- Guest Author -
Today, I present an interview with a man who has had an interesting life, then used those experiences to write books. He is an award-winning author.
Welcome, Nick ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My name is Nick Chiarkas, I live with my family in Middleton, Wisconsin USA, my novel, Weepers, is a Mystery/Suspense set in New York City, during 1957.
I grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When I was in the fourth grade my mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that, “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, I became a writer, with a few stops along the way: A New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way I picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University; a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their child is hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to desperation? That’s why I wrote “Weepers”—for them.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
As a kid and growing up, there wasn’t anyone that I could talk to about my fears, desires, disappointments…anything really. So I found comfort in writing poetry, expressing my feelings in an essay or short story. I also found an escape in reading books, novels, poetry, anything.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
A lot of preparation. First I write the story, just scribble it down like telling a story to a friend there are lots of parts missing but I get the story down on paper. Then I create a very rough outline mostly about where the story goes from the opening to the end. Again this is not detailed at all. Then comes a ton of research. For example, Weepers takes place in New York City in 1957. I research the weather; what was on TV; popular boys and girl’s names based on when they were born and their ethnicity; Street names; buildings, movie houses, plays, local, national and world news, etc. I research floor plans for apartment buildings that may no longer exist. The culture; language; popular slang; music; clothing; everything. I do a backstory for all major and secondary characters. I talk to people that were the age I am researching during 1957 – what were they thinking, doing, saying; what did they want, hope for, fear. Now, I am ready to write that first draft, and during the writing, inevitably, there is more to research.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The writing itself. And mostly the rewriting. The research, outline, first draft all of that is, in the words of Shannon Hale, “Simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles. The rewriting is my castle building time.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
For me it is the voices in my head telling me that I am not good enough to successfully do this. Overcoming those insecurity demons of my past that insist on haunting my present.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
In many ways, Weepers is auto-fiction, based on some real but fictionalized events. As a kid, I was a gang member and an Eagle Scout. But my past jobs from most recent to forever ago - I was the Director of the Wisconsin’s State Public Defender Agency for twenty-two years. In addition, I was an adjunct professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and was a visiting lecturer in law at Justus-Liebig-Universität, Gießen, Germany.
Previously I served as the Deputy Chief Counsel and Research Director to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; Deputy Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations; Professor of Law; Professor of Criminology; a New York City Police Officer, and a U.S. Army paratrooper (101st Airborne Division).
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
I’ve, written law books; books dealing with Criminal Organizations and Enterprises: several articles, two of which have been translated and published in Japan; poetry; But my greatest writing achievement, for so many reasons, is my novel Weepers. That is why I am so thrilled, that it is a finalist, for best Mystery/Thriller by the Midwest Independent Publishing Association. I have pasted their press release here:
Former NYPD Cop & Author Named a Finalist
in the 26th Annual Midwest Book Awards
in the 26th Annual Midwest Book Awards
Madison: The 26th Annual Midwest Book Awards has recognized “Weepers” by Nick Chiarkas as a finalist in the category of Mystery/Thriller.
Winners will be announced at the Midwest Book Awards Gala to be held on May 13, 2016, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Olson Campus Center at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The competition, sponsored by the Midwest Independent Publishing Association, is judged by experts from all aspects of the book world, including publishers, writers, editors, librarians, teachers and book designers. They select award winners and finalists based on overall excellence.
“Weepers” is a Mystery/Thriller set in New York City, during 1957. The murder of an undercover cop in a New York City Housing Project in 1957 has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same Projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve 1951. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, as he was on his way to commit arson at 2:00am. The killers saw him. These events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In Weepers, we see that, if you drop a rock into the East River, the ripples will go all the way to Italy. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
“It is thrilling to see so many talented authors and publishers of high quality books in the Midwest,” said Midwest Book Awards Chair Sherry Roberts. “I look forward to the Gala, where we will be recognizing the achievements of all the finalists and winners as well as celebrating the strength and vitality of independent publishing in the Midwest.”
Midwest Independent Publishing Association serves the Midwest publishing community to promote excellence in publishing in the Midwest. Through educational programming and other cooperative efforts, MIPA helps members learn more about publishing and book production, promotion and marketing. MIPA also provides networking opportunities for publishers, both new and experienced, to learn from each other.
MIPA serves a 12-state region: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
For more information, please visit: www.mipa.org. For more information about Weepers go to www.nickchiarkas.com
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Although “Weepers” stands on its own, it is also the start of a series. I am presently writing “Nunzio’s Way”, which will be followed by “Black Tiger Tea” and then “Blue Bounty”. I know the story that far, but don’t know, at this point, if there will be more to tell beyond that fourth book or if I will go in a different direction.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Inspire me in a good way: Good people; smart people; the courage of the under-dog; my wife Judy Olingy; my five children; good friends; music; other authors and books; stories; poems; and fragile people.
