Shawano author publishes debut fantasy novel

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Nikki Willcome signs a copy of her debut novel, “The Dark Solstice,” for her mother, Mary Willcome, during a book launch party Friday evening at the Sun Drop Museum. Willcome also showed the trailer for her book and served up cake for her guests.

A young woman lost in the dunes, a dangerous outlander and a magical desert city form the heart and soul of “The Dark Solstice,” a novel written by Shawano resident Nikki Willcome.

“The Dark Solstice” is a project six years in the making, but it is far from the end of the road for the first-time author. The book is part of a trilogy following the tale of Tamsin Urbane and the dark stranger Haven, and Willcome is well into writing the second book, which she hopes to publish next summer.

Willcome signed copies of her book Friday at the Sun Drop Museum behind Twig’s Beverage, but the book had its big unveiling Sept. 14 when she posted a video announcement on Facebook.

“I figured my main audience is on social media and utilizes it more than anything else,” Willcome said. “I figured that was the quickest way to spread the word.”

In the last month, the video has received more than 7,000 views. Willcome said she was surprised at how much attention the video has received, and that all of the feedback has been positive.

“I haven’t gotten any negative feedback yet. I’m waiting for the ball to drop,” she said. “As writers, we all have that doubt in the back of our minds when we’re writing, that it isn’t good enough or to the standard I want to be writing at. But when you get the positive feedback, it gives you the confidence to continue.”

Willcome grew up loving fantasy and science fiction novels, but the writing bug really hit her when she went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature.

She married in 2011 and gave birth to her son, Kypling, on New Year’s Day, so she had to learn to juggle writing time with family time and other aspects of life.

“It kind of got put on the back burner for a while,” Willcome said.

She noted that she had set the book aside for an extended period — almost two years — after feeling it wasn’t gelling properly and came back to it later. That helped to trigger the imaginative juices needed to finish the story.

When Willcome started writing in earnest, she noted that she would come home from work, tell her husband that she had a brainstorm that she needed to write out and that she’d get back to him in two or three hours. Sometimes it would be 11 p.m. before Willcome emerged from writing to socialize.

Willcome describes the setting of “The Dark Solstice,” the desert city of Empyria, as a “magical realism,” where the place is similar to the real world but has mystical elements that make it seem larger than life.

“It’s not too far out there that people won’t be able to relate to it,” Willcome said.

From her heroine Tamsin’s perspective, Empyria is a foreign land that she had to move to after her family had to leave home due to a death at the beginning of the book. The dark period that Tamsin is going through is what prompted the title “The Dark Solstice.”

Willcome said Tamsin feels like an outsider, and that helps fuel her attraction to Haven, a watcher charged with protecting certain creatures in the land but feeling just as alienated as Tamsin.

“He’s an outsider as well, even in his own culture,” Willcome said. “He has to learn at a young age how to protect himself and to protect his people.”

Willcome’s novel is already getting rave reviews. “The Dark Solstice” has received three five-star reviews on Readers’ Favorite, an online book review website.

“I liked the connection between Tamsin and Haven. This was not instant love, and Haven was not cruel to Tamsin (as is the norm with current novels). Their relationship gradually built and blossomed,” Rabia Tanveer wrote in one of the reviews. “Haven was strong and resilient, but the real star of the novel for me was Tamsin. She had character, her development was gradual, and she blossomed right in front of my eyes into a fierce woman who was ready to battle it all and come out victorious.”

It took self-publishing on Amazon’s Createspace for Willcome to get “The Dark Solstice” out to readers. She said she tried sending out query letters to traditional publishers for over a year, but nothing panned out.

Willcome said that, while self-publishing helped to push the book into the spotlight, she found the marketing and design aspect more difficult than writing. She designed her own cover and used the Microsoft Word templates provided by Createspace to get the book in its final form.

“There’s just so much work that goes into that you don’t even realize, a lot of technical things that, as a writer, I found incredibly frustrating and hard to do because I just want to write,” Willcome said. “I don’t want to have to deal with the size of the margins and the trim size and stuff like that.”

Willcome said she is two-thirds of the way through the second book in the trilogy, tentatively titled “The Assassin’s Duel.” She is also making notes and figuring out the final installment.