Author Nike Chillemi is a great example of writers who are pushing Christian fiction beyond its traditional Amish territory. “Burning Hearts” takes us to post-war New York, where she found an era with themes strikingly similar to the present.
Can you explain the idea behind “Burning Hearts” and how it came about?
My passion is suspense/mystery and of course, since I’m a girl, I wanted a love story. That was a given. This one, due to the inexperience with the opposite sex of its main characters is sweet. I come from immigrant stock, as many of us do. I wanted the struggles of immigrants coming to America as a strong subtheme, coupled with the idea of the hero as a loner…a James Dean type, if you will. So, I started working on it. Erica Brogna, my heroine surprised me, and she was difficult to write. She emerged as a strange combination: a sheltered young woman, reared by doting parents who speak to her with Czechoslovak words of endearment. But, she’s first in the birth order. There was no son in the family for six years until her brother Willie was born. Therefore, her dad taught her many of the things he would have taught a son and she grew up with quite an independent streak, though she is quite feminine.
The idea of arson as the murder weapon intrigued me. The title BURNING HEARTS is kind of a play on words. It has a strong romance ring to it, yet has a double meaning due to the arson/murder angle. I enjoy reading stories that play out on many levels, and found out that’s also the way I write.
The book is set during a very specific time in history. How much research did you have to do to prepare for it and how difficult was it?
I’m intrigued by the post WWII era (late 1940s). America was a boiling crucible, and yet there was an incredible spirit of optimism. The nation was recovering from devastating loss of life as result of WWII…over 400,000 Americans (soldiers and civilians) dead. Immigrants with little but the clothes on their backs were pouring into the country from Europe, particularly Eastern Europe. They were not always met with open arms. There were struggles and difficulties. Yet there was an American can do spirit.
I put in an incredible amount of research as the foundation for the four book series I’m writing for Desert Breeze Publishing. My hero in BURNING HEARTS, Lorne Kincade, served under General Patton in during the war in Europe. I read the nonfiction work, RAID!, THE UNTOLD STORY OF PATTON’S SECRET MISSION. I’m also taken with the styles of the era. I love the elegance of women’s apparel and hairstyles. The design of the period’s automobiles is another thing I’m drawn to, and its slang. I spent untold hours looking at fashion of the era, Youtube videos from that time instructing young women on the proper way to dress. I also researched the automobile industry of that time. Did you know they stopped making civilian cars for the duration of the war and US auto manufacturers joined the war effort making military vehicles? I also looked up brand-name appliances and items sold in stores at the time.
What was the most important thing you learned writing your first novel? What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to write historical fiction?
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing in general is that it’s a process that takes time. Very few, in fact none that I know of, sat down, wrote a first draft of a novel and, voila, got it published.
The advice I’d give those who want to write any type of fiction is keep writing. Discover your voice and don’t let critique groups, beta readers, or editors change that. Second to that, and almost as important is to read those you admire in your genre. Read the work of those who you feel are at the top of their game, the best of the best writers. Which authors in your genre are finalists and winners in the major fiction awards? Read them.
And yes, get into a good critique group if you haven’t done that yet. American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has a wonderful critique group system set up. Some people prefer Beta readers. If you’re going to use Beta readers, get more than one so you can compare what they say, and get ones who aren’t afraid to be critical. I love the critique group process. However, I don’t change things in my manuscript just because a critique partner suggests it. If two or more crit partners see the same problem, I’ll take a real close look at it and will probably make the change.
I also suggest taking real time and online classes and seminars about writing technique and also about the business of publishing. After the manuscript is polished, the writer still has to query it, get a contract, and after its release market it.
Do you plan to stay in historical fiction or do you see yourself branching out into other genres?
I have book two of my series coming out December 15th of this year, GOODBYE NOEL. It’s a Christmas/New Year’s themed romantic suspense set on the Great South Bay of Long Island, NY in 1947. It has tons of action, police procedure true to the time, and an exhilarating love story.
I’m working on a contemporary detective series , more in the tradition of the satire a Carl Hiaasen. With its female detective main character, it might be considered a Christian alternative to the Stephanie Plum series. Of course, not vulgar. Naturally, I’ll keep writing historical suspense. I have two more novels contracted in the series for Desert Breeze.
Purchase Links for BURNING HEARTS.
Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers (Ning). She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. BURNING HEARTS is the first book in the crime wave that is sweeping the south shore of Long Island in The Sanctuary Point series, published by Desert Breeze. GOODBYE NOEL, the second book in the series will be released in December, 2011.