Metro-East Living

Collinsville writer tackles bullying

One of young adult author Nicole Lanahan's favorite places to write is sitting on the sofa in her Collinsville home. On a recent Friday, she had some company — daughter Rianne and one of their dogs. Nicole, whose pen name is Cole Gibsen, recently had her book, "Life Unaware," publlished.
One of young adult author Nicole Lanahan's favorite places to write is sitting on the sofa in her Collinsville home. On a recent Friday, she had some company — daughter Rianne and one of their dogs. Nicole, whose pen name is Cole Gibsen, recently had her book, "Life Unaware," publlished. News-Democrat

Nicole Lanahan was at a crossroads eight years ago.

“I owned a dog training and grooming salon (Gateway Dog Training) in Waterloo for several years,” said Nicole, 35, of Collinsville. “In 2007, when the economy bottomed out, I lost the business. I had a newborn baby. No job. No idea what to do. My husband (Josh) said, ‘Well, you can look at this as a fresh start. You can do whatever you want to do. What have you always wanted to do?’ Write a book.

“That was the year I sat down and wrote my first book. It didn’t sell. It was a horrible book. They say that every author has to write a really awful book before writing a good book. It’s like going to the gym. You have to walk on the treadmill before running on it.”

Nicole’s fifth novel, “Life Unaware” (paperback, 320 pages, Entangled: Teen, $9.99), published April 28, is a young adult book about bullying. On Friday, June 12, she will be one of five authors at a Left Bank Books’ meet-and-greet in St. Louis’ Central West End.

“With bullying in the news, there was this one story about this girl being bullied to death,” said Nicole, who uses the pen name Cole Gibsen. “It stuck with me and stuck with me. I wanted to write her story with a more positive outcome.”

“Life Unaware” is the story of Regan Flay, a high-achieving teen — she’s a cheerleader, student council rep and Honor Society member — whose life turns upside down when her not-so-nice texts and emails are shared with all.

Or, as Nicole summarizes it: “A teenage bully gets the tables turned.”

“Having it resolve in a satisfying way that would have a positive effect on readers — that was my goal,” said Nicole, sitting cross-legged on her cozy tan living room sectional.

High anxiety

Nicole and Regan have something in common.

“We both have anxiety attacks,” she said. “Writing this book increased mine. This book put me in therapy to work through my anxiety issues. We have that perfection thing going. You have to deal with it and let things go.”

Sounds like the therapy worked, maybe in more ways than one.

“Because it put me in therapy, I would bounce things (for the book) off my therapist,” she said.

Nicole also relied on her writers group for critiques, and her publisher’s teen sounding board for feedback.

Brad Cook, Nicole’s critique partner and a fellow author, watched the book unfold.

“To be honest, Cole has a wonderful writing process,” he said. “In that first draft, getting that raw emotion on paper is difficult. She pours herself into her writing, infusing her own passion and emotion.”

Nicole Resciniti, of The Seymour Agency, has been the author’s agent for a couple years.

“What stands out the most is the way she is able to create character you can really relate to. Even mean girls, there’s something redeeming that makes you care about them. ... On a personal level, she gets tons of emails from teens that say she helped them through a tough time or changed their opinion on something.”

Nicole had her own challenges as a teen, including getting kicked out of her home after a fight with her then-stepdad. She attributes her fondness for comics to feeling helpless.

“People who have superpowers are in charge of their destiny,” she said. “My very first comic, it was love at first read.”

X-Men is still her favorite.

The writing process

Nicole writes at home, at Starbucks or the library.

“I love this couch. I smoosh myself right here and write with my laptop. I have a fantastic laptop that fits in my purse. I have an office upstairs. I’m more productive out of the house. It’s so much harder to write at home. There is laundry to do and dishes to unload. I have a daughter who is 7. My productivity goes way down in summertime.”

Daughter Rianne came out to sit next to her mom. She has an idea for a book, too.

“About ponies. Me and my mom really like to watch ‘My Little Ponies’ together,” she said. “This summer, I am going to the YMCA. I like rock climbing and skating.”

“She’s really good at keeping herself occupied,” said Nicole. “Mommy has designated working time. We also have designated reading time. We sit on the couch and read a book. When you are a writer, reading is more important than the writing, You can’t write a book if you are not reading them. You have to know what works and what doesn’t work.”

Nicole has liked to write since she was younger than her daughter is now.

