I am so excited to welcome Lisa de Nikolits to The Debutante Ball. Lisa’s latest novel is The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. It is a serio-comedic thriller about a couple who embark on an unintentionally life-changing around-the-world adventure, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution is about the meaning of life, healing from old wounds, romantic love at all ages, and how love and passion can make a difference, at any age.
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits is an award-winning author whose work has appeared on recommended reading lists for both Open Book Toronto and the 49th Shelf, as well as being chosen as a Chatelaine Editor’s Pick and a Canadian Living Magazine Must Read. Her published novels include: The Hungry Mirror; West of Wawa; A Glittering Chaos; The Witchdoctor’s Bones; Between The Cracks She Fell; The Nearly Girl; No Fury Like That (published in Italian, under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo, in 2019); Rotten Peaches, and, most recently, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto and is a member of the Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter, Sisters in Crime, Mesdames of Mayhem, The International Thriller Writers.
Read through and learn about Lisa AND get your chance to win The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution!
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And now to the interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It broke my heart when I first read it and it breaks my heart to this day. Talk about the best opening lines ever: “SERENE was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn’t fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer.” Ah, Francie Nolan! One of my favorite protagonists. Kudos, Betty Smith. The subtle nuances of the characters, the poignant layers of emotion and the beauty of the language are just so powerful. Francie Nolan always makes me cry.
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I had the discipline and inclination to cook! Cooking is wonderful artistry. When I tell people I can’t cook (meaning that I don’t really want to, either!) they kindly give me recipes, but I’m not good at following rules of any kind and by the second line, I start winging it. Bad idea! Last Christmas, I decided to make Melk Tert, a traditional South African custard pie and I succeeded in making the filling but only because my husband supervised me and he wouldn’t let me derail by even the slightest ounce! He’s a marvellous cook whereas my go-to cooking comes down to two things: baking and boiling. I bake a potato pretty much every night, boil some cauliflower or broccoli, arrange it artistically on a plate alongside a colourful designer paper napkin (choosing my napkin is an end-of-day-ritual treat!), then I throw on a bunch of Frank’s Hot Sauce, add a dollop of canned soup (currently Cream of Celery) and I’m good to go.
And if it sounds like I’m a health nut, that’s far from the truth! Regular top ups of chocolate and hazelnut coffee get me through the day and if I had my druthers, I’d have birthday cake for breakfast every morning, corner slice please, with lots of icing!
With regard to my inability to follow rules, a lot of readers assume that authors are just like their protagonists but the only one who bears any resemblance to me is Amelia in The Nearly Girl, my fifth book. Amelia nearly gets things right, but she gets them very wrong at the same time. However, whereas the worst consequences in my life are that I mess up a recipe or end up getting lost in Toronto (which happens more times than I can tell you!), Amelia stumbled across a crazed psychiatrist and nearly ended up losing her life.
But back to the question, I wish I could cook and I often wish I wasn’t so ‘nearly girl’ when it comes to cooking, catching buses, following instructions and seeing the obvious. I often miss things that are right before my eyes and it’s a little awkward when people point out what I’ve missed!
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
My best twist was good luck via rejection! The rejecting publisher loved the book but they were looking for a YA novel. And in a rare act of kindness and generosity, they told me to submit to Inanna and that was the start of a more than ten-year, wonderful relationship!
Another twist was that the books haven’t been published in the order I planned or wrote them. My first planned novel was The Witchdoctor’s Bones but it turned out to be my fourth published book!
I had been writing for some twenty years and I had a few novels stashed away in my bottom drawer. I took a trip to Namibia on my way home to visit my family in South Africa and I decided it was time to take a real stab at this writing gig, and write an Agatha Christie-styled who-dunnit genre novel.
But things didn’t go according to plan! The road to The Witchdoctor’s Bones was lined with substantive rewrites and, in between attending to them, I reworked The Hungry Mirror (my first novel with Inanna), I rewrote West of Wawa (another bottom drawer novel and my second with Inanna) and I wrote and published A Glittering Chaos, a book that came to me as a gift from the Nevada desert and Las Vegas. And it was only after that, that The Witchdoctor’s Bones saw the light of day but I had been working on it all that time. I juggle writing projects as I go.
