Today I have a fabulous adventure of a post. I have an interview with the uber interesting D.J. Niko, author of The Tenth Saint and The Riddle of Solomon! Plus she’s the mother of twins and a very successful journalist. She’s a wealth of information on biblical history, archaeology, research, writing, and more. I’d stay tuned for this one!
If you’d like to read my review of her novel, The Riddle of Solomon, go HERE! Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of it; details below the interview!
Hi Daphne, so happy to have you on Oh, for the Hook of a Book today to talk about your book series, archaeology, and life as a writer. I’ll head to your neck of the woods, where it’s a tad bit sunnier and we can grab a tall ice cold drink and get started! How have things been going with your release, The Riddle of Solomon?
D.J.: Hi, Erin! Pleasure to be here. I’m very excited for this release. The early reviews have been very encouraging, so I am grateful. Fingers crossed that it stays that way!
Erin: The series is fabulous and I bet you’ll keep having great success! Let’s dive into these questions, maybe we’ll unearth an amazing discovery….*smile*
Q: You have traveled all over the world writing for many years, but when did you first catch the impulse to write fiction?
A: Around the turn of the millennium, I resolved to throw myself a new challenge on the professional level. Fiction was something I’d always wanted to try, so I thought, why not now? I spent a summer in a farmhouse in rural Ireland, writing. That amounted to a false start (though I did learn how to milk a cow!), but it successfully planted the seed.
Erin Comments: Ha! Yes, it seems sometimes just starting to put anything on paper, without even anything coming from it, is a great way to start the process.
Q: As a travel writer, in your fictional archaeological thriller series of Sarah Weston, is it the travel you like to write most about or the archaeological aspects? And why?
A: I love writing about exotic locales, since that is a passion of mine. Inserting my personal observations, borrowing details from experiences I’ve had, and writing characters based on people I’ve met along the way is so much fun for me. It’s like reliving my travels.
Q: Have you written any interesting non-fiction pieces about archaeological discoveries? If so, what? If not, what would you like to write about?
A: I haven’t, but I do lecture about archaeological discoveries relating to the world’s religions. I’d love to write more about biblical archaeology, as I have done so much research into this topic. I’m particularly interested in Israel in the tenth century BCE—the time of King Solomon and the united monarchy.
Q: In The Riddle of Solomon, your characters are putting together a puzzle that has to do with a message from King Solomon. Why do you feel that biblical archaeology in fiction and non-fiction is so well-liked by readers?
A: The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is the world’s most read book. Whether religious or not, we can relate to those stories, as so many of us grew up with them. Biblical archaeology often brings the characters, places, and stories of the Bible to life, but sometimes it stirs up controversy too. Either way, we love to watch those revelations unfold.
Q: Do you feel with many of the biblical archaeological pursuits that the answers ever have hope of being found? Is it more likely now with technological advances? How fun is it as a writer to come up with the answers to these mysteries?
A: We’re finding answers every day. But that said, there are areas that are completely off limits—Temple Mount, for example—so certain things we may never know. For a writer (this one, anyway), it is fun to come up with possible scenarios by piecing together the facts with the legends and the what-ifs.
A: Obviously, I love Sarah. She’s strong and willful, but she’s flawed, too. She needs so badly to feel close to someone, but she’s also afraid of loss, so she tends to push people away. That is why I added some of the emotional twists in The Riddle—the capture of her father by Sacks’ thugs, the perceived loss of Daniel. Dealing with these blows helped her find intimacy. It’s fun to watch her grow in that regard.
I also really like the spiritual men—Apostolos in The Tenth Saint and the rabbi in The Riddle of Solomon. They have a deep strength of character and an abiding, unshakable calm. They are the ports in the storm, if you will.
Q: I love how independent and intelligent Sarah Weston is in your series. Also that she never gives up on what she thinks is right. How did you channel Sarah into such an amazing character?
A: I wanted to give Sarah qualities I personally admire in people. It’s not easy to fight for what you believe, contra mundum. Most of us don’t have the courage to do it. I wanted to give her that idealized sense of integrity, but not without her fair share of issues. Sarah is far from perfect, but she has a good moral compass that helps her find strength in difficult situations.
Q: Are there any other strong women in history that you admire? Who is a woman in history that you feel has not been given her due justice? Who do you feel has not been written about enough?
A: My answer to all three: Aung San Suu Kyi. She has fought for freedom, democracy, and justice in spite of all the trials she’s had to endure. Having been to Burma and seen the plight of the Burmese people firsthand, I applaud this woman’s commitment to face the oppressors head-on.
Erin Comments: Great answer!
Q: What was one of the most amazing discoveries you came across when doing your research for The Tenth Saint or The Riddle of Solomon? How much time do you spend on research?
