“I CAN’T TELL you how much you’ve influenced me over the years,” Nik Korpon says, leaning in uncomfortably close.
He’s already same-siding with me. In a bar. A straight bar. His breath as intimate as two lovers knowingly getting ready to share a disease. I try to ease up, but he’s got me cornered. I’d try and make eye contact with someone else; plead for help. But I know that third person will just think I’m a perv.
“When I read your semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical manifesto, Marginalized By Phallic Dictates, it was like a spiritual awakening. It spoke to me in a language I didn’t know I could understand.”
I smile, look away uncomfortable. Nik’s gaze is unrelenting. I don’t think he’s been blinking. “Thank you.”
“Could you see its influence on my earlier, more formidable work?” He stares at me, needing me to say “yes.” So I do.
“Of course. I think you did a terrific job of absorbing the five-point thesis of Marginalized and applying it to your own fiction while staying original and true to your own narrative voice.”
Tears well up in his eyes. He joyously laughs like he’s been teetering on the edge of suicide for a year and I’ve just somehow given him the hope his family and friends could not. “Thank you!” He says, throws his arms around my neck.
“After reading your first magnum opus Fisting In The Friskalating Dusk Light I was worried that the story arc of the dialogue between Hobart, the crafty but stolid German deli owner and Manfred, the Brazilian pastor with no toes was your way of hashing out your distaste at my cheap copycat writings.”
“No,” I say, peeling his hands back. Like picking a lock, this is. “Hobart was a German scat porn refugee and Manfred, a former assassin turned pastor, was helping him with his demons. I think toilet humor is high art. Nothing deeper. That’s all.”
“I’m so sensitive.” He says, face buried in my neck. Sobbing. “I just want you to like me so much…I guess I worry about nothing.”
This is getting really wet. His tears, him rubbing his face all over the throat of my shirt. I reach out and pat his back in a there there motion.
“Do you think if I keep reading your stuff…maybe some of your brilliance will rub of on me?”
We’re getting stares now. Grumbles. “Nik, you’re very good at what you do-”
“No! I’m a hack! You’re the one who’s so damn incredible!”
“Nik. Nik. I think your stuff is great. I’ve got all of it. Bar Scars, Old Ghosts, By The Nails Of The Warpriest, Baltimore-”
“You have all my stuff?” He looks up, stops crying abruptly. Adjusts his glasses, shuffles his bangs out of his face.
“Yeah,” I say, glad to have that over with. I’m afraid to look down. He might have a chubby, or hell, he might have pissed himself with emotion. “I’ve read all of it. Great stuff.”
“What happened to that novel on my laptop? Do you have that as well?”
“Yeah.” He sits back. Looks angry now. Roller coaster. “I had a fucking novel on my old laptop that just disappeared last month. Where is it?”
“Nik I didn’t steal your story-”
“No! No! You stole the whole laptop. Give it back!”
I stand up, shrug on my coat. This dude can go get interviewed somewhere else. First he’s blubbering and worshiping me—the correct way to treat Ryan MF’ing Sayles, mind you—and then next he’s all accusing me of stealing-
“I’ll fucking take it then!” Tackled. I spill forward, Nik clamoring on my back. “Richard Thomas told me this was bullshit anyways!”
I spin to throw him off me when I hear it fire up. The bar is loud, dudes are shouting now. Juke box is raging, balls are still breaking on the pool table. Someone drops a glass and it shatters. But that sound.
“Give it back!” Nik Korpon screams, rams a drill bit the size of a Louisville Slugger into my left temple. I’d laugh if the soft tissue didn’t give way so quickly. “Give it back!”
“Dude…dude you’re-you’re crazy,” I say as lights crackle behind my eyes. I see someone smash Nik with a pitcher but that drilling sound…God it’s loud now.
Define noir for the masses, please.
