Today we will be playing “Twenty Questions” with May Nicole Abbey, the authors of “The Fall Series”, which includes three fantasy-adventure-clean romance novels – “The Dreamer”, “The Scholar”, and “The Pauper” – up to now, with the fourth in the making.
And yes, I did say the “authorS”. No, it was not a typo. No, May Nicole Abbey does not suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (as far as I know). May Nicole Abbey is two persons. May Nicole Abbey is the pen name chosen by two sisters, Caroline Gregory and Shawnette Nielson. Unusual? Yes. Original? Definitely. Successful? Absolutely!
1. How does this work, writing as a team?
Caroline: It’s all over the place. First we pound out the general story with endless and wonderful phone calls (thank goodness for free mobile to mobile), then it just depends. Sometimes Shawnette does the first draft and I edit, or vice versa, or sometimes we write it together over the phone. Every book, every scene, is a new adventure. We don’t know where we will be compelled to go.
Shawnette: What I love most is that we are each other’s biggest fan, even though we are so different from each other. To trust someone so completely is rare, to be able to hand over our work in progress and know that even if things are cut or changed, that it is done respectfully. I so value my relationship with my sister Caroline.
2. Do you have a plan – as in who will write what – before you start, or you just make it up as you go along?
We make it up as we go along. We thought we had a writing strategy for the first book, then it changed for the second, still again for the third. We’re working on the fourth now, and we’re doing it yet a different way. Whoever has an idea says, “Let me give it a try.” Then the other sister edits the heck out of it. We’re very different creatively, so we both have lots to say when we get a first draft. And second. And third….
3. What gave you the idea to write as a team, instead of trying to publish separately?
It just happened. Shawnette had a wonderful idea for a story, and I got excited about it and helped her plan it. We live hundreds of miles apart, so on vacations or over the phone, it would come up and we’d get excited about it again and write a little more. It became ‘our’ story. When it was finished (ten years after we started it!) we thought we’d try to get it published. We never planned a series, but our publisher gave us a great idea for book two. Then the rest just fell into place.
4. Do you plan on publishing separately, or will you continue authoring as a team?
Caroline: We have big plans together. We have our series planned out to book 9, then we have more ideas all the way to book 27! Who has time to publish separately?
Shawnette: I think that I have recognized that my writing is incomplete without Caroline and so throughout the years, as I continually strive to improve my own talents, I also know intimately my own weaknesses. I think my writing will forever be better for Caroline’s added talents. Why work alone when it is so much more enjoyable to do it together?
5. How did you come up with the pen name you are using – May Nicole Abbey?
I liked the name May, Shawnette liked Nicole, and Abbey came about because we wanted to be first alphabetically. (This was before the internet played such a big part. In book stores, we wanted to be right up front!) We came up with the name years ago. When we decided to try to get published, we thought, “What pen name did we come up with?” We looked and just had to laugh. Shawnette’s daughter’s name is Abbey Nicole! It was meant to be!
6. What inspired you to write this series?
The phrase, “I had a dream once that I flew,” began it all. It popped into Shawnette’s mind about fifteen years ago and she rushed to find a pen to write it down. The rest was inspired by that one line. It plays a big part in the first three books, repeated throughout. In the third book it is one of the last lines. We plan on having it play some part in the whole series. Giving it its due.
7. Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Caroline: Shawnette has three kids and I have four. Our strange writing habits are that we are able to write at all! We promised ourselves our children wouldn’t have to pay the price for our dream, so we write when we can carve out time. Mostly at night after the kids are asleep. But I have had my computer in the kitchen as I cook, on the floor while the baby plays, and in the car while I’m waiting outside during the kids’ activities. You name it, I’ve probably written there.
Shawnette: I guess you could say that adaptability is key when you try to write with the responsibilities of motherhood on your shoulders. The challenge of it all makes it extra fun, though.
8. Does any of you identify herself with your protagonist, and if so, in what way?
We LOVE our protagonists, no matter how flawed they are. Each one I can identify with, or I envy. Heather, in the third book, is so spunky and fearless. How I love living through her eyes because I’m naturally timid. Rachel is intelligent and innocent, always making mistakes, but it doesn’t occur to her to care. Serena is simply beautiful. A beautiful nature. I wish I could love people as readily as she does. We love all our characters. We couldn’t write them like we do unless we loved them dearly.
9. Your series is about time travel. If you were able to travel in time, where would you go?
Caroline: We romanticize the areas we visit in our books. In reality we know these places had many challenges. Right now we’re writing about the American wild west. If I could visit a romanticized version, it would be that. The cowboys, the adventure, the grit and determination must have carved out hearty, wise character. I think that, in every book I write, it becomes my new favorite place, just like the characters become my new favorite people.
