Today we sit down with fellow Florida author S.K. Nicholls. Susan will tell us a bit about herself, her work and her inspiration. I hope you enjoy today’s installment of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I planned to go to college in 1978 to study journalism, much encouraged by teachers I had at that time. Although I had scholarships, I opted for a degree in nursing as I felt the pay would help increase my family’s standard of living, and it did, but my heart was always in writing. I wrote the best Nurse’s Notes ever written.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
Six to eight weeks to pound out a rough draft and one to two years to edit it.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I have no schedule when I’m writing. Once a book idea is planted in my head, I’m relentless until it is on the page.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Once I get a scene written, I have to stop and read it aloud. If I’m satisfied with how it sounds I can move on, if not I’ll rewrite it right then.
I have a beautiful lanai with tropical plants. When I’ve written for an hour or two, I have to slip out there and breathe in some fresh air. In good weather I’ll go for a quick swim and come back rejuvenated and ready to write some more.
Kombucha and cashews are my go-to snack. I make my own Kombucha and treat my symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast like a pet, talking to it…telling it how wonderful it is. There is always a bottle by my computer.
Q5) How are your books published?
My first was self-published and I’m querying agents for the new series I’m working on. If I don’t have anything locked in in 120 days I plan to self-publish. I won the services of publicist, Maryglenn McCombs at Sleuthfest 2016 during the auction. Hopefully, regardless of the route to publishing, the help with marketing will benefit the launch of the first book.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
A literary fiction piece, Red Clay and Roses is a historic novel about a group of characters struggling with inequality in the Deep South during the 50’s and 60s. I found a ledger in the walls of an Aunt’s house that was torn down. This ledger was actually the financial records of a chiropractor in a small GA town who had an abortion clinic in the basement of his house. The history of women’s rights and civil rights is explored through the character’s involvement.
When I had opportunity to interview some of the octogenarians behind the ledger in 1992, I knew I would, someday, tell their story.
With my new crime romp series, I was challenged by my husband, a crime novel aficionado who reads two or three a week, to try my hand at a crime novel. I read in the genre and took a humorous approach to writing the story. In Naked Alliances, the protagonists, a lone wolf P.I. and a brassy, transgendered exotic dancer spar off each other as they reluctantly team up to solve a cold case and protect a young woman from a murderous sex trafficker, but in order to stay alive they must go undercover in a nudist resort while the body count grows.
My family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation, Cypress Cove, and I was inspired by our resort to create a fictional resort setting that lends itself to the organically grown humor in the book.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
I was fifty-two when I wrote my first published book, but I have tons of short stories from my youth. I wrote my first book in 2012.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
We enjoy boating and fishing. Being out on the water away from the city and all communications is most liberating. I also paint in watercolours and oils, make jewellery, and tend my gardens. We enjoy comedy clubs and theatre.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
Any one I write!!!
Seriously, that’s a tough question. I have different favourites in different genres that I enjoy for different reasons. I’m crazy about Tim Dorsey’s characters, Serge and Coleman, serial killers in FL who only rid the world of scammers. His writing is tight and he makes me laugh out loud. I adore anything Anne Rice has written. Her words flow magically onto the page and into my heart. Wuthering Heights was the first adult book I ever read, and opened my imagination to reading and writing. I’m a huge fan of Randy Wayne White and Carl Hiaasen, both including history and iconic landmarks in their regional FL fiction. I LOVE any fiction that sets the place and time, so regional pieces appeal to me.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
My husband is super supportive in every way imaginable and his rocket scientist experience and gun experience comes in handy. My distant family was shocked a bit, I think, when I wrote Red Clay and Roses, unspoken secrets were told, and even though names were changed, there are people living who recognized story elements. My father was proud. He died last year. I wrote the story with his blessings and his stories shared contributed much to the character development.
My friends, especially my WordPress friends have been super supportive. I also have a few local friends who have enjoyed my work and that is a huge motivator.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Beta readers rock my world. I didn’t have them with Red Clay and Roses, but they really came through for me in writing in a different genre with a different style. I was enormously surprised when so many stepped up to the plate to offer to read Naked Alliances.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
The time it takes to get a story completely ready for publication. I’m impulsive and want to get it done and over and to do it right is much more time consuming than most realize.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Only two. I love them both for different reasons. Red Clay and Roses is a serious literary fiction novel that gave me opportunity to find my voice. I’ve been told it is a powerful writing voice.
