Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Nina LaCour: Watch Over Me is the result of a few sources of inspiration converging. I’ve always been drawn to Gothic literature–novels like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca–and I wanted to write something that felt like a modern nod to those classics I’ve read and loved over the years. And then there were more personal sources of inspiration, like the property across the street from my old house–a hillside lot that had been purchased a decade ago and only partially developed. The window above my kitchen sink looked right onto it. I’d wash dishes and look out and people would come and go. I’d get used to seeing them and then they’d disappear, and new people would take their places. Whenever I’m working on a novel, everything in my life becomes full of artistic possibility and deeper meaning. It’s one of the reasons I love to write.
What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?
I relate to Mila so much. Not her backstory, thankfully, but in the way that she tries so hard to be good, to do the right thing, to never be in the way. She has to learn over the course of the novel that she doesn’t need to be perfect in order to be worthy of love. That’s a lesson that many of us struggle to learn and have keep learning over and over. We can be messy and flawed. We can make mistakes. We can be seen as the flawed people we are and still find our people.
Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I think that’s always been the case! Characters drive stories and plots, so a character who approaches decisions in unexpected ways makes for a compelling story. And I’m so glad that now there is more range in the identities these characters inhabit, especially in YA literature. There is a hunger for representation and diversity of experience, and a wealth of incredible writers who can authentically portray characters. I hope that this cultural moment we’re in is only the beginning. I am optimistic that it is!
Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.
Watch Over Me is a modern ghost story about eighteen-year-old Mila, who accepts an internship at a remote farm on the northern California coast. She’s just placed out of the foster system, and she’s eager to be folded into the farm’s large family–but on her first night there, she sees a ghost on the field, and soon, long-buried memories from her past start haunting her as well. Watch Over Me explores how the past and the present can co-exist, how even in a new place, our old selves will rise up and demand our attention. It’s about self-compassion and self-forgiveness. It’s about coming to terms with life we had before–the bad and the good parts–in order to accept and fully inhabit the lives that we have now. Readers can expect an atmospheric and emotional read.
What’s next for you in the bookish world?
So much! I’ve found that pandemic life has reminded me of all that writing does for me. It gives me purpose and room to imagine. It helps me to understand my life and the people in it. It opens up a portal to different worlds and experiences. I’ve been keeping busy and creating new work. I have notes on a new YA novel that I’m looking forward to diving into, and I am about to start revisions on a novel for adults. I also have a couple picture books currently being illustrated.
Who is your current favorite writer? Why?
Virginia Woolf. It’s an easy answer because my favorite living writers are too many to mention! But I always return to Virginia Woolf for inspiration and for a reminder of why I write: To (I hope) give language to small moments of human experience, mundane and profound. To do my best at telling the truth of what it feels like to be a person in the world.
Any writing advice for aspiring writers?
Absolutely! I love talking about writing and give lots of advice and writing exercises on my podcast Keeping a Notebook. But here is perhaps the best thing I’ve learned over time: Write the way that only you can. Never try to write like anyone else. Write from your own experience, your own way of looking at the world. And lean in to what you’re good at. Maybe that’s description and poetic language. Maybe it’s plot. Maybe it’s character, or dialogue, or settings that feel transportive. Maybe you love to capture mood; maybe you’re great at humor. Whatever your gifts are, embrace them, and then work as hard as you can to get better–to write more like yourself–with every page.