Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Washington Post Review

For Christmas this year, I get what is quite possibly the most complimentary, most insightful review of my work ever committed to print, in the Washington Post today. Thank you, Daniel Mallory.

It begins:

"Here is a book to scorch the heart and freeze the blood. Here is a story that leaves the reader gasping in shock and sadness, dry-mouthed and damp-eyed, dragging in air as the final chapters detonate. Here, in abundance, is live-wire language pumping beauty, desire and violence like electric currents; here are characters so exquisitely textured, the pages nearly shudder with their breath."

The rest is here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Reviews Are In...

...with more to come...

The New York Times Book Review:

With The Long Division, Derek Nikitas bumps up the style requirements for writing crime fiction another notch. When Jodie Larkin steals $5,000 from a home she cleans for an Atlanta housekeeping service and takes off in a stolen car to reconcile with the son she abandoned 15 years earlier, she sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually unite a group of strangers in grief. That takes some dazzling plot maneuvers, but Nikitas interlocks his fragmented story pieces in a way that makes everything seem inevitable - even the murders.


The Onion (A.V. Club)

Though ostensibly a crime novel—complete with shootouts, plot twists, and recriminations—Derek Nikitas’ The Long Division is more a work of literary fiction than a genre exercise. Nikitas shows an interest in language and form that outpaces most other authors who write about murder, and it manifests in passages that express the characters’ internal lives in terms of what they see around them. The Long Division is never hard to follow—and it’s peppered with memorable descriptions...

... The Long Division is much better—superior, even—when Nikitas is getting inside each character’s paranoia, exploring how varying degrees of guilt lead them to believe that everyone can see how pathetic they are. That core of emotional understanding is what makes Nikitas a special kind of crime writer.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

[The Long Division] is no James Patterson/Faye Kellerman/Dan Brown whodunit. This is a novel concerned with bigger questions of identity, forgiveness, sin and fate.... Not one of the central characters in "Division" is a bad person, and so we keep hoping they will find a way out.But Nikitas tightens the noose, then tightens some more....

[Readers] may also find that the book reminds them a little of a David Lynch movie, or Darren Aronofsky's "Pi"....

[Readers] will certainly find themselves thinking of Lewis Carroll's " Alice in Wonderland." In the book's final moments....Nikitas conjures another writer, the great William Shakespeare, who never let his tragic heroes escape their mistakes, even when their intentions were good.


The Charlotte Observer:

The first chapter of "The Long Division" had me e-mailing to ask the publisher for a copy of Derek Nikitas' first novel, "Pyres," which I'm about halfway through now. Both are wonderfully character-driven stories of lives gone off the rails, with special attention to teens trying to make sense of the strange world their parents have twisted like a balloon animal before handing over to them.


South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

In his second novel, Derek Nikitas proves that he doesn't write conventional crime fiction; nor does he write conventionally. [The Long Division] has a frenetic pacing that never lets up. Sentences break off in the middle, sometimes even in the middle of a word. Chapters skid from one character to the other. Far from being precious, this gimmick works in a cinematic way, as if The Long Division is the literary complement to Quentin Tarantino in his Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction days, but with far less violence....

The author makes us care about each of these sad, lonely people who seem unable to help themselves. As Nikitas pulls these characters together, surprises pop up on the route to a finale that is heartbreaking.


Wilmington Star News:

Clyde Edgerton likes to quote the adage that Evil is boring; it’s Sin that’s really interesting. What makes otherwise good, well-meaning people take a detour, turn left instead of right and veer off on a path that leads to destruction? That might be the theme of “The Long Division....”

Few of the protagonists in this equation are truly evil, but, when they come together, the result is a wreck of bloody and epic proportions....

Don’t pick up this book, though, expecting another James Patterson or even a Jim Thompson. Nikitas writes in a modified stream-of-consciousness, and his characters – especially the brilliant but troubled Wynn – tend to telegraph their thoughts in a language that’s more poetry slam than standard English....

