A Conversation With Short Story Author Nikki Dolson
You can read the transcript of my interview with Nikki Dolson here.
Full transcript of my conversation with Nikki Dolson
Curtis Anderson: [00:00:00] Welcome to I Found This Great Book. My name is Curtis and today. I want to bring you a great interview with the noted short fiction author, Nikki Dolson. And she has a new collection of short crime fiction titled love and other criminal behavior. And we're going to talk to Nikki about her book. And she's also going to drop some real cool tips for writers.
So, without any further ado, Nicky Dolson, well as promised we have a wonderful, wonderful person to talk to a fantastic short story author, the author, Nikki Dolson, Nikki, how are you today?
Nikki Dolson: [00:00:53] I'm very well, thank
Curtis Anderson: [00:00:54] you. All right. It's really great. And an honor to speak with you. And so, let's just dive right in.
So, you have a new collection of short stories out titled “Love and Other Criminal Behavior.”
Nikki Dolson: [00:01:11] Yeah.
Curtis Anderson: [00:01:12] that title right there makes you think. So how did that title come up and how does that express the theme of the collection?
Nikki Dolson: [00:01:23] So in, my forming of my, writerly self, there's been a couple of phases.
I went to the, writing classes and, it’s all Raymond Carver and, just like that standard. These are the writers you want to read, and these are the people you want to emulate. So, I went through that phase and realized that I really honestly just like killing people on fiction.
There's probably therapy that's needed. I know, but I get to, from that to where I am, I'm, I'm writing these kinds of stories and trying to plumb the depths of that, kind of character. And the thing that I always end up writing about, are relationships, but more than that love be it, the pursuit of it, the loss of it, anger about it, you know what I mean?
Love and all its many forms. And the things that you do for it or about it, or because of it. that are often, criminal, or maybe sometimes it should be, it’s the letter of the law. And then there’s, the moral, guideline that I think we should go by, which may not always line up with the letter of law.
But nonetheless, I mean, it's the things that you do for that. So, it's love. Because my stories kind of span the, gamut there. It it's other criminal behavior. It's, you fall in love and you do that. You also maybe rob a bank.
Curtis Anderson: [00:03:05] Okay.
Nikki Dolson: [00:03:08] So that's how we kind of got that. But my, my literary tendencies kind of smashed up against, crime and the common theme.
Curtis Anderson: [00:03:17] cool.
Now the stories in “Love and Other Criminal Behavior”, which, you know, people should run out and get right now, have black women as their central characters. And now you approach telling their stories. Your approach seems to be from when I, from the stories I read, it was just more empowering.
Then the way women are traditionally portrayed in crime fiction or detective fiction where they tend to be either like the victim that needs saving or the person who, or, or the prop, or are they, Some evildoer who's trying to throw the sleuth off. Your women are more empowered. for example, in one of your stories, “Take the Hit”, the story revolves around two boxers who are women.
And their lives, matter of fact, the guys event, it's kind of like something. Alright. Yeah. And they, they fought too, but who cares? It was all about the two women. so what experiences are you drawing on to craft these stories?
Nikki Dolson: [00:04:26] Okay. I encountered, the writer F. X. Toole. Pretty early on in my deep dive into crime fiction.
And, he wrote about boxing. He wrote, crime stories about boxing. I think the movie, what was it called? “Million Dollar Baby”. Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank. it's a female boxer in that. and then one day, I just, this character showed up in my head and she was already up against the ropes and the person fighting her was younger and taller.
And I'm like, okay, this dynamic of who, who are these people? And what clearly came to me was that one was trying to get out and one was trying to rise. It should be something more. and I don't think, I mean, I, to the thing I always want to do is all of my favorite stories. They tend to have men as those central characters and often it reflects the white male society. I just always want to re-tell those really excellent stories from my perspective, or just, I want to insert, I just, Oh, well, there'd be black people in it. Women just don't have to be a femme fatale and don't get me wrong. I love a femme fatale. I mean, that's how this works.
