Interview with Nikki Nelson-Hicks

Nikki Nelson-Hicks

Hey Nikki, how are you ? How’s our reality treating you?

Doing fine. Getting through.

Yep I hear that. So I wanted to start from the beginning. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? And how did that lead to your first published novel?

OK…My first real taste at writing stories was when I was 14 and desperately wanted to impress my English teacher who I was totally in love with. I loved him with all the passion a 14 year old virgin could muster. I would write him stories, slip them on his desk, and basically stalk him. In turn, he got me involved in some after school programs for Gifted and Talented Youth which is how I got into theatre and eventually met the boy who would become my husband.

None of that really led directly to writing the first Jake story. Probably more like in a weird dog leg way. Since if I hadn’t bothered Mr. Shearer and gotten involved in theatre and then met Brian, I would never have moved to Hungary many decades later and stumbled upon the name Istenhegyi. Life is weird like that. Lots of dog legs and strange cul de sacs that take you in weird places.

Oh definitely, I sat on 3 chapters I had written for my first book The Alehouse Wars, for over a year. Then I met James Reid, and by February we’ll have 4 complete books. So tell our audience a bit about Jake, and why we should all be reading about him?

Oh, Poor Jake. The story is set in 1930’s New Orleans. The first story starts on his birthday, his 25th birthday and he has plans to go out on the town with his best bud and have the time of his life. But, friend goes missing and Jake has to go out to the snake infested bayou to find him. He runs across a beautiful woman and….SHENANIGANS.

Jake Istenhegyi isn’t like most pulp noir heroes. He’s not a durnk, not some war torn veteran, he’s just this poor bastard who falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in a world of weird shit when all he wanted was to go get drunk with his friend. In the span of 7 months, I have this poor guy being chased by monsters, pirates, voodoo queens, zombie chickens, Boodaddies and immortal blood thirsty alchemists.

It’s good family fun! (No, it’s not. Don’t let your children near this stuff)

New Orleans is always an awesome setting for freaky stuff. As a music lover it’s on my bucket list of places to go. What inspired you about the city and the time period?

Like most things in my life, I fell into it. The challenge that spurred the first Jake story, A Chick, A Dick and A Witch Walk Into A Barn…, was a challenge by Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Press to contribute a story to an anthology he was producing called Poultry Pulp. The premise is a pulp story that somehow involves chickens. I’d been sitting on the Jake Istenhegyi character for years so I decided to play with him in this really short, short story. Like 10k. And…chickens made me think of Voodoo…Voodoo made me think of New Orleans….bing bang….we got a story.

The anthology never happened but Pro Se like my story enough to want to turn it into a series.

Once I started working on it as a series, I did more research into New Orleans and WOW did a fall into a treasure lode of history and story fodder. I was just lucky.

So you’ve recently released this series as a special edition omnibus. How did that come about?

When the rights reverted back to me, I planned on doing a rewrite and reformat. I knew the stories needed a little more love than they were given at their first go. SO…when Covid hit and I had more time on my hands, I went to work. I contacted the artist who did the original Jake covers and made a deal with him to create new covers.

I wanted to give Jake more attention. The first story was a fine skeleton but, damn, did it need some meat. So I rewrote it.

Also, because I had no intentions on making it a series, I could use this time to smooth out some problems in the continuity.

Also, I could work on an idea for the seventh book. In Volume 2 of the Omnibus (which dropped last weekend), I also included 2 chapters from Book 7.

Awesome, well they look amazing! Now you’ve also recently published The Galvanized Girl which is a completely different type of story. Tell us a bit about the novel.

I was asked to write a story for an anthology where the premise was Superheroes in a Steampunk age. I retreated to my writing cave with a journal and a sifter of whiskey and started to figure out what I wanted to do. I really had no idea.

BUT this weird line from Hamlet kept going off in my head, Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.

I don’t know why but….from that line…I started just letting a story unfold inside my head. The idea of a woman who is used to create some kind of mechanical thing….something that completely dehumanizes her and how she reacts.

I created Delilah Ditch as my protagonist. An orphan raised in the squalor and brutality of a Victorian work house. She is no shy violet. She is tall, strong and takes no shit. I love her.

My villan, Dr. Thaddeus Pryde is also his own character. A scientist, mentally ill, being used by Voices he thinks are Angels (actually they are SPOILERS) to create a super soldier for an upcoming World War. He’s a jerk and terrible human being but…he has his reasons.

The only criticism I’ve gotten about the Galvanized Girl story is that people wish it was longer. Maybe one day I’ll rewrite it, make it longer. Who knows? I think it works fine for what it is.

Yep..I got the same criticism for my first book, which I suppose isn’t a criticism if they’re saying “we want more.”

TRUE! But I have other stories I want to write. Maybe one day…

Do you write with an audience in mind or do you write for yourself and hope the audience comes along for the ride?

A little of both. Writing only for oneself is an act of masturbation. And writing for just the audience is prostitution. I like to walk that fine line.

I write stories that I like to read. I have to spend MONTHS in that weird headspace so….yeah….I want to be somewhere that I want to be. I’ve written stories….dark stories…that I was glad to be done with mainly because I wanted to be out of that headspace.

I write stories to entertain, to distract. I like to give people a reprieve from reality, take them on an adventure.

