Wednesday, April 15, 2009

J.W. Nicklaus on The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between

J.W. Nicklaus is the author of the short story collection, The Light, The Dark, & Ember Between. This book has a stunning cover, and you have to check out the superb video trailer produced to promote this book, which you'll find at the end of this post.

J.W. is our guest blogger today, and he is going to share all about the challenges of putting together a short story collection and getting it published, along with sharing which story out of the collection is his favorite.

About the book:

A collection of short stories, each a splinter's reflection of the human condition, firmly centered upon our oft tenuous, sometimes tensile bond with Hope, and careening flirtation with Love.

Fifteen stories: From the wispy fog of a love lost at sea, to an orphaned child who delivers a present of her own during a war-torn Christmas. These stories are gentle reminders to each of us of what it is to be human, and certainly of our affinity for the slightest glint of Hope.

About the author:

J.W. Nicklaus resides in a place not entirely fit for human habitation about five months of the year. No pets to speak of, only the apparitions from which all romantics suffer.

An Arizona native, he’s been from one coast to the other, and a few places in between. College brought an AA in Journalism with a minor in Photography, and a Bachelor of Science in Telecommunications. His work experience has run the gamut from Creative Director for a small advertising firm in Tucson to a litigation support bureau in Phoenix (and assuredly some awkward stuff in the mix).

Snow has been featured prominently in his stories, perhaps because of the seasonless cli-mate he lives in. Nature was meant to be enjoyed and experienced, not hidden from the senses. So to that end, he hopes someday to live amongst those who are able to live through four true seasons, and not just blast furnace and warm.

He enjoys the occasional Arizona Diamondbacks game with his son, as well as watching him grow up. The experience of being a single dad has taught him far more about himself than he ever thought possible.

Within the expanse of every waking moment, he hopes his guardian angel keeps its arms open wide and heart ever watchful, for there but for one true Hope goes She.

For more about J.W. visit

J.W.'s turn:

Alice sat with her cube-mate Chris in the company cafeteria, morning coffee in hand. She stared over his shoulder at the steam rising from the breakfast entrees on the food line. For his part, Chris sat fixated, as he usually did, watching female patrons come and go, so he took no notice whatsoever of her unusual disengagement. She snapped out of her reverie when he turned slightly to gawk at a skirted Amazon who strode past.

“Doesn’t it ever get old?” she asked.

“What?” he replied without turning to face her.

“Every morning, you do the same thing . . .”

Chris causally turned towards her. “What, this?” he gestured at the cafeteria proper.

Alice rolled her eyes, “You know what I mean.” She nudged her glasses up a bit for a nuanced dramatic punch.

“Oh, please. We’re hard wired for it. I can’t help it. Man Law says I must look,” he grinned, “it’s out of my hands. Really.” For the first time he took notice of her removed demeanor. “What’s up with you this morning, I mean normally you couldn’t care less.”

Alice cocked her head slightly, as if trying to let some thought gently slide to fill the lighter part of her brain. She pointed to the food line where the kitchen staff were doling out eggs and cinnamon buns. “Why do you suppose they put the hot items first, then the breads and rolls, and the juice and stuff last?” she asked.

Chris craned his head around to look, as if he really needed to. He and Alice had sat at the same table, almost every morning, for the last two years. “You’d think they’d be reversed, right? The hot stuff sits and cools while they go through the rest of the line . . .”

“Exactly!” she declared, animatedly cutting him off. “There should be some logic to it, don’t you think?” Chris leaned back in his chair and nodded.

“And what about songs,” she continued, “what about the order of songs on an album or in a mix you put together?”
Chris sat up immediately. “Music is a very emotional thing for people. Not so much logic to the order as feeling—am I right?” Chris’ facial expression politely begged for confirmation of his theory.

Alice raised her cup and took a long sip, allowing the moment to sink in for both of them.

I was asked to say a bit about the challenges of putting a short story collection together, and as I mulled it over it occurred to me that one of the most difficult things to do is not simply getting the words ‘down’, but getting the right words in the right order—much like the order of foods in a cafeteria. Even within that construct there is a sliding scale of subjectivity, because what I might feel is proper may not feel right to someone else. But if done with care the wrinkles are largely ironed out and the reader avoids those potentially nasty mental stumbles. If the reader stumbles once then the author may be forgiven, but too many times and the reader is lost for good. That’s no small feat.

The next idea that came to me was choosing the order of the stories. A short story, by its very nature, has quick impact and needs to evoke some reaction from the reader in a very small amount of space. A really good short story has the same effect as finishing a good book—you’re mildly saddened to reach the end. A little like leaving an old friend. Now here’s the tricky part: Stringing the stories together in some appropriate order so the emotional cycle for the reader is gentle and not jarring. Some of us will read short stories with great ardor, and others will read one and savor it for a bit, perhaps returning minutes or hours later to taste the next one. It’s always a much more pleasant experience if the reader gets smoothly transitioned from one story to the next, and like songs on an album, the order of them can make a difference.

I’ve tried to accomplish that with my stories in The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between. I think Emissary is the right way to start the book, and the emotions shift a little one way or the other from story to story until the last fictional tale, Winter Rose. It ends on a warm, caring note. I have a hard time choosing a favorite story because they all mean something different to me; each of them is woven from a slightly different inspirational thread. Some are very much from and for the heart, while others were just fun to write.

If I absolutely had to pick a favorite then I suppose I’d lean towards Requiem For Linny. It’s the second of fifteen stories, but it was a challenge to inhabit the world of Buck, its main character. He’s a man profoundly wounded by the passing of his beloved wife, and as such it was very interesting to write from the perspective of someone who has loved, and lost, that much. Perhaps it’s the most personal of the stories, from any kind of autobiographical standpoint. For me Requiem highlights all that it means to be human . . .and that in itself is a challenge we all face.


Cheryl said...

Thanks for the great article J.W.! Best of luck with your tour.


J.W. Nicklaus said...

Thank you very much for playing host for my guest post, Cheryl. I genuinely enjoyed writing it, and hope those who stop by your blog enjoy it equally as much.