That is so noir to me. And that is a first love. But let that femme fatale, let her seduce everybody to get what she wants. And then sometimes let her get away with it. I feel like, but I want to follow her around and that all of those things that I want is how we got those boxers in that ring. To fight for something that they want.
Maybe men are spurring them on from the background, like frequently women, behind every good man is a woman. Just the reverse of that, because the reality is, we have our own stories that we are trying to tell, that are just as important or more important. And we don't have to do those things for them.
Do them for ourselves.
Curtis Anderson: [00:06:49] Okay, cool. So. As people read this collection, what do you want readers to feel? As they read the short stories in it?
Nikki Dolson: [00:07:00] Honestly, I'm always trying to entertain somebody. I get caught up in the, have I made them laugh? Like there's always some line of dark humor somewhere in something I've written.
I'm like, did they get the chuckle? Cause I, I want. To amuse somebody to entertain them for maybe 20 minutes of their day. and then they go about your business, but it is that I carry stories with me that I've loved for years. I refer back to them. I think about them. I, mean, it's more than just like pop culture, like quoting lines.
It is, that was just the truly great moment. And I would like to hopefully give that to somebody else.
Curtis Anderson: [00:07:46] Hmm. Okay. Well you definitely do. I know. And again, I'm talking about the ones, the, the story, “Take the Hit”. The way you paint the picture of what was going on in the ring and also in the locker room, I could really vividly see it and I could.
Feel the punches.
Nikki Dolson: [00:08:05] Cool.
Curtis Anderson: [00:08:07] So it's like set, set me right there as a reader. So, it was really fun. So, I'm always fascinated by authors who write short fiction, especially short fiction, in the crime mystery noir type, genre. So, I'm going to pick your mind here for some information on that writing process.
First of all,
Are you an outliner or a discovery writer? As they say, I won't say pantser, I think that's kind of condescending. Discovery writer. And, then why do you use the method you use?
Nikki Dolson: [00:08:43] I am mostly a discovery writer. I don't often, if I try to like outline a thing, I'm still trying to write a novel, like a real one single narrative all the way through it.
Every time I write an, an outline for that thing, I'm like, okay, well, that's great. And I've never looking at it again. It's terrible. It’s, the weird thing. And I just, it keeps saying, well, obviously that's not the thing for me, but. With discovery. I mean, you get that, that initial scene and you just let yourself get pulled through it.
Once I have, an in, be it, whether that actually turns out to be the beginning or not. And I know where I want to end up at, I will definitely take notes, which more closely represent an outline in between. I'm like I got to hit this point and I know I want to hit this point.
And so, it will become out-line-ish. As I go on, but I am most definitely a discoverer as I go.
Curtis Anderson: [00:09:52] cool. Now, what are some of the benefits and challenges you experience as writing short stories? Because you have, I have a lot of your short stories published, so it's not just, just this collection.
Yeah. I have quite a history there. What, what, again, what are some of the benefits and challenges in that? The style of writing?
Nikki Dolson: [00:10:13] I honestly, I don't, if I can, right. A novel w like a true, like in my heart of hearts, let me write that 500-page tome. Nobody needs it. It's just for me, Curtis. It's just for me. I would do that.
But I have been doing this long enough now that I know that. Writing Short stories is the thing that makes me happiest. A short story is a challenge I think there's a saying you can write the perfect short story. It can be done and you can never get the perfect novel, which is probably what draws me to wanting to write a novel cause that way I can be flawed and terrible and nobody will really notice, the short story I have, I have the idea of writing that perfect short story is what drives me. I have short stories by other writers who I hold up as my, my goal like this is, I want this Dennis Lehane story.
This is what I want. Does my story glitter like that? After five rereading does it, work that way. And it never does. It never does. It is an unattainable thing for me because it is mostly my love for that story that makes it, you know, I can't, I can never compete with them.