Inspire me in a bad way: bullies, mean people; most politicians; greed; deceit; and fear mongering.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
My genre of choice is Mystery/Thriller/Suspense.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
My advice to aspiring authors is that you need perseverance, discipline, and luck – luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. I have learned this the hard way, from making many mistakes and absorbing lots of rejections, before getting it right and receiving a traditional publishing contract with a modest but lovely advance. I promise you, if I can do it so can you. Please don’t give up. It is waiting for you.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
No. I stop writing for the day while I still have a wee bit more to say. I make a small note as a reminder. The next day I start with what I know I’m going to say, and just power through any potential blockage. My advice on this is to write anything, backstory, a recent scene through a different POV, anything, write and power through.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
My best time is morning through late afternoon. But I’ve been known to write all night if I’m in a flow. I try to follow Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird by Bird and write at least one-inch of type each day.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I am fortunate enough to have a Zen-like lake house in North-Central Wisconsin. It is a great place to escape into your own head.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
While I am writing - When I am in the flow. Or when one of my characters surprises me.
After publication – when someone tells me they enjoyed the story.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
My favorite author is J. D. Salinger. I do like all of his stories and his writing style, but that’s not why he is my favorite author. When I was in the Army, I wound up in an Army hospital and wrote a short letter to J. D. Salinger doubting that it would ever get to him. He wrote back to me. I have that letter (and envelope it came in) in a frame in my home. His very kind letter is one of the things that inspired me to write. He will always be my favorite author.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
My preference, if invited, is to always attend a book clubs’ discussion of my novel “Weepers.” However, due to an illness in my family, I was not able to attend a recent discussion of “Weepers” by a lovely book club in Peoria, Illinois. This book club is made up of women and men in their mid-nineties. Shirley, the woman that emailed me is 93-years old. That’s right she emailed me the summary of the discussion. I have pasted it below, with her permission, exactly as she sent it.
Well, our Book Club meeting just ended and I bet you are just sitting there by your computer waiting to hear from me. Kidding, but I expect you will be interested to know what they thought.
First of all, everyone, without exception found it fascinating, holding their interest and suspense of how it would turn out. That's good and made me happy. Marg, the only one who had lived in N.Y. post World War 2 and in Brooklyn had a clue as to that sort of life and even then mostly knowing that there were areas she and her friends should steer clear of. She also said there were times she had to put the book down for fear of nightmares. WE also were wondering how much goes on in our city as we have murders quite regularly that we know about and wonder what's behind that we don't hear about. And not just in one area either.
My cousin, Carl is worried about Nunzio, having a negative opinion of his motives. Much as I was horrified about some of Nunzio's tactics, felt he was on the right side of justice. I had to assure my cousin I liked my own gentle uncles (his father being one) better. But again none of my uncle's faced that kind of society. Mostly grown up farm boys.
A couple of comments: Laughing at Emma screaming at Bookman's explosion and then settling down to watch the action with her cigarette and wine - one of the few humorous scenes; Uncle Johnny teaching a lesson we all could learn by not letting what people think of you when involved in something important; The characters of Father Joe admitting it was not always easy to draw the line between right and wrong. In less dramatic times I think we all have faced that; Father Casimiro facing the "BEAST - most of us have not faced that kind of beast and wonder how we'd do; The irony of Hector, and brothers treasuring holy medals while involved in absolutely murderous activities and even then their loyalty to their family - one mentioning Al Smith trying to help the poor with apparent admiration; While it wasn't exactly humorous, I was still delighted with the gentle kitten with the white collar and red bow, the bishop's run away car, and the push into the subway tracks, subtle but relatively harmless warnings. Too many other points to list---
While I try to be a truly Christian Catholic and am a daily church goer, I sure agreed with the remark of not wanting to trust a nickel to most politicians and at least a number of bishops.
Bottom line was that it created a lively discussion with a lot of appreciation for your writing skills and how they would have enjoyed meeting you and look forward to a sequel. We had 2 new residents join us today and they both wanted to borrow one of the books to read after the discussion.
Thank you again, Shirley
I asked if I may come down for a visit, even though they are on another book. Shirley said, “Yes,” and that they have some suggestions for the sequel – I love it. Next stop, Peoria.
