Transcript:                    Thanks, Allan. This is David Brower with your 20 Minute Podcast. Our special guest today is Nikki Stern. She’s an author of three books, two non-fiction, one fiction. She’s written essays. She’s co-authored different things. She’s been a composer, musician in New York, a PR director for an architecture firm, and an advocate for 9/11 family members. But writing is your favorite career, as I read in your bio. Hi, Nikki, how are you?

Nikki Stern:                  Hi. I’m fine. I’m fine. And it is so far.

David Brower:              So far. It’s still early.

Nikki Stern:                  But you never know. You never know.

David Brower:              You never know what’s around that next corner, huh?

Nikki Stern:                  Right. I’m all about third acts.

David Brower:              There you go. There you go. When and how, what was your epiphany to start writing? How did you get doing that after being a musician, a PR director, those kinds of things?

Nikki Stern:                  I mean, I’ve always written. I’ve been writing since I was seven years old and I wrote some odd little song about a wolf and a little boy. And public relations was about writing when I was in music for 14 years. I wrote lyrics, as well as music. So, there was always some writing, but it really was after the events of 9/11 when I felt compelled to get all of my thoughts and observations as what they were calling back then a 9/11 family member, down into a book. So, that was the impetus for the first book.

David Brower:              Oh wow. And that first book is, let me see here. I think I’ve got, what’s-

Nikki Stern:                  Because I Say So, Moral Authority’s Dangerous Appeal.

David Brower:              There you go. There you go.

Nikki Stern:                  Yep.

David Brower:              And an amazing review on that, too. It said, “Embodying even-keeled grace, tolerance and common sense.” I mean, to put those three things together is, that’s high praise, man. That’s high praise.

Nikki Stern:                  It was high praise. And I certainly appreciate that Kurt Anderson, the author and PR host, gave that to me. That was terrific. I can’t say it made me rich, but it struck me. It was very much appreciated.

David Brower:              Well, gratification sometimes trumps money. Not always, but sometimes.

Nikki Stern:                  Yes. Most of the time it does.

David Brower:              Good. Good. I agree with you 100%. That was your first book, right?

Nikki Stern:                  Right, right. Then, there was an idea of a personal journey of mine that, I was getting a lot of self-help advice from other people. I was inundated with books on how to survive loss and trauma, and all of that. My impetus to write a second book, which is called Hope in Small Doses, Reasonable Happiness in Unreasonable Times, was a first of mine asking me if I felt hopeful. She asked me a little too soon, but again, everybody has a different process.

David Brower:              Absolutely.

Nikki Stern:                  And I realized I didn’t even know what that meant, so I decided to take a couple years and tried to figure out what hope is to most people, and then what it could mean to me and then whether what I came up with might work for other people.

David Brower:              There you go. So, are you a 9/11 survivor?

Nikki Stern:                  I am what they were calling back then a 9/11 widow. I try not to think that way, but of course it’s coming up again because you’ve got the people who are going through trauma and then advocacy. There are people saying, “How can they possibly do both,” and I know exactly how they can do both because I did both.

David Brower:              You’ve lived it.

Nikki Stern:                  You can process grief. I’m writing an article, in fact, called Talking While Grieving. So, I’m hoping that-

David Brower:              That would touch a few folks.

Nikki Stern:                  It would.

David Brower:              Won’t you think, yeah.

Nikki Stern:                  That’s my hope, so to speak.

David Brower:              Yeah. Besides being cathartic for you, I’m sure the opportunity to touch people with your writing, I mean just reading the titles or the comments, great comments about these reviews. That’s the word I’m searching for. It just seems to me that that’s kind of your calling. I’m gonna do this stuff for me. Oh yeah, not really. I’m gonna do this stuff to help other people.

Nikki Stern:                  Well, I have done that and I will do that again, but then in the meantime, I realized I just wanted to have some good old fashioned storytelling fun. So, I said, “I’m gonna write a novel,” and I actually started, oh I don’t know, three … because guess what, no. Not everybody can write a novel. And then I took a class, and then I wrote short stories, and I did a lot of practicing.

David Brower:              Sure.

Nikki Stern:                  And then it started to come together, the third one. I’ll look at the first two some other time.

David Brower:              There you go.

Nikki Stern:                  And then, I thought, “Well okay. Now I have to make a staff patient entertaining and suspenseful.” I just wanted to build it.