Another twist on the road to publishing was my teenage assumption that success was a given! When I was fourteen, I sold two poems to Cosmopolitan (South Africa) and I thought Well, how easy is this? LOL. Yep, right. I still have the tiny seed pearl necklace I bought with the money. One of your questions was what was the best money I ever spent as a writer and buying seed pearls wasn’t it! The best money I’ve ever spent as a writer was on all the books I bought about the craft of writing. I studied English Literature and Philosophy, so studying creative writing came later and I took it very seriously. Also, money spent on writing workshops and attending writing conferences is always an excellent return on investment!
Tell us about your next big project.
I write standalone novels, best described as genre-bending suspense thrillers with a social conscience, a comedic bent and fearless foundation of noir. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, I’m adding sci-fi dystopia to the mix in my next big project!
I had an idea years ago, to write about a man who wanted to be the perfect husband, father and son and because he couldn’t achieve it (he’s in debt up to his eyeballs and about to be fired), he comes home on Christmas Eve, looks around at the Hallmark perfection of the moment and decides that there is a way he can keep it like that forever. He kills his family. That way they’ll never know what a loser he is or how he failed them.
Pretty dark, I know. The novel was intended to be a suspense psychological thriller about family dynamics and the average Joe trying to succeed in this life, and how, as time went on, he couldn’t hack it.
But when I began to write the novel, it morphed into a time travel story. Talk about horror! I hate time travel! It fries my brain! But I needed it in order to explore the moral compass of the story, to be able to look at the permutations of what might have saved him or saved his family.
My most recent novel, and the one in today’s giveaway, The Occult Persuasion and The Anarchist’s Solution also has worldly concerns at its base – what happens to us when we come to the end of a career, when kids grow up and leave home, what does it feel like to get old and is it possible to find new dreams?
One of the core consistent threads in my novels is the theme of hopes and dreams. It’s easy to have dreams when you’re a kid but as you get older, things change. What replaces that which is no longer there?
It’s so important to me that we all have dreams, things to look forward to, new goals to strive towards and ways to contribute to the making the world a better place.
The digital age is great – we are all connected and yet we are more unconnected than ever too, caught up in consumerism and virtual reality. Studies have shown that spending time on Facebook and other social media sites leads to depression and loneliness, feelings of not of doing as well as one should as well as all sorts of pressures.
So all my books have one driving goal in common: what are your dreams? What is that thing you want to do the most? What feeds your soul? Do you need new dreams? It’s good to realize that a dream may not have worked out as you hoped, and you give yourself time to grieve the loss of that dream but then, more importantly, you find a new one.
But I don’t write self-help! All these messages come via suspense thrillers and mysteries, and shortly, in dystopian fiction, which frankly, I never thought I’d write!
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
My husband! He is utterly brutal but in the best possible way. The first book I wrote was Single Girls Go Mad Sooner which I self-published in 1995. I thought it was pretty good (in the way one regards one’s early works – one forgives the foibles and flaws) and when I met my husband in 2006, I told him about my big writing dreams and gave him a copy of Single Girls Go Mad Sooner. He stoically read it and handed it back with the comment: “I do hope you’ve improved because it’s really bad!” By that time, I had been working on my writing skills for over six years, attending classes and workshops and reading books on writing and I knew I had improved substantially. Both he (and I!) were very relieved when I handed him The Witchdoctor’s Bones and he said “Good job! Well done, my Dear!”
And to this day, he doesn’t like everything I write and I take his insights very much to heart but I don’t give up on a thing just because he doesn’t like it. I am tenaciously loyal to my characters and stories, even if it means a lengthy struggle.
I rely on the goodwill of my friends as beta readers – Terri Favro, a marvellous writer, gave me a lot of feedback on Rotten Peaches which was hard to take because she was right but it was a tough job to fix! Still, I did it and it’s a much better book for it.
I also get a lot of feedback from Inanna when I submit a book to them and I also send the books, in their various stages to kind friends. Right now, I’ve got two avid sci-fi techie readers going through my dystopian novel and I know I’ll have quite the task of tweaking details when they get back to me. I’ve never written sci-fi before and so I’m extremely grateful that they are taking the time to do this.
I also have a forensic detective on the Toronto Police who is very willing to help me make sure I get the blood spatter and bullets right. The Internet looks like it has all the answers but it’s a great idea to double check one’s work with a real-life source who can set you straight!
THE OCCULT PERSUASION AND THE ANARCHIST’S SOLUTION
Available pretty much anywhere books are sold