I have always enjoyed the company of people who are funny, intelligent, and a bit perverted. My favorite whack-job writer, Nikki Nelson-Hicks, is a rock star in all three of those demographics. Described as the unholy lovechild of Flannery O'Connor and H.P. Lovecraft, she claims be burdened with the reputation as a damn good shag – although you would have to ask her husband, Brain Hicks, for verification.
Sherlockian chronicler (Sherlock Holmes and the Shrieking Pits), creator of the Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective series, and a distracted writer with an attention deficit muse, Nikki is an acerbic, sarcastic, hair-exploding, dart throwing contrarian – all of which shines through in the maniacal humor and power of her writing. In her day job as a cubical goddess, she plays with plastic dinosaurs on her desk while thwarting customer service terrorists. She is the mother to Girl and Boy, both of whom seem to have inherited her love for the bizarre and stinging one-liners.
I’m not sure how serious she is about her recently announced scheme to create a Writers I’d Like To F@ck Calendar, but I do know she’s been overwhelmed with authors volunteering to pose, and inundated with photos of man-bits since announcing the venture. She can be stalked on TWITTER or FACEBOOK – where she constantly creates chaos – or you can get more insights into her unfolding neurosis on her BLOG.
With Nikki a little overexcited to be in handcuffs and kicking back in the interrogation room, it’s time to cue the bright lights, cue the sound effects of a sap hitting flesh – and action!
When did you first discover Sherlock Holmes and the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos? How have those inspirations influenced your writing?
I read my first Sherlock Holmes story for a high school book report. I picked it because I thought the Hound of the Baskervilles was a ghost story. I was very disappointed there wasn’t a killer ghost dog wandering the Moors. Hell, there wasn’t much Sherlock Holmes in it, really. I don’t think I even finished reading the stupid thing. When my turn came to give my oral report, I did a quick shuffle dance and faked it. I learned very early on if you make people laugh, they don’t listen too deeply to what you are saying. I earned a lot of A’s in high school using this tactic.
It wasn’t until the ‘80s when I discovered Jeremy Brett’s, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, that I truly became infatuated with the character. How can you not love Brett’s Holmes? He’s just so cool and badass. He doesn’t need a gun; he cuts people down with just an arch of an eyebrow. There was something about his portrayal of Holmes that appealed to me.
I later learned Brett suffered from bipolar disorder. He used his experience with the disease and blended that pathos into his characterization of Holmes, to examine his highs and lows. Something about that rang so very true to me. I’m a depressive and I understand how hard it is some days just to keep the Smiling Mask on straight. For me, his Holmes typified the struggle of the Creative mind to keep churning in a world that is so determined to make one mundane. I think Sherlock Holmes would agree even if my wording is a touch romantic.
Why do I love Sherlock Holmes? To put it in plainer words, I love Sherlock Holmes because he is an eternal nine year old, full of curiosity and wonder, looking for adventure and are frustrated people don’t see all the fascinating things all around us. It appeals to my own eternal nine year old, that nut brown little girl who spent her summers playing in creeks, wearing bed sheets for a cape, climbing trees, investigating abandoned graveyards and stealing horses – Actually, it was only one horse. My mother came back from a beer run to find a horse tied up in the garage. After informing me that, “Goddammit, Nikki, they hang horse thieves!” I took it back to the field I found it in – I work hard to keep that girl alive.
As for Lovecraft, well, that goes back to my years of playing Call of Cthulhu with my RPG friends. That is where I was introduced to the stories of Lovecraft. To be frank, I’m not so much a fan of his stories (ugh, the writing is so old fashioned and…ugh…long winded) as I am of the ideas behind his stories. Lovecraft blended the philosophies of Existentialism, Nihilism and Absurdism into a big, gooey ball of tentacular madness. It’s horror for the thinking nerd.
How have those two very different styles influenced me as a writer? Sherlock: Plotting, keeping track of the knots in the rope so the story makes sense in the end. Lovecraft: The rope is stretched across a yawning void that wants nothing more than to suck you inside.
What pushed you to go beyond being a cubical goddess and into the unreliable world of writing?
