The Lisa de Nikolits Interview

Lisa de Nikolits is the author of 2016’s The Nearly Girl, 2015’s Through the Cracks She Fell, and the forthcoming No Fury Like That, (September 15th release date) all published by Inanna Publications of Toronto. As you will discover, Lisa is one busy woman; she not only writes, she designs magazines, blogs and maintains her own websites and social media sites, loves to explore abandoned buildings, has produced a self-help cookbook and claims she is a power reader. Just prior to the official launch of No Fury Like That, she took some time to candidly answer some questions at length.

Miramichi Reader: Lisa, please tell us a little about your background, education, employment, etc.
When I was young, I thought life was an endless summer. In other words, I assumed I would spend my life living off the generosity of my father, riding my horse and happily daydreaming under the clear blue African sky! It came as quite a shock when I realized that I would, in fact, have to work for a living – what an inconvenience! I received my Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg which didn’t equip me for much in practical terms. I got a job as a feature writer on the now-defunct Homes & Gardens magazine but I found writing terribly stressful and I was hugely relieved when the publisher asked me to do a few layouts while he looked for a new designer – the company had quite the revolving door!
I hadn’t studied design but the publisher took a few minutes to show me the ropes and off he went, leaving me alone in the art studio.

It took me about two seconds to fall in love with design. It was so much fun! Way less stressful than writing!  I persuaded the publisher to move me to design full time and hire a new writer instead and ever since then, I’ve been a magazine designer and art director. I’ve worked on marie claire (South Africa), Vogue Living, Vogue Australia, Cosmopolitan, Canadian Living and a bunch of top-notch magazines and I consider myself extremely blessed to have had a very successful career. Sadly, however, I think the magazine industry is dying and, contrary to the predictions, digital magazines aren’t hugely successful, so it might be time for me to branch out into a new area. I wish I was one of those authors who can live off their earnings but since very few actually do, it’s not a realistic expectation! I will always love designing and it comes in handy for the author side of my life as I design my book covers and all my social media artwork and I design my own websites.

“I wish I was one of those authors who can live off their earnings but since very few actually do, it’s not a realistic expectation!”

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
My high school English teacher, Mrs Nix, was a very positive influence in my life. I was about fourteen and she was very encouraging. I remember being convinced that I was the reincarnation of one of the Brontë sisters – it swung between Emily and Charlotte.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn was one of the first books that made me determined to be a writer. I felt like I was Francie Nolan, and I wanted to write a book and create that same experience for a reader – make a person feel like there was a book written about her, just for her. And of course, I loved Anne of Green Gables! I somehow always read books with my future writerly self in mind – the question was always, could I write a book like this?

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”
― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Drive ‘er, Lisa!

MR: Tell us how you spent your summer. You appear to have a love for exploring, judging by your Instagram posts!
To be honest, it’s been a very stressful summer! A bunch of freelance graphic design jobs fell through and the industry has been alarmingly quiet. But I utilized the time to the maximum; I wrote a series of blog posts for Open Book Toronto, I called my series Sixteen Shades of Noir and I’ve had great fun with it! I am Writer in Residence for Open Book in November and contributing authors have commented (with some surprise!) that I work very far in advance! This is true because I already have my writing goals in place for November so I need the blog posts to be done! I work according to a series of self-imposed, very rigorous deadlines and I am very strict with myself!

I also penned the first draft of a new crime novel (I tried to be strictly genre about this one and I currently have a good friend and ace writer reading it and we will see what she says, whether I was successful or not!)

I wrote a short story which I have submitted to an anthology and I worked on a novel that I submitted to Inanna, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. I am hoping it will be my 2019 book with them.

With regard to my social media pics, yes, I do like to explore interesting places! I’m an urban explorer and I love nothing more than abandoned old places – I find a lot of inspiration there. Sometimes I freak myself out when I hear odd noises behind the walls and I’m generally careful about not going up water-damaged staircases or down into dark basements but the whole thing gives me a good adrenalin rush! There’s something about the energy of abandoned places that fascinates me and it’s very intriguing to imagine the people who lived there. I often find pill bottles and I Google what the prescriptions were for but so far, there’s been nothing nefarious!

MR: You seem to be always on the go, Lisa. Other than writing, what else occupies your time?
I have a few websites and other projects on the go. One is The Minerva Reader, a site which I update weekly and I explain the origins of that site in a question below. I have another project, Bake Your Way to Happiness, a self-help cookbook. I got the idea for it from my forthcoming 2018 novel, Rotten Peaches. In the book, one of my protagonists writes a Bake Your Way series: Bake Your Way to Happiness, Bake Your Way to Success, Bake Your Way to a Happy Family and Bake Your Way to a Great Love Life!

