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  • Writer's pictureChristian Baines

Q & A with Nicole Disney

I'm joined on the blog today by kick-ass author and lifelong storyteller Nicole Disney. Hailing from Denver, Colorado, Nicole's six novels including The Clinch have spanned a range of genres, and have often been inspired by her past as a 911 operator, police dispatcher, and martial arts instructor. Nicole loves words that hit hard and stories that linger, and she's agreed not to pull any punches with my question today. Welcome to the blog, Nicole!

What inspired The Clinch, and what was your experience like writing a sports romance? How much did your own experience as a martial arts instructor come into it?

The Clinch was one of the best writing experiences I’ve ever had. It reminded me a lot of the first time I wrote a novel, the freedom and flow that came with that inexperience and anonymity, only this time I was better equipped. I’ve had two constant passions in my life, martial arts and writing. Martial arts predate even writing by a few years. It only felt right to finally unite these two pillars of my life.

While the story is not autobiographical, my experience as a student, instructor, and competitor of course played a massive part in the storytelling. While I was writing The Clinch, I was also training in my MMA gym for 2-4 hours most days in preparation for competition. While I certainly don’t pretend to be the equal of my world champion characters, I do feel intimately connected to them through some of their experiences, their passion, and their lifestyle. At times it was influences as specific as trying to capture the way it feels to be crushed or caught in a submission or punched, but I’d say even more importantly, I just know and love the martial arts community. I understand the dedication, respect, anxiety, frustration, bonds, and sacrifices, and I wanted to pay full tribute to the art and community that in many ways made me who I am.


From martial arts to addicts, to girls with guns, many of your books tackle the fringes or more extreme aspects of society or expression. What draws you to that?

Very true, I love anything on the fringe and preferably a little (or a lot) taboo. I’m drawn to it because one of the most beautiful things about reading has, for me, always been the way it can expose us to experiences and perspectives we might never experience or understand otherwise. I think it’s a beautiful and delicate balance to take a reader somewhere they’ve never been or imagined, yet help them find it somehow familiar when they get there.


Violence can be a challenging thing to explore, especially in romance. How would you describe your relationship with it in your writing?

I am certainly aware of the potential hazards of violence in my stories, particularly in The Clinch as it involves two romantic partners fighting one another. That’s another level of delicate from violence with villains. The first novel I published with Bold Strokes Books, Hers to Protect, received a couple of comments in reviews calling it Tarantino-esque due to the violence at times. Some found this overwhelming, while others loved it. Normally I’m content to chalk that up to preference, but with The Clinch it was important that no one misconstrue what was happening with domestic violence in any way, and I’m happy to say they didn’t. It was also important to me that The Clinch acknowledge the physical dangers of competitive martial arts while not conflating that with malicious intent, lack of intellect, lack of emotional control, or abuse of their skills.


Let’s talk about genre blending. What do you keep in mind when blending romance with a thriller or crime story?


Genre blending seems to be a natural phenomenon for me. I don’t think I could write a romance without accidentally finding my characters fighting for something important any more than I could write a thriller without finding them half-naked somewhere mildly inappropriate. I like bold characters who put it all on the line and show you who they are under pressure. I also think that as consuming as a new romance can be, to fully understand two characters and why they would or should be together (and why they can’t seem to figure that out), you have to fill in so much about who they are and why they’re like that. There are a lot of valid ways to do that, but I find it most compelling when the stakes are high. Blending genres lets you raise the stakes, and I’ve always found high stakes to be a powerful medium for honesty and growth. If I had to choose something to keep in mind when blending besides the obvious balance, I’d say it’s to make sure the two aspects directly relate to one another. The lessons your characters are learning in their action arc should make them better partners, and vice versa.


We of course met through Denver Pride. How has your work been influenced by the city and by Colorado?

The importance of setting can vary dramatically. In some stories, you scarcely know where or when it is and that’s part of its greatness. Other times the setting is so important it becomes a character. While I do truly love Denver, I haven’t been married to it as the setting of all my work. I tend to not lean into setting in general unless I have a specific reason to do so. For example, Hers to Protect revolved largely around the gang culture of Chicago. I’ve written two novels where Denver spoke up as the appropriate setting. The first was Shadows of a Dream, in which the main character is a homeless musician. Denver stood out as the right choice for that story because when a character is homeless, the city itself is an antagonist, and I wanted to know how that antagonist looks and feels and sounds, and Denver was a perfect balance of livable and challenging. The second time I wrote Denver as a setting was in my upcoming novel, Exposure. Here, it was the opposite, and I got to show Denver as the old charming friend it is.


What’s next for Nicole Disney and where can folks find you online?

The next story you’ll see from me is one I co-wrote with the amazing Kimberly Cooper Griffin called Exposure. Co-writing was a super fun adventure for me, and I think Kimberly and I complimented each other well in the ways we approach storytelling. Exposure is a contemporary romance that unites a very successful but creatively blocked photographer with an emerging videographer who has all the inspiration in the world but hasn’t broken through. Together they showcase different ends of the spectrum of an artist’s struggle and what it means to be an artist while falling in love and having hot sex, of course. You can get updates by visiting my website, Facebook, or (for best results) Instagram @nicoledisneyauthor.

The Clinch is out now from Bold Strokes Books.

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