AUTHOR INTERVIEW 96 – Nikki Nelson-Hicks

Nikki Nelson-Hicks

Gallatin, Tennessee, USA

Age 55

Nikki Nelson-Hicks has been described by a fellow writer as „the unholy lovechild of Flannery O’Connor and H.P. Lovecraft”.

She finds that amusing.
“Let’s pull aside the curtain, shall we? What I do not need is pseudoscience poppycock. What I need is theatre.”

It is expected for an aristocratic family to have a ghost or two.
But at the dawn of a new secular era, the damage to the property value isn’t worth it.
It’s the late 1890’s and somewhere in an alternate England, Timothy Flood, a genius with contraptions, and Giselle Benedict, an actress with no equal, con their way through the aristocracy, with promises to oust their supernatural squatters.
They are employed to perform their trade on an elderly Duchess who believes her family is tormented by a ghostly apparition, the Blood Red Maid.
The tables are turned when it turns out that their foe is quite real.
And the con runs deeper than either of them expected.

Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Starting. It’s a cliché but it is the truth.

I’ve often compared writing to shooting up heroin. Once you find the vein, the rush is incredible. It’s magic. However, before you find that vein, you must plunge that needle over and over into your arm, a needle that is getting duller and duller every time it plunges into the skin.  No matter how much I know in my heart that I will feel great once I find that vein, it’s so scary.

Romelia: DOES YOUR FAMILY SUPPORT YOUR CAREER AS A WRITER?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Luckily they understand that I need this insane career to maintain a semblance of mental stability. If I’m not creating, Momma tends to go a little mad.

Romelia: IF YOU HAD TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY AS A CHILD OR TEENAGER TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER AS AN ADULT, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Stop waiting for permission. You don’t need anyone to give you a diploma/certificate/award/bullshit piece of paper to tell stories. Just…tell your story.

Romelia: HOW LONG ON AVERAGE DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Depends. If I have a deadline, I can whip out a story in a week. It might not be a great story, but it will serviceable.

One time, a friend was in a bind: he needed one more story for his steampunk superhero anthology. Would I write one for him? I told him, “Sure. When do you need it?” “Friday.” He called me on a Sunday. I had 5 days to research a topic I knew truly little about and conjure up a story.

But I did it. The story I wrote, Ectoplasmic Eradicators Wanted, was basically Ghost Busters in a Victorian theme. When the rights reverted back to me, I reworked it (the story had good bones but needed a bit of fleshing out) and republished it under The Revenge of the Blood Red Maid.

Then again, for my Sherlock Holmes and the Shrieking Pits, that story took about three months of writing, research and editing.

If left to my own means, ugh. I must set myself a personal deadline and try my best not to get distracted. I like to imagine an Inner Boss that is tapping its cloved foot, waiting for the story to be done. It can take between 3-6 months for a story.

The project I’m working on now, Crown of Feathers, will probably take a year because of the research, illustrations and writing involved.

Like I said, it all depends. This is an art, not a science.

Romelia: DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I believe in two things: Empty Wells and Broken Spines.

Sometimes, your creative well is empty and it needs time to refill. Artistic endeavors take a huge emotional and spiritual toll on the artist. It is perfectly fine to take a day off, sit on the couch, and watch movies all day. Or do Pilates. Or go for a walk. Or hang out with friends. Whatever you need to refill your well, DO IT.

A broken spine is a bit more difficult. If you come to a spot in your story where everything seems to stop, nothing flows, all the words trip up over themselves, what you might have is a broken spine.

Somewhere in that story, you skipped or chipped a vertebrate and you need to go back and find it. It could be a sentence or a chapter. It could be some weird side adventure or character that just popped up in the wrong story. When you find it, either toss it or fix it.

I absolutely assure you that the words will start flowing like a burst dam.

Romelia: AT WHAT POINT DO YOU THINK SOMEONE SHOULD CALL THEMSELVES A WRITER?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I hate labels. Do you write? Do you want to be known as a writer with a capital W? You’re a writer. Knock yourself out. Make a business card and toss them in the air for all that matters.

Romelia: WHAT DIFFERENCE DO YOU SEE BETWEEN A WRITER AND AN AUTHOR?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Ugh, again with the labels.

They are the same face on different sides of a coin.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU PROCESS AND DEAL WITH NEGATIVE BOOK REVIEWS?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I have a 3 part system:

Listen. (Everybody has an opinion.)

Evaluate. (Does this opinion have any value? If so, learn. If not, ignore.)

MOVE ON. (Write the next story.)

Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: See Question 1.

