Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Profile:

Derek Nikitas:
JB Thompson talks to debut novelist about his book, PYRES

by JB Thompson


When a folklore professor is shot dead in his car, the crime smashes together the lives of three disparate women: his anguished teenage daughter, a detective facing her own family’s collapse, and the pregnant former-junkie girlfriend of the killer. These three women must choose where to aim their last shots at redemption, even as they face a gang of barbaric thugs who torch homes and lives for a thrill.

Like his debut novel’s protagonist, noir/literary fiction writer Derek Nikitas was born on Saint Lucy’s Day, December 13th. Raised in Manchester, NH, then Rochester, NY, he earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, then sought adventure in the Czech Republic, England, and Costa Rica. He is currently pursuing a PhD in English from Georgia State University, and has published stories in The Ontario Review, Chelsea, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and The Pedestal Magazine. Joyce Carol Oates nominated him for a Pushcart Award in 2005. This year he’s been awarded a debut author scholarship by the International Thriller Writers to attend ThrillerFest and a fellowship to the prestigious Sewanee Writer’s Conference.

JB: Okay, let’s start with the standard question – after the short fiction, what led you to the novel? Was it something you’d been considering for a while or more a sudden inspiration?

DEREK: Sudden, no. Usually I don’t start writing until a story idea has had a long time to germinate, and that process usually involves a merger of dozens upon dozens of different ideas over months or even years. Still, the seed of the story is the teenage protagonist Lucia Moberg, a character who has appeared in other tentative versions of this story, often in masculine form. Lucia is a piece of my soul, while the other two major female characters, Investigator Greta Hurd and troubled convict Tanya Yasbeck, grew out of a more calculated attempt to tell a good noir story. In fact, Tanya didn’t even exist in the first few drafts of the novel.

Thick-headed, I wrote three failed novels before I allowed myself to accept (tentatively) that I was a noir writer. My first agent helped push me in that direction, often against my will, because I was groomed to be “literary” by my college creative writing programs. I’ve since realized that genre boundaries are fluid and I can write stories that will make my college mentors proud and that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine will publish. The short stories were a gradual process of my learning what my voice would be, at least for this novel. I hope I get the chance to channel many voices before the guy in the black cloak comes knocking.

JB: Tell us a little about Lucia. Is there anything we should know about her, other than what’s in the book?

DEREK: She’s a plucky, punky, free-spirit teenage girl of a certain suburban type, an amalgam of who I was as a teenager, some of my female friends back then, and elements of some of my students over the years. How might tragedy and life-threatening danger affect such a character, and how might she use these elements of herself to fight against such forces? I supposed that’s the central drama of the book. Teaching college students, I’m around teenagers a lot, so they’ve often suggested to me various mysteries of personality that I like to explore in my writing—enigmas I’ll fail to solve, but at least I’ll have the “transport of the aim,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. I don’t see my characters very clearly except where they come to life (vividly, hopefully) in the actual novel scenes—so, in a sense, Lucia Moberg doesn’t exist outside of the book; everything I know about her is there in the sentences.

JB: After college you spent some time abroad. Can you share a couple of your most memorable experiences?

DEREK: I wrote the last third of the novel while living in a tin-roofed “shack” in a town outside San Jose, Costa Rica. I was without a car, without the internet, without English-language TV, without hot water—a rather miserable situation remarkably conducive to writing. On the weekends I saw the parts of Costa Rica that American tourists are supposed to see, but on weekdays I wrote Pyres, read some great books, swatted mosquitoes, and watched the rainwater drip down the walls. It was the perfect counterpoint to the wintry world of my novel, and an often-torturous experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

For three summers I took some of my students for a literary tour of England, so I’ve had a few near-spiritual experiences of communion with some of my favorite dead writers while I was there. I wrote a few paragraphs of Pyres in the bay window of the King’s Arms Hotel in Dorchester, Dorset—the same window where Thomas Hardy is supposed to have penned some of his own work. I revised some of the last draft in a bed and breakfast room with a view of the Bronte Parsonage where Emily, Charlotte and Anne grew up—and where their ghosts are rumored to roam.

My first international journey was to Sweden to visit distant relatives and research for my master’s thesis novel (a.k.a., my first of three “practice” novels). Though Pyres was years away at that point, the Norse mythological and Swedish cultural bits began to take root in my consciousness, eventually to be used in this book.

JB: What has being a part of the Killer Year Class of 2007 meant to you?

DEREK: Before Killer Year, I had no idea there was a “thriller community,” nor did I know the first thing about how to navigate the business aspect of book publishing. Killer Year has welcomed me into that community, though I often feel I’ve conned someone, somehow, into believing that I belong to any community, much less one that is purported to thrill people. Most of the other Killer Year writers are already deeply entrenched in this world, so I count many of them as mentors, even if we’re all just getting started. I’d be a wreck without them, I think. I’ve been privileged to see their successes, and I’m honored to be part of the anthology we’re releasing through St. Martin’s Minotaur next year. And, of course, they’ve brought me into a larger thriller community, International Thriller Writers, and given me a fantastic, unbelievably supportive mentor, Doug Clegg.

JB: Who are the biggest influences on your writing? Whom do you read?
DEREK: Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita, Pale Fire), James Ellroy (The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential), Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian), Joyce Carol Oates (Wonderland; Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart), Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son), Thomas Hardy (Jude the Obscure, Far from the Madding Crowd), Michael Connelly (The Poet), Franz Kafka (The Trial), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), Toni Morrison (Beloved), Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Stephen King (The Stand), Donna Tartt (The Secret History).

JB: If you could wake up tomorrow and be anywhere in the world, where would you be?

DEREK: I hope this isn’t a permanent wish because I’ve had a history of becoming unbalanced and disgruntled whenever I stay anywhere too long. That said, the cities I’ve loved the most were Prague and Oxford, both ancient cities full of history and mystery. I’d choose Prague because the culture is a bit more elusive, more dark and moody. And because the beer is better. I ache to get back there someday.