By Jordan Collier
The Eastern creative writing department has been injected with some new blood. Among the new people is Derek Nikitas, author of the acclaimed novel Pyres, which has been extremely well received with the mystery community.Pyres is a literary thriller about a 15-year-old girl who witnesses the murder of her father, then gets caught up in a conspiracy involving a pregnant outlaw, a mother, and a dogged cop atoning for her family’s collapse.
Nikitas said he wanted to set the novel in 1993 because he wasn’t much older than his protagonist at the time. But Nikitas said he didn’t want the book to end up being autobiographical. He said that one of the things he did to differentiate himself from his central character was to make her female.
“In short, I wanted to explore a character who isn’t me,” Nikitas said.
Nikitas wrote Pyres in bits and pieces over a span of three years while teaching at a community college in New York. The last third of the novel was written over a 10-week period in a shack in Costa Rica where Nikitas had no modern conveniences such as the Internet, telephone, or electricity. He said he really had nothing else to do except finish the book.
To research the technical aspects of police investigation, Nikitas consulted his uncle, who is a police officer in Rochester, New York. Nikitas also studied books on biker gangs and the biker lifestyle for some of the novel’s antagonists. Surprisingly, the book did not start out as a mystery.
“It very much spiraled into that,” Nikitas said. “When I started writing I only wanted to write from the point of view of a teenage girl. I didn’t see it as a mystery or anything like that. I saw it as a noir,” Nikitas said.
However, a year and a half into it, he knew he was writing a mystery.
Pyres was nominated for best first novel at the Edgar Allan Poe awards. The Edgars are widely considered to be the most prestigious awards in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film, and theatre.
Nikitas was just leaving class at the community college he taught at when he received the news from his editor.
“I did not expect it in any way whatsoever,” Nikitas said. “I thought I knew what that list was going to look like.”
Nikitas came to Eastern because of the new masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing.
“Everything seems really exciting-I want to be part of something from the ground up,” Nikitas said. “Not only are we getting new students, three-fourths of the staff is new.”
He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. while teaching classes in advanced creative writing. Nikitas is also writing his next book, which is about a 30-year-old maid who steals money to go on the road and attempt to reconnect with her 15-year-old son who she gave up at birth.
His advice for young writers?
“Write about what you want to write about,” Nikitas said. “Don’t write about what’s hot on the market. You write what you want because you’re passionate about it. It’s a horrible job if you’re not writing about what you love.