In other words, “The Long Division” is not a beach read. It’s more like introductory calculus. Those readers willing to put forth a little effort, though, will be rewarded for their pains.


Publishers Weekly *starred review*:

"Beautifully realized characterizations power complex story lines that meet and connect this disparate group with the inevitability of Greek tragedy."


Library Journal *starred review*:

Nikitas is a master craftsman of both plot and prose, merging gritty, evocative description with sharply drawn characters in a staccato style"


Kirkus Reviews:

"An elegantly written second novel"

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

False Dichotomies: Plot vs. Lyricism (part 2)

So what do we really mean when we say we love lyrical novels for the language? We mean we love what the language evokes through denotation. Above all, we love vivid sensory detail because we can evoke in our mind's eye a moving picture of what the words represent. When we imaginatively move the stimulus away from language, away from arbitrary sound and printed letters on a page, when we move toward the thoroughly concrete sensory evocation--this is when we move toward a true experience worthy of the effort of reading fiction.

Take this bit from Jeffrey Eugenidies' The Virgin Suicides: "He came back to us with stories of bedrooms filled with crumpled panties, of stuffed animals hugged to death by the passion of the girls, of a crucifix draped with a brassiere, of gauzy chambers of canopied beds, and of the effluvia of so many young girls becoming women together in the same cramped space."

Certainly there are aural pleasure to be taken from this passage, pure sound delights: the suggestive verbs "filled," "stuffed," "hugged," "draped." The onomatopoetic cramped sound of "cramped." The breathless nature of the syntax--exactly how we'd expect the story teller to be telling the story of his illicit foray into the Lisbon girls' bedroom. The weird consonance between "crucifix" and "brassiere."

But all of these are secondary delights, something that registers with the reader on a fleeting, half-conscious level. Nobody except an analyst stops and notes consonance. And nobody sane takes delight in the mere presence of consonance, as if the repetition of consonant sounds moves him emotionally in some way. All these effects are of note because they relate to the context--to the story and what we're to draw from it. And that's not for the sake of "the language." That's for the sake of the story.

The primary pleasure of this passage is the sensory detail it provokes, the textures and the nostalgia regarding unfulfilled teenage hormonal fantasies. "...[T]he gauzy chamber of canopied beds" sounds good, but much more importantly it looks good in the mind's eye. We can see the numerous beds, all chambered off in different compartments by the canopies, but see-through, suffused with light from a window and gently floating, all evoking senses of intimacy and secrecy, yet ironically in a shared space. We enjoy what we see on a much deeper level than what we read.

And part of the reason we enjoy it so deeply is because we, the readers, are each participating in the creation of the sensory experience. The expert author has given us cues we'll use to develop the image, but ultimately the image belongs to us. It is an act of pure imagination so separated from language that it feels like liberation from some kind of tyranny, some semiotic anchor. If the words themselves give us any aural pleasure at all, it is usually an effect that serves to accompany the imagery we're developing in our minds.

We might hear the sounds that the various fabrics make when they're touched or when they flutter, and we might even hear them in the sounds of the words themselves ("effluvia," "gauzy chambers"). But sound has everything to do with enhancing the imagined sensory experience, and little to do with some kind of love for the words themselves, detached from context. (to be continued)

Monday, October 5, 2009

False Dichotomies: Plot vs. Lyricism (part one)

Some readers like relatively plot-light, lyrical novels. They are often forced to defend their taste against the backlash: boring, self-indulgent, too distracting from the "story." A common defense: "I read it for the language."

How I wish apologists of lyrical fiction would stop saying "I read it for the language." It ain't helping the cause. Why? Because people don't really know what "for language" means. Especially those who say it. Which makes the idea too easy to dismiss as elitist or pedantic.

Come on: nobody reads novels for the language. That's like saying you eat at fancy restaurants for the calories or look at paintings for the paint. Written language is just utterances, denoted by letters, formed into words printed on a page. Yes, there's a certain musicality in well-formed utterances, but that musicality isn't the bottom-line reason we read novels, no more than the pleasantly musty smell of library books is the reason. Who would read novel after novel by the same author only because he likes the way the author makes noises?

