When a rich playboy falls for the medium he hires to get the ghost out of his inn, you know things are going to get kind of dicey.
That’s OK. Author Shari Nichols likes dicey. “I’m pro-conflict,” she says. “If you have happily ever after on Page 3, it’s boring.”
It’s safe to say the playboy, the medium, and the ghost who unites, divides, and (kind of) reunites them really do get put through their paces in Nichols’ newest book, Haunted.
To lay it all out would be Spoiler City. You’ll just have to trust that Nichols’ characters are in good, if delightfully cruel, hands.
It’s a little funny to know Shari Nieschmidt (her real name), though, considering that this version of Shari has some notable differences from her author persona.
People can meet the author at a book signing for Haunted at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope on Saturday, June 23, from 1-4 p.m.
Nichols, 50, is the wife of and co-worker (part-time) with Michael Nieschmidt, a lawyer based in Hightstown, and her own “alpha hero of 25 years.”
She’s a graduate of Hightstown High School; mother of Jake, who’s about to graduate from college and become an engineer, and Jessica, who’s graduating this year from High School South and is off to American University in Washington, D.C.
She describes herself as generally busy with wife, life and mom stuff—sports games, paying bills, going to work.
She’s an odd combination of hyper and chill; completely in love with what she does for a living, and she can talk about it (with increasing velocity) the more she gets into it.
She’s also thrilled, as she puts it in her bio, “to spend her days in sweats, eating chocolate while pounding on her keyboard to create her next novel.”
But you’d be hard-pressed to find much of a mean streak in her. She’s forgiven old enemies and taught her children to do the same; prefers the pay-it-forward model of helping people; and overall about as socially accepting as you’re going to get.
All of this makes it a lot of fun to switch from Nieschmidt to her pen name, Shari Nichols, because Nichols is one mean mother.
“You’ve got to torture the hell out of your characters,” she says. “There’s got to be a ton of conflict.”
Haunted is Nichols’ second book, and it’s quite different from the first. That book is out of print for the moment, its publisher having gone under and Nichols getting her rights back.
She’s glad to have the book back in her control, she says, because she plans to re-release it in its original state. It was a romantic book for grown-ups that her publisher thought needed a little spicing up. So Nichols spiced it up, essentially turning it from a dusting of pepper to a habanero entree.
The adults-only result got her a lot of ill attention, including some on her son, who was just finishing high school when it came out in 2014. It turned out not everyone was a fan of her subject matter.
The irony, of course, is that Nichols didn’t really want to write racy books. She wanted to write romantic ones, particularly of the paranormal variety. With her original book back in her court, she’s taking it back to the PG-13-to-R range, where it was intended.
Haunted is published by Liquid Silver, which, Nichols says, allows a lot more for the kinds of stories she wants to tell— romantic, tense, and, of course, torturous for the people unfortunate enough to live in the reality of the story.
The paranormal romance genre is a comfortable one for Nichols. She’s an unabashed fan of Barbara Cartland and J.K. Rowling, two authors, she says, who embody the kinds of strong characters and will-they-ever-catch-a-break pacing that keep pages flipping away.
But even before she knew who Barbara Cartland or J.K. Rowling were, Nichols was drawn to the Gothic and the spooky. She grew up in Connecticut, playing with Ouija boards and hanging with a friend whose grandmother’s house had its own ghost. Just like the apartment building where Nichols lived.
‘Fifty percent of the book is creating the story.’
With plenty of haunted houses and characteristically New England architecture to go around, it’s no surprise Nichols developed a taste for the otherworldly.
“Anything to do with vampires is fascinating to me,” she says. And if you test her on how much she knows about vampire legends and myths, she will, pardon the pun, bury you.
She moved to New Jersey in 1978 and graduated from Hightstown High in 1985. Professionally, of course, she did not want to be an actual vampire. She got her bachelor’s in marketing from Rider University in 1992 and went into corporate sales until she had her son.
Her father did the same work, though unlike him, she was never a boxer in the Navy. She did sell used cars for a time while her husband was getting through law school, though.
As the kids grew up, Nichols didn’t want to stay in sales.
“I never really liked it,” she says. She had wanted to get into advertising so she could write copy. “I had stories in my head.”
She started out reading a lot of fan fiction in the romance arena. She eventually found the New Jersey Romance Writers and joined, and realized how different it is going from reader to writer of things that will compel people to read.
A lot of rough drafts, rejection letters, and critiques later, she had her first published story. And when people ask, she has the answer:
“I tell people it only took me 12 years to get published,” she says.
The thing about writing romance is, it’s one of those genres everyone thinks they can write. Nichols knows this, but says that romance writing only works when the story is really well-crafted and comes from the mind of someone who loves the genre in return.
“I don’t write to the trends,” she says. For one thing, “by the time you write to the trend, it’ll be gone.”
That said, Nichols knows a writer in any genre can’t be too far afield from what contemporary readers want in their fiction.
“You have to keep some idea of market trends,” she says, her college major slipping through. “But then you have to write what you’d enjoy yourself.”
Whether she’s actually huffing chocolate in her sweats while doing the work is neither here nor there. The important thing is, she is doing the work, which she admits, is not always easy to fit into life.
“I would love to have a routine,” Nichols says. She would love to have the great Henry Miller setup, surrounded by books in a cabin, with hours of imaginative solitude as her muse.
What she has are bills and a family and food to prepare and events to attend. Within the next year, with the kids away and grown, she’s aware she’ll have more time to write, and not be pulled to sports games for the kids and such. She’s looking forward to that.
But even then, who knows, she says. There are some days she does get two or three hours to write and others when it’s suddenly six o’clock. She doesn’t know how much that will change, but she definitely can’t wait to see how it plays out.
What she does know is that she’ll keep working at it like it’s her job, because that’s what it is. And like any working author, Nichols knows better than to fall into the waiting-for-inspiration trap.
In other words, she doesn’t believe in writer’s block.
“You only get it when you’re not writing,” she says. “When I’m working, the ideas are coming faster than I can keep up with them.”
She compares the job of writing to going to the gym. Writing is like a muscle, she says—it needs to be regularly exercised if you expect it to grow.
If anything, Nichols says her problem is that she tends to run off at the pen.
“I’m very long-winded,” she says. “My critique partners tell me that all the time. I hear ‘condense, condense, condense.’”
It’s a better problem to have as a novelist than to be too clipped with what you’re writing. But it is a genuine struggle for Nichols to get the story down to that much-desired breakneck pace.
“A scene that should be eight pages, I don’t know how to get out of it in two,” she says. “The thought of writing a novella scares me.”
Fortunately, Nichols says, she has some great influences and friends in the writing community who help keep her from getting too windy—Sylvia Day, Kresley Cole, Christina Lauren, Alice Clayton—and a particular favorite to have in her corner, Julie Kenner, who’s a big deal in the fantasy/romance world, and whom Nichols met at a writer’s conference.
“She’s the most down-to-earth, coolest person,” Nichols says.
The two have stayed in touch and Kenner is one of Nichols’ critique partners. Her most common critique? Condense, condense, condense.
Nichols is working on her next novel, another paranormal romance, and no, no secrets to spill. She does have a word of advice for anyone thinking of being a career writer, though: Learn to market your work, because you’ll have to. Even if you sign with a big publisher.
“Fifty percent of the book is creating the story,” she says. The other half is the writing and rewriting, the fleshing out and paring down. And then the marketing, at signings, conferences, seminars, social media sites, podcasts, and anywhere else you can get your work in front of people.
In other words, she says, “It’s all on you.”