Yeah. Hmm. But it is the, it is always a new, a new challenge. It is always hard again, to write a new story. I've done it so many times, but it's always. that it's always work. Good work. It is, it, it fulfills me in a way that I have never been able to find in any other creative outlet in my life. And I mean, I tell you what I have tried quilting. I have tried woodworking. I mean, Oh, I'm just saying my twenties were spent trying everything, but writing. And then I went, oh yeah, let's do that. So, the light came down, the world opened up for me in a new way. When I said I'm going to write a story, and that is the benefit to me.
It lets me say things in a way about the world I see, or the world I want to see, About the way I think people should be and the way they are and all of that, but I guess turned up to 11. Okay. Yeah.
Curtis Anderson: [00:12:56] What are the key things you're looking for when you read a short story and then you seek to duplicating in your stories?
Nikki Dolson: [00:13:04] Oh, please let me make someone gasp. Well, that is like, I have like, you know, your short story, whether it's like three pages or 25, I mean, there, there's going to be, if it's a good, you were caught up in it, maybe you hold your breath or maybe you're just turning the pages faster to get there.
And then, the climax happened the argument end and somebody walks out of the room and you never see them again on a page. And you know, it at that incident, it's the, the ability to suck somebody into your world completely. is what I want to do.
I want to, draw someone in, like I have been drawn in to, fiction. I mean, and when you get done, you put it down, you kind of have to take a minute to like re-orientate yourself. Cause you know, the world is still happening around you, but you have been so lost in this fictional, small world.
I would like to, to know that I have done that to someone would just be like, okay, this is, this is me. This is everything. Yep. occasionally hearing from somebody who loves something I've written that they really dug this part, or what have you is just the best thing. And it is again why go back and try to do it again.
Curtis Anderson: [00:14:27] Okay, cool. So now what advice would you have for a budding author who wants to get into short fiction genre in terms of producing the work and also getting their work read
Nikki Dolson: [00:14:43] first and foremost, you have to read the thing that you want, not even to emulate it or anything like that, but just to have an understanding of what's out there.
I mean, because every story has been done, it's like, what is there like five plots or whatever, man, versus this, it's a man versus that man versus man. And we'll have you, it's been done. It's been done. So, what you, as an individual bring to it is you're perspective on the world. So read what's been done and you take that in, and your subconscious gets to working on it.
And then what you bring out, is you. And that's what draws somebody to your, to that fiction. I mean, if you bring you to the page, And that When you understand how to craft a story, that's what makes people stay, I think. And then you also need I think it's so important. And I know for me, it has improved my writing improved.
My outlook is finding a community. I spent a lot of years, lurking around the email list, serves of Sisters in Crime and they're sub chapter guppies. I just like, I would get the emails and I would read all the things that everybody's talking about. people would ask questions about craft and how do you do a thing?
And somebody would be like, hi, I found it over here and go look at that. And how do I read a party scene? Well read these three books and these party scenes from this page, this page, you learn so much. Just from listening. And then when you have questions, you throw it out there and there's going to be somebody in that community who knows something or can at least put you on the trail of an answer.
And you learn that you learn how to write, and you just have to write. Reading and listening to other people, not necessarily taking in everything they say, but just hearing what other people's thoughts on it and maybe forming your own, from what you're reading, those things combine will help make you a better writer.
The writer that I was before, 2015 and the writer that I am now, it's most definitely informed of some relationships that I made. friendships that I've made. Yeah. Randomly, because I finally stopped lurking and went, hi, I have this question, and, and sure. My stories were getting out there before 2015.
But my understanding of how story works changed once I really started interacting with people and a community. And it’s, you think, a thing and then you hear somebody say something and it's not that they're right. And you're wrong. It's that? I didn't think about it that way.
And that's a huge thing.
Curtis Anderson: [00:17:47] Okay, cool. So, let's get back to your book. I won't nerd out on writing the whole time
Nikki Dolson: [00:18:00] after we'll talk after.