David Brower:              Your first novel got great reviews, right? I mean, it was-

Nikki Stern:                  So far.

David Brower:              A riveting read from start to finish, is what the [Kirlass 00:05:42] review mentioned. Again, that’s, you’re getting some high praise on all this stuff. They don’t make those kinds of comments lightly.

Nikki Stern:                  No, I don’t think they do. But yeah, I’m going for it. We’ll see what happens again. It’s so hard to figure out how to translate that into sales, but I’m gonna make an audio book to try-

David Brower:              Well, that was my next question. I would think you would want to do that. I’ve done probably seven or eight audio books for different authors. It’s just so popular any more that people can be alone with a book in a totally different way than what my mother used to be alone with a book, as an example. It’s just a different way.

Nikki Stern:                  Absolutely, David. For better or for worse, on the west coast, people are in their cars.

David Brower:              Right, right.

Nikki Stern:                  Somebody said, “Gee, this ought to be,” lots of people said, “This ought to be made into a movie.” I thought, “Well, I’ve got to send an audio book then to those people that make those decisions because they have to listen.” But believe it or not, I’m not gonna do my own. I mean, there is too much going on. I’m tired. I’ve done too much work. So, I’m auditioning people through ACX, Audible.

David Brower:              Nice.

Nikki Stern:                  Oh my gosh. There are a lot of really talented people out there.

David Brower:              Yeah, there are. I’ve done a couple books through ACX.

Nikki Stern:                  I between you have.

David Brower:              It is such a great venue for writers, voice actors, all that kind of stuff. It helps create a true win-win situation, I think, when you have the right voice talent with the right book. There’s just something … I did that. I just finished a book about three weeks ago. It was called 121 Day Devotional from the Book of Jonah. This author found me through the most interesting ways. I’m going, “Wow. How did that come about?” And we just hooked up, and it was magic, and it was great. I don’t do them very often, but when they speak to me, it’s like, “Well yeah. Why wouldn’t you do that one?”

Nikki Stern:                  There’s one woman, and I didn’t select her, but she said, “You know what, I bought your book anyway, because it looked so exciting.” And I thought to myself, “First of all, that’s so excellent to hear.” But that’s why I’ve gotten, oh gosh, almost two dozen audition tapes so far.

David Brower:              Nice.

Nikki Stern:                  I know I have to cut it off, but it’s kind of exciting, too.

David Brower:              Well, and it’s fun to see what they do with your text, right, and how can they make it personal? Can they make it … Can they give the intent of what you intended? I mean, that’s a challenge.

Nikki Stern:                  I’ll tell you what. If you have an international thriller with a large cast of characters in lots of different countries, there’s a lot, male and female from ages 23 through 75, and then there’s a child in there. There’s a lot going on.

David Brower:              Yeah.

Nikki Stern:                  So, we’ll see.

David Brower:              Well, if you find the right person, they might bring the rest of the actors along, you know.

Nikki Stern:                  Yeah.

David Brower:              Which would be cool. I’m excited for you.

Nikki Stern:                  Thank you.

David Brower:              I think that’s, man. I got goose bumps on that one. Good for you. So, you’ve also got some essays that appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, Humanist Magazine. Are you still writing essays from time to time?

Nikki Stern:                  I am. The initial essays, the ones in the big papers were related to my experience of 9/11. I started speaking a little more on tolerance than maybe other family members did, at some point. And so then I was talking about people’s reactions and trying to find a counterpart to people’s reactions. And I worked with a group called Search for Common Ground about trying to find commonality with people that you would normally be opposing instinctively. It hasn’t gone all that well in the United States, but I remain committed to trying.

David Brower:              Well, good for you.

Nikki Stern:                  And I have written some essays to that, but I’ve also written some essays that are my opinion. And some of those have found their way into books that are more opinionated.

David Brower:              Nice.

Nikki Stern:                  It just depends on what the book is.

David Brower:              Have you thought about doing a podcast?

Nikki Stern:                  I want to so much. I adore recording. I just can’t figure out what I would do it on. That’s what I’ve got to work on. Why do you ask?

David Brower:              Well, because I love the way your mind works. It goes in all … I mean, seriously. That was one of the attractions to wanting you on my podcast.

Nikki Stern:                  Thank you.

David Brower:              Was I like the different books, the titles, the reviews. I mean, you can just read a lot about a person’s personality if you don’t overthink it, just by reading their bio.

