Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Novelist With HARMFUL INTENT: Interview with Nike Chillemi

“A rolling stone gathers no moss” is an old proverb attributed to a Latin writer of maxims in the 1st Century. These words would aptly describe our guest today—bestselling novelist Nike Chillemi. She is a writer with boundless energy. 

Since Nike last visited us over a year ago, she has released a new novel, Harmful Intent (A Veronica “Ronnie” Ingles/Dawson Hughs Novel) as an indie author, jumping from classic historical murder/romance novels to a story of contemporary mayhem and romance. She started her own publishing entity, Crime Fictionista Press, which just released Harmful Intent in May. Never slowing down, this writer is also a member of the Christian Indie Novelist (CHIN) network; involved with the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) organization; and founded and co-chaired the Grace Awards book contest each year.

MARK: Wow! Nike, the first question that comes to mind is when do you find time to write? You seem to be involved with more organizations that there are letters in the alphabet. What is the key to getting your writing done?

NIKE: Most of the time I write every day, or do research. I spend a lot of time researching. I like to get details right. If real life interferes and I can't write for a day or two, or more, I make sure I get in a writing marathon. I'm not a writer who can crank out two-to-three books a year. As an indie author, I'm trying to release a novel every ten months or so. That way I can keep all the other balls in the air.

MARK: Above everything else, one of the most driving forces for an author are the latest novel they just released or the one they are working on. Your latest novel, Harmful Intent came out last May. I know there exciting things to share surround this novel. First, tell us about the story. What is Harmful Intent about?

NIKE: Harmful Intent is the first in the Veronica "Ronnie" Ingels and Dawson Hughes novels. Ronnie is a Brooklyn private investigator who thinks her marriage of one year is nearly perfect, except her motivational speaker hubby travels too much. She finds him in Abilene, TX, in the arms of her college BFF, then he's found dead. Deputy Sergeant Dawson Hughes has the feisty, armed to the teeth PI as one of his prime suspects, until be begins to think she is in danger and he finds he wants to protect her. As in all my novels there are quirky secondary characters, but this novel is far more zany than historicals I've written. But don't let that fool you. The story goes from a hilarious scene to a chilling one.

MARK: Most of the story takes place in Texas. How did you—a New York writer—prepare to write ‘Texan’? How did you capture those nuances in dialogue that gave readers that sense that they are in the company of characters from Texas?

NIKE: I think I have a facility for dialect. I can hear the Texas drawl in my head. But I didn't leave it to my innate ability. Research, research, research. I listened to hours of Kenneth Copeland's teaching tapes which can be found online. He uses certain expressions and drops tidbits about Texas…and a few of those found their way into the novel.

MARK: I loved your sassy character, Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels as she tried to come to terms with events shaking her life. Is this a character you created from a compilation of several real people, or is Ronnie a total figment of your active imagination?

NIKE: There are a few ugly things lurking in Ronnie's childhood. She's fully aware that her dad blatantly and repeatedly cheated on her mom, then abandoned the family. There are other memories she can't quite bring to the foreground that haunt her. She even dreams about them, but can't quite put her finger on them. That will be further developed in later books in the series. Ronnie is a character created from my imagination. I know a few young women who had ugly childhoods and who were nearly crippled by the abuse. They struggle to survive. Ronnie has a career and can take care of herself, but these girls prompted me to write a character like Ronnie. 

MARK: Up until the release of Harmful Intent, historical murder and romance novels had been your cup of tea. Four previous novels under the Sanctuary Point series—Burning Hearts, Goodbye Noel, Perilous Shadows, and Darkest Hour—have all been set in the post WWII era. Tells us what led you to write this latest contemporary murder series.

NIKE: I love the 1940s. It was an elegant time in American history. Ordinary Americans had style and a can-do attitude. It was an exciting time and I loved writing about it. But after four novels, I thought it was time for a change. I wanted to write gripping mystery stories, but also deal with relevant issues that face people today. Although, to be honest, I think people in the 1940s grappled with the same issues we do today. However, there was a national feeling of dignity as they walked the walk. I pray America can get that sense of worth back.

MARK: Let’s switch gears. Your previous novels have been published by Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc., but your latest novel is an indie-release through your own publishing entity, Crime Fictionista Press. Can you tell us a little about your reasons behind this major change in your publishing journey?

NIKE: I wanted to write this novel in double first person. Ronnie's point of view, then Dawson's, both in first person. I couldn't find a publisher who wanted to do that. Also, I wanted to write it my way. I sound like Frank Sinatra here. But seriously, Ronnie and Dawson are not together at the end, nor do they get saved. I didn't want to have to follow any formula. I just wanted to write the story.

MARK: What are you learning as an indie author and publisher that you did not expect going into this latest venture?

NIKE: I didn't know how exhilarating it would be when Harmful Intent was released as an indie effort. I also didn't know how easy it would be to work with Amazon.

MARK: Would you share with us about the kind of novels we can expect from you in the near future? Will you be using Crime Fictionista Press?

NIKE: Deadly Designs is next in the Ronnie/Dawson series. This second novel kicks off with the disappearance of a young mother and daughter. This novel ventures into the world of high fashion with the possibility that terrorists are pulling all the strings. The novel will be published by Crime Fictionista Press.

