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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

#18. Nik Korpon

20 Questions with Mourning Goats

When Mourning Goats asked me to step in for their eighteenth interview I jumped all over it.  Unfortunately, time was short, and so, I fear that my interviewing skills really didn't shine through, I think.  I wish I could've had a little more time.  That being said, Nik Korpon really stepped up his game and covered where I fell short with his insightful, honest, and entertaining answers to my insipid questions.  A deep thanks to my friend, Goat, for this opportunity, it was a true honor.

1.  What comes to mind when you hear "Mourning Goats?"

The first goat who posed as Baphomet. He fell in with the wrong herd and needed some scratch quick. Now, he’s responsible for branding all goats as the official animal of death metal. It’s unfortunate: He was always more Oi than anything else.

2.  In a recent interview with JaySlayton-Joslin, you talked about offering Old Ghosts for free versus purchasing it from Brown Paper Publishing.  You said that you would rather people purchase it so Pablo D'Stair and his press can stay afloat, and so the extraordinary Boden Steiner can get the exposure he deserves, but that as long as people enjoy it, "...maybe two hundred of those will like it enough to buy [your] novel."  You also have two mini-collections that you're giving away on your website in conjunction with Goodreads in preparation for your next upcoming novella.  With the way publishing is headed over the last few years, is this what you think its going to take to get the proper exposure?

I don’t know if it’s what it will take, definitively I mean, but I think it’s definitely one way. Like I said before, my main goal is to get my stories into people hands. If people want to drop a couple bucks for them, all the better. If that means small publishers can stay afloat and publish writers like me, people who scurry around the edges of genre, then I’m just as happy. I have no illusions about my future as a writer. I highly doubt (and Universe, feel free to make this statement look dumb in a couple years) I’ll ever be able to stay home and write books all day. I’ve been working two jobs for the last seven or eight years and still find time to write, so I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. If giving away stuff to people who want to read it will build an audience who will then in turn buy a book or two, then it’s all worth it. I came up playing in punk rock bands and we’d drive hundreds of miles to play shows on the weekend, then not even make enough to cover gas. But, we’d make a bunch of good friends, have a great weekend and get to play in front of a bunch of people. I try to take the same approach to writing. It drives me insane sometimes, but ultimately I do it because it’s fun.

The whole e-explosion is really fascinating to watch, especially when it comes to the giving-stuff-away aspect. The people who are doing it right, Anthony Neil Smith and Seth Harwood are great examples of how to do it right, giving me hope that there will be a future for my stories. Granted, those dudes are fantastic writers and only a couple people know who I am, but still.

3.  What can you tell us about those mini-collections?

Each collection relates to the contest, albeit remotely at times. The first one will have two stories with characters from Stay God then a couple that thematically relate to the novel. The second one, the one that goes with Old Ghosts -- actually, I’m not exactly sure what that one will have yet. I haven’t gotten that far. It’ll be darker, more streamlined than the first collection because Old Ghosts has a different feel. Some of the stories will be previously published in small places, some in print that aren’t really available, and some previously unpublished stories.

4.  And what can you tell us about the upcoming novella?

By the Nails of the Warpriest is sort of a future-noir/dystopia type thing. I watched Bladerunner a bunch of times and tried to write a steampunk novella, but it didn’t come out like that. It’s set pretty far in the future, after The City has been reduced to cinder and rubble following the war between The Party and The People. The air’s grown so thick with ash that the sun is no longer directly visible, all the debris insulating the planet and making it unbearably hot. Everything is dirty and decaying. We follow a man who steals memories from the old, those who have a vague memory of what it was like before everything went completely to Hell, and sells them to memory-junkies. There are also a lot of political undertones and a dead family for him to contend with.

