When not teaching English at the University of Rhode Island, Professor Derek Nikitas writes fiction. Nikitas has three published novels: Pyres, an Edgar Award nominated thriller, the crime novel The Long Division and a young adult time travel novel, “Extra Life.” Recently, Nikitas even collaborated with the best-selling author, James Patterson.
Nikitas worked with Patterson on two stories in his “BookShots” series, a collection of stand-alone 100 to 150 page thriller novellas.
Although about 25 other co-authors work with Patterson on these books, Nikitas was the first writer Patterson hired.
Patterson’s business manager Bill Robinson got into contact with Nikitas through a mutual friend who recommended him. Then, Nikitas went through an audition period in which Patterson evaluated Nikitas’s own work and had him fleshing out ideas generated by Patterson to see if he could match Patterson’s style.
“He’ll develop an outline. And that outline is sent to me through the editors at Little Brown where the books are published, and it’s my job to flesh these books out to 120-140 page book. Every 40-50 pages or so I send them to Patterson and he gives me a lot of editorial feedback. What’s working, what’s not working, and how to fit the Patterson house style,” said Nikitas.
The professor has yet to interact with Patterson in person, but instead talked to him through 5 to 15 minute phone calls. “He was very business-like. I imagine this is because he had a lot of BookShots going on at the same time and many different authors to work with.”
Nikitas felt that collaborating with Patterson helped him better understand the reading public. For Patterson, Nikitas is involved in writing short chapters of about three-five pages long. This makes it possible for someone to read the chapter in five minutes before they go to sleep.
“All chapters start with hooks and end with cliffhangers,” said Nikitas. “No flashbacks, no long moments of introspection. All action. It’s changed my own writing in a way. The stuff I’m working on now is certainly more Patterson-esque than anything I’ve written before.”
Professor Nikitas has been writing since he was 7 years old and theorizes that beginning to write had to do with his parents’ divorce.
“My mother was very restrictive and my father not so much,” said Nikias. “He let me watch whatever kinds of movies I wanted to watch, like horror movies. And then I’d go home. Two weeks would go by and I wouldn’t be allowed to watch anything questionable, so I started making up my own stories to appease that part of my imagination.”
Outside of his work with Patterson, Nikitas also has big plans for the future.
“I’m working on a novel about some fictional kidnappings in South County here in Rhode Island. I love the atmosphere of this part of the state. I’m also trying to get a foothold in film and especially television right now. I’m working with a manager out in LA. One pilot is based on the Long Division and is called Rust Belt, and another is an original crime story called ‘Exploiting Tragedy’.”
When asked about the advice he has for aspiring creative writers, Nikitas said that they should look into the English department’s Creative Writing Option, or at least take ENG 105, an introductory creative writing class. The class surveys writing fiction, poetry, screenwriting and literary nonfiction. Nikitas also said he would tell students to “recognize that most talent development comes from being inspired by the books you read. So my suggestion is read a lot.”