  Our town is surrounded on three sides by water—a river, the aforementioned lake and a bay, so chances are if I’m going somewhere other than the local grocery store or to pick up my boys from school, I have to travel over water to get there.

These swans live near the lake just a short walk from my front door.

I’m not sure when my passion for writing first began, it’s something that’s always been with me.  My dad read to us constantly, and shared stories of his life during the depression and growing up a farmer.  When I was six, my older sister brought home a homework assignment to write a short story.  I don’t remember the details exactly but I do recall that was the exact moment it occurred to me that, rather than just read my favorite stories over and over, or feel dissatisfied that the books in my collection weren’t quite the adventure I was yearning for….I could write my own.  Suddenly a world full of possibilities opened up to me. I began writing stories to entertain myself right then and there.

It was several years before it ever occurred to me to share my stories with anyone else—for the most part, I wrote for my own pleasure.  In high school I began writing stories for friends—their own adventure starrting them and whatever teen heartthrob they wanted to be stranded on a desert island with.  Life moved on in a way that a friend of mine refers to as “lifus interruptus” and while somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I’d return to writing, for a long time I ignored “the voices”—the characters begging me to tell their stories-- and got on with the business of living. But I never stopped reading.  Somewhere along the way I set aside Nancy Drew mysteries and began reading Harlequin Romances—after reading my first romance novel, Nancy and Ned’s chaste relationship seemed far too boring.  So I read romance almost exclusively. But  something was still missing.  I was drawn to the big displays of books in the grocery store featuring covers with beautiful men and women in historical costumes –and that’s where I found my true passion.  Before long I was devouring historical romances and soon the writer in me became restless.  I didn’t just want to just read historical romances.  I wanted to write them.

Small Town Christmas - the story that started it all

Though I joined RWA and a local writing chapter in my early twenties, it really wasn’t until my early thirties that I began to seriously consider writing for something other than my own amusement again.  By now I ‘d met and married Peter, my best friend and the love of my life.  He encouraged me to follow my heart and write.  I wrote in my spare time, critiqued with small groups here and there but nothing clicked.  Then I lost my job in a major layoff at the hospital where I worked as a medical secretary.  Suddenly I had time to write.  Never one to be idle, and worried about money, I began my own business as a medical transcriptionist.  Since I was expecting our first child it was important to me to work from home—being self employed would allow me to set my own hours.

The Model Man - research I did for this story helped me during my dad's illness

I continued pursuing both careers—writing and transcription—over the next six years.  My oldest son was born in March of 2000 and was quite honestly the happiest baby I’ve ever met. He was content to sleep in my arms as I worked or wrote; new moms are supposed to be exhausted but he was a good sleeper, seldom fussed and I couldn’t wait to have more.  My youngest son came along in November 2002 (on my birthday, no less!) and quickly proved the opposite of his brother.  He fussed a great deal, seldom slept and never slept through the night until he was fourteen months old (we’re fond of joking that he was determined to stay the youngest by keeping mom and dad too exhausted to even think about adding to our family again, let alone doing anything about it).  Drained and frazzled, I cut back on my transcription gradually until I finally let the business go altogether.  I still wrote when I could, but for the next couple of years I didn’t actively pursue it.
My first historical western--so fun it practically wrote itself!

August 2006 is forever etched in my mind as “the best of times and the worst of times”.  My oldest was about to begin first grade and for the first time would be in school a full day.  My youngest would be starting preschool.  For the first time in nearly a decade I would have “me” time.  I was supposed to be excited about this, and friends and relatives teased constantly about what I’d do with all my free time.  I joked that I would sleep or catch up on reading, but inside I was heartsick.  I’d once overheard a mom on the playground lament that once your kids begin school there’s a whole part of their day that no longer includes you. I’ve wished many, many times I’d never overheard that, because it stuck in my mind and made it hard to be completely happy about this new transition—about my babies not needing me as much, and the parts of their day that I would know nothing about.  I was living my own version of empty nest syndrome --and my babies were barely out of diapers!
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With my boys, Wyatt and Colton,  aboard the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls last week.

