Not long ago, Derek Nikitas was doing very well for himself. He’d moved to the Ocean State in 2014 to teach creative writing at the University of Rhode Island. He had a couple of novels under his belt and he’d been nominated for some major awards. He specializes in moody thrillers, and his work was winning attention in the US and abroad.
Then, out of nowhere, Nikitas received a phone call. According to a representative, James Patterson was interested in collaborating on a book. James Patterson, the world’s most successful living author. To date, Patterson’s 147 books have sold more than 300 million copies.
After an exhaustive audition process, Nikitas was invited to co-author two novellas with Patterson, Diary of a Succubus and You’ve Been Warned – Again. The first is about a supernatural assassin; the other concerns the mysterious presence of a girl’s dead brother. Both titles were published as e-books and are part of Patterson’s “BookShot” series.
“I had to stay in keeping with the kind of fiction expected from Patterson’s readers,” Nikitas recalls. “In practice, this means having a hook and a cliff-hanger every few pages, so the story has to keep propelling forward at breakneck speed.”
But Nikitas was also able to insert his own experience and personality into the stories. A New Hampshire native, he studied and taught in North Carolina and Kentucky before settling in the Northeast. Nikitas found inspiration in his new home, and he set You’ve Been Warned in South County.
“Now that I’ve been back [in New England] for a few years,” he says, “I’ve come to appreciate those unique qualities – the ruggedness of character, the haunted nature of our colonial past butting up against the present, the looming presence of the ocean and the woods. Probably more than anywhere else I’ve lived, Rhode Island almost immediately suggested to me settings, story lines, and characters.”
Nikitas grew up watching horror films in the early 1980s, and the genre comes naturally to him. But Nikitas has also learned a great deal from his collaboration with a legend of suspense.
“I think of horror and other fantastical genres as extended metaphors for our fears and anxieties, creative ways to conceptualize them,” he muses. “It’s a way to pretend we have some control over our fears, but also a frequent reminder that we don’t. The biggest insight I got from Patterson was to imagine the narrator is telling the story to a listener, like a campfire storyteller. It’s amazing how that mindset can shift you away from ‘writerly’ lingering on setting or character interiority.”
Both titles were released in 2017, and Nikitas is still riding the creative wave. He’s working on another novel set in Rhode Island, as well as a TV pilot. Suspense and horror remain his areas of expertise.
“I love the challenge of taking a genre that many people find cheap and clichéd,” Nikitas says, “and giving it new life.”