Nikki Stern:                  Yeah, yeah, if I could find a topic.

David Brower:              Yeah.

Nikki Stern:                  If I can find a topic that isn’t already being done. Well, it probably will be. And then infuse it with whatever it is I am. I would find that so enjoyable. I love recording.

David Brower:              Well, and it doesn’t have … Who cares if somebody else is doing it? It’s about your perspective and your take and your ability to touch people with your words and your mind. So I think, don’t turn the lights off. There’s lots of opportunities out there.

Nikki Stern:                  No, no. I actually have one idea. It was kind of a kinder, gentler, but not too much kinder and gentler, Andy Rooney.

David Brower:              Oh my gosh.

Nikki Stern:                  Not quite as acerbic because it’s me, and I always laugh, but I do have opinions.

David Brower:              Well, that’s what we’re all looking for. Sometimes we need them more than we think we do, just to you know, “Oh really? It’s not all about me. Okay. I’ll think about that for a while.”

Nikki Stern:                  Yeah.

David Brower:              Because we’re kind of … I mean, life is so busy and we’re all looking for immediate gratification and we’re going from point A to point Z in .3 seconds. And we need opportunities like that to slow us down and make us stop in our tracks and go, “Well let’s think about that.”

Nikki Stern:                  I agree with you completely.

David Brower:              So, your latest book is?

Nikki Stern:                  Well, the book I’m working on now is … I mean, I’ve never done this before, but it’s the first in a series. I started to write it as a mystery. Okay. There was one character that was a little unusual. And I joined the Mystery Writers of America, and I went to all these conventions. Then about nine months in, someone said, “You know, it’s kind of science fiction.” And I said, “But it’s a mystery.” [inaudible 00:12:24] trying to solve a crime. The big problem with the publishing company, it’s publishing companies in the publishing industry, is they’re a little bit … They tend to pigeonhole things.

David Brower:              There you go, yeah.

Nikki Stern:                  You’re a mystery writer. You’re a sci-fi writer. You’re a this, you’re a that.

David Brower:              Yeah, they’re gonna stereotype you before they even give you a shot, right.

Nikki Stern:                  Paradoxically, what I call the new television, the streaming services like Netflix, they’re all about hybrids. If you go to Netflix, there’s a mystery story that’s also a fantasy. There’s a science fiction where somebody is, which is also a thriller. A counterpoint in stars is like that. We’ll see. If I can’t push the industry, then I will do it myself.

David Brower:              Self-publish.

Nikki Stern:                  But I know that this is gonna be great for Netflix. I know it.

David Brower:              Well, and if-

Nikki Stern:                  I like the character.

David Brower:              Yeah, and if Netflix … I mean, they don’t do things lightly. They’re gonna invest in research and make informed decisions. So, if they’ve already done that, for lack of a better term, then they’re having some success with the hybrid philosophy that you’re thinking about, that’s got to be okay. Let’s go for that ride.

Nikki Stern:                  And I think it would be fun.

David Brower:              You know.

Nikki Stern:                  I don’t like it when people get pigeonholed into genres. I feel bad for the authors and I feel bad for the readers. I mean, I think it’s fun. The mystery readers are one kind of people and the sci-fi readers, they have their crazy conventions. But why not-

David Brower:              Why not?

Nikki Stern:                  So I had to join all different groups now, and I had to go to these crazy conventions with people in costumes.

David Brower:              Looking at a hybrid of mystery and science fiction or whatever kind of hybrid, I think there’s definitely an audience out there that publishers may not have given permission to yet.

Nikki Stern:                  I absolutely agree. And I’m very excited about it because I’m already writing book two, and I have the idea sketched out for three and four.

David Brower:              Nice.

Nikki Stern:                  This isn’t anything I ever imagined doing, but there I am doing it.

David Brower:              Well, and you’re keeping your options open, it appears. And something, when that little epiphany hits, you have the ability to listen to it. Not a lot of us have that gift.

Nikki Stern:                  Most of the time.

David Brower:              I hear you.

Nikki Stern:                  No one’s perfect.

David Brower:              That’s a true story. So, your newest book then is The Former Assassin? Is that right?

Nikki Stern:                  The newest book that’s out right now is called The Former Assassin, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the usual. Right now, it’s not in book stores, but it is available in print, as well as e-books, all sorts of platforms. Google Play, Apple, Nook, Kindle. I run a lot of specials on Kindle.

