I “met” Nicole Daines on Facebook when I was in the heat of battle with a right wing troll. I don’t normally battle right wing nutjobs because battles with those people are quite similar to a fight with a pig -- only two things are gonna’ happen: you’re both going to get dirty but the pig’s gonna’ love it. Anyway, it was something I was passionate about and maybe it was a quiet day and I had nothing else to do (yeah, right) but for whatever reason I jumped into the fray with two feet, hammer swinging.
Nicole was in the thread and making a number of her own well reasoned points and I came in swinging in agreement with her. I don’t think either one of us can remember what this heated argument was about (although it was political and she and I were the representative liberals) but this chance meeting set the stage for a remarkable friendship. I jumped into a pig sty and came up with diamonds.
Nicole and her husband Robert (Bob) are two of the most gracious and talented people I know. Nicole and Bob are the co-authors of novels, mysteries and inspirational books. Their lectures have entertained and inspired audiences across the U.S. and Canada. Nicole is an ordained minister and Bob is accomplished business executive; they are also committed social activists, dedicated to helping people build both peaceful inner lives as well an outer world that is safe and secure for everyone. Nicole and Bob have been involved in all aspects of civil rights; they worked for African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and the LGBT community. Nicole officiated at one of the first gay marriages in the country.
More recently they’ve thrown their support behind organized labor and the preservation of unions throughout the United States. A month or so ago I was trying to chase Nicole down to discuss something and was startled when she said, “Oh, Bob and I are at a demonstration in LA; we’re protesting in support of the state workers in Wisconsin.”
Tomorrow they could be in Brazil saving the rain forest. It wouldn’t surprise me!
What does surprise me though is that Nicole and Bob find time to write great books. Even more surprising is they write their books collaboratively. And they have remained married while doing it too.
To me, almost everything else they’ve accomplished in life pales in comparison to this singular achievement. I love my husband and he loves me but we can’t decorate a Christmas tree together without devolving into World War Three so I really wanted to hear Nicole explain how they’ve made this very successful collaboration work for them. Another thing I thought we should discuss is their book Mardi Gras Murders. New Orleans is one of their many passions and Mardi Gras Murders is a beautiful reflection of their love for the city and its people, as well as their enormous talent for telling a damn good story. And by the way, Nicole is also an artist and did the artwork on the cover of the book. It’s really gorgeous.
MG: Nicole, let’s start with your love affair with New Orleans. I loved Mardi Gras Murders; it’s a wonderful story. How did that story come to be?
Nicole: Bob and I fell so deeply in love with The Big Easy that we decided we wanted to write a mystery novel with New Orleans in the starring role. The seed for the story was planted during Mardi Gras of 2006 when we were in the midst of a huge crowd watching a parade. When I turned around to say something to Bob he was nowhere to be found -- vanished from my sight! For a very brief, reptilian-brain moment, I panicked. Then my adult logic kicked in and I calmed myself and waited for him to come back. That brief shot of abandonment-adrenalin planted itself in my mind and eventually became the genesis for Mardi Gras Murders.
MG: I thought the story was riveting and you did a great job creating the initial tension. I also liked how you played with point of view and told the story from several angles. Can you tell us something about that?
Nicole: The main part of the story is told from the viewpoint of Kendall Erickson whose fiancé (Mark Bell) is kidnapped while she is distracted watching a Mardi Gras parade. A concurrent part of the story is told from her fiancé’s viewpoint, so the reader is also privy to what’s happening to Mark while Kendall is frantically searching for him.
As the mystery unfolds, the reader moves through layers of revelation about who Mark Bell really is, and also who his antagonists are. The villains are revealed slowly, as if through a thick, Bayou fog. Unintended consequences ensnare the kidnappers, and what had originally started out as spur-of-the-moment retribution, ends up miring the kidnappers and their families in the quicksands of Hell.
MG: You set the story in post-Katrina New Orleans and I know the hurricane was in some way always in the background of the story.
Nicole: Yes, absolutely. In addition to the kidnappers, there’s a greater villain in the story: Hurricane Katrina. When Katrina roared through New Orleans it not only destroyed people and property, it laid bare the underlying cesspool of poverty that was the ugly underbelly of the city and then it heaped so much more suffering and calamity on top of that. The devastation was extraordinary. That’s not the only other villain, though. There is yet one more underlying villain that we need to acknowledge as being also responsible for the tragedy that takes place in Mardi Gras Murders: the selfish belief that we are not our brother’s keeper.