I has one video of a kitten untying shoes with its little paws. You has two videos of kittens playing with a bird. I hunt you down, destroy your reputation and burn down your house, leave you bleeding in a ditch, take your computer home and transfer the videos onto my computer.
The files have a virus.
That is noir.
Indeed, shipmate. Indeed. Ron Earl Philips sent me all those kitten videos. Dude is a cat-addict. He says he grows his mustache just so the things can bat at it like at toy. Where does your grit come from?
I don’t like showering. Water makes me feel weird, unless I’m surfing, in which case it makes me feel awesome. It also makes me hungry for fish tacos. I write gritty fiction because I’m hungry for fish tacos at 9.30 in the morning and there are no taquerias nearby.
I don’t know that I set out to write gritty fiction or anything. I’m drawn to realism, possibly because of a lack of imagination, so I try to write stories as realistic as possible. I think, too, that the real world, the things we encounter or just barely miss encountering and the acts humans are capable of committing are far more terrifying and disturbing than any fictional world I could create. Even when I write super out-there fiction (well, out there for me) like By the Nails of the Warpriest I try to treat it with a very realistic touch. I think it makes the reader more vested in the story and characters, and I’m not trying to get them to suspend their disbelief as much as experience someone else’s life for a little while.
I’m suspending disbelief right now. What parts of Nik make it into your stuff?
Just the tip, baby. Just the tip.
Not as much as you’d think and more than you’d think. I mine my life pretty constantly for material. I seem to be obsessed with father and son relationships--I talk about this at length over at Andrew Nette’s Pulp Curry--and usually draw in small details or anecdotes that make the scene more authentic. They’re never big things, like a character’s whole back story or anything, but more like the way they comb their hair or how they hold a fork and knife while eating. Little things like that make the characters seem more like human beings than creations, which helps to sucker punch the reader when I kill them off three chapters later. It’s weird how things like that come up, too. I was struggling with my latest book, Fait Ave, trying to find a way for this character to be flawed, but unintentionally so. Like it wasn’t really their fault they were so fucked up. My wife had an incident at her job and it tied in perfectly with the themes of the novel, so I stole it and can’t imagine the book without that detail now. Too, I work in a tattoo shop with a bunch of derelicts. A lot of really gnarly banter between characters are either snippets of things they say to each other or whole conversations virtually transcribed. It’s an invaluable research tool.
Your stuff is an excellent mix of bleak subjects and imagery told through a vibrant literary language. The only stuff I've seen better than yours is my own. Did you always want to be a noir writer or did it come about that way?
I started trying to write what I thought were literary stories, stuff that could be in Hobart or Rain Taxi or Emprise Review. Turns out I wasn’t very good at it. I’d always been drawn to dark and fucked up stuff, and I started trying to write horror stories, at which i was only slightly better. Around that time I started getting really into crime films, so I wrote a few that weren’t too bad. I sent them to the same markets as my earlier stories and had nicer rejections--It’s very well written but not for us and whatever--until I went to NoirCon in 2010 and the world of noir opened like a rotting lotus before me. Seriously, it was Buddha-like. Anyway, I met a lot of great people there and found new places to submit and somewhere in the last two years I started focusing on writing hardboiled and noir stuff. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision to ‘specialize’ or whatever as I just wanted to write stories I was interested in. These days, I sort of oscillate between trying to Sallis up the joint and focus on the implied layers of every single word and worshipping Christa Faust with hardboiled madness.
