Twelve Questions with Nikki Vogel
Nikki Vogel is a fiction writer from Edmonton, Canada who spends her time writing, reading, cycling, swimming and eating chocolate. She's also always on the lookout for the best pair of zombie apocalypse boots.
1. What did Artisthood looked like to you as a child? Did you have creatives in your family or your family’s close circle of friends, or did you strike out in a new direction from your family culture?
It really never occurred to me to think of myself in any particular way, artist or otherwise. Looking back, I can say with certainty that what I hungered for most was acceptance. I felt awkward in my skin, and it seemed that everyone around me knew how to fit in smoothly, that they knew how things were done, and the cool things to say and do, and all of it remained mysterious to me. When I tried, I did it wrong. My home life was unsettled, and I suffered from eczema and was teased mercilessly about it. Other kids said I had leprosy and that it was contagious, and their behavior forced me to be an outsider. I did love, even then, to tell stories and spent a lot of time living inside my head, making up tales in which I was the hero.
2. Is there a formative image or event around creative calling for you? What made you want to pursue your artistic field? And was there anything in particular that gave you the courage to take that first step?
When I was fourteen, I saw Star Wars and I was blown away. Plus, I had a crush on Luke Skywalker 😉 Shortly after that we began a series of moves that took us from California to Texas to California and then to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I began reading science fiction and then tried fantasy. I read The Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings. Again, my mind was blown. That was the moment I knew I wanted to write, to tell a story that could move someone the way I’d been moved.
As for courage to take the first step…. There were a series of baby steps in my life. I took creative writing courses during my undergrad and had a short story published in Fait A’complit, the English department’s journal at the University of Alberta. Then I went years without writing a thing. I tried drawing, pottery, and wood carving. In my forties, I worked for Castle Rock Research as a writer, creating content for their study guides. The body of work I built up gave me the courage to apply to UBC’s MFA of Creative Writing. I was accepted and completed my master’s degree and I’ve been writing novels ever since.
3. What are some creative works of others that have made the greatest impact on you, stylistically or personally? Is there a work that makes you fall back in love with your craft or industry when you’re discouraged?
I have always been a huge fan of Stephen King and I’ve read most of what he’s written. Having studied English and Comparative Literature for my undergrad, I’ve had the opportunity delve deeply into many wonderful works of literature. When I’m feeling discouraged, I tend to rely on my writer friends and critique partners to lift me up, which they always do.
4. Can you share a low point on your creative path and talk about how you dealt (or are dealing) with it? Or can you speak about a greatest fear that you grapple with?
My most recent novel has received great reactions during the querying process. It landed on an editor’s desk at Annick Press. I permitted my hope to get out of control and when they said no, it flattened me in a way I have never yet allowed myself to feel. Even when good things happen, I hold back, waiting to see how they will actually play out, but with this one, I dove in wholeheartedly, imagining announcements and launch day etc. I still haven’t quite recovered from the blow. This is my fifth novel, and I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rejections to show for my efforts. They’ve started to weigh heavily and I’m now questioning my ability to tell a story, and why I should even bother. This, of course, is to say nothing of the daily, sometimes minute by minute self-doubt cycle that most, if not all, writers experience. I love this. I’m killing it. Oh, wait. What if it sucks and I can’t tell? I love this….
5. Could you distill the most important thing you’ve learned about your craft or your identity as an artist into one sentence?
The most important thing I’ve learned can be stated in one sentence, one that I wish I’d written. It comes from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic. “Measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by the results.” This has kept me going when doubt wanted me to throw in the towel.
6. Our childhood experiences shape us, the positive and the painful. Sometimes we have access to unusual resources, and sometimes loss, loneliness or lack can be a rich tool to move us forward. Are there any unusual circumstances, weird childhood habits, or difficult challenges that shaped the way you see or interact with the world? How might these things show up in your craft?
I have noticed that many of my protagonists have issues with identity. Something happens to them that forces them to re-evaluate how they view themselves and their place in the world. Examining my childhood and early adulthood, I realize that I went through a series of such events and had to remake myself several times. Sometimes this is a natural process, part of growing up, but sometimes it’s forced upon us by circumstance, or by family dynamics. I grew up in a family with dysfunctional communication. Consequently, I learned to observe the people around me, to look for the cues as to what they were feeling and what might be motivating them. While it was less than ideal, it gave me great observational skills, and a deep well of material for my stories.
7. Talk about a failure or disappointment—can be related to your career or not—that led to greater success or sent you on a more authentic or whole-hearted path.
I used to play tennis all the time. I have a passion for the game. I’ve also had a back injury, which began to plague me several years ago. I played through pain, though it became worse and worse. Eventually, I had a different injury and took some time off. When I came back, I had another injury and by that point the pain had become chronic. The journey through chronic pain taught me a lot about being flexible and accepting my limitations. In the meantime, I took up an endurance sport—aqua-bike—and have found something else to fulfill my sporty desires. I still miss tennis, and probably always will, but I’ve learned to feel gratitude for the time I had with the game, instead of only bitterness that it was taken from me.
8. What does a good creative day look like for you? What gets you in flow?
If I’m working on a project, I like to get up, eat breakfast, and head straight to my office to get to work. When I’m in the flow, I write between 2000 and 3000 words a day. If I’m feeling a little stuck, I’ll take whatever companion novel I’ve chosen for the project and copy a page or two by hand. This usually gets the juices flowing, and the fingers flying over the keyboard.
9. What has your experience with loneliness and creativity looked like? How do you find creative community?
I think there is bound to be an element of loneliness in a writer’s life. Writing a novel is generally a solo experience. Sure, you can bounce ideas of friends and fellow writers, but when the time comes to write, it’s you must sit down and do the work. I’m fortunate to have connected with a few wonderful writers. I met my critique partner during my MFA and then later met three other women through Kate Boorman and we call ourselves the Furies. They mean the world to me.
10. What would be some things on your go-to resource list (ie. books, podcasts, online courses) that you would love to share with others? Any habits or spiritual practices that keep you on track or pull you up when you’re down?
My go-to resource list includes Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. More than anything, when I need creative shoring up, I rely on my writer friends. I’m also fortunate to have a very supportive spouse who puts up with my distraction when I’m deep in the process, and the inevitable moods swings along the way.
11. What does success as an artist mean to you?
Interestingly, I started to answer this question along the lines of what success looks like--signed with an agent, a publishing contract etc. What it means…. That’s more along the lines of vindication that what I’ve spent so many hours doing has value to someone besides me. That I have been able to give the gift of being moved by a story to someone else, the way other writers have moved me.
12. If you could go back in time and speak to yourself at any age, what age would you choose and what would you say?
Oh, boy. That’s a tough one. On one hand, there are many things I could have told myself, but without going through everything I went through, I wouldn’t be who I am, which means I might not have the perseverance to stick to writing, a difficult and demoralizing, yet uplifting and inspiring pursuit. For sure, if I could go back and tell myself not to bother riding horses, I would. I received several injuries from falling off horses that altered my life considerably in my early fifties (chronic pain.) I will pay the price of those injuries forever, and it wasn’t like I was going to be a competitive equestrian.
Nikki Vogel's current project is a novel in which a young Jewish girl is transformed into a golem. It is on several agents’ desks at the moment. Her website can be found at www.nikkivogel.ca