Author Interview: Nikki Nelson Hicks

Tell us something about your book.

The Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective series is an arc of six stories that follow our bemused hero as he goes deeper and deeper down a terrifying labyrinth of mystery and magic. It is set in New Orleans in the 1930’s. The first story, A Chick, a Witch, and a Dick Walk into a Barn, has Jake looking for his missing partner and best friend, Barrington “Bear” Gunn. Jake stumbles upon the lair of a Voodoo priestess and her unholy flock of zombie chickens.

And that’s just the beginning.

In the next five stories, Jake confronts golems, swamp monsters, immortals, man-eating fishmen, ghosts, and the Irish mob. In hindsight, the mobsters were the least of his worries.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Anyone who wants to go on an adventure, have a bit of fun and just run away from reality.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

“In Jake Istenhegyi The Accidental Detective Vol.1 Nikki Nelson-Hicks has brought us a character the eclipses Kolchak The Night Stalker and Harry Dresden. Istenhegyi is anything but a detective. Yet he finds himself thrust into world of voodoo, zombie chickens and dark edges of sanity.
Nelson-Hicks has captured the essence of Noir and twisted every drop of excitement, suspense and weirdness she could into the first volume. I can’t wait for volume 2!”

What inspired you to write it?

I was at a convention and a publisher approached me with the opportunity to write a story for an anthology he was putting together called Poultry Pulp. The challenge was to write a short pulp story that somehow incorporated chickens into the plot. I ran with that idea. Chickens + Voodoo + New Orleans = A Chick, a Witch, and a Dick Walked into a Barn.

That anthology never came to pass but the publisher liked the story so much that he asked me to turn it into a series. And, like most things in my life, I just fell into it! I started writing the Jake stories.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

I was once on a panel and we were asked what social contribution we felt our stories owed the world.

One of the other panelists gave a very heartfelt, pithy speech on how he hoped his stories would create a bridge between the major religions and the outlier pagan ones. It’s a noble pursuit.

My response? “None. I write to divert, to entertain. My goal is to give you something to do to fill the void when you’re in a waiting room, riding the bus, or on the toilet. If I entertain you for those brief moments in time, I feel the story has done its job.”

TL; dr: My stories are pure pulp driven fun. If you learn something, that’s your fault.

Share an excerpt from your book.

From A Chick, a Witch, and a Dick Walked into a Barn-

I tossed the scraper aside and sat in the chair across from him. “So, where have you been all morning?”

“Getting clients, buddy-boy.” He tapped a shoebox sized package in his lap. “I got a call from Postmaster Klaus. This was waiting for me.”

“What is it?”

“I dunno. It’s a mystery.” He pulled off the brown wrapping and tossed it aside. “Luckily, I’m in the mystery business.”

I picked up the paper and read the return to address. “Idaho? Who do you know in Idaho?”

He shrugged and opened the box. Inside was a white envelope attached to a typewritten letter laying on top of several handwritten ones. He fanned them and a strong smell of roses filled the air. 

 “Love letters?” I asked.

He tossed the pile of letters on the desk and opened the envelope. A cascade of money flowed out. 

I picked up the bills and counted. “There’s over a hundred dollars here, Bear. What do they want you to do? Kill somebody?”

“Shh, I’m working.” He chewed on his thumbnail as he read the letter. “Huh. Says here a kid by the name of Isaac Stiegerson moved down here to New Orleans two months ago to hitch up with a lonely heart pen pal. His family hasn’t heard a word from him since. They want me to look in on it.”

“You mean us.”

“No, this is a solo job. Our lovebirds are shacking up in the bayou. I know how you prefer the feel of concrete beneath your feet.”

That was true. Bear relished the dirtier side of the business. Stake outs, guns, and fistfights were Bear’s world. Me? I preferred a Parisian café with beignets, linen napkins, and a newspaper. As far as I was concerned, anything beyond the city of New Orleans was marked ‘here be dragons.’

Bear picked up his hat, folded the letter and put it in his coat pocket. “Daylight is wasting. I’d better get going.”

“Shouldn’t you read these letters? Get a better sense of what you are going up against?”

“I know all I need to know. Some dumbass farm boy gets himself a taste of Creole ass and now Daddy Warbucks wants his boy back home before some color gets added to the bloodline. It’s a tale as old as time. If you want to play librarian and stink up your hands with that cheap toiletwater, be my guest.” He opened the door. “By the way, can I use your car, Jake?”

I felt a chill go down my spine. My Kicsem, my darling, was a ’32 Phaeton, hunter green exterior and deep red interior. I loved that car with my heart and soul.

“Didn’t you buy a secondhand Ford last week?”

“About that. No.” Bear knocked on the door frame. “Cash flow problems.”

“Why not? You had the money.” I felt my skin start to flush again. “I know because you borrowed it from me.”

“Yeah…sorry. I ran into some old buddies. They invited me to a friendly game of cards and, well, it didn’t end up so friendly.

“Goddammit, Bear.”

“Look, I can pay you back.” He held up the cash. “I bet I can squeeze more out of this old guy if I string him along enough. Come on, Jake. I can’t work without a car. And we’re partners, right?”

“Jesus, fine. Take her. Just promise me that you will take care of her.” 

Bear rolled his eyes, kissed his fingertips, and crossed his heart. “I promise. I will guard your precious Kicsem with my life.”

When I tossed him the keys, I felt a little part of me peel away.