On a sort-of-related tangent, I think a lot of that stuff comes through better in the novels and novellas than short stories. When I get a good line in a short story, it just kind of falls out. The ones in the longer pieces start okay and then are crafted into being cool. I just have a problem editing short stories, as I say over at Patti Abbott’s blog, which, as I was saying it, realized that Patti’s stories totally smoke mine, and made me think I sounded like a dick. By the by, my problem with them is that I’m not as vested in the scenes as I am with a novel. In my longer stuff I get to think about characters for a while, hang out, drink with them and really get to know them. I like looking at the exponential narrative changes that are possible with a novel, too, like how upset a guy gets when he cuts off someone’s finger. If he looks them in the eyes and apologizes before doing it, you read his actions in a different light than just saying, ‘Sorry, bro,’ or shrugging. Short stuff, I don’t get the chance to do that. I don’t think I’m capable of creating really well rounded characters in a small space, like Amy Hempel or whoever can. I need thousands of words to meander to my point. Conversely, the shorter my long stuff is, the better. I love that 40-60k spot, which might explain why I’ve written more novellas than novels. Much longer than that and I feel like I’m just in a swinging dick contest.
How come dicks always get brought up around me? I swear, it’s like people see me and start thinking about johnsons. Big, gooey, throbbing rods that just fill the world- Uhhh… I'm in awe of the coolness of your titles. Where do they come from? Do you agonize over them, or are you one of those lucky bastards who just pops them out?
The cool ones really do just pop out and present themselves. The other ones I agonize over and don’t get very far. Or I’ll rip off various things. Bar Scars, for instance, was a column that used to run in the Baltimore City Paper and I appropriated it because it fit. Old Ghosts came from an old Vision skateboard that hangs in the tattoo shop where I work. I liked the ring of it and wanted to write a story that went along. By the Nails of the Warpriest was a combination of two bands my friends were in--Warpriest and Nails--and I just smashed them together to sound cool. All of which is ironic because I give Bret Easton Ellis shit for taking Elvis Costello titles all the time. Not in person, of course.
Along those lines, I cream over the title By The Nails Of The Warpriest. It's bittersweet, actually. Around the time it hit the shelves I was shopping a novel called Being Nailed By The Warpriest, which was a homo-erotica novel I sunk my heart and soul into. Thoughts?
I thought that was the subtitle of The Bible? You shouldn’t ever let any other book dissuade you from writing what you want. There can never be too many homo-erotica novels in the marketplace. The public is screaming for it. Or from it. One of the two.
In related news, I’ve just been contracted to write the novelizations of The Expendables 1 and 2.
I love those movies. Let's collaborate. Can you take a story for us—your favorite one, one where you had *that* moment and were just grinning as it was coming, whatever—and walk us through it?
It hasn’t happened as much as I’d like but I have had a few times where the story just fell out. Old Ghosts was largely like that. I was in the middle of a Californication binge and for some reason had the idea to write my own Baltimore version of it. I had Karen in mind when writing Amy in the story. Outrunning your past, or atoning for it, seems to be a big trend in my writing, along with the father/son dynamic.
I blame my parents and residual Catholic Guilt for the obsession with reconciliation, because I was a mild shitbird when I was younger but nothing to constantly crucify myself over. Anyway, I basically wanted to have Cole, the protagonist, be offered a past that he knew was not good but that he loved in a very honest way and a future that he knew was the right choice but he loved in a very different way from the past. Absolutes are boring, so there had to be something in each choice that dug hooks into Cole’s heart: He loves Amy and the future in a very real but maybe more intellectual way and he loves Chance and Delilah and his past in a very real but primal way. I don’t know if that really answers the question, but maybe the lack of thought, more instinct, that went into the book makes it make sense.
The film-montage frenetic-writer happened one other time with a novella called Punhos Sagrados that will be part of a novella collection with Axel Taiari, Richard Thomas and Caleb J Ross that is making the rounds with some great presses now. It’s about a boxer who, similar to Old Ghosts, is pulled between Mona, his emotionally scarred shut-in wife, and Carissa, an exotic torch singer who performs at the gambling club where he’s a bouncer. It’s loosely based on the life of Amália Rodrigues and Edith Piaf, with some organ thievery and sutured faces thrown in there for good measure. I wrote it in a couple weeks and don’t think I looked at my note cards more than once or twice. It was just one of those stories that wrote itself, which sounds cliché as hell, but that’s the only way to describe it. Or maybe an out of body experience. Or that episode of Twilight Zone where the murderer’s hand are put on a pianist, but, you know, with a different kind of keyboard.
