Aztec author will sign copies of debut novel at Amy's Bookcase

Retired ranger Terry Nichols pens 'The Dreaded Cliff'

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Author Terry Nichols will be signing copies of her debut novel "The Dreaded Cliff" on April 24 at Amy's Bookcase in Farmington.
  • The book was published by Tijeras publisher Kinkajou Press.
  • Nichols will sign copies of the book from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Amy's Bookcase.
  • The event will be held in conjunction with Independent Bookstore Day.

FARMINGTON — Even though she acknowledges there's a lot of herself in the protagonist of her debut novel, "The Dreaded Cliff," Aztec author Terry Nichols says there's one important way in which she parts company with Flora, a packrat who lives in the desert Southwest.

"Oh, no, I am not," Nichols said, laughing and responding to a question about whether she shares Flora's packrat tendencies. "I do have a few things I've stowed away I should get rid of, but not generally."

Nichols will be signing copies of "The Dreaded Cliff" from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 24 at Amy's Bookcase, 2530 San Juan Blvd. in Farmington, as part of a celebration of Independent Bookstore Day. A retired ranger for the National Park Service, Nichols spent years writing assorted trail guides, brochures and professional papers associated with her work for that federal agency. But "The Dreaded Cliff," a book targeted at middle school-age students, is her first crack at writing a book.

"I've written a lot of travel blogs, but I've shifted with this project. And I had not really intended on writing for children," she said, explaining that "The Dreaded Cliff" works just as well as a story for adults. "You can read it on different levels."

Nichols said the story itself is what compelled her to write the book, not a desire to tackle a longer form of writing.

"I never always wanted to write a book," she said.

But once she began crafting the tale of Flora, a packrat with a fondness for words and puns, Nichols found she couldn't stop.

"It took me years and years to finish the thing, but I just knew I couldn't not write the story," she said.

Nichols said she didn't have to look far when she began piecing together Flora's personality.

Terry Nichols

"I think I drew on a real deep part of myself," she said. "She loves words, she's shy, she loves to eat. She stands her ground and finds out she has a lot of courage. … I suppose that could be almost anyone. She learns to listen to her wisest, deepest places. She's based on me, but she's based on whole lot of other people involved in my life."

Flora also is based on a real-life packrat who stowed away as a passenger in Nichols' 1979 Volkswagen van during a camping trip. She said that even though "The Dreaded Cliff" imbues its animal characters with plenty of human features, she strived to make their lives in the book as realistic as possible, relying on her 30 years of experience as a ranger at such sites as Hovenweep National Monument and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument for guidance.

"I wanted to work within that framework (of reality) and make the book as believable as possible," Nichols said. "It could happen. That's what I'd like the reader to slip into when they read this book."

Author Terry Nichols says independent bookstores strengthen communities

Nichols has enjoyed uncommon success as a first-time novelist, quickly securing a publisher for "The Dreaded Cliff," Kinkajou Press, an independent, Tijeras-based firm that specializes in materials for younger readers. She's already at work on her second project, a book about a 12-year-old girl who travels to India with her mother and sets about rescuing a stray dog.

Nichols hopes to see plenty of younger readers during her signing event this weekend at Amy's Bookcase, and she directed praise at owner Amy Henkenius, whose store will be celebrating its 41st year in business. Nichols said independent bookstores are tremendous assets to their community  and do a real service to writers like herself.

"It can be a cultural center and a focus for community exchange," Nichols said of such establishments, which continue to hang on despite nearly being overwhelmed by online sellers. "Amy's doing her best with her store. I really appreciate that she is carrying books by local authors. I hope people in the community come out and help celebrate that."

Call 505-327-4647 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.