David Brower:              Oh nice. Well again, the reviews on there, a riveting read from start to finish, an explosive page turner, a rousing tale with many layered protagonist. I mean, you just look at those three reviews and you go, “Well yeah. I’ve got to pick that up.”

Nikki Stern:                  Well, that’s what I hope people do.

David Brower:              That’s your PR stuff coming out right there.

Nikki Stern:                  Yep, it sure is. It sure is.

David Brower:              That is awesome. Is The Former Assassin the first book in your series, or is that totally different?

Nikki Stern:                  I have told people it’s a standalone. It’s completely different. It’s less of a mystery, or a crime procedural, which the other ones are. It’s more of a straight up thriller. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. Someone thinks someone’s dead, but he’s still … The opening line of the blurb is, “Suzanne Foster, wife, mother, former assassin, wants to retire. Her boss wants her dead.”

David Brower:              Why am I thinking of the movie The Red Sparrow? I don’t know why.

Nikki Stern:                  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

David Brower:              You know, ballerina turns assassin.

Nikki Stern:                  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

David Brower:              How exciting for you. How long has that been out?

Nikki Stern:                  Just January.

David Brower:              Okay. Okay. So, you’re starting to get a little bit of traction with it?

Nikki Stern:                  I am, slowly but surely.

David Brower:              Nice.

Nikki Stern:                  Book clubs, which is kind of fun. I have-

David Brower:              Yeah. I guess that was my next question is with all your PR experience, which obviously has to pay off for you, what’s your philosophy in getting your books out there to the public?

Nikki Stern:                  Well, you know I have to pull back sometimes because in doing PR, and maybe I could have, should have hired someone, but I wanted to see how much I could do. And there is a limit. I get pulled away from my writing, and that’s a problem. So, I’m kind of relying on networking. I do a couple of events and then people, for example, I met some people near me who go to Florida in the winter. And I now have three book clubs in Florida who wanted the book.

David Brower:              Oh cool. Wow.

Nikki Stern:                  Yeah. Then somebody had a friend or a cousin or a sister-in-law from North Carolina and she went to her book club, and they ordered some. That’s another way to go. It’s slow, but again that’s … I love the idea of book clubs. And I’m working up some-

David Brower:              Well yeah, I’ve got some friends that do that. I haven’t been in one, but from what my dear friend says about it, it’s just so impactful when they select the right book. It’s not always appealing for everybody in the club, but that’s what brings out the conversation.

Nikki Stern:                  They are great fans.

David Brower:              Oh my gosh.

Nikki Stern:                  Book club members are great fans.

David Brower:              Exactly.

Nikki Stern:                  Wow, yeah. They’re loyal and they’re, yeah. They can make … I mean there’s two books-

David Brower:              Yeah. It goes back to word of mouth.

Nikki Stern:                  That I know they made. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

David Brower:              Always has been. Always will be the best form of advertising, I think. Well that’s cool. I’m so thrilled for you. This has been a wonderful conversation.

Nikki Stern:                  Thank you.

David Brower:              Folks, I want to invite you to check out That’s N-I-K-K-I, Nikki Stern, S-T-E-R-N. No relation to Howard Stern, I assume.

Nikki Stern:                  None.

David Brower:              But maybe. She’s also on Facebook. She’s also on Twitter. Are you still working on Instagram?

Nikki Stern:                  Oh yeah. I’m on now. I have, oh wow. I mean, 18 followers I think.

David Brower:              Oh my gosh. Well I just followed you on Twitter, so I’ll have to slip over to Instagram.

Nikki Stern:                  Okay. Yeah. At RealNikkiStern.

David Brower:              There you go.

Nikki Stern:                  I guess opposed to the fake one.

David Brower:              There you go. Yeah, Twitter is RealNikkiStern and the Facebook page is Is RealNikkiStern on Instagram?

Nikki Stern:                  It is.

David Brower:              Cool. Well, check it all out. All the links to everything, examples of her books, a history about her and the whole enchilada, if you will. This has been a real treat, Nikki. Thank you and continued success.

Nikki Stern:                  And thank you.

Allan Blackwell:            Your 20 Minute Podcast with David Brower has been brought to you by Audible. You can listen to any of David’s podcasts anywhere podcasts can be found, including iHeartRadio, the Spotify mobile app, and the Until next time, thanks for listening.