Monday, August 15, 2011

Interview with Crime Fictionista Nike Chillemi

When you have a passion for crime fiction, you become the Crime Fictionista--at least you do if you're Nike Chillemi. And what better way for her to exhibit her expertise than to write crime novels? In her debut, Burning Hearts, twenty-three year old Erica Brogna has a jaded outlook on life, thanks to the horrors of WWII. But life’s evils become even more personal when whoever killed her mentor is now after her. Some say Harley-ridin’ Lorne Kincaid, the very man after her heart, is the murderer. Are they right?

Nike is also the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction, and she writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine.

Readers will be hearing a lot about this talented author, so let's get to know her here:

AC: You’re a member of the “Edgy Christian Fiction Loves” (Ning). Explain what the group means by "edgy" Christian fiction.

Nike: It seems that members of the ECFL (Ning) have varied meanings for edgy Christian fiction. Of course, the default meaning almost everyone first thinks of is that the book is steamy, sensual, or sexual in at least a strong subtheme, if not in its major plot line. But many ECFL members have a broader meaning for "edgy." The novel, especially if it's a suspense, could be gritty. Burning Hearts falls into the gritty category due to its action scenes and the detailed description of the effects of the crime of murder via arson. Romance novels and women's fiction could tackle darker subthemes head-on, such as alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, etc. The one thing edgy fiction writers have in common is they don't put a shade on it, whatever the "it" is. They don't try to sanitize a gruesome subject, don't gloss it over, or make it more presentable. It is what it is.

AC: What are it’s boundaries? What is considered taboo?

Nike: Well, no subject would be taboo, IMO. There is a boundary, as far as I'm concerned. The Christian edgy fiction writer can present the subject as it really is, but should not sensationalize it. That's a fine line and one the author has to decide with the keen eye of an editor over his/her shoulder. Ultimately, the reader will be the final arbiter.

AC: What’s edgy about Burning Hearts?

Nike: First of all, I was shocked when I first submitted Burning Hearts to various contests and discovered half of the judges thought it was edgy. I'd never thought of myself as an edgy writer way back then. After all, the heroine and hero don't even kiss until the very end. It's a sweet romance between two young people who are quite inexperienced with the opposite sex. However, for some judges, what threw it into the edgy category is my accurate description of police procedure, detailed crime scenes, and blow-by-blow action scenes.

AC: Is there a point where you’d draw the line and say, “I’m not going to write that”?

Nike: Well, I tend to read far more edgy books than I write, so far. For me, it depends upon the characters. In Burning Hearts, Lorne and Erica are not socially adept in the romance department, so you're going to have a slowly developing tender romance. I just submitted book two in the series for editing. Goodbye Noel is a Christmas-themed historical romantic suspense in which the main characters are more mature and socially experienced, and so I'd have to rate it a "warm romance." All my books champion the victim of the crime. At least one of my major characters will be doggedly seeking justice for the victim. So, a line draws itself in the sand that I won't cross.

AC: Tell us about the novel.

Nike: One of the subthemes is America's recovery from World War II and the immigration that followed. I'm one quarter Czechoslovak, and I have a growing Czech immigrant community in my fictitious village of Sanctuary Point. Something quite interesting happened when the novel was in editing. I realized Erica is a bit like me. She wants to be a dress designer and I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked in the bridal industry. She's independent and stubborn and it gets her into trouble. I'm independent and stubborn but it never got me into any trouble at all. Yeah, right. Erica's mother is very similar to my Czechoslovak grandmother. Mrs. B excels in the kitchen and has a great sense of humor. So did my grandmother. Mrs. B teases her children and is teased by them. I recall my grandmother swatting my dad with a kitchen towel. He'd laugh and hug her.

AC: What inspired the story?

Nike: I wish I had something exotic to say about how I came up with the storyline. The truth is I keep a file of possible plot lines. I've got about fifty stories in that file right now. I add to a storyline as something comes to me. One of them will grab hold of me. The characters start to take over and demand their story be told. That's what happened with Burning Hearts. I could see Erica and Lorne vividly and I had to write their story.

AC: Where do you get your ideas for the characters?

Sometimes I'll see a person in a restaurant or some place, and they catch my attention. I'll think, I should imagine an entire life for that person and put them in one of my books. And sometimes I do. With me the characters drive the story. I get ideas for storylines but when I find two main characters I'd like to spend some time with, they take over. Voila, I have a story. I'll change the plot line to fit the character rather than force the hero or heroine to do something that might be out of character for them.