“I’ve always had a big imagination,” she said. “Growing up without technology, you spend summers playing outside and inventing stories. I made my very first book when I was 5. It was cardboard, wrapping paper and string. I found a book I wrote in fifth grade. I had reviews I wrote myself on the inside.

Blue jeans and dogs

“I suffer from dyslexia. I didn’t get the best grades in English. I thought you had to be really smart to be an author. I didn’t think I was smart enough. You picture writers as wearing tweed jackets with patches on the elbows. That’s not me.”

Nicole is more long dyed hair, blue jeans and Toms canvas print shoes.

She grew up in Collinsville, moved to Springfield where she graduated from Springfield Lutheran High School in 1998, returned to the metro-east and earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Southwestern Illinois College. She became a certified professional dog trainer through Tom Rose School in Missouri in 2001.

As she talked, a menagerie of five dogs circled and occasionally climbed up to share the sofa. A squirt of water sent them on their way.

“If you jump, you will be in big trouble,” she said to Lois, one of three Labs. “It’s a circus. These guys are all very friendly. We technically have three, but are watching two. I’ve always been drawn to animals. Their love is unconditional. Even on your worst day, hugging a dog, you feel a million times better. They have always been my favorite animal.”

There are Jack and Tater, both Labs; Tag, an Australian shepherd; Sniper, a border collie; and Lois, a Lab in training to be a comfort dog through Lutheran Church Charities.

Nicole’s first book “Katana,” about a skater girl possessed by the spirit of a samurai, is part of a series. Her new adult romance, “Written on My Heart,” comes out next month.

“It’s a college-age girl who finds herself homeless, and is trying to rebuild her life when she meets a tattoo artist. Things heat up. He’s made it clear he has someone in his life already. My character Ashlynn is not willing to share.”

“Life Unaware” went through several changes, including cover redesigns and a new title. It’s original title was “The Social Media Experiment.” Nicole’s editor had her add a definite moment where the main character fell in love and subtract some anxiety.

“My anxiety scenes were too much. She toned it down.”

But it was all worth it.

“Seeing my book on a shelf, it’s amazing. That never gets old. On release day, I drive to all the stores in the area just to look at them.”

Meet Young Adult authors

What: A lemonade social event with five young adult authors, including Cole Gibsen, of Collinsville. (“Life Unaware,” Entangled Publishing, April 2015). Authors will mingle with customers and sign books. The other authors are Heather Brewer (“The Cemetery Boys,” Harper Teen, March 2015), Sarah Bromley (“A Murder of Magpies,” Month9Books, October 2014), Shawntelle Madison (“Compelled,” May 2014) and Paula Stokes (“Liars, Inc.,” Harper Teen, March 2015).

When: 5 p.m. Friday

Where: Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis’ Central West End

Information: 314.367.6731, or visit left-bank.com

About Nicole:

Family: Husband Josh and daughter Rianne, 7

What she is reading: Several young adult books. “Heather Brewer’s ‘Cemetery Boys’ is amazing. Courtney Summers’ books are dark. A.S. King’s books are dark in a style like dystopia. ‘The Jewel’ by Amy Ewing — what a fantastic book.”

Other interests: “I show dogs in agility training. I love the obstacle courses for dogs. And I sing in a rock cover band, At It Again. I love singing. It’s a good place to blow off steam. We play a lot at Firehouse Bar & Grill in south St. Louis County. We play classic rock from the ’70s and ’80s. Pat Benetar, Joan Jett, even some Aretha Franklin.”

Hardest part of writing: “The internal editing. That little voice that tells you it’s not good enough. It slows you down, makes you delete. Makes you want to quit.”

Favorite part of writing: “Coming up with ideas.”

Writing goal: “1,500 words is a perfect day.”

Where to begin: Join a writing group. A chapter of Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators meets in Fairview Heights and Edwardsville. “We do critiques and discussions, everything from picture books to young adults. St. Louis Writers Guild sponsors weekend seminars for as little as $5. Get a critique partner. That is essential.”

Excerpt from “Life Unaware,” by Cole Gibsen

“You think I should go up to everyone in the hallways and say I’m sorry?” I gave a little snort. “Not only is that ridiculous, it would take forever.”

“Of course it would, if you did it that way.” Nolan reached into his bag and held out his camera. “Instead, how about this?”

I eyed him skeptically. “I’m really not following anything you’re saying.”

“You record an apology,” he said. “Open yourself up. Think about it ... If you come clean, nobody — including Amber — can hurt you.”

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