I thought this was a marvellous idea and, as I was working at Canadian Living at the time, I approached one of the food editors, Gilean Watts, and I asked her if she was keen to come on board. She told me that she had in fact baked her way out of depression while she was at university, using her Gran’s recipes and that she’d love to be involved.

I contacted a well-known reputable therapist, Marilyn Riesz, and she also thought the idea was a great one and the three of us collaborated to create Bake Your Way to Happiness. I designed and produced the book and it turned out very nicely! I will admit that it did not fare as well as the fictional item in Rotten Peaches, but I am still extremely proud of it. I maintain the website for that as well as the online magazine associated with it on Issuu.

I do a fair amount of promotion for my books in terms of library readings, blog posts, blog tours, and maintaining my own website and of course, there’s the ever-present garden of social media that seeks constant attention! I’m on Facebook with a personal page and an author’s page, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and a few videos on YouTube. Of all the forums, Instagram is my favourite.

MR: Have you ever self-published or considered it at any time in your writing career? Do you have some sage advice for aspiring authors?
I am a pioneer of self-publishing! I actually self-published a book by mistake in 1995, I thought I was working with a reputable publishing house. I know – if it’s a reputable place, you don’t pay them anything, they pay you but I was naïve and trusting and I thought these guys were the real deal. They called themselves Minerva and they riffed off an excellent small UK press also called Minerva. Dubious Minerva was later sued and forced to shut down. The only good thing about the experience was that the book, Single Girls Go Mad Sooner, is unavailable, which is a good thing since it was a terribly bad book!

“I urge writers to one thing a day for their writing. That’s my rule. Do one thing a day.”

So that was my experience with self-publishing! I started a site called The Minerva Reader as a way of putting the awful Minerva ghost to rest – I don’t forgive myself easily for my mistakes – I thought if I could turn the experience into a positive one, that that would make up for things. My site, The Minerva Reader, features a weekly post of a book I consider to be an ‘unsung hero’ or a treasure read that readers might have missed. As I’m sure you know, there is no shortage of those!

I don’t know if I would self-publish a work of fiction. At this point, I don’t think I would because I trust my publisher and editor, Luciana Ricciutelli, and I would feel quite lost without her.

As for advice for aspiring authors, yes, I do have one piece of advice, and I hope it’s sage! I urge writers to one thing a day for their writing. That’s my rule. Do one thing a day. Write a line, or a paragraph, or plot an idea or edit a piece. One thing a day, every day. And then, work it harder. Always work it harder.

MR: Your 2016 book The Nearly Girl was very well-received. Please relate some of the places this book took you while promoting it.
Thank you! Readers have responded very well to the book which is wonderful! Of all the books I’ve written to date, it’s one of my favourites! Although Luciana says I always say that about my most recent book and she’s right.

My husband joined me on my east coast book tour which was great and because he did, we got to explore a lot of places I wouldn’t have got to by myself. Cape Spear was one of them. Then there was Dildo in Newfoundland – a truly beautiful little town. We also had the privilege of staying at the National Water Centre in Saint John’s New Brunswick, a retreat for artists and writers. I contributed a Watermark piece for them, in thanks. The Bay of Fundy is amazing, I love Halifax and then of course, there is Prince Edward Island which just took my breath away! I lay down on that red earth with my arms spread wide – a road angel instead of a snow angel – oh, what a place!

MR: You’ve published a book a year for the past 5 (and soon to be 6) years. That’s quite a pace.
That’s true, it is quite a pace! It was a goal I set myself sometime back, around the time that West of Wawa was published and I emailed Luciana and I said ‘Let’s do a book a year!’ and she was game for the idea. My reasoning behind it was that it would be a good way to keep myself writing and it would push me to improve. I find that you can take a novel to a certain place and then it’s done – it’s as good as it’s going to get. And then you need to write a new, and better novel. I do believe that each of my novels is an improvement on the preceding one, in terms of writing style. I love all my books because they were the very best I could deliver at that point and while I see and acknowledge their flaws, I’m still delighted they are in the world.

MR: If they were to make a movie based on The Nearly Girl who do you envision playing the main characters?
There is only one actor for Dr. Carroll and that’s Paul Giamatti! I see Woody Harrelson as Henry (but he’d have to have a really long shaggy wig!), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) would be Amelia, Helen Mirren would be Ethel and Madonna would be Meagan!

MR: Have you ever considered writing a sequel to any of your books?

