Between the Lines: Nicole Mullis

Oct 9, 2015

Nicole Mullis reading at Battle Creek Books
Credit Jim Donahue

She writes a column for the Battle Creek Enquirer. She's a journalist, a playwright, and a novelist. To be that prolific, Nicole Mullis has learned to write on the run, grabbing moments wherever she can. While she was writing her novel A Teacher Named Faith (Cairn Press 2015), her children soon understood that Mom had adopted another kid into the family: a laptop called "Little Brother."

“One day I had the laptop in the back of the car,” Mullis says. “We stopped and the laptop pitched forward. I jokingly said, 'Let’s seat belt the laptop into the car.' And that’s when it became 'Little Brother.'”

Mullis’ children are used to sharing Mom with their new "sibling." She often writes while sitting in the car waiting for this or that, or wherever and whenever she may find a free moment. That’s how her new novel took shape, she says, the same way many of her newspaper columns have been written.

“I’ve always wanted to write,” Mullis says. “I remember the first gift my parents gave me. It was this little typewriter that had six words on it. I think I created every sentence you could out of those six words.”

Mullis began her professional writing career as a journalist. Growing up, she shared the Detroit Free Press sports section with her father, both being Detroit Tigers fans. Because of that, Mullis initially wanted to be a sports columnist but found the many detailed statistics of sports daunting. She was drawn instead to the stories behind the athletes: the "hero’s quest."

Credit Cairn Press

“I worked in sports departments, stringing,” she recalls. “I could watch a baseball game for six hours and appreciate the drama of it. But I worked five times as hard to keep all those stats together. I recognized that there’s a mind for this, and it wasn’t mine.”

When Mullis’ children were born, she chose to be a stay-at-home mom. She found that her writing fit in nicely with that lifestyle. "As soon as those babies were down for a nap, I was on that computer,” she says. “I wrote some pieces and sent them to the Battle Creek Enquirer.”

The Enquirer hired Mullis as a columnist in 2006 for “Developing Laugh Lines” on Sundays. She also does theater reviews and has written columns for other papers.

Her new novel had its beginnings in a play, since Mullis is an equally prolific playwright. She was working on a two-act comedy called “On Bended Knee” when she got writer’s block. Working her way out of that evolved into something else entirely. The comedy aspect turned serious. The novel had its starting point in the events of September 11, 2001. The story opens on an anniversary of the day terrorists struck the Two Towers in New York City, this time bringing down a plane in Detroit.

Mullis says the story's main players are a political cartoonist and his brother, who can’t seem to decide whether or not to become a priest or marry an old girlfriend. His brother draws a cartoon that juxtaposes a dance teacher in motion against a smoking city skyline, and the image goes viral. At the same time, a photojournalist captures an image of the other brother, the seminarian seemingly running from his faith, in prayer at Detroit Metro Airport. That image, too, goes viral.

“Neither image conveys the truth, though,” Mullis says. The truth is far more complicated. From those complications and strained relationships, the novel unfolds.

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