S.K. Nicholls is a crime romp novelist that lives in Central Florida where her family has owned and operated Cypress Cove, a nudist resort, since 1964. A Registered Nurse and former Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, (S.A.N.E.), she has a special interest in sex-trafficking. Social issues are at the forefront of her writing that is always blended with humor. When she’s not writing, she can be found tracking down Snorlaxes, wandering city parks with the homeless, or sipping margaritas on the bow of a boat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Florida Writer’s Association and Writers of Central Florida…or Thereabouts.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Naked Alliances. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: Naked Alliances is the first book in the Naked Eye Series. It’s a 74,000 word crime romp set in the seedier side of Orlando that the amusement park industry tries to hide from public view.
In it, a lone wolf private investigator reluctantly goes undercover in a nudist resort and teams up with the unlikely custodian of a girl on the run to solve a cold case and bring down the mastermind of a sex trafficking ring. No possibility of encountering a concealed weapon there! With bodies piling up, Richard juggles both cases and works hard to keep his balls in the air. As his pulse-quickening quest for answers leads from the dark corners of Orlando’s Little Saigon to the sunny exposure of the Leisure Lagoon, Richard will be put to the test. Just how much will this Naked Eye have to bear…or bare?
I love to read books by Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Tim Baker, and Randy Wayne White. I like the local Florida history woven into their work along with the humorous approach to crime fiction. I had been writing dark fiction for a while and my husband challenged me to write something with a humorous edge, lighter reading, and more softcore. I’m crazy about Chablis in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We attend the comedy shows at the Parliament House here in Orlando. It’s a great gay resort and home of the Footlight Theater. Characters and plot started forming in my head and Naked Alliances was born.
Q: What do you think makes a good crime romp? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: Readers must be entertained and held in suspense.
- Grab them with a hook in the first chapter that’s filled with action and interesting.
- Use comic relief to temper the suspense and pace the reading.
- Characters must have agency. The characters must drive the plot, rather than the plot driving the characters. In the words of Chuck Wendig, “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.”
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: I started out with the story in my head and began writing in a word doc. With mystery and suspense, there are so many elements that must be gradually revealed. I was scribbling notes on anything I could write on, making mind maps and schematics. The characters took over and started doing their own thing. I quickly moved into Scrivener to outline and stay organized. I love how you can set up a binder where you can easily move between chapters, keep your outline on index cards in the top right corner of your writing screen, and manage all the finite details of your writing process like word counts and targets. Adding the photographic images of famous people as my characters to refer to in profiles was fun, too. It’s a mild learning curve to use it effectively, but once you get it down, you’ll never go back to writing any other way.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: As mentioned above, character development is key to success. I go all out with character sketches separate from my manuscript and drop their histories into the novels in bits and pieces, gradually revealing details. Naked Alliances has dual protagonists, and each had to have their own background, their own stories, their own struggles and challenges.
