Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interview: Author Nike Chillemi

Sanctuary Point Book One: Burning Hearts
Historical, Romance and Murder/Mystery
 By Mark Young
Burning Hearts is much more than what the title implies—romance. It is an arson murder story set in fictional Sanctuary Point, a village on Long Island, New York, during the post World War II era. Readers are swept into this 1940s period by well-researched descriptive prose as debut novelist Nike Chillemi weaves language, foods, businesses, clothes and vehicles to create a vivid step back into the past. This inspirational novel is a guaranteed page-turner, even for readers like myself who normally flee from stories with more than a hint of romance.

Nike loves a good crime mystery as her blog title clearly suggests: Nike Chillemi ~Crime Fictonista. She writes about her purpose on the blog: “Reading, writing, and shooting the breeze about Christian crime fiction, murder mysteries, thrillers, police procedurals, detective stories, and life.” Her current novel reflects this passion.

Erica Brogna, a young clothing designer, finds her friend’s dress shop in flames. Erica vainly tries to rescue her friend and mentor, but is forced outside by heat and flames, finally collapsing across the path of a stranger riding a motorcycle. Lorne Kincade, a troubled war veteran, nearly crashes his bike to avoid hitting Erica. In answer to her pleas for help, he rushes into the burning building to pull out the dying victim, Ada Pinter. Later, police determine an arsonist started the fire. Erica and Lorne are drawn into the investigation—Erica, because of her love for Ada; Lorne, because of his growing attraction for Erica. The search for truth becomes elusive as they find out more than they ever wanted to know about themselves and their community. This suspense-filled story captivates readers until the last page.

Nike has done a good job of creating a vivid 1940s community peopled by believable characters. Erica and her family, a part of the smaller Czechoslovakian community, offer readers a glimpse of traditional ethnic dishes, language and customs which broadens the flavor of the story. Aficionados of history, mystery or romance novels will discover something in this novel to piqué their interest and keep them reading.

MARK: Thanks for joining us, Nike. I tried to give a brief synopsis of Burning Hearts. What else would you like readers to know about this novel?

NIKE: I want to show how ordinary people can rise to great heights in standing for what is right and against evil. I hope my readers can see the "natural nobility" unpretentious people can display when against all odds they do the right thing. I hope my main characters Erica and Lorne come off in this manner. There is great ugliness in the world. I don't want to deny that ugliness, but want to show there is greater beauty. Dignity and hope can live in the human heart. I want my readers to come away knowing the greatest, most powerful force on earth is love. It can't be defeated. 

MARK: I understand that the fictional town of Sanctuary Point, located somewhere on Long Island, New York, might not be far from where you live. How much of your own hometown experiences wound up in this novel?

NIKE: There is a great deal of me in the book. I love the seaside and was compelled to write a novel in a setting where the salt sea air tantalizes the nostrils, so to speak. Erica is a bit like me. She wants to be a dress designer and I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked in the bridal industry. She's independent and stubborn and it gets her into trouble. I'm independent and stubborn but it never got me into any trouble at all. Yeah, right. Something I didn't realize until the book was in edits is that Erica's mother is very similar to my Czechoslovak grandmother. Mrs. B excels in the kitchen and has a great sense of humor. So did my grandmother. Mrs. B teases her children and is teased by them. I recall my grandmother swatting my dad with a kitchen towel. He'd laugh and hug her.

MARK: You have created a memorable community of characters in this post WWII story. How did you go about gathering historical research? What became your best sources of information?

NIKE: I did a lot of dogged, grunt type research. I looked up the make and models of cars in use then. Found out that auto manufacturers stopped making civilian model cars during WWII and only made vehicles for the military war effort. I spent hours finding what types of products, gadgets, and appliances were in use in homes then. I researched hairstyles, clothing, slang terminology, and much more. There was a certain type of cadence and rhythm to the speech of that period. I listened to a number of classic movies made then to get that down. I studied the partition of Czechoslovakia and even read the nonfiction book, "RAID, the untold story of Patton's secret mission." My hero's backstory is that he was an undercover operative working for Patton in France during the war. I wanted to really know what that was like.

MARK: One of your characters, Lorne Kincade, owns what many men only dream about—a Harley Davidson. Are you a Harley lover, living vicariously as a biker, or was the motorcycle just a prop for one of your characters?

