Friday, November 11, 2016

A Thriller in the Wild: Erik Storey's Nothing Short of Dying

Erik Storey's no-holds-barred thrill ride of a novel, Nothing Short of Dying, was November 2nd's Book of the Day and I'm so excited to now be able to bring you an interview with the author. Read on!

Steph Post: One of the first things I noticed when reading Nothing Short of Dying is its incredible pace. By the second page, literally, the plot has been kicked into motion when Clyde Barr receives a desperate phone call from his sister. This breakneck speed never lets up and while there are a few strategically placed moments for the reader to breathe, overall your novel is one high-octane ride. When writing, did this sort of speed come naturally or is this the result of a lot of revision and editing to craft such a pace?

Erik Storey: This is a definite result of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I think there were at least fifty different versions of the manuscript, if you count the small revisions and micro-edits. I like a fast pace in a book, but it’s almost impossible to do when I write the first draft. I’m usually feeling my way through, trying to nail down who the characters are and what they want. I’m telling myself the story, as they say. The second draft is where I add layers of detail, and work on the dialog. The rest of the drafts are for cutting and paring it down to make a smooth, fast, and hopefully effortless read.

SP: When you do have those more calm moments of exposition, you devote space in the novel to developing your settings, which, in a way, are such an extension of your characters. How essential was the backdrop of Colorado, particularly its wilderness, to the core of your story?

ES: I think that setting is just as important as any of the characters, and if done well, can become almost a character itself. The idea for the book actually started with the setting, when I was driving down a two-track in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, and I started wondering why we didn’t have more books written about the rugged area I was travelling through.

Wilderness is definitely core to the story, and to Clyde. It’s what makes him different from other main characters, both because he’s spent so much time out in the boonies, but also because he excels at it and has the skills to survive almost anywhere. His love of the outdoors comes directly from me. I grew up spending every summer either in the Flattops Wilderness or at my family’s ranch that my great-grandfather homesteaded. Neither of those spots had electricity nor running water, and that’s where I learned to ride a horse before I learned to ride a bike. Later I became a guide and took people on trips into the mountains that I loved and got to share that with people. Hopefully my descriptions in the book convey some of that love.

SP: Family, and threats to a character’s family, are often a jumping off point for thrillers, but I really felt the struggle and connection between Clyde and his sister, Jen. Perhaps this is because of the harrowing childhood they shared, and the way you depicted it, but it seemed that the family element in Nothing Short of Dying went beyond the cliché. Was the story of Clyde and Jen always at the heart of the novel? Or did it develop more to support the high-action of the plot?

ES: The family drama developed separately, and it was indeed to support the action. My editor and I knew that it needed to be there to make Clyde more of a human, and less of a brute, and to explain how and why he did the things he did. So I wrote all of the backstory separately, then put it in the book in small doses scattered through the book.

As a side note, it’s important to mention that all of the family violence and trouble came straight from the imagination. I had a wonderful childhood, so I had to research and be creative to come up with the hell that Clyde and his sister went through.

SP: Lee Child blurbed Nothing Short of Dying and many readers have made the comparison between Nothing Short of Dying and the Jack Reacher novels. Before you began your novel, were you a fan of the types of thrillers that you are now compared to?

ES: I am a huge fan, yes. I’ve read all of Lee Child’s books, for two reasons. One, because they are fun and fantastic reads. Two, because I wanted my characters to be different from his, so I read to make sure Clyde is not Jack Reacher. There are similarities, yes, but I think there are just as many differences.

I wasn’t always a fan of thrillers, however. When I was younger, I read mostly Westerns, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. It wasn’t until after college that I started reading authors like Child, and Crais, and C.J. Box.

SP: Finally, will we be seeing more of Clyde Barr?

ES: Yes we will. A Promise To Kill will be out sometime next year. In that book, we find Clyde wandering through a Native American reservation that has been taken over by outlaw bikers, and there is talk of terror activities in the area. Hopefully, if people like the books, I will be able to write more adventures for Clyde.