Shawnette: Could I have a free pass? I want to visit it all, live in a place for a time, learn of its beauties, and then move on. I would never stop.
10. If you were superheroes, what would your names be? What costumes would you wear?
Caroline: We are big superhero fans at my house. I love the powers of the little girl in The Incredibles. She could disappear and create protective force fields. Totally up my alley. Loved the outfit, too. :)
Shawnette: As I think of all the superheroes, the ones that I admire the most are those that have a natural toughness built of grit and determination; Captain America, Wolverine. They were true heroes, not only because of their inherent talents, but because of their strength of character. My superhero power would be something that put me in the thick of it all, right in the fray; but would also require strength and determination on my part. Invincibility. My costume? Hmmm, I like Black Widow’s look. :)
11. If you could walk a day in somebody else’s shoes, who would it be?
Caroline: Jane Austen. She intrigues me. I love the way she saw people. To be able to write characters like she did, she must have really been able to read those around her. I would love to be able to write characters the way she did. I wonder what she’d think of me. The idea both fascinates and terrifies me.
Shawnette: George Washington. What an example of a real life super hero. He was INCREDIBLE, and honorable, and good. Brave. Noble. Unstoppable. To know what he knew, feel what he felt; I would have so much to learn from him.
12. If you had to characterize yourselves with just one word, what word would you choose?
Caroline: Right now it would be mother. That is ninety percent of my time. And I love it. But there is a writer there, too. I am a mother who writes. Or something like that.
Shawnette: Adventurer. Right now my adventure is motherhood, who knows what will be next.
13. Do you have pets?
Caroline: Do we have pets?? Two dogs, a poodle named Bennett and a pug named Darcy (sound familiar? Think Pride and Prejudice), four turtles named Spike, Crusher, Claws and Turbo, and a toad named Foot. (Did I tell you I have four boys?) I am also a part time zoo keeper, apparently.
Shawnette: I am in the process of downsizing our animals. At one point we had chickens, salamanders, fish, dog and cat. Now we have a yellow lab named Rusty who is my running companion and around good friend, and Echo our Russian Blue cat. She owns the house and everything in it, including Rusty’s bed, poor fella.
14. How do you relax?
Caroline: I watch TV. It lasts about five seconds… but it’s glorious.
Shawnette: I should sleep. When I’m making good decisions, I sleep. Most of the time it is not the case, and my relaxing time happens late at night when everyone has fallen asleep and I watch an old fashion movie.
15. What are your top three favorite books?
Caroline: Pride and Prejudice, Secret Garden, and Where the Heart Is.
Shawnette: Pride and Prejudice (who doesn’t love this book), I have to name a Georgette Heyer… maybe The Talisman Ring, Arabella, or The Masqueraders, and number three would be… Divine Center by Steven Covey.
16. What is your favorite movie or TV show?
Caroline: Soooo many to choose from. Probably Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow. Funny but with depth. Perfect balance.
Shawnette: I have found such charm in the old black and white movies. Adam and Evelyn is so charming. I loved it.
17. Do you read your reviews? Do you learn from your readers?
Caroline: I used to read the reviews religiously. But I realized it brought either ecstasy or agony. Neither very healthy emotions. Shawnette keeps me up to date with generalities, but for the most part, I try to avoid them. We get wonderful ideas from our readers. So often they see things that we didn’t see. It makes us look at the book in a new light.
Shawnette: I have to be careful, for the same reason mentioned by Caroline, but I can’t help myself. I try to learn from everything… as hard as it is sometimes. And reading reviews has brought me in contact with some incredible women (case in point, Anka :)
18. What advice would you give your younger selves?
Caroline: Don’t lose hope.
Shawnette: Write, write, write.
19. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write, write, write. And read, read, read. The only way to get better is to practice. It isn’t entertainment anymore. It’s work. Not that you have to stop loving it. But I think you have to look at it a different way. Going from being a reader to a writer, you go from being an enjoyer of an art to a creator of it. You have to figure out how it works.
20. How can people discover more about you and about your work?
May Nicole Abbey's website
May Nicole Abbey's blog
May Nicole Abbey on Facebook
May Nicole Abbey on Twitter
May Nicole Abbey on LinkedIn
May Nicole Abbey on Pinterest
May Nicole Abbey's Amazon author page
May Nicole Abbey on Goodreads
Thank you, Anka. It has been such a pleasure!
Thank you, Caroline and Shawnette, for letting me pick your brains. This was a wonderful opportunity to find out interesting things about one (I should probably say "two") of my favorite authors, and I hope the readers feel the same.