Today we welcome Barbara Nickless, author of Blood on the Tracks.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A day without any crises! Ok, seriously, any day spent with family or friends is perfect. Whether we’re hiking, making dinner, telling stories, playing cards at the kitchen table—it’s treasured time. Of course, a day spent at the Louvre isn’t half bad. 🙂
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
The protagonist of my novel, Special Agent Sydney Parnell, learned an expression from her commanding officer: “We’re still good.” I find myself saying that a lot. Whether it’s rush-hour traffic or helping my 92-year-old dad handle growing older.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Now that’s hard. There have been so many! I learn something from every book I read, whether it’s a novel or a piece of non-fiction. My mother was an English teacher, so our house was filled with the classics. I still go back to Charles Dickens to study character. The Bronte sisters for their passion. And Thomas Hardy because he breaks my heart—every single time.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes. Music can be inspiring when I’m trying to get into the creative flow. Soundtracks are perfect because there aren’t any words to get into the way of my own sentences.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
The darkest chocolate bar you can get—maybe an 85% cacao bar. Nothing sweet about it, but in the end, you know it was probably good for you. I say this because my book can be emotionally challenging, but I think people take away a new awareness about war and family.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Initially, I just wanted to write a police procedural—one with the unique twist of having a railroad cop as the main investigator. But then I became aware of the struggles some of our returning veterans are dealing with, and that was something I wanted to use fiction to explore.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
It sounds trite, but the conflict between good and evil comes up for me all the time—what makes a person do terrible things? But I also have the theme of hope in the face of all obstacles. It isn’t interesting to me to write a story unless the main character ultimately grows and learns and has hope for the future.
Tell us about your main character.
Sydney Rose Parnell grew up in a railroading family. But after 9/11 she joined the Marines, where she ended up in Mortuary Affairs, processing the dead. This is a job that leaves you haunted. When she returned to the States with her military working dog, Clyde, she joined the railway police—it seemed like a safe job because she and Clyde could spend most of their time alone while they dealt with their personal demons. But they’re pulled into a murder investigation, and suddenly nowhere is safe.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Sydney is as relentless in her pursuit of the truth as Carrie Mathison in Homeland. She has a sensitive heart that she tries to hide, like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. And she, like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, has true compassion for the underdog. Also like Reacher, she won’t back away from a fight.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Only six? Hmmm … Brene Brown for her compassion and insight. John le Carre for his gift of thrusting an ordinary person into extraordinary circumstances. Azar Nafisi, because of her courage and support of women’s rights. Mark Twain for his huge heart (not to mention his wit). Alexander Solzhenitsyn for opening up the eyes of the west to what was happening in his homeland. And Ray Bradbury, whose heart was as big as the universe.
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on Dead Stop, the second book in Sydney Parnell’s series. I’m also trying to carve out time to work on a stand-alone novel.
Barbara worked as a raptor rehabilitator, astronomy instructor, sword fighter, piano teacher, and instructional designer before she got serious about writing. Now an award-winning author, she lives in Colorado where she loves to snowshoe, hike and drink single malt Scotch—usually not at the same time. Blood on the Tracks, winner of the Daphne de Maurier Award of Excellence, is her first novel.