Curtis Anderson: [00:18:03] So I like to talk about one of the stories in the collection in depth. and that story is, “Hello. My Name is Denise”. Because that really had an impact. In one story, you weaved suspense, a type of horror, for me, and a story of redemption and also some psychological insight. And you did all that in fairly short amount of pages. So that was really impressive. So, you tell the story again, it has terror and hope in it. so how do you as an author find, that perfect balance for the reader. Because it wasn't, way too much of one or the other. So, someone won't stop two pages in because it's just too much trauma, but also you can tell an honest story. So that's my long-winded question
Nikki Dolson: [00:19:00] For me and in particular writing that story. I was trying to find some humor in it. And. And maybe by the end of it, that really only comes out and who she sees in the alley.
Yeah. it was because, for anybody who tried it, it's Sam Elliott. It really that's. That's what that person I have a grandparent and they watch these things and he was in it. So that was really, because, when you're at your lowest point.
I think your brain, tries to throw you a lifeline in any way you can. and that was for her this character, housed, what her brain showed up and threw up there. But I guess I wanted to figure out how, I guess what's the point of telling this story? I mean, it could have been a quick.
I have and a boyfriend, it went bad and I got out yay for you. but, but yeah, again, it's that, that idea. Of, love quote unquote, and what you'll do. And, how, and what you'll do. The stupid sacrifices people will make for the idea of love. To be loved, or to be, to have somebody touch you, is worth being mistreated. It's not, but for this character, it was for them for a long time. And then it stopped being enough. I mean, you never know the thing that's going to make you, change your, ways, what your tipping point is. I mean that night, it could've just been because, he drank his beer, funny. It's the little things that like push us too far.
To tell her story, to make it believable. I felt like we had to go swing wide at the, overall story of their relationship, and just that's short telling of this event at the bar. And you see it all there. And I think the best stories threatened to make you cry and also make you laugh a little bit.
And I think that's probably the only story that really has the happy ending that I wrote. There might be one other one, but I think that's the closest to a happy ending I've ever written, but nobody saves her. She saves herself.
Curtis Anderson: [00:22:12] So you talk about the ending and I'm always fascinated, especially with a short story, how do you know that's the point to end it?
Nikki Dolson: [00:22:22] I think, I mean, there was a couple of different versions of that ending but it was always her telling this story to know it was. She's telling the story, this room full of people, but she's really telling it through herself.
And by the end of it, when she sees a face that she knows it's, she's just, she's confessed everything. And now she's different yet again. And in the end, I don't know how there's nothing past that point. That isn't. You know, and they went to the grocery store, they went to the it's, the mundane things that we know that don't add to that story.
It doesn't matter really what happens after she says, well, my name is Denise, I think you walk away from that moment knowing she has a life. And that’s where it stops. That's everything. That's everything you need to know.
Curtis Anderson: [00:23:31] I agree. I'm just always fascinated by it. Especially with the short story, I'm a big fan of short stories too. Just how do you end that and not just say, well, I'll just write one more or a couple of pages and the next thing, you got a novella.
Nikki Dolson: [00:23:50] Yeah. often when I'm reading somebody else's story, I feel like the end is coming and then it keeps going and I'm like, wow.
I mean, it's even better, but I know for me, I'm like I would have stopped it right there. And I'm like, look, how much more they've added to that. So, I mean, I think figuring out the natural end is practice. Like you keep, I read that story so many times out loud, just again and again and again, to achieve what I thought was the best version of that
Curtis Anderson: [00:24:27] Besides the collection “Love and Other Criminal Behavior”, you have another book you published in the past.
Can you briefly tell us about that book? “All things Violent.”
Nikki Dolson: [00:24:39] “All Things Violent.” That is my, near and dear to my heart. Cause that is the book I say. I really learned to write on. It started off as linked stories. and they were stories about, a woman named Laura, who was a contract killer with boyfriend problems.
Like it's more than that, but it also is just that she has, again, she's hung up on somebody and she can't let him go. So, she keeps this job to stay around him. And, if you don't have friends that are saying, honey, you have to walk away. Yeah, I think we all would find ourselves in foolish positions much longer than we had to be.