NIKE: I don't ride a bike. But Harley's are kind of iconic and bigger than life. I wanted that symbol for Lorne. I guess, in a way, I wanted a type of James Dean feel to Lorne. The difference is, he's a loner rather than a rebel, and he has a cause. He wants to see wrong righted.

MARK: Your novel was released as an eBook through Desert Breeze Publishing. Tell us about your publisher, and how you connected with them.

NIKE: I wasn't put off by the fact that Desert Breeze was an Ebook publisher. I embraced it. Several people I respect mentioned Desert Breeze to me as a good possibility for my writing. So, I submitted and the rest is history. Desert Breeze is a romance publishing house, but they offer great diversity in what they put out. One novel might have a huge science fiction element to it, another might be sheer fantasy. Mine are clearly classic murder mysteries with a huge action element to them.

MARK: Much has been written over the last year about the changes going on in the publishing industry? A few years ago, publishing opportunities offered by houses like Desert Breeze were not even available. Any thoughts about what might be in store for authors in the near future?

Nike: The world of Christian publishing is expanding rapidly. In fact publishing in general (Christian fiction, general market, and nonfiction as well) is in great flux. One thing early on that helped me understand I had done the right thing was the wave of Kindle ads, week after week, on American Idol last season. It seems Ebooks are going to be the way of the future when the younger generation choses to read. And I hope they do read. I'm a huge advocate for increased literacy in America. In addition, there are numerous small independent Christian and general market print publishers springing up. In Christian fiction, these smaller houses are giving authors who push the envelope a chance. What they publish might be gritty, or steamy, or have a darker edge to it than what traditional Christian publishers would go for.

MARK: Now that you have been through the fire as a debut author, what suggestions would you have for other writers who have not yet run this gauntlet?

Nike: I feel reading within the writer's genre is very important. And newbie Christian authors should not be afraid to read a few general market authors. There is some terrific writing out there in gen market fiction. Read the best of it. If there are any affordable or free online writing courses available, take them. To help me in crime fiction I took a course offered by Romance Writers of America entitled "What the Kickass Heroine Knows That the Writer Should Know." It was designed to help write about feisty heroines in fight scenes and entailed martial arts, knife fighting, and gun battles. Since I'm writing a historical suspense series, I took an online course on the history of forensics. That course caused me to change quite a few facts about my medical examiner in book two of the series.

MARK: Since Burning Hearts is now on the digital shelf, should we be looking for Sanctuary Point Book Two in the future or are you working on other writing projects?

NIKE: I just sent the manuscript for Goodbye Noel, which is book two, to my publisher. It's a Christmas themed, action packed romantic suspense with lots of period police procedure and will come out in mid-December 2011. Without getting on a soapbox of any kind, one of my side objectives is to show how pervasive the celebration of Christmas was in America in 1946.

MARK: If you created a character like yourself as an author, what words and phrases might you use to paint a vivid and accurate image for the reader?

Nike: This character would appear hardnosed but would be a lot more ditzy than most people think. She'd love animals. Most domesticated pets would feel comfortable around her. She's not a push over, though she's also not afraid to love. Her ideal spot would be in the tropics under a cabana with a good murder mystery to read as the surf goes in and out.

MARK: Lastly, Nike, if you wandered into a large bookstore, which shelf would you gravitate toward first? Mystery? Historical? Romance? Other? Any particular authors?

NIKE: Oh, brother, I don't like bookstores. I can never find anything I want to read there, even in the larger chain stores. I'd try the mystery shelves first. But they never have the authors I read, not even in general market novels. They might carry Michael Connelly now that The Lincoln Lawyer has been made into a successful movie. I'd have a hard time finding Robert Crais and Barbara Parker. Then I'd try the religious fiction shelves and look for Steven James, J. Mark Bertrand or Sibella Giorello. I wouldn't find them, so I'd go to the coffee bar and get an iced tea. Then I'd go home and order from Amazon.

More information about author Nike Chillemi can be found at her blog site Nike Chillemi ~Crime Fictonista. She writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse; sat as a 2010 Inspy Awards judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category; and was a 2011 Carol Awards judge in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction, and a member of several writers’ organizations.