MG: Of course that’s not unique to New Orleans.
Nicole: Oh, of course not. It’s an epidemic that’s tearing the entire country apart. Poverty would not exist if we all shared what we had with those less fortunate. The greatest villain in the story is selfishness but that’s the greatest villain in life. In order to vanquish the egregious sin of selfishness we need to “Do unto others as we would wish them to do unto us.”
It was difficult for me to write the story of Mardi Gras Murders without getting into the politics of the whole Katrina catastrophe but, because my goal in writing our novels is to entertain, I held back on any finger-pointing. However, if readers are interested in the various causes and after-effects of Katrina, our book includes a bibliography of documentaries and newspaper articles about the whole, tragic affair.
In my opinion, New Orleans is a national treasure that must be preserved and this means preserving the people and culture was well as the beautiful architecture. People are the true treasures of New Orleans; its people who create and play New Orleans’ jazz; people who cook and lovingly serve the gumbo, jambalaya, and enormous muffuletta sandwiches; and it’s the people of New Orleans who live out the motto of the city: “Let the good times roll!” They have a beautiful resilience and ability to locate joy in everyday life.
MG: You know I’ve always been intrigued that you and Bob collaborated on this book, as well as others. How does that work exactly?
Nicole: My husband and I co-created Mardi Gras Murders but we each contributed in different ways. In our twenty-six years of marriage, we’ve co-created many projects; our talents blend together beautifully, but do not overlap. I’m right-brain dominant; my background is a degree in writing and literature, and for twenty years I taught high school Language Arts. Bob is left-brain dominant and his business career is in broadcast engineering. Together we have produced six books and it takes both of us to get each book to market.
First of all, I write down the story and then give it to Bob to evaluate. Because the story first appears in my mind, I often assume the reader can connect-the-dots the same way I do in my head. Bob helps fill-in many of the missing pieces that I left out because I saw them in my mind but neglected to write them down on the page.
Using Bob’s critique of my first draft, I write a second draft. Then I put it away for six months before I read it again and try to evaluate it through new eyes. (It’s very difficult to be objective about one’s own writing.) If I think the story “has legs,” I do a third draft which Bob then edits. After his editing, I polish the story to the best of my ability and then we send it out to our beta readers. Using the suggestions of our beta readers I do a rewrite of the final manuscript, which Bob then edits for typos.
I correct the typos and then give him the finished manuscript to format for our end users. Bob sends one format to our printer, which then comes back as the hardcopy books that readers see in bookstores. Bob creates an electronic format which he uploads to Kindle and Nook for e-readers.
MG: It’s not a secret that married couples often have power struggles and bump heads when working together on projects. Tell the truth, do you and Bob have arguments and disagreements along the way?
Nicole: Once in awhile we have minor disagreements. Together we have designed and built two homes, co-created hundreds of workshops and lectures, and co-authored fiction and non-fiction books. Most of the time, our talents and personalities complement each other. HOWEVER, there are, indeed, times when we have a different vision of something, or a different method of how to achieve our goal. When this happens, we sometimes raise our voices and our blood pressure. The good news is that we practice tried-and-true methods of resolving our conflicts (which means never saying something personal or accusatory; we use “I feel” statements, as opposed to “you are an ignorant jackass.”) Please insert some laughter here, because we both laugh at ourselves a lot…as do our children and grandchildren.
For both of us, the centerpiece of our lives is our marriage. Before we met, we had learned -- the hard and painful way -- how to create unhealthy marriages. We both had survived two divorces, each, yet we were determined we could learn how to co-create a marriage that would be both healthy and ecstatically happy. Those are two huge goals, and by the grace of God, we have achieved a marriage that is both happy and healthy. We nurture our marriage daily and reap the amazing rewards.
Please visit Nicole and Bob at their website. Their address is: P.O. Box 2606, Temecula, CA, 92593, and Nicole will be happy to accept your email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are happy to answer your questions and to share their love for New Orleans with you.
Mardi Gras Murders is available on-line at both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble and can be ordered from any bookstore worldwide.
Nicole and Bob are the parents of three adult children and five grandchildren and are incredibly passionate about the LA Lakers and love talking basketball!
I’m incredibly honored to call these remarkable people my dear friends.