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Spotlight on Nicole Nelson
cohost of Writers on Writing
by: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

BDB: While I of course know how you found your way to KUCI, in your own words tell our readers and listeners how you found your way here. It's been what, two years almost?

NN: After I met you, eight years ago or so, I began listening to the show. Then I got to know Marrie too. I was a fan for years—with no intention of ever becoming a part of it, even with my background in radio. But then you floated the idea of me joining you and Marrie. I was hesitant, with two little ones at home and not too much time to take the training course, or to take on the work of producing and hosting a show like this one. That was almost three years ago. But I'm so glad I jumped in anyway.

BDB: I was happy too. What has been the most
interesting/challenging/surprising aspect of doing the show?

NN: I never imagined being on that side of the mic. Hosting is a skill—mastering the engineering part, getting the transitions down, and most importantly, asking coherent questions and engaging with the guest. I was not a natural, so there was a learning curve. But now I enjoy it, and I've gotten comfortable doing it.

BDB: Let's back up a bit. You have some history with UCI. Want to share it?

NN: Sure. I have a PhD in linguistics, and I taught various linguistics classes at UCI as a lecturer, from 2001 to 2005.

BDB: Did you ever think you'd find yourself back here, doing a show?

NN: Nope. I had a friend who had a music show on UC Santa Cruz's station when I was an undergrad there. I thought it was cool, but I never imagined sitting in the host's chair.

BDB: You also spent seven years at KPCC, working behind the scenes. What did you do there and how different is it to be on air?

NN: I started there as a volunteer, and worked up to being a fill-in producer. I worked on two shows that are no longer on the air ("Talk of the City" and "Patt Morrison"), as well as "AirTalk" with Larry Mantle. I wrote blurbs, booked guests, helped put together the schedule, participated in pitch meetings. I loved the research, and the excitement. Fascinating people came through the studios on a daily basis.

BDB: What show that you¹ve hosted has thus far been your favorite? Any favorite interviews?

NN: It's hard to pick just one. Recently, I guess it would be Lidia Yuknavitch. She was generous and warm, and is so impressive. I had a blast talking to Steven Pinker too; he was a rock star from my linguistics days.

BDB: I don't know if DJs go through this, but I think all PA hosts have shows, whether on KUCI or other stations, that they use as inspiration for their own shows, either in a positive or negative way. For instance, I started Writers on Writing because I loved listening to author interviews but couldn't find a host I liked to listen to other than Terry Gross, who only interviews writers sporadically. There's one book show host that drove me crazy back then (and still does) and I wanted to do a show differently than him. So that was my inspiration. What was yours?

NN: Honestly, you and Marrie were my inspirations. Like I said, I was a fan of the show well before I got the opportunity to co-host. I just try to uphold the high standard you both have established.

BDB: That's sweet of you to say. Aare there any authors you've interviewed who weren’t what you thought they were?

NN: There was one author who was particularly disappointing. I had built her up in my mind, one of my favorites. And I had met her before even, done a workshop with her. But during the interview—and granted, this was when I was bright green as a host—things just didn't click. It seemed like she couldn't tell what I was getting at, and she wasn't as giving as other authors have been. But she has a new book coming out; maybe I can try again.

BDB: Other KUCI shows you like?

NN: I like "What Would Arwen Do," "Home Plate," "Get the Funk Out," and "Ask a Leader."

BDB: With a Ph.D. in linguistics, does it drive you nuts, how people put words together? And how do you stop yourself from overthinking how you yourself are putting words together, especially when you¹re interviewing someone live, on air?

NN: I'm interested in how people put words together, and appreciate when they can do it in an original way. The only thing that drives me nuts is when people have the verbal tic of saying "you know" multiple times in a sentence. For myself, it is hard sometimes not to overthink when phrasing my questions. That is something I think I've gotten better at, just trusting myself to put a question out there. With Steven Pinker, and also Mary Norris (a copy editor for The New Yorker), my anxiety spiked a little bit, in that direction. But overall, it's manageable.

BDB: How would you like your listeners to feel after they¹ve listened to a show?

NN: In an interview, I am always digging for idiosyncrasies, the unique way that an author approaches the craft of writing. That's the kind of thing I like to learn from writers. My hope is that whatever is uncovered interests listeners, too, and that it validates their own unique approach, and also provides some inspiration.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is host of Writers on Writing, Wednesdays at 9 a.m., and a contributor to USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series (Akashic, 2013). Watch the book trailer at penonfire.com.


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