In the midst of all this, my dad—my rock, my hero, my everything—had become ill.   I knew exactly what he had, even if it took the doctors a bit longer to figure it out.  Research for a story I was working on (The Model Man, a contemporary story with an over 40 heroine and a younger hero), had led me to TIA’s or trans ischemic attacks .  Years of medical transcription for an investigator who worked primarily on cases of nursing home neglect had taught me more than I ever thought I’d need to know about senile dementia and  Alzheimer’s disease.  With the brutal clarity that hindsight offers, things began adding up and I realized my dad had probably been suffering TIA’s,or mini strokes,  for a long time, we just never connected all the dots.  Now the trans ischemic attacks had led to a bigger stroke that left him with a form of dementia and forever changed our lives.  

My Dad in the rose garden outside his nursing home.

All of this was on my mind those early September mornings after I walked my oldest son to school, then drove the youngest to preschool.  The silence of the house drove me crazy—I jumped every time the cuckoo clock chimed, or the ice maker in the fridge switched on.  I’d begun to take Tanner, our dog, for long walks just to get out of the house. It was on one of those walks that I realized that for the rest of the world, when life gets hard, there’s therapy.  But for a writer…there’s no better therapy than writing.

I’d had an idea for a holiday story in my head for a while but hadn’t done anything with it.  I recalled hearing that The Wild Rose Press, a brand new e-publisher I’d heard wonderful things about, was looking for short stories for the holidays.  Id’ never written a short story before, but suddenly, I wanted to try. I cut Tanner’s walk short and headed back home.  Over the next few days I poured all the emotions I’d been feeling—the sadness, the worry, the fear, the little moments of joy—into that story. It took less than a week to finish it and by the time it was complete, I felt more like myself again.  The silence in my house had been replaced with the clickety-clack of my fingers on the keyboard, my youngest was adjusting to preschool and had made lots of friends, and my oldest loved the routine of  first grade.  The doctors had prescribed a new medication for my dad that kept him from being quite so confused and my mom had found a senior day care center to care for my dad while she worked.  Things were looking up.

Tanner—our daily walks still keep me focused and allow me time to brainstorm.

To make a long story short, I sold Small Town Christmas to The Wild Rose Press that October and it was released the week before my birthday in November 2006.  I turned 40 that year and while some would find that depressing, I felt as though I’d embarked on a brand new chapter of my life.  I’ve since sold several more stories to TWRP, including The Model Man, which has also been released on audio book (it’s an August special this month at TWRP—on sale for .99!); Wild Texas Wind, my first historical western, which was released last summer and  a short Civil War time travel due out early next year. I also have my first short erotica story under consideration with them.  
Coming Soon to The Wild Rose Press

My fingers and imagination are never idle, so there are plenty more stories in the works. These days I write full time these and do freelance editing.  My oldest son is about to enter sixth grade and my youngest third; both boys love school and while they aren’t allowed to read my books, they love to tell anyone who will listen that their mom is an author.  My dad is in a nursing home now but he still knows who we are when he sees us. In many ways he’s still the same person, his personality hasn’t changed much, even if he’s confused as to time and place more often than not.  My mom has retired so she can spend more time with my dad and her grandchildren. And even after thirteen years of marriage, Peter is still the love of my life, my best friend and my biggest supporter.  

Aboard the Maid of the Mist –still crazy (about each other) after all these years.

I begin most mornings with some gentle yoga stretches (I’m a lifelong migraine sufferer; yoga helps reduce the number of migraines I suffer each month) and as I stretch and breathe, I gaze out the family room windows that overlook the backyard and marvel at the impossibly wide maple trees and the pine trees that seem to be stretching toward Heaven …and count my blessings.  

Peter and the boys on a recent fishing expedition in the park

No blog about me would be complete without mentioning the Lord of the Manor himself, Gilbert. He's pretty sure I work from home solely to give him a warm lap to sleep on.

14 comments:

  1. Fun post, Nic! I learned a few new things about you! You're part of the world sounds lovely. Some day I'm going to show up on your doorstep.

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  2. LOL your'e welcome any time, my friend.

    And one of these days, I'm going to send my two boys off for a week of ranching with Aunt Paty LOL.

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  3. Wonderful post, Nic. I envy you your lovely environment at home while we're sweltering in 110 degrees here and all our plants and trees are dying because our lows at night are in the mid 80's. I loved learning more about you. You're a wonderful author and I'm so glad to "know" you, even if it's only online.