MARK: Not that you don’t have enough to do, but are you still involved with the American Christian Fiction Writers organization? Tell our readers a little about this organization and how you are involved.

NIKE: Yes, I'm still involved. I have led an ACFW critique group for serious writers (many already published) for a number of years. In 2013, I wrote a mini-class on building suspense in a story for their at-home-conference (for those who couldn't make it to the annual conference). I try to participate in their email LOOP when I can.

MARK: Another project I recently learned about through you is the unique Grace Awards literary contest of which you are founder and co-chair. What is the purpose of this awards? How does it work?

NIKE: The Grace Awards is a reader generated literary awards. It's staffed entirely by volunteers. We're sort of the little engine that could of literary awards. There is no fee the author has to pay to get his/her book entered. Readers nominate all the entries. In fact many finalists don't even know they've been nominated until we contact them. I'll bet you were surprised when your Broken Allegiance was a finalist in the Mystery/Thriller/Romantic Suspense category. We allow readers to choose the finalists. In that way no group or clique can control the outcome. Readers have to submit a 35-word reason why they chose the novel. This is how we determine they've read the book. Some of our readers give a NY Times book review. We do have talented judges pick the winners. That gives a good balance in the selection process. Our judges always write a review of the novel for the winner and finalists in each category. They bring out the many good things in the story, and also point out where it could be strengthened. Part of the mission of the Grace Awards is to help improve the quality and scope of Christian fiction.

MARK: Yes, I was blown away that someone anonymously recommended my novel. And you are right, I recieved a review that gave me good suggestions to make the next novel better. In looking through your biography, I noticed that you belong to the Christian Indie Novelist (CHIN) network. Frankly, this is the first time I heard of it. Can you tell us a little about this group, when it was formed, and what its objective might be?

NIKE: I'm not a founder or administrator of this group, only a lowly member. CHIN is a Yahoo Loop. We help each other with marketing, give support to each other, share technological knowledge, industry news, and much more. Any Christian indie author, Christian world-view author, inspirational author can become a member. You simply have to ask. One way is to join the CHIN group on Facebook and then ask to be a member of the Yahoo Loop.

MARK: There is a lot of controversy waging in the publishing industry. The current negotiations between Amazon and Hachette is just one of many issues that writers must face as they try to get their books sold. What do you see as the short-term future in publishing? How will this affect writers, publishers, and the cottage-industry of editors, designers, and formatters?

NIKE: I'm often surprised that I'm doing as well as I'm doing in this industry. Though, I have honed my craft and paid my dues. Amazon has been very good to me. They are author friendly and I pray they remain so. I hate to admit, there's an impish (maybe even childish) part of me that enjoys seeing Hachette get its clock cleaned by Amazon. The big publishers had a death grip on the industry. They determined who would get published and who would not. Sometimes a little guy with a great book got through. Most of the time the fiction authors who were best sellers were all in the in-crowd. They were married to an exec in the publishing company, or went to college with them. Or were married to someone in media. I once looked at biographies of the most popular authors and did a study on who they were married to and what their spouse did for a living. It's an eye opener. New York City is the epicenter of the publishing world and there's been a lot of elitist back scratching. However, Amazon is a game changer. Because of Amazon, Mark, you and I were given a chance.

MARK: Yes we were very fortunate to be given this opportunity to publish on our own terms. I am very appreciative. From a writer’s perspective, what do you see as the role of an agent in this evolving industry? Are they needed?

NIKE: I have no need for an agent at this point in my career. I do everything through Amazon. If one of my novels were to be optioned for a movie (please God), then I would definitely need an agent.

MARK: Enough with the heavy questions. Here is a light one. How do you let off steam when you’re not writing?

NIKE: I let off steam by reading a good murder mystery or thriller. I like to walk my dog. Walking is very good for the body and mind. In the summer I putter in my garden. I grow tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, basil, and mint. I also have roses. When my rose bushes first bloom, I like to sit out on my deck with a cup of tea and look at them. This is very relaxing.

MARK: Thanks for joining us, Nike. We have seen a glimpse of your busy schedule. Any last pearls of wisdom for writers just starting out on this road of writing and publishing?

NIKE: Be true to yourself. If you're a newbie and come across a free or inexpensive writing course, take it. But don't get married to it. Use it as a tool, one of many you will find helpful on your writing journey. Read the top writers in your genre, not to copy them, but to study them. Find your own unique voice and style and don't let anyone talk you out of it. If you're a Christian writer, check in with the Holy Spirit and see what He's got to say about what you're writing.


Bio: Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of Christian Indie Novelists (CHIN), and the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction.

She's an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011, 2012, 2013 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine.

Her recent contemporary detective story Harmful Intent has garnered acclaim and has been called: sassy, witty, gritty, charming, and yummy. Her historical suspense Sanctuary Point series brought on a crime wave that swept the south shore of Long Island during the 1940s (Burning Hearts, Goodbye Noel, Perilous Shadows, and Darkest Hour) won acclaim and awards. You can find out more about Nike at her website: Nike Chillemi~Crime Fictionista.