Nike Chillemi first showed up on my radar screen for her name--a name so cool I wanted to steal it for a character.
Later, we became pen-pals, and she taught me about behavior patterns in abused kids. Her wisdom helped with the latest young-adult Raleigh Harmon mystery, "Stone and Spark."
But these days, Nike is among my go-to mystery reads whenever I want something honest that still has a redemptive storyline.
Nike's term for it is "askance romance."
"I like the sound of askance romance," she says. "It rolls off the tongue."
Her latest romantic mystery is Harmful Intent, featuring Brooklyn-bred PI Veronica "Ronnie" Ingals. After her cheating husband of one year is murdered, Ronnie heads to west Texas to track the crime. But she quickly locks horns with former Army Ranger Dawson Hughes, who pegs Ronnie as the number one suspect in the murder.
I had a chance to talk to Nike about writing and life in general. Like her name, there's nothing ordinary about this woman. Be sure to check out her blog-- Crime Fictionista. (Man, I love that name, too).
First: what do you mean by 'askance romance'?
Nike: I needed a way to let readers know the romance between Ronnie and Dawson was sweet romance, but not tidy. Everything doesn't tie up neatly in a bow. Ronnie has severe issues as far as commitment goes. The fact that her recently murdered husband cheated on her doesn't help. But then she and that handsome deputy sheriff are going to have more than one book.
Good. How did you start writing novels in the place?
I started writing seriously for publication seven years ago. When I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) I also had more characters than a Leo Tolstoy novel and I thought they were all important. At that time Harlequin offered an online writing course. I conscientiously studied and did the homework for every single lesson. I'm not sure who said this, Stephen King, maybe, but I agree with it and practice it: I try to read the top writers in my genre…and you Sibella, are one I read. I read J. Mark Bertrand, Nancy Mehl, Robert Liparulo. James Scott Bell. I also read general market crime fiction writers such as Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Barbara Parker, and Lee Child.
I'm humbled by that company. Thanks. On a personal note, you lead a very full life, including fostering teenagers. Tell me more about that, and how it informs your writing.
My husband and I were foster parents. Then we took a break for a year and after that signed on with an adoption agency specializing in the adoption of children from the foster care system. We adopted three girls, ages 6, 7, and 9. They had been seriously abused. If fact, we cooperated with the district attorney and one abuser received ten years in prison. I've come to realize that abuse (physical, sexual, mental, and verbal) cripples children. It stunts them, shames them, and makes them feel unworthy.
While they're deluged with feelings of inadequacy, they can't concentrate on school and fall behind. It also makes it difficult for them to form a relationship with God. They feel if their biological parents and grandparents didn't love and protect them, why should they believe their heavenly Father will? '
It's taken me a while, but I'm now writing about the lifelong effects of this type of abuse. This new series, starting with "Harmful Intent," Veronica "Ronnie" Ingels and Dawson Hughes are the first of four "couples" in the series. At least one member of each couple, and sometimes both, will have been seriously damaged by parental abuse and/or neglect. It'll emerge as a subtheme and these issues will pop up at the worst of times to frustrate and confound the character while in pursuit of a killer. Each couple will have two or more novels.
This is going to be a long series.
Do you do a lot of research, aside from personal observations of damaged people?
I'm a research nut. "Harmful Intent" started out as a writing prompt. The idea was to take a main character and place her in uncomfortable surroundings. I took Brooklyn-born and -bred Ronnie Ingels and put her in the hill country of Texas. That's disconcerting enough. But then I had her cheating husband murdered there, with Deputy Sheriff Dawson Hughes pegging Ronnie as the prime suspect. I thought I'd have a short story, but it morphed into a novel with plans for a series.
I had to research details such as the procedure for flying with firearms from one state to another, what the Texas countryside looked like, types of trees, etc. I also listened to hours of Kenneth Copeland sermons to get comfortable with the jargon, lilt, and cadence of Texas speech patterns. He tosses in all kinds of information and stories about Texas, some of which I used in the novel.
As an author, I don't always like getting this question, but here goes: Is there anything you want readers to take away from your novels?
First, I want readers to enjoy the novel. I want it to be an exciting murder mystery with likeable and engaging main characters and quirky secondary characters. I've thrown a lot of humor into the story. I'd like the story to thrill and chill, then turn on a dime and tickle the reader's funny bone.
And in the midst of that, I'd like the reader to think about the awesome responsibility of parenting.
I'd like the reader to ponder what the meaning and purpose of being here on earth is all about.
Follow Nike on Twitter, Facebook and her website: http://nikechillemi.wordpress.com/