A: I was fascinated to read about King Solomon’s mechanized throne with all the effigies of beasts. That’s actually detailed vividly in 1 Kings. I also enjoyed reading texts Solomon supposedly wrote, just to get into his head a little bit. I spend a ton of time on research. For The Riddle, for example, I read books, attended lectures, interviewed experts, and even consulted a rabbi about philosophical issues. For me, research is nearly as enjoyable as the writing itself.
Q: As a business woman and a busy mother, how do you find the time to write your novels? What are some words of advice for other women in similar situations with stories to tell? Do you carve out scheduled time to write? If so, how important is that to the process?
A: My life is pretty packed, so I have to carve out the time. I wake up at 4 a.m. every day, even on weekends, just so I can spend 2-3 hours on writing my novels before my 4-year-olds wake up and all hell breaks loose. 🙂 To other women in similar situations, I say, “Don’t give up on a dream because there is ‘no time’ for it. The time is there; it’s up to you to give yourself permission to take it. Hey, if I can do it, anyone can.”
Erin Comments: I truly don’t know how you do it, but I think the fact that you are committed to doing it is really what helps you to be successful. That’s amazing! You must drink extra coffee though, or something….!!
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in regards to writing fiction? How did you overcome it to complete your goal?
A: I’ve written non-fiction my entire career. Switching to fiction wasn’t easy, since I wasn’t used to inventing the people and events in my stories. I literally felt guilty doing that, like it was wrong or something. But eventually I realized it was just another form of storytelling, and it could make just as profound an impact as a non-fiction piece. That was kind of liberating.
Q: How important do you feel editing is to the writing process? How much time should writers devote toward the editing process?
A: Huge. HUGE. I generally do three drafts before turning a manuscript in to my editor. Editing your own work makes you better at the craft, so in a way it’s a privilege. But every writer needs an editor. Think of the work as a gemstone, where you do the cutting and shaping, and your editor polishes it to make it sparkle.
Erin Comments: I love that!!
Q: What do you feel are some main points to remember when writing an action adventure or thriller series?
A: The best thrillers are the believable ones; the ones that work in real history, politics, crime, whatever. Solid research equals authenticity, so I never underestimate the power of that.
Q: Do you think the action/thriller genre is still a “man’s world” and do you have to work even harder to break into their ranks? Why or why not?
A: Certain types of thriller categories are dominated by men, but that’s changing. Look at legal thrillers, for example. It’s mainly a boys’ club, but Lisa Scottoline is killing it in that category. In my subgenre—archaeological/historical—it’s more evenly divided. I’ve never felt handicapped because of my gender.
Q: I ask this question of most journalists who’ve written fiction, how do you feel the transition is for you between journalistic writing and fiction, given they have both similarities and differences?
A: In both cases, it’s all about the research. My work as a journalist—finding the compelling story within a pile of facts—has trained me well for writing fiction. And writing fiction has made me a more creative journalist. But as I said earlier, it wasn’t an easy transition to make. It was hard to keep the two disciplines separate.
Erin Comments: I agree. For me, my sentences used to be too lengthy even for fiction, but my journalism has taught me to tighten up sentences!
Q: What other books are coming up in the Sarah Weston Chronicles?
A: The third book is working-titled The Oracle and it takes place in Greece. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say this is extra-special to me, because of my own ancestry. Some of the themes I will be exploring are hard-wired into my DNA, so I expect writing it will be both exhilarating and emotional.
Erin Comments: Sounds exciting!
Q: Do you have any other writings or books available? Do you have any other books you are looking forward to writing in the future?
A: I am currently working on the historical complement to The Riddle of Solomon. It is set in the tenth century BCE, in Israel and Egypt. It explores the collapse of Israel’s united monarchy and the moral and spiritual decline of King Solomon. Some of the mysteries in The Riddle are actually elucidated in this book, which releases in 2015 as an interactive TREEBook.
Erin Comments: That’s neat! I heard about Medallion Press’ TREEBook technology. I can’t wait to check this out!
Q: I imagine you’ve been to some amazing places around the world. Where is one of you favorite places to travel and why? Where would you like to go you haven’t been?
A: It depends on what I’m in the mood for. But generally speaking, I am a big fan of India (I’ve been nine times), especially two parts of the country—Jaisalmer, near the Pakistani border, and Varanasi, which figures prominently in The Riddle of Solomon. As for where I’d like to go: Ladakh, Mongolia (the desert), rural China.
Q: They say food is good for the soul (I think, or I could have made that up…ha!) What is one of your favorite ethnic dishes, at home and abroad?
A: I’m into all sorts of ethnic food. It’s hard to beat a great Moroccan tagine … lamb with plums and almonds, or chicken with olives and preserved lemons. Or a bisteeya stuffed with chicken, egg, almond, and spices. Yummy!
Erin Comments: I love Moroccan too! And Lebanese. Now, I’m hungry!