I’ve always wanted to be a Writer (capital W intended). Unfortunately, I labored under the idea being a Writer was some kind of magical calling. I believed I needed to complete a series of tasks, educational and spiritual, in order to appease the Literary Gods and get granted the title of Writer.
I wasted so much goddamn time. I have a 30 year list of shit jobs where I’ve sat in small back rooms, watching the clock. Jobs where being called a bitch was a normal thing. Jobs where the boss’ cokehead son would regularly trash the office. Jobs where I had to use the toilet at the McDonald’s down the street. Jobs where coming back after lunch and finding my boss passed out on my desk was a normal Friday. Jobs where I had coworkers I only knew by tag names: The Doctor (not the Timelord – this one sold drugs out of the warehouse), Big Bird, and Toad. I have spent the majority of my life in dead end, mind raping, mana sucking jobs waiting for the Time to be Right – Except once when I was the assistant to the Governor’s legal counsel. In that job, I got to research murders, flip my dainty fingers through death penalty execution files and deal with stupid, stupid criminals. It. Was. Awesome. What is better than having a boss say, “Hey, Nik. Pull out the King’s Lane Murder file, read it and tell me what you think.” HEAVEN. It only lasted 6 weeks but...HEAVEN. So much fodder. So much tragedy.
Then, I got this gig. It’s just like the other gigs. I sit in a beige cube farm where the hierarchy is determined by the height of your stall wall. But this time I came in with a different mindset. “Okay, girl, here’s the deal. You’re 40 years old now and you’ve landed yourself into another stupid shit job. So, here’s the fucking deal: you can sit there, whining and bitching and falling deeper into the what if death spiral OR you can got off your ever flattening bony ass and get some fucking work done!
My inner voice sounds like a cleaned up, female, R. Lee Ermey.
And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve had this incredibly stupid job for 10 years. Seriously, I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing here. I could be replaced with a wire basket. Yet, in that time, I’ve written novels, short stories and started the Jake Istenhegyi series.
In my spare time I like to torture my coworkers by telling them their Fitbit bands are actually sending data to the Reptilian Alien Overlords who have bases on the moon so they know who will be fit to eat first when they reclaim the Earth. It amuses me.
Beyond Holmes and Lovecraft, who are your other influences and what do you draw from them?
So many but here are a few in a nutshell…
Flannery O’Connor: When I first read, A Good Man is Hard to Find, I threw the book across the room. I felt dirty and wanted to scrub my skin with a pumice stone. Then I went back and read it with a writer’s eye. She was able to convey all of that without using any words above a 6th grade level. She wrote about horrible things with a very simple touch. I liked that. It shows you can do so much damage with very little things.
Terry Pratchett: His cutting wit. His Discworld series are beautiful pieces of biting satire on politics, religion and social mores. My favorite book is Good Omens, a lovely book he wrote with Neil Gaiman about the Apocalypse and how the world is saved by the most unlikely hero. Broke my heart when Pratchett died earlier this year. I respect his decision to end his life but, still…Goddamnit.
Stephen King, but only his older stuff, nothing written after he blew his mind out with cocaine. The Stand, The Shining, Salem’s Lot. Wonderful stuff. I think Salem’s Lot is an excellent example of setting as character. Absolutely beautiful.
Hunter S. Thompson: When I read his stuff, my heart bleeds for the poor fuck who had to edit it. His writing is so stream of consciousness, just a mainlining of ink to the page. Some of it is absolute drivel, but I still love the fire in his words. I only discovered him a year before he committed suicide. Such a waste.
David Foster Wallace: I admit, I can’t read his novels – too much navel gazing MFA writing for my taste. I’m simply not smart enough to enjoy those types of stories. What I love are his magazine articles, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, A Ticket to the Fair. Razor sharp wit and such an in depth eye for detail. Brilliant son of a bitch. He also committed suicide. Not that I’m sensing a pattern…
Neil Gaiman for his use of myth and twisting old ideas into fresh stories. Even if he broke my heart when he made fun of my t-shirt. For the full story CLICK HERE … For the follow up story CLICK HERE
Harlan Ellison, but only when I want to get really, really angry for no damn good reason.
Right now some of my favorite new authors are Jessica McHugh, Max Booth III, and Todd Keisling. So fresh, young and….so damn young. Seriously, I am tempted to break their fingers.