I looked at a ton of photos and videos and modeled The City after an exaggerated version of post-Katrina New Orleans. The wrought iron banisters and lampposts, the Spanish moss, the old streets, all that, just made it a lot dirtier and jacked up the humidity. My wife and I finished the first season of Treme last week and parts were kind of creepy to watch. That’s one of the problems with writing about where you live. There are a couple streets in Baltimore that still freak me out for no reason other than I wrote treacherous things there.

5.  Stay Go_d came out in December of this past year.  Old Ghosts came out this past March.  You have the two mini-collections, and the novella headed down the pike.  How do you find the time to write so much with a baby and a wife?  Are you the next Stephen Graham Jones?  Do you drink vanilla flavored soda?

Good timing? Or good camouflage, maybe. That’s probably the only condition under which I’ll ever be compared to Stephen, so I’ll take it either way. I wrote Stay God when I was in grad school four years ago and it wasn’t published until last year. Old Ghosts was serialized last year, then Pablo was kind enough to publish it. Warpriest fell out of me on the flights between Baltimore and the Denver AWP, the AWP where Pablo and I shook hands to publish Old Ghosts, actually.

I used to write in binges, socking away eight or nine hours at a time. With the baby now, though, it’s sort of fitting it in where I can. I’m pretty fortunate in that I have jobs where I can find time to write. I teach at a community college and work at a tattoo shop, so I’m able to squirrel away time between classes or when it’s dead at the shop. I try to keep projects in my head for most of the day, that way when I have the chance to write I have some direction. My wife has always been very supportive, leaving me alone in my office or encouraging me if I’m not writing. Usually that’s because I’m being an asshole, though. I’m a much nicer person when I’m working on something.

6.  In Stay Go_d you go into great detail with the procedure that Damon goes through to sell drugs, there's almost a step-by-step list of instructions with how the money is stored.  Where did this all come from?

7.  In both Stay Go_d and Old Ghosts, the main character is a transplant in Baltimore, running from their past in Massachusetts.  What are you hiding from?

Can I pull out Tron twice in a row? I lived in Massachusetts while my wife was in grad school, and we’re from Baltimore, so I know the places well enough to write them.

Something about the past, though. I don’t know. A lot of my stuff involves people trying to atone for their pasts or avoid relapsing. Most of these characters have father/son issues, too. That dynamic between who we were, who we are, how the abyss between the two impact those around us, I think it’s fascinating. Caleb J. Ross is really good at exploring that territory. My father and I had a contentious relationship growing up but we get along well these days. Maybe it’s some subconscious thing creeping through. Will ChristopherBaer said it more eloquently, but I like watching characters wound each other while trying to love each other, whether romantic or familial. That line between love and violence is dangerously flexible. I pluck it and watch what happens.

8.  There's an interesting conversation happening in the circle of writers that you commune with, where you've existed in this aura of "noir."  The discussion is, exactly, what is noir?  What do you think it is, as you describe a lot of your work as such?

As bored as I am of trying to pin down the term, I love batting around theories and geeking out with those who have the same frame of reference. I think noir is just the postmodern of crime and mystery. It’s a catch-all that doesn’t mean anything but means everything. Crime doesn’t really fit all that I write. Mystery, definitely not. Black is pretty accurate, but there’s always some element of hope. Maybe noir espoir? I can’t find a quicker way to say ‘Like Jim Thompson, if he read Cahiers du CinĂ©ma and watched too much Spaced.’

I like writing about gutless cheats and cut-throats, about people who can’t help but fuck up and are trying to stumble through the haze. I like writing about real people who are really bad but try to be good. I’m a hopelessly romantic, gritty realist at heart. I just call it noir because it makes me sound cool.

9.  Caleb J. Ross has embarked on an interesting marketing campaign behind his novel that was released this winter, Stranger Will, and the campaign will last until November when his next novel, I Didn't Mean to Be Kevin, comes out in November.  Are you as jealous as I am that you didn't have that idea first?

I was until I saw the amount of work he’s done. That honor is all his. Those blog tours are beautiful things, though. The breadth and depth of things he discusses is just -- I don't know. It makes me wish I was smarter.

