Author Q&A with Nicki Orser
by Christine Nessler
October 4, 2023
Nicki Orser, a Nebraska native, completed her MFA at San Francisco State University where she was the recipient of the Joe Brainard Creative Writing Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Dunes Review, The American River Review, and Susurrus. She lives in Northern California with her two sons.
Orser’s nonfiction piece, Coyote, is featured in Issue #12 and was the runner up of the 2023 HoneyBee Prize in Nonfiction.
Tell us about yourself.
I live in Northern California with my two sons, work full-time at a small college, and do my best to maintain a creative life on the side while juggling a lot of non-writing responsibilities.
One of my proudest writing moments recently was being part of the proof of concept for America’s Next Great Author, a reality television series that is currently in development. One hundred writers were chosen to travel to New Jersey for filming and I was one of 20 finalists who got to pitch my book idea to a panel of judges and be interviewed, Real-World style, by Grant Faulkner, the founder of NaNoWriMo.
It was a huge departure from my normal life and has helped inspire me to keep writing and trying to get my work published. Coyote is one of the essays in the book I’m currently working on, a multi-generational memoir called Family Nature.
Coyote is a very touching story about a mother’s love for a child living with addiction. What do you want other parents facing the same challenges to take from your experience?
With addiction, there are a lot of things you can’t control, a lot of fear and frustration. Then, on top of it, there’s a layer of secrecy and guilt. When our child first came out as trans it was kind of a similar experience. I had an expectation that I should be able to instantly accept it but in reality, I felt overwhelmed. I read some books from other parents on the topic and most of them seemed to skip over the messy in-between phase of fear, confusion, and loss, and I felt ashamed for having the feelings I was having.
I think sharing about the invisible things that we all carry, whether addiction, grief, or the confusing search for identity, can help make a difference in other people’s lives, or at the very least, help lighten the pain. Most of all, I would want someone reading about my experience to feel a little less alone.
How did your child respond to this piece?
I was afraid to show him but was relieved when I finally did. After it was published he even shared it with his friends which surprised me. He said it helped him see the experience from a different perspective.
Because things are going so much better for both of us now, it’s kind of surreal to think we were in that situation not that long ago. If I hadn’t captured our experience in that story, I don’t think I would be able to appreciate how good things are now.
In Coyote, you referenced writing as a part of your recovery from depression. How has writing helped you through the darkest times?
I’ve been in a writing group for the past ten years and I feel like I know these three women better than anyone, even my own family. Sharing writing–whether nonfiction, poetry, or fiction–reveals things about yourself that you wouldn’t necessarily tell people in a normal day-to-day interaction, and it helped create intense bonds between all of us.
Now, it feels like I can get through almost anything if I can find the humor in the terrible parts (and then write about it with my writing group). I don’t think it’s necessarily the dark times that cause depression but trying to bear those difficult experiences all alone, definitely makes it worse.
How else has writing impacted your life?
As a shy person, writing has been a great vehicle for expression. Writing an essay about something helps me understand it better and can help me see it from a different perspective. Meeting other writers and growing my writing community has been the most important way that writing has changed my life.
I was able to be in a workshop with Leslie Jamison over the summer during the Lighthouse Writers Conference in Denver which was phenomenal. In October, I’ll have the chance to work with Toni Jensen, Pam Houston, and Lidia Yuknavitch at the Writing By Writers conference which is super exciting for me. Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life, I feel so lucky.
How are you sharing that gift with others? Tell us about the writing workshops you offer.
I was trained in the Amherst Writers & Artists’ Method so I’ve facilitated writing groups and partnered with other writers to create a local reading series in my area. I’ve taken a little break from leading groups to focus on finishing my memoir and to work on getting some writing published, but I would highly recommend anyone who is looking for a writing group to check out the AWA Method and the book Writing Alone and with Others, written by the AWA founder, Pat Schneider.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”
Just seeing the words “The Good Life” plunges me back into my childhood in Nebraska. I think of one of the last trips I took back there to visit my sisters. We stopped for gas and across the street there was this giant green meadow with golden flowers and these crazy cartoon clouds in the sky, it was a scene you just don’t see anywhere else. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places, and no matter where I live, I’ll always consider Nebraska my true home.
Nicki’s Nonfiction piece “Coyote” is available in issue #12 ~ Our Summer Honeybee Prize issue.
Thank you, Nicki, for allowing us to share your story with our readers and for the honest, straightforward, and impactful answers to our questions. We wish you the best!