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
To date I have 54 reviews on Amazon. One of those reviewers gave me 2 stars, here it is:
ByEd Pennaon October 8, 2015
To unbelievable, main activator needed to be at least 16.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes. Weepers is a Mystery/Thriller but in many ways it is also Auto-Fiction. I chose fiction because I believe I can tell the truth of the story in a way that hopefully the reader feels it; feels like they are in the story. I can do that best if I am not encumbered by facts. Make no mistake, Weepers is fiction, but I exaggerated and fictionalized some real events and emotions to try to create those same emotions in my reader. So, again, yes, while it is fiction it is influenced by real events.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love to draw and paint (oils mostly); woodworking; reading; and just spending time with my family.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes. That is a must. In fact, I insist on a process that requires several edits.
1. I edit descriptions, darlings, repeats, filler words, filter words, and I do a surgical edit to reduce the word count (in “Weepers” I reduced the word count from 148,000 to 95,000 words);
2. I edit for lazy - “why did I stop the scene with that line? Why did I start the new scene with that line? Stuff like that.
3. And after that, I get a Professional edit, Story, Plot, Developmental (premise, plot structure, pacing, characters, dialogue and marketability), and of course a professional line edit.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Doing a bit of writing, a bit of painting, but mostly kicking back with my family.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
I know the clever answer is a great story teller; or doctor; or ship builder, but if it could only be one person it would be my wife. Judy is the smartest person I know, great fun, and simply amazing.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
I would search for the right words to dedicate the world to feeding, clothing, and educated all of the worlds people.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I have three books to write (Nunzio’s Way, Black Tiger Tea, and Blue Bounty); travel, and to find time to enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
I love book trailers, but do not have any statistics regarding book sales due to a trailer. The book trail for Weepers can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6RTOr9gB3E
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Yes, primarily in Angelo, but, I find myself, or pieces of myself, in other characters as well.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Sure. But I don’t know enough about it to be an honest critic. My publisher, HenschelHaus (www.henschelhausbooks.com), is wonderful and I feel fortunate to have been offered a contract by them. So, in the end, I accept the publishing industry as “it is what it is” and I don’t see it changing any time soon.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
No. Not ever. And, that’s my advice to writers. Be patient, persistent and disciplined. Create the best possible manuscript you can – well researched and edited. And then, know that your manuscript is not diminished by someone else’s inability to see its worth. And then as rejections float in, think about what might improve your chances, or your query, or your manuscript, but never think of quitting.
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
“Weepers”, without a doubt.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Great question. Every writer should define success for themselves. For me, it was getting a traditional contract with an advance. After I was published, it was when the first person that I did not know purchased my novel. However, looking back in time, to when I sent out my manuscript to an agent for the first time, and had it rejected and returned, my son Josh, who was just starting High School asked me what I was going to do. I said, I was going to rewrite it and try again. He recently told me how much that meant to him. So maybe that was my greatest success. Not giving up.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I want to entertain my readers, but I also want to show them a kind of life – growing up – in a world they with which they may have little or no contact. Some insights into those of us who grew-up poor in the projects. The different values and norms the blurring of the lines between good and evil. In the end, “Weepers” shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
I would love that. To be able to sit back and watch my novel come to life. That would be amazing. But, I have never written a screenplay.
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
That was fun and a lot of thought. My publisher gave me a great deal of freedom in suggesting and helping to design the cover with the artists. And details are important, for example, in a later draft the shadow figures of gang members were wearing hoodies. The problem was that gangs in New York City in 1957 were not wearing hoodies, so the artists redesigned the jackets on the shadow figures.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
Wow, if you mean for me personally, this might sound boring, but I am living it. I don’t know how I could ask for more. Of course, if you are asking about others (family, friends, the world) my dream would be that every child goes to bed each night well housed, well clothed, well-nourished and their faith in their own future well placed.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
This is so important and I am so bad at it. Everyone writing must have a website and at least a basic understanding of social media.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No. Weepers, and my other (non-fiction) books have all been published with traditional contracts and through traditional publishers.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
I can laugh at myself.
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
I dislike bullies; I dislike mean people; and the more I listen to politicians, news broadcasters and talking heads the more I like dogs.
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) Loved it.
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
Again, it would truly be knowing that our world leaders came together to ensure that every child goes to bed each night well housed, well clothed, well-nourished and their faith in their own future well placed.
43. WHAT ARE FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW?
1. Weepers draws from my memory and my heart. I grew up in the Al Smith projects where Weepers takes place.
2. I raised my two oldest children mostly as a single dad – just the three of us. They taught me a lot.
3. I was one of a handful of NYPD cops sent to Woodstock in 1969 to provide security – it was incredible.
4. While in an Army hospital I received a very kind letter from J.D. Salinger.
5. I was in the movie The Anderson Tapes (Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Walken).
Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Nick. Love some of your comments. Keep going my friend.