AC: Big question: Outliner or Pantser, and why?

Nike: A little of both. I start with an idea for a story, and sometimes I see it from beginning to end. Then other times, half way through I realize I have no ending and have to work to construct one that satisfies. When writing a chapter I just write. No outline. Don't worry about a high point or dark moment for the chapter. Don't even care about a hook at the end too much. I keep writing until I get a first draft. Then I go back and might decide I have a bunch of lousy chapters, but still a great idea for a book. So, the rewriting begins. When banging out the first draft, as soon as a chapter is completed, I write a very short synopsis of it and create a plot line file, chapter by chapter. Then I can go back and look to see if I have a dark moment and a riveting climax or if work is needed.

AC: Love that short synopsis idea. Great tip.
What's your strongest trait as a writer?

I keep at it and I'm teachable. My writing has improved a great deal since I started this journey five years ago.

AC: Weakest?

Nike: I want the reader to get so caught up in the drama of the romance or the chase to catch the murderer that I sometimes don't put in enough backstory. I always have to look at that. Does the character have enough depth?

AC: That's a new one for me--someone wo doesn't put in enough backstory!
Is being published with Desert Breeze a goal or a stepping-stone? What are you striving for?

Desert Breeze is a great place to be and is both a goal and a stepping-stone. I love Desert Breeze because writers there are allowed to express their creativity. It's a terrific writing experience for me. On the other hand, I may have a novel in me that isn't a fit for Desert Breeze. If that should happen, I'd shop it elsewhere and that would not be a problem. Several Desert Breeze authors also publish elsewhere.

More about Burning Hearts:

Erica Brogna’s (23) parents doted on her and taught her to think for herself. Many boys she grew up with have fallen in the war, shaking her childhood faith. In rides a handsome stranger, at the hour of her most desperate need. A woman who is her best friend and mentor is trapped in a burning house. After making an unsuccessful rescue attempt, Erica stands by as this man rushes into the inferno and carries her friend’s lifeless body out.

Lorne Kincade (27) can’t out run his past on his Harley Davidson WLA, the civilian model of the motorcycle he rode in the war. He’s tried. He’s been a vagabond biker in the year since the war ended. His Uncle Ivar bequeathed him a ramshackle cottage in Sanctuary Point, on the Great South Bay of Long Island, NY and now he’d like to hope for a future again, repair the minuscule place, and settle down. The only problem is, a young woman with hair the color of mink is starting to get under his skin and that’s the last thing he needs.

Great story, Nike. Thanks for joining us!

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  1. Hey, Nike! Cool to see another ECFL alumni here! (Love the moniker: Crime Fictionista. Very cool.)

  2. Great interview, ladies! Thanks for sharing with us today, Nike. Most of my work falls into the "edgy" department due to it's action scenes as well. Always nice to hear how someone else copes with the same problems of presenting "edgy" material without crossing over into gratuitousness.

  3. Sounds like a great read, right up my alley. I'd consider myself a Crime Fictionista, too. :)

  4. Thanks for dropping by AuthorCulture, Nike. (Love your name by the way!)

  5. Halupki or Golumpki? My mom was part Czech and part Polish. She made halupki.

    Thanks for your interview. I am glad there is some edgy Christian stories out there. I am working on a memoir that I think will have to be published in the general market because I know that the details I include will not fit Christian mainstream, even though my story ends in salvation. I do a lot of gritty stuff and had horrid things done to me as a child. But if I want to reach the unsaved, I need to include details that they can relate with, and those details give credibility so that, when I share the truth, I pray they will listen. Have a blessed day.

  6. Nike Chillemi here...Blogger is signing me in as Anonymous.

    It's wonderful meeting so many crime fiction fans.

    It's a challenge presenting edgier (more realistic) Christian fiction, but I believe there's a tremendous readership out there for it. Many Christian mystery buffs are reading J.A. Jance (myself included), so we certainly can read more realistic Christian fiction.

    I think the day is here where edgy Christian fiction (which is very tame by gen market standards) isn't so controversial anymore. It's just another category of Christian fiction. Christian readers are realizing it's a matter of choice. They can choose Amish, a Christian cozy, edgy Christian fiction, chic lit, spec fiction, a western...and they all honor God.

    I hope some of you will take the time to read BURNING HEARTS. I can promise a good read that will bring you back to the 1940s.

    Oh if anyone wants to join the Ning Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers group, here's the link.