Interview With Nikki Jackson, Author of “The Heart’s Journey Home”

hearts-journey-home-book-cover-big-200x300Pat, thank you so much for the interview. I want you to know that you’re my first official interview as a published author.

Welcome, Nikki. I am honored to be your first. What is your book about?

The Heart’s Journey Home is a book series. California Blend Summer Vacation is the first book of the series and sort of the introductory book. In short, The Heart’s Journey Home is the story of the relationship between three best friends; Tori, AJ and Kalea. Tori and AJ are both 17 years old while Kalea is 14. It’s a story that shows the different challenges these teens are faced with (deceased mother, cancer-related amputee, separated parents) and how they persevere because of their relationship with one another.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I have to chuckle, Pat, because I think consciously or unconsciously writers create characters that have some of their own behaviors and traits. Of all the characters I would have to say that the main character Tori is probably closest to my personality. She’s strong willed, stubborn, can be as wrong as two left shoes and won’t admit it and she loves mixed martial arts! She’s very cool.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

Tori is of mixed parentage, her mother was part Sioux and African-American and her father is White. She’s extremely proud of her heritage, especially her Sioux heritage. She was raised on the Rosebud Reservation until the age of seven, when her mother died, so the Sioux culture is very much ingrained in her. AJ is White, adopted and lost his right leg to childhood cancer. He’s the voice of reason and the steadying agent for the sometimes volatile Tori. They are extremely close, blood-brothers since the age of eight. Lastly, Kalea. She’s of Hawaiian and Japanese heritage and has a genius IQ. She met Tori and AJ when she started attending their high school at the age of eleven. She’s the typical geeky, brainy, pesky kid-sister type and both Tori and AJ are very protective of her. My favorite would have to be Tori, she’s tough but there’s this vulnerability that she hides pretty well and a bit of a sadness about her. She’s less grounded than AJ and less open than Kalea. She’s the character that needs the most growth.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

I believe they’ll see themselves and their friends in the three main characters. My characters are faced with real life challenges and issues, things aren’t all honky-dory but they make the best of it because they have each other as a support system. I believe the reader will see something of their own real life challenges or issues in the characters and relate to them all the more. Then also, the characters are fun, funny and likeable.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Oh my gosh, it took about three years from initial idea to finished manuscript.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

I spent about a year researching this book. Remember, it’s a book series so in reality I had to do the research for all the books in the series up front. I had to literally have the books outlined a bit; characters, story-lines, various plots, settings, then I did the research. I am so thankful for the Internet, it’s a great cornucopia of info and obscure tidbits. In a couple of instances I was watching TV when material for a story-line presented itself. There’s this one scene in the book between Tori and Rachael (her dad’s live-in girlfriend) where they’re talking about the Holocaust. I was channel surfing and stopped on the PBS channel. The program was about a concentration camp in Sobibor Poland. A secondary character in the book is a concentration camp survivor. I keep a pen and pad handy so I grabbed them and took notes. The story was so compelling that I wove it into the book. It’s one of the strongest emotional scenes in the story.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

The way I’m wired as a writer I see the book from start to finish in my head first. The beginning and end mostly, the middle is a little hazy until I actually start writing. I’m old school so I write the story out long hand on yellow legal pads and then type it out on the computer. Because The Heart’s Journey Home is a series there’s the main plot but a number of sub-plots along the way. I have a journal that I used to track out the main and sub-plots, that’s the only way I could keep the various plots straight. I literally started sub-plots in this first book that won’t be worked out until a later book.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

I have to laugh here, Pat, I had a heck of a time finishing this first book. Its 743 pages! I couldn’t stop writing! I think what I finally had to do was to determine where to make a break in the story and declare book one of the series complete. If I hadn’t I would still be writing. Though fairly long my editor, Jack Minor did a terrific job – literally cutting out about a hundred pages! The poor reader would barely be able to carry the book no less read it.

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

Wow, Pat, the biggest challenge was the death of my son while I was writing the book. He passed away in his sleep the day after Christmas, 2013. He was 23 years old. He had a heart condition his dad and I didn’t know he had. He was our only child and we were floored, devastated, almost done in. He was a beautiful kid, loved barbershop singing and was in a choir and quartet. A Black 23 year old kid singing barbershop with a bunch of middle-aged white guys – it was a sight. But man that kid could sing. He had a very deep, rich baritone voice. He was something. He was going to graduate from Spring Arbor University the following year with a degree in Broadcasting. They awarded him his degree posthumously. It was grueling. We shut the kid’s bedroom door so we wouldn’t have to look into his room. Thank God for writing. I was crying myself to pieces, barely functioning and I picked the book back up. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have writing. It saw me through.

I’m so sorry about your son, Nikki. Yes, of course you were devastated. I’ve heard that the loss of a child is the absolute worst pain a parent can feel. He sounds like a remarkable young man. I’m sure his death influenced your writing. How else has your background influenced your writing?

Well, Pat, being African-American I definitely wanted to craft a diverse book. There’s unique nuances and flavors that comes with diversity and I wanted to weave this into the story. Different people-groups have a tendency to look at the things of life through their own cultural lens and this makes for good comedy as well as great drama. I like the taste of a long simmering gumbo and I’d like to think my book has a pretty good flavor to it.

Speaking of flavor, do you have a favorite snack food or favorite beverage that you enjoy while you write?

I have to seriously laugh here. Anyone who knows me knows I love hanging out at Panera’s – it’s my favorite writing spot. I only drink their caramel lattes.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on book two of the series: A Layover in Doppelganger-Ville.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?

Tori goes back in time to ancient Jerusalem and meets the exact doubles of her best-friends and family.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

That’s super easy – To Kill A Mockingbird by Nelle Harper Lee. That book is great seven ways from Sunday. The characters are so well developed, the writer captures the time and setting with a grand subtle power, and then there’s the undercurrent of prejudice, injustice, and yet hope. I think such an outstanding story being told from the narrative of a nine year old kid was brilliant. It has all the elements of just a great book and it did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 selling over fifteen million copies. That’s an author’s dream.

Nikki-Jackson-profileWhat advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Write. Write. Write. And grow a thick skin. Realize you’re not going to please everyone. Not everyone’s going to love your work (a lot of people may not even ‘like it’), but keep writing. If you wait for all your family and friends to love what you’ve written, revising your work again and again every time you let someone read your draft you’ll never get anything published. I write what pleases me and then aim the finished product at the group I think will enjoy the book too.

Pat, thanks for interviewing me and allowing me to share with your readers. The Heart’s Journey Home is scheduled for release on September 12, and can be purchased through Amazon. There’s a blurb about it and a download excerpt on my blog Pat, thanks again.

Thank you, Nikki. And best of luck with your book!