And, and she does, she kills people. That is not the point though. The point is that, she loved a man and, she ended up working for him and yes, she kills people because she's paid to. and her supervisor, let us say, you taught her how to, be better in the field is Frank.
And they go around the country and they kill people and she lives a very small life waiting for this man who doesn't want her to want her again. And then maybe she realizes that it doesn't matter if he ever wants her again. And, yeah, that's Laura. That's “All Things Violent.” It's a trip.
Curtis Anderson: [00:26:18] So it's not very common to have a, I don't know if you call her serial killer was just a contract killer.
It's not common that a woman is portrayed as that. And it's like, this is just what she does. It's like, well, I continue to work as a traveling nurse, even though I really got tired of being in nursing. Cause I just wanted to stay near this doctor, but here, you’re, you're killing people and yes, you can kill people, but you can't get rid of this dude.
Nikki Dolson: [00:26:48] Yes, because it is. I mean, I, I don't dive into, I don't have ever linger on the idea of the bodies she has stacked up. it's not that kind of book. It is not very she's. Okay. It's not that kind of interior. She doesn't, she doesn't think about things like that. I think, I think early on, In the book, you see how, how they met and also how she started killing people. That's all in one scene or one little piece of it. and she, in that moment, there was justice. She did it for revenge that she was on a path of revenge and she feels that it is the only justice that she can get in the world and she is fine with whatever comes of that.
She called the police. I'm going to jail. I'm cool with that, but that's what not happened. She gets brought on another path and she just kind of this other path involves this man. And so, she just latches onto him. Cause that’s a way I can be. And that's it. it is a job. It is just a job.
it could have been, she cleans houses for a living. she cleans this man's house, even though he doesn't talk to her anymore. They are two people who should not be together, who can't quite not circle each other.
Curtis Anderson: [00:28:25] Wow. Okay.
Nikki Dolson: [00:28:28] Yeah.
Curtis Anderson: [00:28:29] Two cool books to get. So now, if people want to go get a copy of “Love and Other Criminal Behavior”, where can they go?
Nikki Dolson: [00:28:40] Please go to your indie bookstore or online, indie bound. Okay. I think they are, or, bookshop.org. You can find my books on that. For “All Things Violent”, you can go straight to the publisher at Fahrenheit Press and buy from them.
Curtis Anderson: [00:28:56] Okay, great. And everyone, you need to get a copy cause what's cool. “Love and Other Criminal Behavior”, you have these short stories. So especially for folks who just. You're a slow reader or you're, you're not someone who wants to commit to a novel. Okay. This is the perfect book for you.
You get this, you're going to get some really good stories. And as Nicky says, she'll make you go Oh! quite often. Well, she'll make you do that a lot. Great book to, to enjoy. If folks want to follow you, they want to keep track. they're gonna get these two books you have, and then they're going to start bugging you. Where can they go to track you down?
Nikki Dolson: [00:29:39] There's the website, which is just my name, nikkidolson.com. And then on Twitter where I am mostly it's just @nikkidolson. And the same on Instagram, where I occasionally talk about books, but mostly I just throw up the latest print that I bought in a dress. It's a whole thing.
Curtis Anderson: [00:30:03] There's nothing wrong with that, Nikki. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining me. This is really been a pleasure. you allowed me to get my, short story, nerd on, so I appreciate that.
Nikki Dolson: [00:30:15] Well, you're welcome. And thank you so much for having me.
Curtis Anderson: [00:30:18] Thank you.
Thank you, Nikki. Thank you for spending time with me here on. I Found This Great Book. Folks, if you want to see a transcript of the conversation you just listened to, you can just go to, ifoundthisgreatbook.com/72. Also check out the other authors we have in the black mystery author directory. Again, go to ifoundthisgreatbook.com. You'll see a link there and you can go right to the directory. All sorts over a hundred authors, almost 500 books. So, you can get your read on and find a good mystery to cuddle up with. Well, everyone stay safe and have a great reading day.