What were the challenges involved in writing Sherlock Holmes and the Shrieking Pits? Specifically, how did you try to stay true to the Holmes canon and what different aspects did you bring to your tale?
I have to give credit to my editor, Dave Brzeski, for keeping me on target. He is British, cantankerous and knows the canon. He gave this very modern, very profane, very American Yank many, many kicks to the arse whenever I strayed from the path.
It’s not easy writing something that is based on a beloved literary icon. You run the risk of cartoonish parody and losing several body parts to bloody thirsty fans. And Holmes has thousands of them! I went to a Sherlock Holmes convention and was amazed at the number of academics there who would go on and on about Holmes to the point I wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Ya’ll know he isn’t real, right?” but I was afraid they’d start pointing and screeching at me like Donald Sutherland in the end of Body Snatchers. As a result, you have to write it with a light touch. Not too mawkish so it is boring to modern readers and not too off track to seem blasphemous.
And, of course, writing about a time and place I have never experienced is also a challenge. Thank you, Great Divine Google. Praise be to your infinite database of antique photographs, demographics, and maps – Google even told me a penny-farthing was a type of bicycle after Editor Dave nearly bust a gut laughing at me when I thought it was a coin.
Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective has just made his third appearance (Boo Daddies, Bogs, and a Dead Man's Booty) in a volume which also includes his first two cases (A Chick, A Dick and a Witch Walk Into a Barn / Golems, Goons and Cold Stone Bitches). How did Jake come to jump onto the page for you and what’s with his last name and the excellent alliterative titles?
In 1997, my husband was deployed to Budapest, Hungary as the Detachment Commander for the Marines at the American Embassy and we went with him. The street the school my kids attended was called Istenhegyi Ute. Brian and I thought, “Huh. Wouldn’t that be a great name for a private eye? Jake Istenhegyi, Private Dick.”
It was our joke for years and years and I filed it away for the future. The name, Istenhegyi, is a Magyar word which means “God’s hill” or “God of the hill”. And it is pronounced, ISH-ten-hedge-ee. Simple, really.
In 2013 or so, I was approached by Tommy Hancock to write a story for Poultry Pulp, an anthology where all the stories involved chickens. I said, “Challenge accepted.” And I told my husband, “Hey, I think I’m going to finally put Jake Istenhegyi to the test.”
And, voila! The first Jake story, A Chick, A Dick and A Witch Walked into a Barn was born. However, the anthology never really hatched (Ha!) so Tommy asked if I wanted to make it into a series and I said, “Okay. Sure, what the hell. Could be fun.” I get myself in more trouble with that sort of attitude.
As for the titles, they are a joint effort. The first one was conjured while drinking wine and playing a lively game of poker. My husband and I were talking and hashing over title ideas and the phrase why did the chicken cross the road became our pivotal point. Somewhere, during all the brain storming and the wine flowing, we finally came up with the title, A Chick, A Dick and a Witch Walked Into a Barn.
For the second one, I wanted to keep the joke rolling, so out popped the cards and booze. After much discussion and drinking, we came up with Golems, Goons and Stone Cold Broads but, in the end, I opted for Golems, Goons and Cold Stone Bitches because reasons. *spoilers*
The third one was a real family effort. I already had Boodaddies and Bogs, but I needed the Boom Boom Boom for a good finish. I wanted it to be about pirates or pirate treasure, but was stymied. Brian and I sat down, started hashing out ideas and my daughter, Brenna, popped her head out of her room and shouted, “Hey! What about A Dead Man’s Booty?” Boom! Done!
How did you write your way into the Pro Se Productions pulpverse?
Backward. The way I’ve done most things. In 2004, I was one of the founding members of the Nashville Writers’ Group. Through them, I met Alan Lewis. Through Alan, I met Tommy Hancock. I finally met Tommy in person and, after much vetting, he – thankfully – decided to give me a chance.
You always have a number of schemes spinning around in your head. What would be your dream project?
Once, I was on a panel and we were asked what social obligations we felt our stories owed to readers. The other writer gave a very long, pithy explanation on how he wanted his stories to bridge the gap between mainstream religions and his own faith. He had high lofty aspirations for his stories.