 “I’ll bring her back in the morning with a full tank of gas, okay? Oh, and that reminds me. Don’t think I haven’t forgotten about tomorrow.”

 Bear rummaged in his coat pocket and tossed a silver Zippo lighter. “Consider it an early birthday present.”

“Thanks.” A buxom blonde graced the front. She was fighting the wind over her skirt and losing much to my delight. I flicked it open and closed, bisecting her. “Maybe I’ll take up smoking.”

“About time! Jesus, by your age, I’d been smoking for over a decade! I have a big day planned for us, kid. First, breakfast of biscuits and gravy and thick, greasy slabs of fatty bacon at the Sun Coffee Shop, then a double feature of Cagney in G Men and Tracy in The Murder Man and a big fried chicken dinner over at Russo’s. To top it all off, I am setting you up with the sweetest skirt in town, Edie.”

“Edie? The girl at the dry cleaners? I can’t get her to give me the time of day.”

“She owes me a favor.” He clicked his tongue and winked. “You and me, Jake.  Tomorrow, we’re gonna burn this damn town down!”

The frame rattled as he slammed the door behind him.  That was Bear. His exits were just as loud as his entrances.

I scooped up the letters and read them.

I didn’t glean much except that they were love letters, very explicit ones in fact, from a Henrietta Harleux to someone she called her ‘Blond Stallion Beau’. Reading her responses to his letters was like hearing only one side of a conversation. Frustrating.  If she came through with only half of the things she promised to do to young Mr. Stiegerson, he was one lucky son of a bitch.

New Orleans was drowning in luckier sons of bitches than me.

That night I dreamt of beautiful Creole women whispering wet promises and deep, dark kisses.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

I had a contract. This baby already had a home waiting for it.

How many times were you rejected?

For this story, none. For other stories of mine, SO MANY TIMES.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

After I left that publishing house, I’ve been independently publishing my work.

I still go through all the steps. Editing, cover art, layouts, marketing….the only thing is that now all of that comes out of my pocket. It can be very frustrating but also liberating. I have complete control over what comes out, how it looks, and when it comes out.

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

2-3 months writing the story. Another 3 months or so with the editing.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I don’t really have a set process. Every story seems to have its own recipe. The only through line is that every story has its own journal. It can be a fancy leather journal or a spiral notebook. It doesn’t really matter. In this journal, I start brainstorming ideas. Plots. Characters. Themes. All that jazz.

Once I have a general idea of what the story is going to be about, I make a very loosey-goosey outline. A – B- C – D, etc. The main goal of that outline is that I need a Beginning and an End Point to shoot for. That middle bit can be a soft and mushy as it needs because editing will harden that stuff up.

Then the research. It’s amazing how much research I do for these silly stories. While I like writing fantastical stories about weird stuff, I work very hard to ground them in some kind of reality.

And because of my ADHD monkey brain, object permanence is a real problem so I print out pictures of people to represent my characters and sometimes even totems to represent the story. For instance, in the story, Boodaddies, Bogs and a Dead Man’s Booty, I have Jake hunting for a pirate ship. So, of course, I had a model pirate ship on a table next to my desk to keep me on task.

Y’all don’t even want to know what I had hanging from my ceiling when I was writing my story about Mongolian Death Worms…

Who was your first literary crush?

Sherlock Holmes.

Or Dracula.

One or the other.

I guess that makes me either a sapiosexual or necrophiliac. Oh well.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Yes. It’s so embarrassing when I think about it now.

I honestly thought I’d write a book, get published and, suddenly, everything would be roses and daisies. I’d be famous! Rich! Adored and admired!


Oh, sweetie.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

I was a very anxious, lonely kid. I spent most of my childhood reading encyclopedias and books about myths and legends. I don’t have the name of the first book that sparked that fire. Frankly, it was all books. Reading was a mode of self defense for me. I think that’s why I write fun, fantastical, adventurous stories to give other sad, lonely people a way out.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

I do know the first story that terrified me and continues to keep me up at night: Flowers for Algernon.

I don’t have much except my mind and if I were to lose that, I don’t know how I could live.

“please god…don’t take away everything….”

That line makes me shudder.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Damn, that’s personal.

Actually, I’m Ace so…..none?

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

I have been known to break into a few songs from Hamilton, from time to time.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I have only delved into my Kitchen Witch self in the past few years. I love cooking savory meaty dishes. I’m a very visceral eater. If I can’t tear it apart with my fingers and teeth, I’m not happy.

That makes my very detail oriented and neat freak Virgo husband absolutely nuts.

I made a Garlic Steak Bites dish the other night that my family loved! It was so good.

Do you have a pet?

Several. They all are rescues. I have two dogs, Sage, an elderly German shepherd, and Freya, a Pyrenees and Labrador mix.  I have five cats: Greebo, a gray tabby and the Patriarch. Fireball, the tortie Matriarch. The twins, Mushi and Yasuko, Himalayans. Miss Inara, another tortie and possible heir to the matriarchy. And Jack, an orange tabby and Greebo’s heir apparent.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

I’m not romantic but last Christmas I did get my husband a portrait of our cat, Jack, done as if he was a Victorian gentleman. Brian was thrilled with it because he calls Jack his “therapy cat”.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

OH! I can answer that. A long time ago, a guy who was in love with me wrote a poem about me. It was really lovely.

Do you believe in love?

Yes. It’s the most powerful and terrible force in the Universe.

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