“Somebody stabbed the sun” is easily the best opening few words in a book that I have read in a long time. I would like to say I’m enough of a literary snob to not be hooked by the first words in a book, but that just wasn’t the case, from then on I knew I had to finish the book. Fortunately for me, Stay God happens to be full of fantastic prose and was a brilliant read from beginning to end, and presumably next time when I pick it up to read it again. Old Ghosts, the crime novella, is pretty damn fantastic too. Thanks, Nik, for joining me for an interview.
Nik’s Books can be purchased from Amazon (UK) and on Amazon (US).
Interview is as follows:
1.) Stay God is set in Baltimore, where you currently live. How long did it take you to feel comfortable writing about the city and would you feel comfortable writing about somewhere you have never been?
Stay God was actually the first thing I’d written set in Baltimore. Since then, almost everything I’ve written has been set there. I wrote the book when I was living in London, almost like a love-letter to the city: I was massively homesick, it was the middle of the winter, I had no money. So I wrote. As far as being comfortable writing about it, I just felt I needed to be honest about the city. It’s such a weird, multi-faceted place. The Wire is an accurate representation, Pink Flamingos is an accurate representation, Diner, Putty Hill. All of them are true in their own way. I wanted to write my own experience. The best compliments I’ve had are when someone not from here says they feel like they’ve always lived here, and when someone from here says it’s just like home.
Writing someplace I’ve never been, I don’t think I could do. Not genuinely, at least. Or rather, I couldn’t write any place that actually exists unless I’d spent some time there. I couldn’t write a New York, New Orleans, Chicago or L.A. novel, which doesn’t bother me too much because I don’t have much of a desire to write any of those. Maybe New Orleans, but that’s just because me and the missus are watching Treme right now. Hilary Davidson wrote an interesting essay on this over at Spinetingler, about needing to live in New York for a certain period of time before she felt comfortable writing a New York novel. There is the thought of writing through an outsider’s perspective, but the outsider will interact with locals, so you still need to know how the city, the people, all work. Fictional places, though, you just need to make up some rules and stick to them. I don’t have a very good imagination, so I don’t mess with that very much. I am in the process of finishing a sci-fi noir novella set in a dystopian-type future, but the fantasy (or whatever the word is) elements are minimal. That was still a stretch for me. I’m a realist at heart.
characters but not the narrator?
3.) What is your stance on the emergence of E-Readers and supposed death of print?
I think it’s a lot of people worrying about nothing. Honestly, the internet and all its bullshit and Jersey Shore are more of a threat to reading/literature than e-readers. I don’t have an e-reader because I’m broke, but I can’t see much bad about them, especially with the boon of really good writers who are putting out work solely in digital formats. This is even better for small presses because they can send ARCs via email and save a ton of their already non-existent money. I review books for a few websites, and at least half the books are digital. It is odd to think that the next generation of readers might have the same nostalgia for that page-turning noise the Kindle makes as we do for sifting through dusty piles of books.
I have a couple friends, too, who have read five books in their life. Until they got an e-reader. Now its convenient for them to carry and there’s not the daunting feeling of having 400 pages in front of the bookmark. Books will never die; it may just be harder to get printed in one.
4.) Old Ghosts is available on the internet as a free download, was it a tough decision for you to make the work you spent a lot of time on available for free as opposed to a release through a regular press?
Yes and no. Sure I’d love a thousand people to buy a copy of the novella. But I want them to buy it so Pablo (D’Stair, the publisher of BPP) can stay afloat and Boden (Steiner, the designer) would get some exposure. In the end, if one person bought a copy, and a thousand downloaded it for free (and got Boden’s amazing artwork) I’d be just as happy. That means there are a thousand people reading my story, which is pretty awesome. And, in theory, maybe two hundred of those will like it enough to buy my novel. Basically, I just want to tell stories people care about. However it gets to them is fine with me.
5) With the misconceptions that people have of Damon in Stay God, what trick would you give to writers aiming to confuse other characters but not the reader?
6.) With work appearing in over 20 publications, was submitting online an important part of your career and one that you would recommend to aspiring writers?