I was flummoxed. What the fuck did people expect from a story about monster zombie chickens? So, when it came time for me to answer, I simply said I had no agenda. I had no philosophical or political aspirations for my stories. I write fun, simple stories meant to distract you while you are sitting on the bus, in the doctor’s waiting room or passing time on the toilet. That’s it. I’m not a messiah. I’m a rodeo clown trying to save your ass from the raging bull of boredom.
I won’t lie. I’d love to write something that would light the world on fire, start revolutions, and create a new form of thought that would shine as a beacon for the rest of humanity’s existence. But I know I don’t have it in me. I’m not that smart. And, frankly, it sounds like a lot of hard fucking work.
However, if a magic glowing eggplant showed up in my refrigerator and granted me one Literary Wish, I know exactly what I’d want. I have a cast of fantastic characters I created a decade ago. I’ve written a few short stories, and people who’ve read the Travis Dare stories tell me they are anxious for more. And, God knows, I’ve got tons of fodder and ideas. I have two banker boxes and a plastic tote box full of journals, files and notes for future ideas for stories.
I can feel the characters, pacing back and forth, getting more and more impatient while I spent time on new characters, like first borns staring at younger siblings wondering why those assholes are getting more ink than they are. I just can’t find the right story for them. I’m stymied. They are a great cast, but without a play. It’s frustrating as hell. That is my dream project, my great wish – If I could find the best story to plant Travis Dare and his crew so they can finally blossom and tell their stories, I’d be on the moon.
What do you look for in a book? What excites you when you read something new?
Show me something old in a new way. Make think. Make me feel. Make the words burn like drops of fire inside my brain. I want to taste them when I read them aloud. I’m an old reader – I know magic when I read it. I can feel if there is soul in the words. Don’t try to lie to a liar. Don’t fucking bore me. No pressure.
Will Jake or Sherlock be back in the Nikkiverse or is something new on the drawing board?
I have a white melamine board next to my desk. It is where I list all the projects I should be working on instead of Facebooking,
watching porn, or researching stuff on YouTube. First
on the list is Jake #4. The working title is Fish Eyed Men, Fedoras and Steel Toed Pumps. (# 5 is going to be Debutantes, Dybbuks and Something,
Something, Something…still working on it). #4 is going to be a short number,
15k, and I’m going to delve more into the mysterious owners of The Odyssey
Shop, who they are, what they are, and what the hell are they really doing in
the Back Room, Mama Effie’s time in Storyville, and there’s a dame causing
trouble. Where there’s trouble, there’s always
Next is a new Sherlock Holmes story. The working title for that one is Sherlock Holmes and the English Rose. It’s going to have a darker tone than Shrieking Pits. The burning question in that story is, what do you do with a murderer no one wants to believe is guilty? Holmes has blind social mores working against him as he tries to pin down a murderer and free an innocent pawn. It’s going to be very tense and cool, if I play it right.
On the backburner but never far from my thoughts: I’m working on a horror anthology of my own stories called Stone Baby and Other Strange Tales. A Mycroft Holmes story, Murder in the Strangers’ Room. A short Sherlock Holmes story, Not Quite a Murder. And a humour anthology called, It was funnier when I was drunker. I am hoping to publish all those under Third Crow Press, a publishing house I gave to myself as a 50th birthday gift.
Oh! And I will be writing a story for Cryptid Clash. The current working title for that is Mongolian Death Worm versus Mole Men or something like that. Fuck. I dunno. It’s due in 2016. That’s a long time away. I could be dead by then. But, if I’m not dead, it’s going to be a cool story. The premise is an oil refinery out in the Mongolian Desert (just roll with me on this) goes radio silent. Corporate sends out a crew to find out what happened. Insert shenanigans.
As disappointing as it may be, it’s time for Nikki to give me back my handcuffs and return to cubicle land, plastic dinosaur humor, and plotting her way onto the bestseller list. Thx, Nikki for hanging out, and yes, you have to give the handcuffs back – really. Hey, come back! Those things are expensive – especially with the fur covered ratchets…
Remember, Nikki can be stalked on TWITTER or FACEBOOK – where she constantly creates chaos – or you can get more insights into her unfolding neurosis on her BLOG.