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Gef: What was the inspiration behind Jake Istenhegyi?
Nikki: Twofold story.
First, the name. In 1998 or so, my husband was the Detachment Commander for the United States Marines stationed at the American Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. We lived there for 18 months. The street that the school my kids went to was Istenhegyi Ute. Brian and I used to joke that it would make a great name for a private detective, “Jake Istenhegyi, Private Dick!”
I squirreled that away for a future story.
In 2013 or so, Tommy Hancock challenged me to write a story for an anthology he was working on, Poultry Pulp. The trick of it was to write a pulp noir story that somehow involved chickens. I sat down, started doodling around and came up with the idea of voodoo and chickens. Then I realized, “Hey, this would be a cool time to drag out the Jake Istenhegyi idea.” And voila! There we have it.
Then, as it happens, that anthology never hatched (ha) and I was asked if I would be interested in turning it into a Single Shot Series with Pro Se. I said, “Sure, why not? Could be fun.”
That sentiment has gotten me into a lot of trouble.
Gef: Jake started off with a couple adventures in short story form. Was there much of a challenge in crafting a longer tale or was this something you'd been clambering to do with him from the get-go?
Nikki: The major complaint I received about the Jake stories was that they were too short. People kept at me for more so I cracked my knuckles, picked up a pen and said, “Okay, motherfuckers, you want more? You want more, you hungry hyenas?!?! Here you go!” In hindsight, I really should’ve gotten the clearance from Tommy to write a 37k novel as opposed to the 15k he was expecting. That’s why the third Jake Istenhegyi was released as Volume 1 with all three stories. Sorry, Tommy.
Gef: There's a bit of a globe-trotting aspect to his adventures, especially this new one. How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?
Nikki: Jake’s childhood was a spotty one where he was shuffled from boarding school to boarding school. He’s very multicultural in that aspect if that is what you mean by globe-trotting.
So far, all the stories have taken place in New Orleans. Right now, I’m focusing more on characters and action that setting. When you only have 15k to work with you can’t waste words on architecture and weather.
Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?
Nikki: HAHAHAH, funny story. When I was a nymphette, I thought that getting published would be the End-All-Big-Time- Fire-Dance-in-my-Pants moment of my life. I imagined bags of money would drop from the sky and I would suddenly have throngs of friends and sycophants that would cling to my legs like something from a 1950’s space opera. I would be invited to have lunch with Stephen King and dance naked on a table at the Algonquin.
These things have yet to happen.
Now, I understand that it’s not some mystical magical fairy dust that falls out of my pen and sparkles up the page. It takes a lot of time, a lot of tears and lots of alcohol. I like to gauge where I am in the story by how many black magic marker lines are on my Gentleman Jack Whiskey bottle.
I also now know that it is not such a solitary job. There are beta readers, content editors, copy editors, cover art proofs, galley proofs.
I also now know it is a horrible strain to be married to/be friends with/have as a parent someone who is a writer. When I’m not writing, I’m a depressive, angry old fuck. When I am writing, I’m a distracted, angry old fuck. Either way, you’re pretty much stuck with an angry old fuck.
Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?
Nikki: I grew up on Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. I had subscriptions to several horror magazines and gobbled up stories with little to no regard of quality. When I was 24, a boss caught me reading some splatterpunk shit and he asked me, “Why do you read that crap?” and he gave me Watership Down to read. That started me on a literary track.
I couldn’t afford college so I would buy second hand college textbooks on American and English literature and try to educate myself on what was good and, more importantly, why. It was from those moldy, outdated textbooks that I found Flannery O’Connor. I love her use of simple words to convey such depth and horrific imagery.
It was through the role playing game, Call of Cthulhu, that I was introduced to Lovecraft. I don’t consider his style of writing so much an influence as I do the existentialist horror behind his ideas.
It was through a Marine I met while we were living in Oman that I was introduced to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories. I love his use of satire and wit. His world building is mythic.
Neil Gaiman’s use of myth and how he twists it to conform to a modern telling is inspiring. American Gods is one of my favorite books.
Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of pulp fiction?
Nikki: I have a story:
I was a writing a story….I don’t even remember what it was or what it was for but I had finished the first draft. Later that night, I woke up to pee and as I sat there on the toilet, I heard this voice whisper in my ear, in a very raspy voice, “That’s a good skeleton, now throw some meat on it. You are here to make heroes. Don’t leave it half done.”
I present that not as a testament to my very shaky mental status (don’t judge me) but to illustrate what I think the genre of pulp fiction is best at: Making Heroes. Of all sorts. From gray anti-heroes in fedoras to the ones flying around in bright, tight underwear. We are here to entertain. To provide a safe, fun, cushiony place for a person to escape to from their stressful or dull everyday life.