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  4. Nicole, this is an amazing accounting of your life. I learned so many new things about you after all these years.

    I am SO jealous - I love the Maid of the Mist ride which is sort of like taking a public shower. :) Our Swedish kids lived in Ottawa for a while and drove us to the falls. Thanks for reminding me of the treat they gave us.

    I do have your historical and hoping to get to reading it soon. I loved being part of the creation of this fun story and want to find out what happened to your great hero.

    Keep on writing those stories. You have a fun voice which needs to be heard.

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  5. Thanks, Caroline. I'm glad to "know" you, too!

    Hugs,

    Nic

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  6. Paisley, LOL, you are sooo not kidding. I congratulated myself coming off the boat with dry feet--I can tolerate anything but wet feet! Then the boys decided they wanted to climb the "crows nest" --where you climb steps up the side of the cliff that take you right to the edge of the Falls. Talk about drenched!

    When we got back down, I literally poured about a cup of water out of each shoe and wrung twice that much from each sock, LOL. I was glad I'd thought to bring us all a change of shoes, but it was a long (squishy!) walk back to the car.

    Thanks for your kind words. I hope to be reading your westerns soon! (hint hint)

    Hugs,

    Nic

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  7. Nic,
    It's fun to get to know more about you. One of these days we may show up on your doorstep for a brainstorming weekend! Sounds like a beautiful setting for raising a family and writing.
    Your pets look very content too.

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  8. Nicole--now I know you! What a delightful essay about your residence, your state, your family, and your childhood. I thoroughly enjoyed every word, and I love the photos of your yard. Just gorgeous.
    I never suffered from empty nest syndrome when my two went to school, college, or got married. The events always seemed like a gift that I could use--and I did--I learned, too.

    I apologize for not promoting your post as I have the others. (My elderly mother passed away and I was out of town.)
    I think you've done a grand job on "all about me."
    Thanks---Celia

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  9. Thanks, Jeanmarie. Tanner and Gilbert are pretty spoiled, LOL.

    A brainstorming weekend with the Victorians would be so much fun!

    Nic

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  10. Celia, I'm so sorry to hear your mom passed. I knew she wasn't well but hadn't realized she'd passed on. Please accept my condolences.

    Thanks for your kind words. It was hard to write, LOL. I know as authors we're supposed to get out there and promote by talking about ourselves, but it's hard when you're as shy as I am, LOL.

    Hugs,

    Nic

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  11. How wonderful to get to know you so well in such short time, Nicole. Your homestead sounds so lovely...I'm jealous LOL. I'm so impressed that you started writing with two little ones around. I waited until mine were in college and still lament my late start. At least it keeps me busy in my old age...I'm a Wild Rose western author, too.

    Your sweet dad has touched my heart. Please give him a hug for me!

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  12. Hi Tanya! I enjoyed both Marrying Mattie and Marrying Minda--I think you started writing at the time that was just right for you!

    Thanks so much for your kind comment about my dad. I'll give him that hug!

    Hugs, Nic

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  13. Hi Nicole,
    I'm a day late and a dollar short--I've been out of town and am just catching up on everything...STILL! LOL I truly did love reading your post. I am so glad to get to know more about you and your life--I think this getting to know one another thing was a great idea---and I think it was Celia's, if I'm not mistaken. You have a lovely family and it sounds as if things progressed as they should in the writing and career realm for you, along with the family aspect. Like you, my first baby, Jessica, was perfect--slept, was cheery and never a problem. When I had my son, Casey, it was a totally different story, and my husband used to say that if he'd been first, he would have been an only child. LOL Thanks so much for giving us this glimpse of your life. I'm also a Wild Rose Press author, with two novels and a short story there.

    I am so sorry to hear about your dear dad. That happened to my mom before she eventually passed away, so I know how very hard it is for you.

    Take care, and again, thanks for sharing with all of us about your life and your writing.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  14. Thanks, Cheryl and thanks so much for stopping by. I'm enjoying this getting to know you month, as well.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your mom! We're doing okay, we're blessed that his nursing home is wonderful and he's really thriving there. I never imagined I'd say that about a nursing home, but we're very lucky.

    I know what your husband means, LOL. My mom used to say first borns are always good babies--it's God's way of tricking us into having more. *G*


    Hugs,

    Nic

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