Naked Alliances gave me opportunity to experiment with style and voice. It’s a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, sort of spoofy commercial fiction piece. A suspenseful thriller with laughs.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
While there are rules, particularly with grammar and punctuation, don’t let the rules of story presentation bog you down. Certain genres have conventions, but writing a unique story often means stepping outside of the conventions.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
My beta readers were worth their weight in gold with Naked Alliances. My readers who are kind enough to take a few minutes to offer reviews for Red Clay and Roses totally rock…even with criticism, I’m given guidance on how to improve and why it is necessary. I have 71% 5-star, 12% -3 & 4 star, 3% 2-star, and 2% 1-star out of 41 reviews on the book. Some of the earlier reviews offered feedback that assisted me in making some changes that made for an overall better book. Nice to be able to do that with self-publishing. J
“S.K Nicholls, has provided an intimate and yet comprehensive overview of a period in history that was characterised by great social and political transformation. She does this through the journals and memories of people who lived in these times and who struggled with racial tension, gender politics, political upheaval and a rapidly changing environment.
The characters in this novel are so brilliantly described and with such gentleness that you feel that you know them and that you are listening to their stories directly…For me this novel will stand as one of the more beautiful and moving pieces of literature that I have read in many years. I was moved to tears at the end of the story where all the strands of the various lives were brought together in such a miraculous and yet believable manner. I believe that S.K Nicholls writes with a true literary voice and one that is both accessible and meaningful.”
Who wouldn’t be proud?
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
My target audience with RC&R was primarily mature men and women who could relate to the era well.
My target audience with NA is anyone who enjoys crime fiction, thrillers, P.I. stories, and humour.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
Character agency. Plots are done and overdone…every plot one can think up has been done, but your characters are your own. How they make the plot work is how you mold the story into something unique. I don’t believe you can separate the two by saying one is more important than the other, they have to work together, but, in Chuck Wendig’s words, “Character agency is, to me, a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions.
The story exists because of the character. The character does not exist because of the story.”
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
There was a while when I thought being a circus clown would be fun.
Red Skelton and the characters from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In are personally responsible for my poor grades in conduct during grade school. I made straight As in subjects, but Fs in conduct. I was convinced I was going to be a comedian when I grew up.
As I matured, I was planning to become an oceanographer, then a photographer, then an oceanic photographer. That came from sitting in the back of the junior high library reading all of the National Geographic magazines from 1887 to 1972. I idolized Jacques Cousteau.
I studied the World Book Encyclopaedias and was particularly interested in the anatomy and physiology of the human body, which really helped me progress through nursing school. I recently found out that the BSN program was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011 as the hardest program to get through, so I feel quite accomplished.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
I have two favorites. First Chapter in Naked Alliances:
There was only one thing worse for business than not solving cases and that was keeping a new client waiting. Already running late for a meeting, Richard Noggin drove north on Orange Avenue through moderate nighttime traffic in his silver, two-seater Mercedes convertible, the top down and the air-conditioner blowing high cool. As he approached Michigan Avenue, coming into downtown Orlando, two figures darted onto the road from his left.
Swerving and slamming on the brakes, tires squealed as he screeched to a halt in the middle lane. They stood barefoot in the headlights, transfixed, a tall woman and a young girl. An eighteen-wheeler thundered by, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Richard yelled as cars whizzed past. The woman marched the girl by the shoulders around to the passenger’s side. “Hurry. Let us in!” Releasing the girl, she tried the locked door, then grabbed the window ledge with both hands, shoes dangling.
He eased off the brakes, starting to roll, and looked across the car. Standing in the street in her sequined white halter and miniskirt, the woman looked terrified, panting and wiping her windswept, auburn locks back from her face. The almond-eyed girl even more so, with facial bruises and a busted lip. He took his foot off the gas. Dammit, he couldn’t drive off and leave them there. Before he could let them in, the woman tossed the high heels and her oversized shoulder bag inside, threw her long, lean leg over the door, and plopped herself into the passenger’s seat. She yanked the young girl over onto her lap.
“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”
Richard raced to the intersection.
“Turn left here!” she ordered.
“Isn’t this the direction you came from?”
“Just do it!”
He had a green light and took a hard, fast left in front of oncoming traffic, heading for Orange Blossom Trail, a highway known locally as O.B.T. Then it hit him – these two had come off the hooker trail in the red-light district. This was asking for trouble, but his investigative curiosity took over. “Why are you running?”
“Because standing on the curb waiting on a bus wasn’t an option.” A black car raced past in the opposite direction. She crouched down in her seat, forcing the girl forward. “I don’t think they saw us.”
“How could they have missed you? She’s sitting with her face pressed against the windshield.”