10.  You're going to be published in what's been dubbed "The Anthology of the Year," a collection of stories that hasn't even been printed yet.  Can you talk about that?

They’re just mini-collections. I think ‘The Antho’—oh wait, what?

I’m really flattered to be in Warmed And Bound. It started off as a couple people on The Velvet website kicking around ideas, the ‘Man, it’d be awesome if we could do ____’ and ended up as this big beautiful book. Pela Via, the editor, must’ve spent a goodly amount of time in the Mississippi delta, moving from crossroad to crossroad, just to procure the lineup. There’s a new story from CraigClevenger, pieces from Brian Evenson, Matt Bell, Paul Tremblay, Kyle Minor, and blistering stories from some of my cohorts: Axel Taiari, Chris Deal, RichardThomas, Caleb, Gayle Towell, a bunch more. I feel bad for mentioning any one name, because I’m missing so many other great ones. What’s impressed me the most about this anthology—this sort of ties in with the e-publishing bit earlier—is the variety and integration of the pieces. Half of the writers have a couple books out, have won awards and all that, and the others are on micro-presses or this is their first published piece. Again, heaping amounts of credit and praise should be given to Pela, but also to Logan Rapp, one of the people who organized the whole thing. It’s a beautiful example of what can be done with e-publishing and the smaller printing places, giving all these voices a chance to be heard. It’s astonishing how much great writing is out there.

11.  What have you read lately that's really blown your hair back?

Between publishing deadlines, teaching and the baby, I haven’t had a chance to read as much this year. Pike, by Ben Whitmer, is far and away one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. I had the same reaction as the first time I read The Postman Always Rings Twice and Dermaphoria, The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti, too, where the swirling vertigo that’s been building inside my skull calms as I turn the last page, like some calamitous force has finally been set into place. Then I crack the cover again and happily dive right back in. Kiss me, Judas was like that, too, where the world just makes sense for a moment. Sticking with Baer and water analogies, I just reviewed Christopher Dwyer’s beautiful When October Falls for Spinetingler. It’s got the same tonal qualities as Baer—the lovesick protag and damaging love—but his prose is wicked lush and you can just wade through it, dancing your fingers along the sentences.

12.  Amongst your cast of characters in Stay Go_d, there are a number of names and references to people that actually exist, almost like what Kevin Smith did in his movies, was this something you always wanted to do?

Yeah. It was pretty much me sitting in my matchbox flat in London, scraping at the walls because it was the middle of winter and I had no money and missed all my friends and girlfriend (now wife) in Baltimore. So I imagined me and my friends sitting at the bar, added some criminal tendencies and wrote it down. A lot of those names are my actual friends. Some I changed to keep the continuity when they popped up in other stories, but most remain. Most of the places are real, too. I work in the tattoo shop next door to Sound Garden, which was Jet Black in the book. The Black Gardenia was based on a basement jazz bar I’d go to in London, but placed where The Horse You Came In On is, which is supposedly where Poe took his last drinks. The better stuff in the book came during revision, expanding on the relationship between Damon and Christian, which was actually heavily influenced by Shaun of the Dead and, to a lesser extent, Hot Fuzz. I’m hopelessly mired in pop culture and I think it comes through regardless of what I’m writing. Kind of like Spaced, but way more fucked up.

13.  You exist in an almost Brat Pack stable of authors, who would you like to see join your ranks?  Caleb J. Ross is obviously the Anthony Michael Hall of your group.  Are you Andrew McCarthy or Emilio Estevez?  Most importantly, who is Judd Nelson?

Man, I’m probably closer to Jon Cryer than any of the others. Maybe John Cusack, if I’m lucky. I think Richard Thomas could probably pass as Andrew McCarthy. Not quite dick-ish enough, but with the swagger. Chris Deal would be my Estevez, but with a gnarly goatee. Judd Nelson is tough one. For some reason I keep thinking Boden (Steiner) but Boden’s not a psychopath. I’ll have to think about it.

