Nolan Knight: First off, thanks for having me here, Steph. Referring to the visual aesthetic of the novel, I think that it is less a stylistic choice than just an authentic rendering of nighttime Los Angeles in roughly 2008. When it comes to the actual design of the narrative, that came out of being patient with the process. I started Neon Lights in 2010 and had a shorter draft (similar to what was published) by late-2012. I shelved it, then came back several months later, needing fresh eyes. I think that the time spent fleshing out the vision I had for it is reflected in the end product. Neon Lights became more fluid and dense with each given pass.
SP: In contrast to all the flash, however, The Neon Lights Are Veins also takes place in a world obviously jaded. The first section is aptly titled "Loveless Gutters" and that line in the opening scene- "too bad this world craved dreamers"- sets the tone for a story set among worldly and world-weary characters. Did you ever worry that this story would be too dark for readers?
NK: No. Fortunately, there’s only one reader I worry about when writing anything—and that’s me. The fact that most of my favorite authors’ books developed strong readerships over years/decades, that’s enough for me to believe that other likeminded folks are out there, ones who could possibly be interested in a story like Neon Lights. That’s all that matters.
SP: One of my favorite things about The Neon Lights Are Veins are the characters and their names in particular. Mongo, Elvira, Rocco- the names are fantastic. Where did they come from? Are any of the characters based on real people?
NK: Most of the characters in the novel are based on random people I would come across in my old East Hollywood neighborhood. Drug dealers on skateboards, crust punks busking for beer, etc. As far as names are concerned… I remember when my wife and I were first dating, introducing her to my friends brought something to light: So many of them had odd nicknames that it made it hard for her keep track of everyone. This was something that I had never even considered growing-up in L.A. It got me thinking of how bizarro names had become household in my everyday life. So, when it comes to naming characters, most of the time I find myself taming down versions of what I’d like to call them.
SP: Another defining element of your book is the cracking, whip-smart dialogue and slang-filled prose. From the first sentence, the reader is dropped right in the middle of this world, with no narrative reprieve. It's an immersive reading experience, you might say. Do you write your first drafts in this voice or is this a carefully cultivated style?
NK: This is just the voice that I feel most comfortable with. Anyone can look back at my short fiction catalog and see the footprints. Immersive is a good way to describe Neon Lights. Sink or swim. If I’ve done my job, the story will hook a reader and remove their safety net at the same time. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than reading a book where I can trust that the writer is in complete control while he/she takes risks with a progressive story.
SP: The city of L.A., particularly it's underbelly scene, really functions as its own character in The Neon Lights Are Veins. How important was this specific setting to the storyline? Could this story have been told in another city?
NK: Los Angeles is a predator in Neon Lights, another antagonist that lures characters with beauty into a doomed existence. When I look at the story overall, I see the main characters as puppets, their strings popping to the fingers of L.A. The City as The Beast was imperative to the text. I’m not sure that it could be told in another city—only for the fact that I don’t know any other cities as well as I know Los Angeles. Born and raised. Thirty-six years. I’m still learning great things about this city every day and plan on growing old with it.
SP: You are clearly a noir writer. In addition to The Neon Lights Are Veins, you've written stories published in Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle and other noir-friendly or centered outlets. What draws you to the noir genre?
NK: When it comes to literary interests, I’m not drawn to any specific genre. If it’s a solid story, I’ll devour it. Most of the shorts I’ve had published definitely have a noir tendency, and Neon Lights is a noir novel; however, the novel I’ve just finished doesn’t read like noir to me, but I bet it will to readers. I think it’s just the setting that I’m drawn to. I like to be out late at night and so do my characters. Not much good happens in Late-Night-Los Angeles, and that’s often the tone reflected in my writing. Call it noir, call it whatever—just have a peek and see for yourself.
And you'll need to read The Neon Lights Are Veins for yourself. Be sure to pick up a copy and check out the other killer lit coming from indie press 280 Steps. Thanks so much to Nolan Knight for stopping by!