Derek Nikitas admits a fascination with news reports of “ordinary people making extraordinarily poor decisions, mostly because the reports themselves aren’t complete enough. They never get into the deep psychology of the perpetrator. So my imagination starts to churn.”
The result is “The Long Division,” the Eastern Kentucky University faculty member’s second novel, which appears a year after the author’s award-winning debut, “Pyres.”
“In the case of ‘The Long Division,’ I became intrigued by the idea of noncustodial parental kidnappings,” Nikitas said, “especially when that noncustodial parent is the mother. I am also interested in exploring what happens when biological family members separated by adoption are brought together as adults. Those two ideas merged and formed the nucleus of the book.”
Nikitas’s latest thriller, according to publisher Minotaur Books, centers on an Atlanta housekeeper who flees her nowhere life to reunite with the son she surrendered for adoption. The teenage boy joins his mother on an unlawful road trip that proves how much they have to lose by finding each other. Elsewhere, a deputy must track down the shooter in a drug-related double murder before investigators discover the deputy’s illicit ties to the case. The killer is an unbalanced college student hunted by vengeful drug dealers and the police and haunted by loves both dead and forbidden. When the renegade mother and son arrive, past sins and present gambits ensnare them in a violent endgame between deputy and killer.
Readers who enjoyed “Pyres” will see some similarities.
“They’re both thrillers with police for viewpoint characters, both set in western New York in winter, both concerned with the guilt and empathy and forgiveness that follow wrongdoing,” Nikitas said. “They’re both family melodramas.”
“Pyres,” which earned rave reviews from critics nationwide, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author and has been optioned for film adaptation by Vox3 Films. Nikitas has also received a Pushcart nomination from fellow author Joyce Carol Oates, to whom Nikitas has been compared. In fact, in January 2010, Oates will be among the nine visiting writers and poets at the winter residency segment of EKU’s Brief Residency Master’s of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program, in which Nikitas teaches.
Nikitas said the Edgar nomination inspired him to write another mystery/thriller. “And, of course, the attention made me nervous to a certain degree, eager to do better the second time around.”
Early reviews for “The Long Division” suggest he has achieved his goal.
“An elegantly written second novel,” wrote Kirkus Reviews.
“Nikitas is a master craftsman of both plot and prose, merging gritty, evocative description with sharply drawn characters,” added the Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly said of the book: “Beautifully realized characterizations power complex story lines that meet and connect this disparate group with the inevitability of Greek tragedy.”
As for his next novel, Nikitas said he’s contemplating a “significant step up in terms of plot complexity, twists and length. It’s a mystery, but also a romance, a supernatural thriller, a fantasy epic of sorts.
“I like mixing genres, obviously.”
Applications for EKU’s Creative Writing Program are accepted year-round, and students may enter the program during any fall or spring semester. For more information, call 859-622-5861, visit www.english.eku.edu/mfa, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.