Q: What other types of fiction do you enjoy yourself? Do you have some favorite writers you admire?
A: I really enjoy literary fiction, because I have a pathological love of language. Some of my favorites writers: Dave Eggers, Junot Diaz, Khaled Hosseini, David Foster Wallace … there are others.
Q: If you could invite anyone in history for a day at the beach, who would it be?
A: Sir Wilfred Thesiger, one of the greatest explorers who ever lived. Considering he crossed the Empty Quarter twice (his book Arabian Sands is one of my favorite tomes ever) and spent so much time among the Bedouins, he would be a hoot at the beach. Imagine the stories he would tell around a bonfire!
Sir Wilfred Thesiger
Erin Comments: True! I wonder how he’d feel about Smores….
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
Q: Where are the best places to purchase your novels?
A: I like to steer people toward independent bookstores, because I’d love to see these wonderful places survive and thrive. If your local bookseller doesn’t have it, order it; give him the business. Otherwise, there is always Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Erin: Thank you so very much for joining me in this discussion today! It was an exciting honor to learn more about you. Best wishes with all your writing pursuits!
D.J.: Thank you so much for having me, Erin. What well thought out, intelligent questions! Your blog is a favorite of mine, and I wish you the very best with it. Hope to come back soon!
Erin: That’s so kind, Daphne! Come back any time!!
The giveaway is for one paperback copy of The Riddle of Solomon and open internationally.
To enter, leave a comment at the end of the post with you email included so I can contact you, send me an email to hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com, or head to the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HookofaBook and leave a comment with email. Winner will be randomly chosen and contacted.
Extra entries: +1 for following my blog, +3 for “liking” the Facebook page, +3 for referring a friend to Facebook page (and letting me know)
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston and anthropologist Daniel Madigan team up for another expedition and adventure in this second book in the Sarah Weston Chronicles. While working on the Qaryat al-Fau archaeological site in Saudi Arabia, the pair uncovers a mysterious ancient scroll composed as a riddle. As they attempt to date and decipher the scroll, a flurry of ills befalls their expedition and the scroll is stolen. A trail of clues leads to India, Jerusalem, and the Judean wilderness, where the two discover the scroll was written by the enigmatic King Solomon as a map to an ancient manuscript. Meanwhile a privileged young Briton, Trent Sacks, has invested years and a fortune looking for his manuscript. Believing he is the last descendant of the House of David in the line of Solomon, Sacks will do whatever it takes to amass the ancient relics which will prove he is the Jewish Messiah. Leaving a string of murders in his wake, Sacks vows to crush Sarah and Daniel for challenging his quest. Journeying through the worlds of the occult, corporate greed, geopolitical conflict, Judaic mysticism, and biblical archaeology, Sarah and Daniel race to uncover the powerful ancient message that could have an explosive impact on modern Israel.
Praise for The Riddle of Solomon
“D. J. Niko’s storytelling carries the grit of desert dust and the seductive scent of incense on every page as Sarah Weston races with a madman to save the treasures that King Solomon left behind.” —Mary Anna Evans, award-winning author, Artifacts and Wounded Earth
Author D.J. Niko, Biography~
D.J. Niko is the nom de plume of Daphne Nikolopoulos, an award-winning author and journalist. Her first novel, titled The Tenth Saint, was released in March 2012 to rave reviews by both readers and the trade. In March 2013, it was awarded the Gold Medal for popular fiction in the prestigious, juried Florida Book Awards. An archaeological thriller embroidered with historical motifs, The Tenth Saint takes readers on an adventure across the globe: Ethiopia, the Syro-Arabian Desert and Abyssinian Empire circa fourth century, London, Paris, Brussels, and Texas. The Tenth Saint is the first book in The Sarah Weston Chronicles series. The second, titled The Riddle of Solomon, releases July 1, 2013.
Daphne is now at work on a historical novel set in tenth century B.C.E. Israel. The epic story details the collapse of the United Monarchy and the glory and fall of the empire built by King Solomon. It will be released in early 2015.
As a former travel journalist, Daphne has traveled across the globe on assignment, or for personal discovery. She has been to some places most of us don’t realize are on the map, and she has brought them to life through her writing for various magazines, newspapers and websites on an international scale. Her travel background and rich experiences now bring authentic detail, color, and realism to her fiction.
She also is the editor in chief of Palm Beach Illustrated magazine, a 62-year-old luxury-lifestyle glossy. She also is the editorial director of Palm Beach Media Group, and in that capacity oversees 11 magazines and 3 websites.
She is the mother of twin toddlers and, in her spare time, volunteers for causes she believes in—literacy, education, child advocacy, and the advancement of traditional and tribal arts from around the world. Born in Athens, Greece, she now lives with her family in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theriddleofsolomontour/
Twitter Hashtag: #RiddleOfSolomonTour