Like that 1991 movie Body Parts? Cuz that was awesome in a shitty movie way. Also, what made you want to write? A basic question, but we're all curious where and when dudes say "I can do this" and actually start.
I started writing at a McDonald’s in Bern, Switzerland, in late April 2004. We were two-thirds of the way through our Euro backpacking trip and I’d been writing my family these long, hung-over, rambling email missives about travelling and whatever other craziness flitted through my skull at the moment. My mom said they were really interesting to read and I should write something. I mean, how noir is that? ‘I had the girl cut off the guy’s arm with a rusty hacksaw because my mom said I should.’ Anyway, I’d read half of Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs at an English-language bookstore and got the brilliant idea to write 31 (more) Songs. Yeah, it was as awful as it sounds. I don’t know that I got past song fifteen. I’d been in bands for years and written tons of songs and atrocious Kerouac rip-off poems but this was the first time I tried my hand at some kind of actual prose.
After a bunch of half-starts and shitty, overwrought, angst-laden short stories, I eventually pieced enough together to make a portfolio for a grad school. Even then, they told me (later, at a pub, after a fair number of pints) it was more the energy behind the stories and the way I argued during my phone interview that Trainspotting wasn’t really a novel than the actual writing that got me into the program. Which was a nice way to say I wasn’t very good but I tried real hard, kind of like the fat kid at dodg ball. They might’ve taken pity on the stupid American, too (I went to school in London).
Grad school did a lot for me but the most noticeable jump in my writing was definitely through an online writing group I’ve been involved with for the last five years. For the first few years it was a really intense critique, the whole forged in fire idea, and my shortcomings in the nuts and bolts of writing were made blinding obvious. As the time’s passed, a lot of us have become busier with publishing novels and whatnot—which is ironic because that was the whole reason it started in the first place—so participation has dwindled, but I still credit it with teaching me how to push my writing in the right direction.
You nearly have a full body suit of tattoos, correct? Would you tattoo me on yourself somewhere in exchange for me naming a character of mine Nik?
Totally. Maybe a little snowman made of walnuts with your face on it? It can go next to my tattoo of a snake body with Kurt Russell’s face on it.
Don’t have a body suit yet. Working on it, but I don’t have much time to get tattooed these days. Most of the easy spots are done, too, and the rest hurts.
I have a vast audience. Just vast. Fathomless. Without end. Ever-reaching. You have their undivided attention for this entire week. What do you want them to know about Nik Korpon?
I am a kind and compassionate lover and learned oenophile. I hear your prayers, and I care. If you take second best and put me to the test, there will be things on your chest you need to confess. I will deliver. You know I’m a forgiver. I also like The Smiths a lot, too.
Either “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers because I can’t stay on topic to save my life, or “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits because it’s the holiday.
And, Nik Korpon has graced us. His books are available on Amazon and you can visit his website, Nik Korpon. He does have great stuff and a way with language that is hard to measure up against. Check him out.
All right. The column is going bi-monthly. That means one every two weeks, right? Cuz we’re going once every two weeks. The reason? To keep from going insane. I love this column. I do. Hear me Matt? I love it. But, moderation, right? I’ve finally been cut a time or two by the double-edged sword of working like this. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, bi-monthly. On the off-weeks I’ll do my damnedest to hop on here and give a blabber about whatever comes to mind. Keep it all fresh and going. With the Christmas holiday coming and New Year’s—and after seeing how Thanksgiving blew goat balls for the Keith Rawson interview—I think I’ll avoid dropping interviews until January 2nd. But I’ll put up something in the meantime.
So, in 2013, Todd Morr. Isaac Kirkman. Some other folks if I can get ‘em. Maybe a chick. Who knows. Ideas?