“You’re exaggerating.” The woman sat upright, shifted the girl in her lap to one side, and stroked the dash of the car. “Damn, your payments on this pretty girl must be more than Donald Trump’s monthly tab for hair spray.”
“She’s paid for.” He rolled his eyes and shot her a quick look. “Who are you hiding from?”
“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”
“All I know is I was coming out of the Brown Pelican Lounge on south O.B.T. when this girl came charging across the parking lot next door in front of the Shady Breeze Motel, screaming, ‘Help, men with guns!’ I looked at her and her bloodied lip, and hearing ‘Guns!’ figured we ought to run. I snatched off my shoes and did just that.”
“Why didn’t you take her inside and call the police?”
“Let’s just say there were a few gentlemen inside whose company I didn’t care to keep.”
“So, you ran with her?”
“You catch on real quick. Two guys chased us on foot and two ran for their car.”
“Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Turn right at the light and take me home.”
“You live on the Trail?” he asked, only half-joking. He slowed for traffic at the intersection. Her scent caught him. The voice was mellow and raspy, like a smoker, but her fragrance was cinnamon and oranges, her skin, the color of fine café latte. Arms wrapped around the young girl made her cleavage deepen. She turned to him with emerald eyes sparkling.
“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”
“The gay club?”
“Resort. The Parliament House Resort. I’m a showgirl. Name’s Brandi, formerly Brandon.”
Richard did a double take, swallowed hard, and took a right turn, proceeding north. “Where were you taking her?”
“The twenty-four hour pharmacy on Michigan, to get something for her lip, and let them figure out what to do with her. I dunno. What would you do?”
“I’d probably call the police.” He sped up and passed a few cars ahead.
“I’m sure those guys with the guns would’ve waited for us to do that.” Her sarcasm as strong as her perfume. “I used to be a cop and I know they’re not gonna do a damn thing for her. As far as they’re concerned, she’s just another poor girl walkin’ the streets.”
“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a cop.”
“It was a brief stint.”
He ran through the caution light at Kaley Avenue. “Call the police and have them meet us at the Parliament House. I have an important dinner appointment in Winter Park and I’m already late.”
“And I have a show to do tonight,” Brandi fired back.
“Well, I can’t keep her.” He glanced at the silent girl. “What’s your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“I not know much English. Cara Kieu scared.”
Richard gave Brandi a hard look. “Listen, I can’t manage her. You’re going to have to figure this out.” He reached into the pocket of his sport coat. “Here’s my card. Call me later if you can’t deal with her, and I’ll see what I can do.”
She took the card. “Richard Noggin, P.I. Just my luck, I get picked up by Dick Head, P.I.” She tucked the card into her purse at her feet.
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
He felt her soft touch on his shoulder and cringed, her hand caressing as it moved up his neck. What the hell was he getting himself into?
She nudged him and smiled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most striking crystal-blue eyes? They’re really set off by your thick, dark hair.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”
“I notice things about men.”
“I’m sure you do.” He leaned away, hoping she’d get the message that he wasn’t interested.
They crossed the intersection at West Church Street. A black Nissan pulled out behind them. Brandi jerked back her hand and ducked, pulling Cara down with her. “Holy shit, it’s them!”
He took a fast right onto West Central and another onto Parramore. The Nissan followed. He sped through the stop sign at Jackson and turned left into oncoming traffic on South Street, a busy, three-lane, one-way road. Cara screamed and clung to Brandi.
“You’re going to get us killed!”
“Wasn’t that your problem in the first place?” In his rearview, he noted the Nissan cross South Street behind them.
Horns blared as cars roared by left and right. He saw a black Nissan speeding along on the next street over. Dodging angry traffic, he careened past the Amway Center, turning onto yet another one-way at Hughy. With no sign of their pursuers behind them, he plowed through.
Cara Kieu screamed again as he swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a city bus. After a couple of blocks and a quick left, he drove around the State Marshall’s Building, then made several fast turns through the downtown neighborhood streets.
With tousled passengers shrieking, he’d made a complete, albeit dangerous, wide circle. Relieved when they reached Orange Blossom Trail in front of the Parliament House, he parked on the corner. “Get out.”
Brandi looked at him in disgust. “You can’t just leave us here.”
“You need to get out and run. I don’t know how long we’ve got before these guys are back on our tail.”
“Okay, we’re outta here.” She opened the door, pushed Cara from her lap, grabbed her shoes and bag, then jumped from the vehicle and slammed the door. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”
Richard watched as they crossed the busy highway. RuPaul’s Raja: Heaven Scent gleamed on the billboard. Beneath all the neon multicolor, Brandi dazzled, looking like she was right where she belonged.