14.  In Old Ghosts, page 64 holds a scene between the protagonist and one of the antagonists, a woman from Cole's past.  That scene is one of the tightest and most intense moments I've read in quite some time.  That had to come from somewhere you've experienced.  Can you expand on that at all?

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, sometimes.

That’s such a beautiful compliment that I feel it deserves some grand dissection of the scene, displaying all the schematics and whatnot, but honestly I was just following the characters. They unspooled on the back of my skull and I just wrote down what I saw.

15.  A friend of mine that read Old Ghosts loved it, but she was mad at you for the epilogue.  She was happy with how the story ended and then Cole spends those last couple pages in a bar, living in the aftermath of what had happened.  Will there be a sequel?  Why did you end Old Ghosts that way?

I didn’t plan a sequel, though I guess it’s open to one. There’d have to be a pretty strong narrative drive to it. The real fun of that book for me was Cole’s shifting loyalty, swaying between his old self and his new self. And because Del’s a fucking nutcase.

I don’t like it when characters get off easy. Leaving it with the big climax, though emotionally cathartic, felt that way. I love stories that have a bittersweet ending, if bittersweet is even the right word, where the character says, ‘Yeah we won, but did we?’ Those bits of emotional shrapnel that scatter after the big showdown, how characters deal with the ramifications of all the fucked up things they’ve done, those are the illuminating parts of stories for me. Sorry I bummed out your friend, too. Tell her I’ll rip out the last couple pages and mail her a special copy.

16.  What's a day in the life of Nik Korpon like?

Over-caffeinated, covered in some type of baby bodily fluid, and not nearly as glamorous as the life of a crime writer should be.

17.  In the beginning of Stay Go_d, a couple of your characters are bickering over superheroes, their powers, and who's better.  Batman is clearly the superior hero, as he makes a difference using his intellect without "cheating" by flying or having claws.  Why doesn't he get the love he deserves?

Good question, though I think it’s framed the wrong way. I think his real love is Gotham and ridding her of all the baddies. In that context, he is in a loving relationship, albeit a possibly abusive, highly manipulative, sadistic relationship. Women come second to him. Eartha Kitt is still way hotter than Halle Berry, though, and Jack Nicholson has unfortunately lost his throne to Heath Ledger. None of them, however, could do justice to Cesar Romero’s mustache.

18.  Were the twins in Stay Go_d modeled after the twins in the third season of Breaking Bad?  I read that and that's all I could see in my head while I was reading.

Axel (Taiari) is always talking about that show, but I’ve never seen it. When I thought of the Twins, I thought of the dudes you see who are just a trench coat, a fedora and glowing red eyes. Well, minus the fedora. I wanted more of a presence than physical description.

19.  What advice to you have for writers wanting to be authors?

Read, write, drink. Repeat. Write what you want to read and remember that rejection slips are merely a challenge.

20.  You have all of these short stories coming out in various venues, the two mini-collections, the novella, another novel making the rounds, what's next for Nik Korpon?

By the Nails of the Warpriest will be out in August on Outsider Writers Press, and Dirty Noir, this great new crime zine started by Doc O’Donnell, will feature an excerpt next week, called ‘Cobwebs and Dead Skin.’ I have some stories coming out in the Speedloader Anthology which is a new imprint from some of the Spinetingler people, that story in Warmed And Bound, a piece of flash in Blackheart Magazine and one in the Thunderdome anthology, and a story in CrimeFactory #7, then an essay in #8. I’ve got a novel, Constellations, that I’ve started shopping around. When the baby sleeps this summer, I’ll be working on another novella, which is an origin story of one of the characters in Constellations. We’ve also got some awesome new stories prepped for RottenLeaves, which will be re-launching in the next couple weeks.

Wow. That was an incredibly narcissistic response. Apologies.


Mourning Goats 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Nik. Great interview, such a great year, yeah?