The best compliment I’ve ever gotten is the time someone said they were reading my Sherlock Homes story, The Shrieking Pits, on the bus going home from work and THEY MISSED THEIR STOP. They had to do the entire circuit but at least they got to finish the story.

How much of your writing is taken from people and observations from your personal life. Do you attempt to bring yourself into your stories?

I really can’t say that is true for me or my stories. Not a lot of zombie chickens or Mongolian death worms in my day to day life.

I have used people as sort of templates for characters but…I never let Truth get in the way of a good Story.

John Irving once said that the first thing a novelist has to learn is that they are not interesting. Don’t write about yourself. No one cares. WRITE ABOUT PEOPLE. I find Imaginary People are more real that most flesh and blood beings anyway.

I love John Irving. The man is brilliant. The Cider House Rules is a favorite of mine, and not only because it has Cider in the title. So what takes up most of your time when you aren’t writing?

HA! I saw John Irving one year when he gave a FREE lecture at the Ryman. Brilliant!

Adult Responsibilities. Day Job. Loved ones wanting my attention. Ugh. OH, and Pilates. I gotta keep my meat prison healthy.

You know that writers are ALWAYS writing even if we don’t have a pen in our hands or a keyboard. Our brains are always churning away, looking for a new plot point, a new phrase.

My daughter is an artist and I’m always teasing her how expensive her art costs compared to writing. “See my fingers….THESE ARE MY BRUSHES!” She doesn’t think I’m funny.

Ugh don’t I know it. I’ve caught the creative bug. It was seals, then snakes, then it became, let’s throw the seals and snakes together in a crossover and bring my co-writer and I into the story as bearded gods. It never ends!

Oh, no….it never ends. It’s a form of mental illness, in a way. Writers are terrible people. Others read about a tragedy in the paper and I’m clipping it out for FODDER. #terriblepeople

My childhood was very chaotic and rootless….which came in handy as a military wife….but what it also gave me was a very rich inner fantasy life. I didn’t have any friends so I made some up! My family life was terrible….so I created a world where it wasn’t terrible. I think it’s a wonderfully magical aspect of being human. This way we can create worlds to protect ourselves inside. Just don’t get lost. That’s when it becomes twisted and sick. Keep your feet on the ground but your head in the stars.

So what’s next for you? What can readers look forward to in the next year?

Now I’m done with the Jake Istenhegyi stuff (for now), I am working on three projects: one is called How Maddie Got Her Murder Back, it’s a coming of age story. Crown of Feathers, a horror(ish) story about a little boy who tries to save his dying mother by stealing the Crown of Feathers underneath her sick bed pillow and causes really bad Shenanigans and has to get the help of the local village witches, and Hand Me Down, which is going to be a challenge because it’s a thriller, no supernatural elements, no magic…..just murder, lies, and sordid truths. A woman’s past comes back and threatens to destroy everything she’s created. I know it’s cliche AF but…trust me….her past isn’t something you’ve seen before….

They all sound amazing!

So…that should keep me busy for a year or so.

So I like to ask all the authors I interview this question. What one piece of sage-like advice can you offer to new and aspiring authors?

Here is something I wish someone had told me…wait…two things i wish someone had told me.

FIRST: YOU DO NOT NEED AN EDUCATION TO BE A WRITER! You do not need a frigging MFA or Bachelors….or any piece of paper. What you need is the dogged determination and butt paste to keep your ass in the seat and WRITE THE DAMN STORY. Oh, and join a critique group, get some beta readers, hire an editor but YOU DON’T NEED SOMEONE TO BEQEATH THE TITLE OF WRITER ON YOU.

Second: getting published doesn’t change your life. NOPE. It’s the beginning. Red Carpets don’t magically appear. Your bank account isn’t suddenly going to become flush with cash. Nobody is going to beat a path to your door. You publish and then you write another one. Again and again. So you better really like homework! Because, sometimes, that is what it feels like. And sometimes….it’s freaking magic. When you hit the vein and the words rush out and you CREATE something out of nothing….dude, you’re magic.

Recommend some recently released fantasy or sci-fi to our audience.

Oh, man….I’ve been reading primarily horror lately. Sorry. It’s October! I’m trying to into the spirit of Halloween. I can recommend Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. It is so charming and terrifying at the same time! Also, Todd Keisling’s Devil’s Creek, rural horror that will haunt you and Anthony Rapino’s The SoundTrack to the End of the World, a zombie story that actually has a twist!

I need to dip my toes into my Scifi and Fantasy. It would be a good change of pace. Lately, I’m having to carve out time to read. Writing takes up so much of my day.

Oh I know what that’s like. These days I basically read what I’m editing. So my final question is, who were the authors that influenced you into becoming an author and have remained with you all this time?

Easy peasy. Terry Pratchett, I wish I had his wit and brilliance. Flannery O’Connor, the way she used simple words to convey complicated ideas. Hunter S. Thompson, I wish I had his rage and lunacy. Sharyn McCrumb, oooh, her way of writing such lyrical prose. Rod Serling, yeah, his writing was heavy handed but I LOVE HIM. Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, all those guys are a natural.

OH! And Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. Comic masters.

Awesome, well thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and have a great rest of the day!

Thank you! Have a great day!

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