Language poets write a kind of verbal poem that lacks any semantic meaning. Language poetry is largely performative and mercifully short in duration, and almost nobody gives a damn about it, except perhaps truly pretentious people. If you're truly in that camp, then congratulations for existing in a higher state of consciousness and aesthetic sensitivity than the rest of us philistines.

But I'll assume most of us, including those who claim to love language, aren't that detached. Even the briefest, most lyrically rich poem we read for more than mere language. And a whole novel? Come on.

So what do we really mean when we say we love lyrical novels for the language? (to be continued)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pyres Interview

Here's the full 58-minute audio of an interview regarding Pyres, conducted on Georgia State University radio last year. It comes courtesy of Nija Dalal, my illustrious interviewer, now of Rock the Province in Sydney, Down Under.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Flames of Mourning

That's the Japanese title for Pyres, released in Japan last week. I don't have a copy of it yet, but I look forward to holding it and not being able to read a single solitary bit. The genre, according to the Japanese publisher, Hayakawa, is "state of mind," which I suppose is something like "noir."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pyres: The Movie?

Must admit I've been sitting on this news a while, processing whether or not it could be true, waiting for it to mature. But now that the first big step has been taken, hiring a brilliant screenwriter, I must spread the news. So here goes:

Producer Andrew Fierberg at Vox3 Films has optioned film rights to Derek Nikitas' Edgar Award nominated PYRES, the story of a rebellious teenage girl who is forced to come of age in the midst of the criminal conspiracies surrounding her father's murder and the dogged detective atoning for her own family's collapse while investigating the case.

Fierberg is 1/3 of Vox3, a highly successful NY-based independent production company known for actually making the movies for which they acquire the rights, so you can imagine my delight. What's more, their movies are quirky, honest, and alive in ways you don't normally see in movies from the big H (not that I have anything against the big H, mind you; there's a time to every purpose under heaven).

Their most recent release is Rage with Judi Dench, Jude Law (in drag), Eddie Izzard, and Steve Buscemi. They've also made Keane, a truly frightning and moving and intimate psychological character study; Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader; Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus with Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr., among quite a few others. Secretary and Fur are of course Steven Shainberg's two stylish and creepy films, the former of which I've taught in a film class before.

Oh, and they made Broken English, directed by Zoe Casavettes, the daughter of one of my heroes, the late, great independet film giant, John Casavettes. I enjoyed Broken English in particular because it shows how much more Ms. Casavettes is following in her father's footsteps than her brother Nick, who made The Notebook.

But the biggest news yet about all this is that Vox3 has hired James Ponsoldt to write the adapted screenplay. Ponsoldt's first feature film, Off The Black (starring Nick Nolte), was a Sundance official entry. If you've not seen it, run out and rent it pronto. It's a moving, starkly beautiful character study full of authenticating detail both comic and tragic, and it has such a keen eye for the kind of life my characters lead. I'm thrilled to have James making my story his own, and can't wait to read the results.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Me, on Austrailian Radio

Well, sorta. About a year ago, when I was still at Georgia State University, a radio broadcaster named Nija Dalal interviewed me for the college radio station, just after I was nominated for the Edgar. The interview aired, but has never been available online...
until now! (follow the link, then press the green "play" button).
Nija moved to Austrailia after graduating, hooked up with Radio 2SER FM in Sydney, and recut our interview for part of a literature-oriented radio show called Final Draft. Since nobody in Austrailia would care in the least about my book (really, let's be honest), Nija rightly cut out all those parts and concentrated on what I said about the history of mystery, the thriller, and the spaces between. This is all off-the-cuff stuff, no notes or prep, so please excuse inaccuracies and oversimplifications.
And thank you, Nija!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Pyres Reviews

Glad to report that last month's publication of the trade paperback of Pyres has eared the book some renewed attention, including some fresh reviews from newspaper and online sources. Here's a sampling:

Nikitas does a nice job of weaving in a surprising amount of Norse mythology into an otherwise very modern thriller. . . [T]he novel's final chapter, titled Ragnarok (twilight of the gods in Norse mythology), vies with any epic opera for explicit and apocalyptic violence.