Richard Noggin, P.I. is a gambling man, a loner, and somewhat reserved, but open-minded. His family life was strained, and his sister went missing in his childhood. Brandi is an exotic dancer at the Parliament House, a gay resort complex. She was formerly an E.O.D. Specialist in the Army and had a brief stint as a cop that didn’t turn out too well. She’s transgendered, biracial, and has developed a morbid fear of guns.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: Being a dual plot thriller, there is also more than one antagonist. Several people die, and several are abducted. I can’t tell you who the murderers and villains are, but I can say they also had histories and their conflicts are intertwined in the story. They have their every-day-lives that keep them real.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: Comic relief helps break the tension when instituted at the right time. It also helps with pacing to take a break from the suspense, letting both the characters and the reader breathe, then pick the story back up. When writing an action-packed thriller, these moments of reprieve can be those times when you dribble in back story, drop in some history of your characters, and build your ancillary character’s background. You don’t want any character coming across as cookie-cutter. They all need their own stories. Narrative builds to support a plot.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: Florida is notorious for its zany “Florida Man” and “Florida Woman” stories. In a crime novel people are not as interested in setting as they would be for, say, a fantasy novel. Readers are cued to examine plot elements. However, the setting in any story creates the flavor of the book. My writing is regional specific and reality based. I try to add as much actual description of places as I can without distracting from the plot. Weaving in historical information is also a way to keep the narrative interesting and describe setting.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: Social issues are at the forefront of all of my writing, whether I am writing historical fiction with tons of research, or quirky crime novels. Racism, prejudice against people who are different from us, phobias, substance abuse/addiction, and mental illness will always be a part of my work. I have these things in my mind before I ever begin to write anything down on paper about characters or plot. In Naked Alliances, sex-trafficking, a horrendous crime that exists in all communities whether urban or rural, is examined as part of the ongoing theme in the Naked Eye series. That thread begins with book one, but will return in subsequent books, laying the fabric for the series. A theme of crazy characters who do outrageous things also underpins Florida regional fiction. Honor, loyalty, justice, revenge and other underlying themes are usually not revealed until the work is complete.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: Art is the unique spin put on your work. Craft is the skill with which you can pull off that spin. Especially in writing crime novels, craft can be learned. There are wonderful crime novel craft book writers, like Larry Brooks, who can have anyone writing the next best-seller. The art of writing is something that I feel is inherent. It comes from the soul you are born with, and some people have it and some people don’t. It’s a gift of the right brain. Craft work is left brain stuff.
Can editing destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
Yes, and no.
I edit as I go, but still require professional editing when I’m done. I have beta readers (advanced copy readers) who tell me if and when things don’t quite seem cohesive, or when I’m doing a really fantastic job. These are early readers who are privy to my worst faults. Hearing negative feedback can make you want to shelve your idea and quit, but you can’t do that. You have to suck it up and tell yourself, “These are my readers. This is my audience.” But be careful that you’re not hearing just one person’s opinion. I look for consistency in complaint among my beta readers. If everybody says a fight scene isn’t working because of this and that, I know I need to reexamine, but if only one person had issue with it…it’s probably their perspective. Once that beta reading and those edits are completed, I still send the work to a professional editor.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: I can’t give you three things, only one. Ask yourself one question, “Am I enjoying what I am doing?” If the answer is, “No,” do something else. Life is short. Work is a four letter word. If you’re enjoying it, it’s not work. When you get to the point where you’re not working any longer, you’re successful.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: I would have been a professional student if there had been anyone willing to pay me to be one for the rest of my life. I love research as much as I love writing. Learning is the only way to stay alive.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, Florida Writer’s Association and my local critique group, Writers of Central Florida…or Thereabouts. Writer’s Associations are wonderful ways to network and get in touch with agents, acquisitions editors, copyeditors, fans…networking, in general.
A local writer’s critique group can also offer the practice and encouragement you need to persevere in the worst of times. My local group offers writing prompts for short stories, which we read aloud in a public venue, as well as one-on-one critiques of our written work, helping members over the rough places.
I also attend Sleuthfest in Boca Raton yearly in February. It’s sponsored by Mystery Writers of America and offers both a wonderful opportunity for networking and a fabulous opportunity to attend workshops on the craft covering a variety of topics with both expert panelists and best-selling authors sharing tips and tricks.
Larry Brooks, is the USA Today bestselling author of ten books, including six psychological thrillers (novels he calls “relationship thrillers”), and three #1 bestselling writing craft books, published by Writers Digest Books.
He is the creator of the popular fiction writing website, http://www.storyfix.com/. He has a method for writing suspense that I am studying, and I have read and been highly impressed by the work of some of his students, like crime writer Sue Coletta author of Wings of Mayhem. He has mastered tension building and suspense, and she has absorbed every ounce of what he teaches.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: If you are a writer, never give up. If you are a reader, tell us what you think when you’ve read our work. I read all reviews personally so that I may continually write what people are wanting to read. Naked Alliances is Book One in the Naked Eye Series, your feedback is crucial. And thank you for your support. Peace, and keep the faith.