Absolutely. When I first started publishing stories, online zines were still sort of suspect. That was in 2008, too. Now, there are so many places putting out really essential stories, giving voice to all of these writers who otherwise would go unheard. It’s really exciting. The paradigm shift is interesting, too. Used to be, print journals were the only thing to shoot for and online was this weird bastard-child of literature. I find myself trying to republish print stories online now, just so they won’t die unnoticed. Plus, it’s so much easier to send someone a link to your story than say, ‘Yeah, if you call around to some indie bookstores, they might be able to special order it for you.’ A bunch of times, too, I’ll found some random story I like, google the writer’s name and be able to read seven or eight more stories and pick up their novel. I guess print still looks good on a CV if you’re trying to teach (ahem: Hiring committee, gimme a call any time.)
7.) What work are you looking to publish in the future?
I have another novella–the one I talked about earlier–called By the Nails of the Warpriest that will be coming out in August on Outsider Writers Press. It’s sort of sci-fi noir, or as sci-fi as I can get. I watched Blade Runner a bunch of times before writing it, but I don’t think much of it stuck. It pissed me off, too, when… wait, let me start from the beginning.
I wrote this novel that’s currently out with some people, and the main idea of it was putting a character–actually, three characters, in this novel–into a situation where their salvation would come only through breaking their one rule they’ll never break. Yeah, it’s been done before, but it’s still awesome. So I plot it all out and start moving along on it. One afternoon I go to the movies to take a break and catch The Dark Knight, where I watch a character get thrown into a situation where their salvation would come only through breaking their one rule they’ll never break. Damn Christopher Nolan, right? So a few years later I write this sci-fi noir novella then put it in the drawer while I grade a bunch of Freshman Comp papers. Again, I go to the movies to take a break and catch Inception, where fathers are thieves and sons are lost in the either of dreams and goddammit does Christopher Nolan have a wire in my office? Again? Warpriest isn’t quite as heady as Inception, isn’t really the same at all except for the dream thief thing, but still. On the plus side, at least I know the ideas are good. There’s that, at least.
I’ve also got some stories coming out over the next few months. The Warmed & Bound anthology from Velvet Press, which will be one of the best anthos all year. Believe. Pela Via did an amazing job of wrangling all kinds of talent for this thing. Got more stories in Crime Factory #8, a yet-to-be-named noir anthology, Black Heart Magazine’s Noir issue. I think one or two more that are eluding me at the moment.
8.) Who do you consider influences on your work?
Man, how much time do you have?
Definitely The Velvet Trio. Stephen Graham Jones for pure inspiration, Craig Clevenger for his meticulous wordsmithing and Will Christopher Baer for the elegant and crushing tones he creates. I love James M Cain for the constant sense of inevitability, something I try to do with my writing (not that I actually do it all the time, but I try.)
Probably one of the biggest and most unexpected influences would be the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright combo. And Jessica Stevenson. They’re such talented storytellers with a really nerdy sense of humor that completely cuts through me. I built this whole argument during my Masters program that Shaun of the Dead was the Chinatown of present cinema. It’s so streamlined and everything works so well, everything pays off, every joke is built slowly and delivers. If I had to teach a screenwriting class, those two would probably be my whole syllabus.
9.) What advice would you give to writers who are looking to get published?
Write. Read. Submit. Drink. In some kind of order.
And grow a really, really thick skin, so that when you’re rejected over and over, you’re still convinced you can do it. Finding some other writers to team up with really helps, too. I’d never get anything published without my Write Club homies. Chris Dwyer, Axel Taiari, Richard Thomas, Caleb Ross, Simon West-Bulford, so many more. Those dudes keep me accountable and force me to submit even when I don’t want to. Good first-readers you can trust are essential.
10.) How do you feel looking back on Stay God and Old Ghosts?
Conflicted. I’m very proud of both of them, and horribly embarrassed at the same time. I think that’s how every writer works, though. If I went back and rewrote them, Stay God especially, they’d be a lot different. I’ve learned a ton since I wrote them, taken on different directions and whatnot. I think what I’m writing now is better, but then again it should be. They both have a special place for me but there are so many stories I want to tell and my fingers will only move so fast.