Gef: How has Pro Se Press been for you in terms of fostering and promoting this series?
Nikki: Wonderful. Tommy Hancock pretty much lets me fly with whatever crazy, cracked pot scheme I come up with and then we both sit back and watch to see where it lands.
I’ve also been very lucky in having excellent editors (Tommy Hancock, Dave Brzeski and Kristi King) and a hell of a great cover artist, Jeffrey Hayes.
Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?
Nikki: I have another story:
A few years ago, when I was the organizer for the Fiction Group of the Nashville Writers Meetup, I had a woman who very angrily shouted at me, “But HOW do you write a story? That’s what I want to learn. What is the formula!”
“Formula?” I said. “What you mean?”
“The formula!” She pounded on the table, scaring the shit out of all the other people at the Panera we were meeting at. “THE DAMN FORMULA!”
You know what I wish would go away? All those books and workshops that promise newbies a formula for a quick and easy way to write a Best Selling Novel.
Let Cranky Auntie Nikki ruin a piece of your fantasy world, sweeties, and listen closely….There is no formula on how to write a good story. There is no Fast and Easy way. There is no book, no workshop, and no fancy shmancy MFA degree that will magically squirt a good story out of your pen onto a sheet of paper.
You want to know what makes you a writer? It’s really simple: put words on the paper, one after the other, until the goddamn story is done. And then rinse and repeat.
Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Nikki: My tastes are eclectic. I like all sorts of things and I’m willing to give new things a go. While I don’t have the patience I had when I was a kid for really bad movies/books/etc , sometimes it is fun to watch a really bad movie but only with the right person because suffering breeds bragging rights.
For example, take Wolf Cop, a terrible Canadian horror comedy. One super lazy Sunday while the rest of God Fearing Americans were doing their weekly tithing, my son and I wasted two hours of our lives watching Wolf Cop. There are only two outstanding scenes in that movie. The scene where his transformation into a werewolf starts at his dick….yeah, his dick. You get to watch a man’s average dick explode into a super lupine hairy dick before the rest of him wolfs out into Wolf Cop.
And then the scene where he finds himself the next morning, in bed with a dog. The question still consumes us: Did he fuck that dog?
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?
Nikki: Let’s see….stuff that is coming out soon.
I have a story, Gunn Takes a Gander, in an anthology being published by Ron Fortier called, Legends of New Pulp. In it, I take Barrington “Bear” Gunn, a character in the Jake Istenhegyi stories, and give him his own adventure before he ever met Jake. This anthology is a labor of love for all the authors included as the profits of it are being donated to Tommy Hancock to help, in some small way, take a bite out of his medical bills from his recent health issues.
In the upcoming anthology published by Pro Se Press called The Adventures of Moose and Skwirl, I have a story called Kids….They Blow Up So Fast. The idea is two heroes from two different timelines/worlds (Moose and Skwirl) are snatched from their timelines by the Powers That Be, are dropped into situations and then SHENANIGANS. My story drops the two heroes into a corporate civil war where children are used as bombs. Literally. It’s good family fun.
Jake Istenhegyi #4, Fish Eyed Men, Fedoras and Steel Toed Pumps (working title), will be out in early 2016 in Pro Se Press Single Shot Signature Series. It will be available in digital format only. In this story I delve more into the inner workings of the mysterious Odyssey Shop, pull out an old friend from Bear’s past and wake up a new friend in Jake’s present. It’s going to be cool.
I hope to have a new Sherlock Holmes story out in 2016, Sherlock Holmes and the English Rose. In this story, I pit the Great Detective up against a number of foes some of who are real and some metaphorical. How does one fight an idea? It’s going to be quite a battle of the wits for Mr. Holmes.
In 2016, I also hope to publish my own anthology under my newly hatched publishing house, Third Crow Press, called Stone Baby and Other Horrible Things. It’s one of the many things on the Melamine Board of Things To Do.
To keep up with me? The best way is through Facebook (Nikki Nelson-Hicks) where I am neurotically updating my personal status (don’t judge me) or you can like my author page under the same name, Twitter (@nikcubed), Instagram (nikcubed) or through my blog, www.nikcubed.blogspot.com (which is soon to become simply www.nikcubed.com once I corner my tech savvy friend to help me do it).
OOOH! Also, if you are on Facebook, check out a page I run called Dinosaur Cubicle Fun Time. It’s the continuing adventures of two dinosaurs, Bert and Skippy, as they try to keep sane in the cubicle farm. I update it every Wednesday. CHEERS!