He sped away north up the Trail, and east onto Colonial through Little Saigon, then headed north on Mills Ave, with no sign of the black Nissan all the way to Winter Park.
Sybil meets Nathan in Red Clay and Roses:
The fruitcake that Little Auntie had sent back for her parents felt heavy in her lap. She was just starting to adjust it, when the train whistle began to blow. They must be nearing town now. The conductor announced the stop. It was already dark when the train slowed to a complete stop, but the depot was well lit. People scurried off the train, pushing for the opened doors. Sybil waited until the flurry passed. She was the last one out of the passenger car.
Sybil noticed him immediately. He stuck out like a sore thumb, the only colored man on this side of the station. The Negros were leaving their passenger car, claiming their baggage and making their way to the other side of the station. The whites had almost completely left the platform. Most had already found their rides with waiting loved ones. A couple of taxicabs were parked at the north end and a couple of taxicabs were parked at the south end. This man stood with his back to the counter, leaning on his elbow, and tipping his hat at the few people walking by. He was a tall man with moderately light skin, not too light or too dark, and dressed in a suit befitting an Ivy Leaguer.
Sybil had her small suitcase in one hand, her purse on her arm, and the fruitcake in the other hand. She walked to the counter, set the fruitcake down, and set down her suitcase, while she fumbled in her purse for her Parliaments.
She brought the cigarette to her lips while she continued to dig through her purse for her matches. The Negro gentleman offered to light her with a stunning silver lighter, and she begged off, “I’ll save you a trip to the lynching tree with a penny pack of matches.” It was a most intimate gesture for a man to light a woman’s cigarette and Negros just didn’t do that, light white women’s cigarettes. She noticed his hands were fine, with no calluses and nails well-manicured. Sybil found her matches and fired up her Parliament.
“That’s a beautiful lighter though,” she added, almost apologetically.
“It was a gift, but I don’t smoke. I just carry it for good luck.”
“Has it gotten you lucky?” she inquired, and immediately apologized.
“No, that’s quite alright, it has actually.” He smiled.
He had the most perfect teeth, and his smile reminded her of Rudolf Valentino, a little curled at the edge.
“You don’t talk like you are from around here. Where are you from?” Sybil found herself rather entranced.
“I was born in Atlanta, and I attend school in D.C., but I’ve just come from my auntie’s in Harlem,” he said proudly.
“Harlem, New York, then; that explains why you might have forgotten the rules.”
“Oh I haven’t forgotten any rules, just know that sometimes the risks of breaking the rules are worth the punishment.” He smiled again.
Sybil blushed slightly, then asked, “So what brings you down to these parts?”
“Why Christmas of course; I’m visiting with my parents who work out on the Handley place just outside of town in Whitesville.”
“I know the place. I’ve taken a couple of lady friends out there for adjustments by the good doctor.” Sybil wondered if he knew what sort of adjustments, she seriously doubted he would.
“Yes, I hear the good doctor has built up quite a reputation, with folks coming from all over…I’m sorry, my name is Nathaniel Grier.” He had taken off his hat and held it in his hands.
“Sybil Hamilton,” she replied. “My family lives on past there out in Harris County.” She didn’t know why she felt obliged to continue her conversation with this man, but felt she should cut it short, in case people were taking notice. Not that she cared what people thought, but for his sake.
“I have to go now; the colored folk usually wait on the back side. I mean, if you are waiting on your folks, that’s probably where they’ll be. Sybil picked up her suitcase and headed for one of the awaiting cabs.
She had already opened the cab door when she heard, “Wait just a minute, your cake!” Nathaniel brought the cake to her. “My friends call me Nathan.”
The cab driver shouted, “Ma’am, is this Nigra a botherin’ you!”
“No sir!” Sybil shouted back.
“And thank you, Nathan,” she added sweetly. “118 ½ Doughtery Street,” she told the cabby as Nathan closed the door. The cab driver sped away.
About Susan Nicholls:
As for me, a Georgia transplant currently residing in Florida, my family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation here in Central Florida, Cypress Cove. My experience gives me a deep understanding of the lifestyle choice and how it is extremely different from the sex industry, yet harbours clandestine elements of intrigue and fascination. I’m a former sexual assault nurse examiner with an interest in the subject matter of sex-trafficking, crime, eco, and social issues, a member of the Florida Writer’s Association, Writers of Central Florida, Sisters in Crime, and recently attended Sleuthfest 2016, where my work was well-received by a large audience. I also read frequently at the local Short Attention Span Story Hour. My husband is a rocket scientist that cannot boil water, and I am an enabler to a tribe of misfits.