Romelia: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING OR WHEN DID YOU START?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I’ve wanted to write stories since I was a teenager. I have a box of my stories and my one unfinished novel. Most of it is crap but that’s okay.

I didn’t give myself permission to actually write until I hit 40.

I remember the day clearly. We had just moved back to Tennessee (we’re a military family. We have lived in California, Hungary, Oman for the past 20 years or so). I was in another dead end job. Depression and anxiety were my constant friends. I told myself, “Okay, you can either slide back into the darkness OR finally start living. Make your choice. The Universe doesn’t give a shit either way.” SO, first I slipped into depression as that was my natural go-to, and then started writing.

And I wrote a ton of crap. Absolute drivel.

I found a group on Meetup.com, the Nashville Writers Group. There were four of us and we met at a coffee shop. I am proud to say that the group now has over a hundred people. In that group, I found kinship and connections.

And that’s how I got to where I am now.

Romelia: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A WRITER WORKING ON THEIR FIRST BOOK?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: FINISH IT before showing it to anyone. Nothing will crush a souffle like being taken out of the oven before it is ready.

The first draft is going to be rough. And that’s fine. The first draft is where you tell the story and all the edits afterwards are where you write the story.

Romelia: WHAT, TO YOU, ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF GOOD WRITING?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Storytelling.

I write to divert, to entertain, to help people escape.

If I can slip a little lesson in there, so be it.

But, in the end, the story must entertain.

Romelia: WHAT COMES FIRST FOR YOU – THE PLOT OR THE CHARACTERS – AND WHY?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Plot. No matter how brilliantly crafted and well rounded the characters are, if the plot sucks, the story will bore the reader.

NEVER BORE THE READER.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR PLOT AND CHARACTERS?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I develop the plot one chapter at a time.

The characters as I need them to advance the plot.

Romelia: WHEN DID YOU FIRST CALL YOURSELF A WRITER?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Ugh. Back to the labels again.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN AUTHOR?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I use my FB page and Twitter account to entertain and make people laugh.

It seems to work.

I’ve been approached by strangers who know me via my FB posts. It’s so weird.

Romelia: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE PART OF PUBLISHING?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Favorite: Having a book out in the wild. That’s always fun.

Least Favorite: Learning new layout designs.

Romelia: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO AN AUTHOR WHO WANTED TO DESIGN THEIR OWN COVER?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Unless you are an artist, DON’T. Find an artist.

But if you must, always use a professional illustrating program. Adobe INDesign is the standard.

Romelia: HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I have 9 books out there and more stories in anthologies.

My favorite? That’s a Sophie’s Choice kind of question.

If I must recommend one of my stories to people, that’s a different question.

If you like pulp noir occult detective stuff, my Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective stories are lots of fun. Monsters, magic, New Orleans. What more do you want?

If you like monsters, corporate intrigue and mercenaries, RUMBLE is a good bet.

Sherlock Holmes and the Shrieking Pits is my addition to the Holmesian library. I’m proud of it.

The Galvanized Girl is a nice little steampunk feminist story.

Romelia: WHAT PART OF THE BOOK DID YOU HAVE THE HARDEST TIME WRITING?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Again, starting is always the obstacle. Once I find that vein, everything is good.

Romelia: WHAT PART OF THE BOOK WAS THE MOST FUN TO WRITE?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I’m a research nerd so I have to say digging into the books and finding new nuggets of lore and legends to use in my stories.

Romelia: WHICH OF THE CHARACTERS DO YOU RELATE TO THE MOST AND WHY?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I am going to say Mama Effie from my Jake Istenhegyi stories mainly because she’s a badass who deals in knowledge and has her fingers in a lot of pies.

Romelia: IF YOU’RE PLANNING A SEQUEL. CAN YOU SHARE A TINY BIT ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR IT?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: The only sequel in the planning is for a 7th Jake Istenhegyi story. It will be set in 1930’s Los Angeles, there will be gold, magic, and probably an apocalypse. Still working on the details.

Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY ABOUT YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Back during my ghost hunting days (don’t ask), I was kicked out of a ghost hunter conference because I was “too skeptical”. I can’t go back to Illinois but, really, who wants to?

Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Hello, I’m a 55 year old woman who is becoming aware that what she thought were funny childhood stories were, in fact, PTSD traumas that have impacted most of my life. As a kid, reading books was my escape and I write stories to help others find the same kind of comfort. Nothing makes me happier than when someone writes me to say that my stories helped them during a rough time.

What I hate about the world?

That empathy and kindness is seen as weak. That’s insane.

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