Monday, December 3, 2012

Talking Story with Mystery Author Sandra Nikolai

Sandra Nikolai is the author of False Impressions, a Megan Scott/Michael Elliot mystery, that one reviewer describes as “. . .a tightly plotted mystery of betrayal and revenge that kept me guessing until the end. A sparkling debut from a promising crime writer.” Sandra was born in Montreal, Québec, and earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill University. As a teen, she discovered her love of mysteries through the Nancy Drew series and was determined to write her own stories one day. Please join me in welcoming my guest today, Sandra Nikolai. 

GAIL: Thank you for joining us today for this interview, Sandra. One of many areas that intrigued me as I read your novel, False Impressions, was your portrayal of 3-Dimensional characters, especially your protagonist. Megan Scott tends to avoid conflict, preferring to reason out a situation. How do you usually deal with conflict in your life, Sandra, and did you use examples of personal experiences when writing this character trait for Megan? 

SANDRA NIKOLAI: I believe that a fair number of personal conflicts can be resolved through logic and compromise if we keep our emotions in check. The pen is mightier than the sword, as they say. This concept is reflected in Megan Scott’s outlook on life as well. As a ghostwriter who is logical and organized and works behind the scenes, my young protagonist isn’t used to conflict—especially in the physical sense. As long as everything runs smoothly, she’s okay. For the sake of the mystery novel, I dropped her into threatening situations to create internal and external conflicts, increase tension, and raise the stakes. Readers can find out more about the ordeals I put Megan through by visiting my blog and reading my interview with her. I also wanted to mention Michael Elliott, Megan’s friend and investigative reporter in the story. As one would expect, his search for the truth triggers dilemmas of a lethal kind and brings even more conflict into Megan’s life. How she deals with these conflicts ultimately decides her fate. Luckily, I never had to deal with such horrific events in my life. 

GAIL: Your debut novel, False Impressions, is set in Montreal. You live in Ottawa and graduated from McGill University in Montreal. My genealogy research took me to many websites concerning Quebec, and I had an opportunity to visit beautiful Montreal several decades ago. While I saw many sights there, one unfamiliar to me is Sunny Watering Hole, Bistro Hot Spot, Montreal, Quebec. Because Megan Scott had never heard of the place, either, I am wondering, is this an actual place or a wonderful figment of the author’s imagination? 

SANDRA NIKOLAI: Definitely a figment of my imagination! I thought I’d have a bit of fun by creating a fictitious name for a pub. I used fictitious names for several other places in and around Montreal in my story. To protect the innocent, of course. J

GAIL: One of the most frequently asked questions of authors is “Where do you get your ideas?” Answers vary, anywhere from newspaper articles to personal experiences to sheer imagination. Have you ever awakened from a dream with an idea that just had to be told, and were you able to remember enough of the details to actually write the story? 

SANDRA NIKOLAI: Ideas come to me from the three sources you mentioned, but most of the time they come from my imagination. If I draw from the news or personal experience, I’ll give the incident a twist or dramatize it to suit the scene. As for dreams, once in a while I’ll wake up the next morning with a solution to a problem I’d encountered in the story the day before. It’s one of those “Aha!” moments when all the pieces of the puzzle seem to have fallen into place while I was sleeping. If I’m sitting at my desk, struggling with a bit of prose, I’ll take a break and do something else. The change in focus often leads to an answer. If not, I’ll move on and work on another scene. A solution pops up when I least expect it. 

GAIL: When I read a novel, I look for strengths within the protagonist and imagine the backstory that led her to the point where she is capable of dealing with crisis situations. Megan Scott is suspected of murder in False Impressions. Having to deal with everything that confronts her, she also manages to focus on this accusation. Has she gained the strength to cope with disaster from events in her personal life or through the demands of her career? 

SANDRA NIKOLAI: Perhaps both. Megan is tougher than what she appears to be at first. As the story progresses, we learn she is an only child, which makes her independent. She lost her father to cancer at a young age, is helping her mother financially, and is saving money to buy a home—signs of responsibility. She works long hours, pays attention to detail, and meets stringent deadlines on the job. These habits spell resolve and diligence. When Megan learns of the murders and then becomes a prime suspect, she’s doubly astounded, but she doesn’t dwell on the gravity of the situation for long. Instead she draws on her strengths to help prove her innocence and find the real killer. She’s a survivor. 

GAIL: Research is one of the most important aspects of a writer’s work. No matter how knowledgeable the writer is, some research is inevitable. Seasoned authors (Stephen King comes to mind) may delegate this task, and one author I know says he does not farm out the research for his risqué scenes. As a debut novelist without the luxury of delegating, did you do your own research for scenes involving the Montreal nightlife, specifically the strip club Café Cleopatra? 

SANDRA NIKOLAI: I grew up in Montreal and am familiar with the nightlife there. That’s not to say I frequented the strip clubs or stood on street corners in the red light district. Heavens, I’m a wife and mother—I have a reputation to maintain! J Kidding aside, I try to ensure that my research information is as accurate as possible. I’ve taken a few liberties with names and places, but the police investigation and legalities—Canadian style—were verified through reliable sources. 

GAIL: The second novel in your mystery series, Fatal Whispers, is set in Portland, Maine. It is always fun to travel to the chosen venue of a new novel and absorb the atmosphere and outline pertinent logistics. When you sit down to record your stories, though, is there a special place where you would most like to write, such as inside your private office, on the beach, or in Rome? 

SANDRA NIKOLAI: Yes, traveling is fun! I visited Portland and knew right away that this quaint New England city would be the perfect setting for my next book. As for my special writing place, I have a home office with a lovely view of the trees outdoors. It’s a quiet place where my muse and I conspire to dream up mystery plots, create characters, and bring the guilty to justice. And I love every minute of it! 

 Where to find Sandra Nikolai on the Internet:

Book sale sites:


  1. Great interview Sandra! Bet you had fun coming up with the pub names. I enjoyed your book and look forward to the next one in the series!

  2. Thanks for your kind comments, Mary!


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