Nick West, Author of “To Light a New Fire”

Q: Your latest book, “To Light a New Fire”, is an unusual name for a book. What prompted you to choose that title?

A: During my research into the native people of north central Florida during the 1500’s I came across a book written by a Spanish Priest that was partially dedicated to a dictionary of the Timucua language spoken by the various tribes populating that part of Florida. One of the most important ceremonies performed by the indigenous people was called, “Tacachale“, which means “To Light a New Fire”. This ceremony was necessitated by crop failures, sickness, or any other event or series of events that caused hardship to the village. During the ceremony all of the village fires were extinguished, the ashes allowed to cool for an extended period of time and a new fire before a new fire was created by the village shaman.  It was meant to give a fresh start, hopefully for the better, for the village. They performed this ceremony many times, with increasing desperation, following the arrival of the Europeans, apparently with little success.

Q: Your books are Historical Fiction. Why have you chosen this genre?

A: I love history. Do you ever look at old photographs and imagine what the people who posed were really like? They got up every morning and went to work. They came home tired after a long day. They laughed and cried, fell in love, enjoyed great happiness and suffered great sadness just like we do. My joy is to bring these characters to life on the pages of my books so that my reader can emphasize with their shared emotions and by the time they are finished reading, see them as close friends. My greatest compliment as a writer is when a reader tells me how much they learned by reading my books and how they actually enjoyed getting to know my characters.

Q: How important is research to you when you are writing your books?

A: Vital. I usually spend more time researching than I do writing. When I wrote my first book following the adventures of my ancestors as they toured the southeastern U.S. with a horse drawn circus in the 1850’s, I was able to contact descendants of the other performers that took part in that tour.  Through conversations and correspondence with them I gained additional recollections of events and circumstances that filled gaps in my narrative. There were also historical records of performance dates and locations, animals and acts that made up the troup. I always start with the facts, create an outline, and then flesh out my characters based on real experiences.

Q: Do you ever suffer “Writers Block”, and if so, how do you overcome it?

A: Sure I do. Almost always I can overcome it by reading and re-writing the last couple of chapters I have already completed. That gets me “back in the flow” and I can move on from there.

Q: Do you ever change sentences more than a couple of times just because they didn’t “hit the right notes”?

A: Oh yes, many times.  The written word is so much easier to control than the spoken one. I think that is one of the main reasons that I love writing. When I read what I have written and I don’t feel that it conveys what I am making an effort to communicate, I will change it until it does. To bad you can’t do that in real life!

Q: To what degree do you edit your own books?

A: I have found that it is impossible to do so. When I am reading my own work, I get caught up in the flow of the story and fail to see even obvious mistakes. Editing is a completely different, difficult and critical job. I always differ to the folks who do that for a living. If fact, even after several independent edits, there always seems to be something that slips through and ends up in print.

Q: Do you enjoy book signings?

A: I do love to meet fans of my work. My favorite forum is when I am allowed to speak to a crowd for a few minutes, answer questions and then sign books. I am not so much of a fan of just sitting at a table and signing as people come by.

Q:Do you read many books? If so, who do you enjoy reading?

A:I have heard that all author’s are avid readers, and in my case I do find that to be true. Because of the genre I have chosen I have to read a number of non-fiction books for research purposes and then I read fiction for both pleasure and to study what style separates really great authors from others. For pure pleasure I enjoy Randy Wayne White, Jack Campbell, Tom Clancy and Fannie Flagg among others.

Q:Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

A: I build a frame of facts from where I wish to start my story to where I wish to end it. Then I flesh it out with the characters who lived the part. The dialog between characters as they jointly experience their lives through adventure, romance and danger along the way is the real story.

Q: Do your novels carry a message?

A: I sure hope so. I try to be as accurate as possible in painting a picture of the time in which my stories are set without being judgmental through the lens of modern political correctness. We are all complex characters who occasionally make mistakes and the population of my stories are the same. There are parts of good and bad in us all. Hopefully more good than bad!

Q: I see that your books have received almost uniformly good reviews from your readers, but there are always a few that are not as favorable. Does a bad review affect your writing?

A: Only if I can see the point that the reviewer is making, which usually I do. Any writer should continually strive to better their craft. My goal is for readers to enjoy the experience of spending several hours of their life exploring my characters. My goal is to improve that experience. If a reviewer points out a way to make my writing more interesting, I will certainly use the advice.

Q: Which of your books was the hardest to write?

A: “The Long Road Home”. There is so much material available on the Civil War that any little skirmish may have two or three books written about it.  The research is exhausting. Because I pay so much attention to details, I sometimes had to decide which version of the events were the most accurate and which events fit into my timeline and the recollections of the descendants of these people. I have been told that I was more than a little anal in my attention to details but I feel it is an absolute necessity for good historical fiction.

Q: Give us an example.

A: Well, two of my main characters, James and Miranda, made a pledge to each other that while they were separated during the war, they would look up at the sky on every full moon at 8:00 and know that the other was doing the same thing at the same time. This was a vital component of their love for each other. Knowing that, I actually researched the date of every full moon during the years they were seperated, cross indexed it with where James was at the time, and wove it into the story line. I also researched the weather on every date I wrote about, the movement of troops and supplies. The list goes on.

Q: You have written four novels now. How did it feel when your first book was published?

A: Equal parts of excitement and foreboding. When I saw my first book in print and listed on Amazon, I felt that good or bad, this would be a lasting gift to my children and their children on down the line. Seeing your work in print is pretty heady stuff. Then you realize that you have laid it out there for anyone to see and critique. You start to worry that too many people will see it. Then you start to worry that not enough people will! Maybe it is that dichotomy that drives authors to drink!

Q: Speaking of drinking. It is commonly accepted that authors drink..a lot. Do you drink when you are writing?

A: (laughing) No. Sometimes I drink when I read the reviews! No, unlike some very famous authors, I need every brain cell I have remaining to create a coherent story.

Q: If you could have any one of your books made into a major motion picture, which one would it be?

A: I have been told that my first book, “The Great Southern Circus”, would make a great movie. I personally feel that “The Long Road Home”, which dealt with the American Civil War through the eyes of young people who became friends during the circus tour and ended up on opposing sides during the conflict could be well told as a movie.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Researching a book dealing with a Florida Game Warden and his 12 year old nephew who stumble onto a lost Spanish treasure that had been hidden in a spring along the Santa Fe River.

Q: Sounds exciting. How long does it usually take for you to write a book?

A: At least one year. I still work in my family business four days a week and to tell the truth, I don’t see how anyone could sit at the keyboard more than four hours at the time anyway.

Q: Well thank you so much for your time. Do you have any advice to any aspiring author who has always thought of writing a book?

A: I guess my best advice would be to start. We all have a story to tell. I always talked about writing a book about The Great Southern Circus and my wife finally gave me the best advice I ever got. She said why don’t you quit talking about it and do it! Like so many other things, she was right! It is not easy to write a book, but I am living proof that it can be done. Good Luck!

Q: Thank You