Yes! To The Witchdoctor’s Bones – and I’m working on a new one which I initially titled Jumping Bad but now I’ve changed the name to The Weegee Doll and it might well be good for a sequel! People have asked for sequels for West of Wawa and Between The Cracks She Fell but there’s nothing there!

MR:  Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (George Cockcroft). Poems by T.S. Eliot (best read aloud!). I keep meaning to reread Dawn Promislow’s Jewels and Other Stories (Tsar) as she is a very fine writer and I love her style. I tend to read books that are relevant to the book I am writing. I read incredibly quickly which is very handy, and I have piles of books all over the house. Fortunately, my husband is a huge book lover too, so he never objects!

MR: If you could write a biography of (or spend an evening with) any person, living or dead, who would that be?
Wow, that’s a tough question! Mordecai Richler (because I think he would be so hugely entertaining and crazy and larger than life), Emily Carr (for being so determined and unique. She never lost faith in her art, even when times were tough), Nelson Mandela (for keeping his faith in mankind, despite everything that happened to him. He never became bitter which is incredible).

MR: Your latest book, No Fury Like That is about to be released. Can we expect another novel from you in 2018?
Yes, Rotten Peaches!

In Rotten Peaches, four lives intersect and implode. Who will be left standing?

Leone is a wife, mother bio chemist and cosmetician. She wants JayRay.
JayRay is a drop dead gorgeous conman and purveyor of home security devices. He wants money.
Berenice is a sharpshooter, psychologist, baker and author of self-help books. She wants her lover, Dirk, to have sex with her.
But Dirk is a powerful and conflicted Afrikaner. He wants the return of righteous morality as ordained by Church and State.

Blackmail, poison, murder, marriage, ethics, psychology and homespun morality are all called into play in this noir novel about love and revenge. But the single underlying theme is that of parentage. With the focus on fatherhood in particular, are we ultimately defined by the man we call father?

MR: You mentioned earlier that The Nearly Girl tour brought you to the East Coast. What else has brought you east?
Oh yes! I love the east coast. The first trip I took was the basis for the novel West of Wawa. I’ve been to Moncton, Amherst, Halifax, Dartmouth, Saint John’s, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island.  I also visited Iqaluit in Nunavut which I loved and I travelled up to Pangnirtung to try to get to the Arctic Circle (sadly, it’s actually 50km south of it!) and I mention this trip because I thought Nunavut was on the east coast of Canada!

I admit to being horribly geographically challenged – for example, when I came to Canada, I thought Toronto was where Vancouver is, and that New York was Seattle. I know… I had, in fact, studied the maps but there you go, the wrong notions stuck with me. My husband has commented that The Nearly Girl is my most autobiographical book to date and that a good example of my nearlyness in action!

Speaking of The Nearly Girl tour, I even got to Cape Spear! It was a fantastic day, so windy and rainy that it was hard to even stand without being blown over and I felt as I was being blessed by the elements – a baptism of sorts!

I love the east coast. In 2003 or thereabouts, I was part of the redesign team on The Amherst Daily News which is now the weekly Amherst News and that was a great experience. I also worked in Halifax shortly after Hurricane Juan hit – we had to put out a commemorative magazine in four days, documenting the aftermath of the hurricane. Putting that magazine together in that short a time was a hurricane of its own! For which I received corporate tickets to a Leafs game!

I would definitely prefer to settle on the east coast as opposed to the west. There’s something so ancient and wise and kind about the east coast, whereas the west coast seems too cool for school, so self-conscious and a bit pretentious. Alternatively, I could live in Kamloops! I did a vast cross-Canada trip (I did the actual journey documented in of West of Wawa but, for the purposes of that oft-asked question, I am not Benny!) and I visited pretty much every place except for Victoria. I also loved Churchill, Manitoba.

I’d be hard-pressed to say which part of the east coast I love the most… it’s all wonderful! And the people are just lovely, present company most certainly included!

MR: Thanks Lisa! Finally, what do you like to do when you are not writing?
I play the classical guitar (not very well!) and I love it. I’ve been taking lessons for the past twelve years, so I really should be a lot better than I am! I like to take naps with my cat. I love reading, and going for walks. I love travelling. I’ve been to so many countries but there are still dozens of cities I would love to visit. I enjoy taking photographs. I love binge-watching Netflix until the early hours of the morning. I like to eat birthday cake for breakfast and I still like to daydream, to just look out at the world and not think about too much of anything!

Thank you very much for having me as a guest today, and thank you for all your support of my work, it is greatly appreciated.

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