Locals shudder at the memory of the Thorpe family massacre, but the new owners of Thorpe House, the Whitmores, are New York tough and savage each other for sport. When a disarming stranger turns up at their door during a Thanksgiving nor’easter, though, the Whitmores quickly learn their petty viciousness is no defense against real darkness.
So begins James Patterson’s and Derek Nikitas’ new novella “You’ve Been Warned — Again.” An Assistant Professor of English and one of the organizers of this week’s Ocean State Writers Conference, Nikitas first collaborated with Patterson on the novella “Diary of a Succubus,” which was published in April.
So what’s it like to work with the Guinness World Record holder for most books on the New York Times bestseller list — the best-selling author in the world? It’s been a blast, said Nikitas. “The best fun I’ve had writing anything. It’s freeing to work with an established writer, with an established voice. It has changed my outlook as a writer. I like to think it will help me in terms of my own readership. It’s exciting.”
“You’ve Been Warned — Again” is your classic New England ghost story. In it, literature lovers will note echoes of “King Lear,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Young Goodman Brown.” Music fans will draw comparisons to the Rolling Stone’s classic “Sympathy for the Devil.” And the appearance of a black goat will chill history buffs familiar with Puritan superstitions.
BookShots: Breakneck-paced Fiction
Nikitas’ novellas with Patterson are part of a line of Patterson thrillers called BookShots. A former New York City ad man, Patterson is arguably not only the best-selling author on the planet (so said “CBS Sunday Morning” in 2016) but also the savviest marketer in publishing. To date, he’s sold more than 350 million books worldwide. BookShots, Patterson has said, are “like reading a movie.” One BookShots’ ad features a smartly dressed bibliophile dodging danger with book in hand while a voiceover pitches its selling points: “Under 150 pages. Under $5. Impossible to stop reading.”
BookShots follow the structure of Patterson’s major novels: short chapters that begin with a hook and end with a cliffhanger. “It creates an urgency that I’ve found inspiring,” Nikitas said. “In some ways, my own writing has changed. I’ve become mercenary about pacing and economy and am more cognizant about pleasing an audience with a compelling story.”
Nikitas, who is the author of two other critically acclaimed novels, “Pyres” and “Extra Life,” has big-name fans in director David Lynch, who called him, “an incredibly gifted new author” and novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who said, “Any subject Derek handles, channelled through the lens of his unique sensibility, is likely to be of unusual worth and interest.” Nikitas says his “normal habitat” is the thriller but his style is more psychological — focusing on character building and interiority. Patterson’s influence, he says, “has added a few new tools to my toolbox but it hasn’t revised my teaching process.
“I’ve become mercenary about pacing and economy and am more cognizant about pleasing an audience with a compelling story.” Derek Nikitas
“I make sure to tell my students, understand that there are many options,” when it comes to approaching Fiction writing.
Nikitas is at work on a couple of new novels, one of which is set in South County. He teaches undergraduates and graduates as well as supervises the English Ph.D. with a creative writing dissertation, “which offers doctoral candidates the opportunity to write a book-length project (novel, memoir or poems) with an academic “critical introduction.” It is the only Ph.D. program of its kind in New England, and one of only a handful in the Northeast,” Nikitas said. His is a busy schedule.
But if Patterson comes calling again?
“I’d be happy to do another one.”
Favorite ghost story: “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to you, My Lad” by M.R. James. It’s old school atmospheric ghost-story perfection.
Book an aspiring student writer should read: It’s tough to settle on one book because I think students should read obsessively, but if there’s one book that touches on just about everything there is to know, it’s Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.”