Thanks so much to Erik Storey for stopping by. Be sure to pick up your copy of Nothing Short of Dying today and add A Promise To Kill to your TBR list. Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Entering the Strange with Sequoia Nagamatsu (An Interview)

Today I bring you an interview with Sequoia Nagamatsu, author of the brilliantly weird and wildly wonderful collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone. Cheers!

Steph Post: So many of the stories featured in Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone feature monsters, ghosts and other mythical creatures. Where did your interest in the “otherworldly” come from?

Sequoia Nagamatsu: I’ve always been fascinated with mythology and folklore, probably starting early on with watching the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts on TNT and flipping through a used copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology that I bought at a garage sale. It was the prospect of explaining the world through the fantastic and strange that drew me. In a similar way, the comics I read as a kid helped me consider (even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time) how the unreal and otherworldly can be ways of illuminating aspects of identity and social issues. I identified with the misfits and the outcasts because I was one myself (bookish, goth for a time, generally pretty weird). Super heroes (and villains) and monsters and creatures of magic live on the periphery of society because of their extraordinary abilities. And it is because of this unique vantage point that they can dig into the architecture of society and the human condition. As a writer, I use magic and monsters to understand humanity, and I think the fantastic is needed more than ever as a lens to view a world that is increasingly complex and chaotic.

SP: As much as magic and other mythical and mystical elements are present in your collection, many of the stories also include references to science- particularly as concerns how you structured your stories. I’m thinking, for example, of the opening story, “The Return to Monsterland.” In your mind, how do science and magic go together and work together?

SN: I think magic and science are essentially the same thing, but just several steps of understanding removed from each other. With magic, there’s the belief and expectation that something fantastic will happen. It simply is because that is the way the world works. No questions. With science, we take that faith and put it under a microscope and try to unlock the secrets of wonder. We ask questions. Of course, life doesn’t like neat compartmentalizations, and I think a fully realized life embraces the mingling of all aspects of ourselves and worldviews. We can look at love as a chemical reaction, but we generally prefer to think of it in grander terms.

In "Return to Monsterland," our narrator is trying to understand how his wife lived and what she saw in Godzilla and the other Kaiju. At its heart, his quest is to find the connections between his field notes and scientific work and the realm of immeasurable beauty and awe.

SP: In, perhaps, sharp contrast to the scientific elements in your stories, there is also clearly a poetic voice bubbling beneath the surface. Are you a poet? Do you have a background in poetry?

SN: I wouldn’t describe myself as a poet at present, but I started my first forays into creative writing with poetry and definitely still appreciate and strive for writing that not only reads true to a character or situation, but sounds true to my ears.

SP: As I expressed in my review of Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone for Small PressBook Review, much of the delight in your collection comes from its weirdness. I mean, the Placenta Bloody Mary? The advice section for the dead? I’m wondering if you ever felt that you pushed the weirdness too far. Were you ever concerned that your readers wouldn’t “get” what was behind your stories?

SN: I don’t think that was ever really a concern that I had, but that might say more about me as a person and a writer than anything. Fundamentally, these stories are all about very recognizable experiences and emotions, so I felt that was more than enough of an anchor to provide a foothold for readers. The humanity and emotional resonance is there if you allow yourself to enter the strange.

SP: Finally, many of the stories in your collection, and the collection as a whole really, could be described as experimental. Both in content and in structure. Is there a place, or space, for experimental fiction or poetry in the mainstream literary arena?

SN: I don’t think the mainstream literary arena (if we’re thinking really traditionally here) really provides a lot space for innovative literature, but we’ve made some strides in recent years. For one thing, what the mainstream literary arena comprises is changing. Certain small presses are no longer all that small and major literary awards are tapping writers and publishers based in the Midwest and west coast. And a not insignificant number of writers who found their voice and niche online like Blake Butler and Amelia Gray could certainly be called experimental and have found a wider audience. So, I’m hopeful that challenging and innovative writing is finding more readers these days, but I’m not sure if the number of readers who truly appreciate the innovative has changed all that much. But one arena where we might close the gap as far as reaching other readers is in the world of games and VR. It is here where gamers are often engaging with experimental narratives without even realizing it.
Many thanks to Sequoia Nagamatsu. Be sure to pick up your copy of Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone from Black Lawrence Press. Happy Reading!