The Big Idea: Nicole Willson
Author Nicole Willson, who has been a lifelong horror fan, gives us a little backstory on how she came up with the idea for her newest novel… or rather, the backstory on how she realized she was having an idea for Tidepool.
My first rule of developing novel ideas: Realize that you’re having an idea.
A few years ago, I was walking along the shore at Bethany Beach in Delaware and musing about what I’d do if for some bizarre reason Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk gave me the chance to write my own season of American Horror Story. What can I say? I’m a near-lifelong horror fan, and so my mind tends towards the dark even when I’m in a relaxing, beautiful place.
Because I was by the ocean, I started thinking along the lines of malevolent sea creatures, something a little Lovecraftian. What if some time in the distant past, a small town on the Eastern Shore was under constant threat from these beings? What if the only thing standing between that town and its destruction was a lone woman who had the ability to keep the creatures at bay? Who was she? How did she do this? Why was she the only one who could do it? How did she get in that situation? And what would happen if she failed?
Thinking about this woman and her situation kept me busy for hours, and I finally realized “Wait a minute—this could be my next novel. Forget American Horror Story; I’m keeping this one.” Sorry, Ryan and Brad. Hope things worked out for you!
As I started fleshing my idea out in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2016, the story evolved beyond that woman, now an imposing widow named Mrs. Ada Oliver, and the people in the small shoreside town that I called Tidepool. I wanted Mrs. Oliver to be a remote, menacing presence who the reader only gets to know gradually, and so I needed a POV character. An outsider was heading to my little town.
I didn’t exactly create Sorrow Hamilton. She introduced herself while I was planning the novel and told me why she was going to a shabby, run-down town like Tidepool, which was worlds away from the kind of place she was accustomed to even if it wasn’t that far from her home in Baltimore. Her beloved brother had gone missing. Tidepool was the last place where she’d had any word from him. And Sorrow was determined to find out what happened to him no matter how much her father insisted she stay home and let the authorities handle it.
As I brought Sorrow into the story and she clashed with the townspeople and with Mrs. Oliver, I realized she and Mrs. Oliver weren’t all that different even though they played opposing parts in the book. They’re from wealthy backgrounds. Their early lives are marred by tragedy. They chafe under the expectations placed on young women in their era and the roles that the men around them expect them to assume as adults. While their lives progress in very different directions, their devotion to the important people in their lives is why they make the choices that ultimately set them on the paths that collide in Tidepool.