Nikitas keeps the tension high in Pyres while creating a compelling cast of characters. Detective Hurd could be a springboard heroine for a noir series set in the woodsy idyll of upstate New York.

--Kathy Kerr, The Edmonton Journal (full review here)

Derek Nikitas' Pyres garnered good notices, but not widespread acclaim, when it was published last year. But now that the book, nominated for an Edgar Award for best first novel, is out in paperback, it has a chance to reach the audience it richly deserves.

--Ruth Myles, Calgary Herald (full review here)

An Edgar Award nominee for best first novel, Pyres is a harsh, bleeding nightmare full of Scandinavian angst and American mayhem, a fairy tale with all "the brutal bits."

In a genre ploughed deep, it breaks new ground. Don't miss it.

--John Sullivan, Winnipeg Free Press (full review here)

It's hard to believe this tour de force is a first novel. However, the author is an acclaimed short-story writer and clearly has honed his fiction chops. Another surprise, given the male author, is that the main characters are women and a major theme running through the book is mothers and daughters trying to make peace. To Nikitas' credit, the characters and relationships are all quite convincing. Nikitas is also close enough to his youth that he gets his younger characters right. I admit that when Luc started seeing Nordic gnomes (tomten) that led her on the right path, I paused. This was verging on fantasy, something I usually avoid. But everything about the story was so well done and so compelling that I was willing to suspend disbelief and keep on reading. I was glad I did. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

--Verna Suit at I Love a Mystery (full review here, complete with doofy candid of the author)

And here's a nice bit about my story "Runaway," in the Killer Year anthology (St. Martin's Minotaur, edited by Lee Child):

The best story in this collection is the superbly chilling "Runaway" by Derek Nikitas. Two fifteen year-olds have made a building site their playground and a concrete underground bunker their den - and then they discover that a runaway black girl is hiding inside. The captivating Rhonda Peach is a revelation to the boys. But things increasingly get beyond their control. Nikitas's writing is evocative and sensual and rooted in teenage angst.

--Eileen Shaw, The Bookbag (full review here)

But perhaps my favorite review of Pyres yet comes from the "Nerd of Noir" (aka Peter Dragovich) Here's a snippet, but please do read the whole profane thing:

But what really makes this fucker hum is the action. This is some of the most intense violence you will read anywhere, depicted on a level that is arguably McCarthyian - no shit. ..Some shocking stuff happens in this motherfucker and when it isn't completely disgusting, it is absolutely riveting.

I can't wait for Nikitas to pump out another book. This dude has the chops to intrigue both the beret-wearing totebag-carriers and the folks like you and me who want our pulp to go all the way. He's fighting the best fight and I support the shit out of him for that.

Finally, and by contrast, here's a message board over at Women's Day, where a nice group of folks are currently reading and discussing Pyres.

The Long Division

I think I can say now that the title of my second novel will be...

The Long Division
. Aside from being thematically related to the book in several ways, the title is also a play on the old Chandler, Hammett, Ross McDonald titles that were euphemisms for death: Red Harvest, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, etc.

The hardcover ought to be coming out this September. I think I can also divulge a quick synopsis of the book as well:

An Atlanta housecleaner flees her nowhere life to reunite with the son she gave up for adoption. The teenage boy joins his long-lost mother on an unlawful road trip that proves how much they both have to lose by finding each other. Elsewhere, a deputy must track down the shooter in a drug-related double murder before other investigators discover the deputy's illicit ties to the case. The killer is an unbalanced college kid hunted by vengeful drug dealers and the police, haunted by loves both dead and forbidden. When the renegade mother and son arrive, past sins and present gambits will ensnare them in the violent endgame between the deputy and the desperate killer.