"Davis, a master of wit, one-liners and dead on observations, has done everything right. Nightwolf, often funny and always smart, is told through the eyes of Milo, a devastatingly funny and keen social critic. And through him, this story of Kentucky and youth and angst and self-discovery gleams." --Natashia Deón
Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?
My main character, Milo Byers, took a long time to come to me because his nature is to joke about his circumstances rather than deal with them straight on. Still, I liked being in his presence, so I didn’t mind waiting until I figured out what he was going through. His best friend, Meander Casey, however, was a puzzle. On the one hand, he’s slight, and of all the casual pain dealt out by the plot, he’s the only one that really feels the bruises and welts. On the other hand, he invites pain and seems to enjoy it. I couldn’t tell if he was invincible or if he was a flower about to wilt. Eventually, I realized how he came by his pain. He could afford to be emotionally open because he knew that no one else there, not even his best friend, would really understand him. By the end, he’s the one that feels the most revealed to me, the one with the least to hide even though the book isn’t in his voice.
Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?
The original ending of the book was actually the first thing I wrote with these characters. It was a standalone story, but I wanted to hear more from them. I actually thought it was the opening to a book that was going to follow these characters as they adjust to the challenges that come in their thirties. But the part of the story that kept insisting on itself was when they were seventeen. I thought the second part of the book would take place with the characters in their early thirties. But then another part of the story felt far more vital. I pushed on, in part, because I knew the epilogue would be this standalone story, that showed these wild, long-suffering characters as adults, still bruised from the past, still misbehaving, but still standing, full of genuine love for one another. When it came time for the final cut, the editor said it was fun, but it didn’t add anything to the story. To me, it showed both where they came from and where they were going. But on a practical level, he was right. I spread some of the elements of the epilogue throughout the book, but I miss having them take a troubled curtain-call of sorts.
How do you handle writer’s block?
I once heard the advice that, if you have writers block, send someone with a gun into the room. It’ll clear up everyone’s motivations and give them something to do. Seems like good advice, but given how often I get blocked, my work would be nothing but people with guns barging into rooms. I have occasionally found this helpful: pick a book at random. Read ten pages, and tell yourself, “I’m going to steal something from this.” Sometimes it’s a detail, sometimes it’s a tone, sometimes it’s just a word, but giving yourself the obstacle that “something from this book is going to go into my story” can make for rewarding reading.
What was the best review you ever received? The worst?
I’ve been fortunate to write some articles for Salon. The first article I wrote for them came out of the blue because an editor (who was my Facebook friend) needed an article about college basketball within 24 hours, and knew I was a fan. I was powerful proud to have it published and happy with my piece. The first comment I read was “This has to be the stupidest piece of shit that’s ever been published on Salon.” I thought, “That will be the worst review I ever get.” Then the next comment was, “Sadly, this is not the stupidest piece of shit that’s ever been published on Salon.” So I really ran the gamut from negative to positive there.
Did the novel have any alternate titles?
The original title was Against A Thunderstorm, a phrase taken from a letter General Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta. The mayor wrote to General Sherman asking to spare the city from his “reign of terror.” Sherman responded that were these normal times, he would not only spare the city, but would use his forces to help restore Atlanta. Unfortunately, however, this is wartime, and war rules over all. “You might as well appeal against a thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war. War is cruelty, there is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” It’s a quote both empathetic and heartless, and it speaks to the futility of so many of our daily fights. In fact, the only thing that quote lacks is even a tangential connection with my book. That didn’t stop me, and I called it Against A Thunderstorm anyway.
When I was starting this book, I lived across the street from a family with two young kids. They were excited because they had just adopted two stray cats. I asked what their names were, and the youngest daughter said she named her cat “Bubbles.” Then ten minutes later, she told me she changed the name to “Flowers.” After another ten minutes, she told me it was “Keisha.” I asked her brother what his cat’s name was, and he said “Nightwolf.” That shocked me—it was such a badass name. Meanwhile, I had this character who goes by a superhero-pseudonym and stalks the night. As I was yet to christen him, I temporarily named him Nightwolf, and before I could stop him, he ran off with my novel. Years later, I got word that my publisher wanted the book, but he couldn’t figure out why it was called Against A Thunderstorm. He’d publish it if it was called Nightwolf. I knew immediately that it was the right title, but also that it would mean that my literary achievement would be named after my 8 year-old neighbor’s cat.