...Interview Nik Korpon

This is Nik Korpon. But you probably knew that.

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I'd come across Nik Korpon's name here and there over the last couple of years but, stupidly, took my time when it came to reading his work. Last year, Spinetingler Magazine named him one of the "top ten noir writers everyone should know," and I promptly bought his short story collection, Bar Scars, and read it beginning to end in a day. Fans of crime fiction and, in particular, noir (or just good writing) should do the same. Nik writes in a crisp brutal prose that shines a light onto his characters without basking in sentimentality. One of the things I, personally, love most about his work is that it provides a unique but informed perspective on noir, and on Baltimore - he's a studied expert of the genre and the city, but he reintroduces both to readers through his own style. As Spinetingler wrote, "Korpon is the unheralded resident poet of the neo-noir scene."

I had the chance to meet Nik at Baltimore's recent Noir at the Bar and asked if I could interview him for my little blog. He said yes. Here it is...


What's your favorite joke?

Two fish are in a tank. One looks over to the other, says, “How the hell you drive this thing?”

(Editor's Note: HA!)

I have a terrible sense of humor. It’s some radioactive mix of Woody Allen and Steve Coogan.

What other art forms inspire you, or do you enjoy (TV shows, movies, musicians, etc.)?

The easy answer is TV, especially right now. There are so many good shows on. Though I don’t want it to end—this New Golden Age, they’re calling it—it’ll be a nice respite when there aren’t so many shows on that I want to watch and I can catch up on everything I’ve missed so far. It doesn’t help that we don’t have cable and have to find everything on pirated sites online.

Obvious answers aside, I draw inspiration from everything. Sometimes I get ideas from a song lyric, especially old blues dudes or bands like Lucero, or I read a story that just slays me and I want to write that story, which ends up morphing into something completely different. When I was in grad school—or, really, at any point before I had kids—I went to museums a lot and would listen to Angelo Badalamenti and stare at Caravaggio paintings until I felt something possessing me. I’d try to translate that feeling into a story and would ultimately fail, but I think it did something to me inside, opened something, you know?

I’ve gotten into the habit of only being able to listen to certain records when I’m writing. For instance, with this latest book, sort of a gritty future-dystopian civil-war type thing, I listened to nothing but Beach House (usually Bloom, which is a breathtaking record) and The Wolfe Tones (an Irish Republican folk band) when I wrote the first draft. The second draft, it was only Nick Cave’s Push the Sky Away and sometimes No More Shall We Part. Edits were a Hank Williams collection I found on Spotify and Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullabies. I think hearing the same music flips a switch and lets your brain know it’s time to work.

I'm impressed with your unwillingness to pull punches in your writing. Have you published something that you later worried went too fall?

The opposite, actually. A lot of times I’m worried I don’t push far enough. I listen to a lot of writing podcasts on my way to work because I can’t stand the radio and NPR gets depressing after a while, and one of the things I hear a lot is writers being disturbed by what they’re writing, or pushing against their childhood trauma to find some emotional resonance, and I worry because I’m not experiencing that. (Granted, I worry about pretty much everything, as my wife will attest.) Maybe it means I’m completely desensitized to tragedy, or that I’m able to dissociate real life from fiction, or that I’m just not a very good writer. I don’t know.

I’m not a fan of excessive violence, though a lot of what I write has some element of bloodshed (I mean, it’s crime fiction for god’s sake, not to mention I’m a big fan of boobs and explosions) but I try to fit in as much honest emotional violence as the story allows. Sometimes that goes too far, like the ending of a book where a guy finds his kid drowned in the bathtub after his wife fell out with a needle in her arm, but that’s also an issue of overkill and trying too hard to be 'noir,' whatever the fuck that means. But the real ‘too far’ things—crimes against kids, rape, etc.—I don’t write about because I’m not terribly interested in exploring those subjects and, most of the time, they’re just plot devices to give the male protagonists something to rage against (see Laura Lippman’s “Is the first victim a woman?” litmus test).

Is there a philosophy or inspiration that is central to your writing?

Heh. Philosophy… It depends what I’m drinking. If it’s bourbon, I just want to tell some good stories and keep people entertained. If it’s a good wine (on that rare occasion) then I want to create beautiful things. So, when I’m actually sitting down to write, it’s somewhere in between. Basically, I want to affect the reader. That old Chuck Palahniuk line: make them laugh, make them cry, make them learn something. Except not learn anything, unless it’s how to break into houses or fence stolen goods.

It’s not ‘inspiration’ specifically, but I have noticed patterns in my writing over the last few years. A lot of my longer pieces deal with fathers and sons, or brothers turned against one another, usually with one of them in the surrogate father role. And the last three things I’ve written have involved thieves as a main character. I’m not sure what exactly that means, though it might be some manifestation of being uncomfortable in my own skin for the first 25 years of my life, thieves appropriating things from other people or something. I’m not sure. The scenarios for an interesting story just sort of bubble up and I follow them wherever they go. Where they come from, I’m not sure I care to know.

What's been your best moment in publishing?

Any time someone says “yes”?

I hate the process of getting blurbs, but I love the feeling of having writers who I admire the shit out of say nice things about my own writing, as narcissistic as that sounds. I was very flattered to have Ray Banks, who is a phenomenal writer, say he wanted to steal lines from my book. I got a Happy New Year email from Don Pollock the year after he blurbed my first novel. This was pretty early in the game for me and he was just starting to blow up (I think this was 2011) and I remember still holding writers up on pedestals, being completely blown away that this stunning writer was sending me a random email. But really, I’ve met so many nice, genuine people through publishing stories that any time I share a spine with great writers I know and enjoy reading is pretty damn awesome.

What are your thoughts on the changing nature of publishing? More specifically, do you think small presses and self-publishing have been beneficial or detrimental to writers/writing?

I’m definitely not the best person to ask about this because I’ve never self-published. Well, I did once, but it was just repackaging published stories as part of a giveaway thing I was doing on Goodreads. But I think indie presses are an essential part of the writing world today, presses like Civil Coping Mechanisms, Dark House, Snubnose, One Eye Press. I’m indebted to them because, without them, guys like me would never have a chance, and I’m sure there are hundreds of people in the same boat. I signed with an agent (the awesome Brooks Sherman at The Bent Agency) last winter, but everything I did before that was indie. And, unfortunately, my words seem to be the culling song for presses because everyone’s gone dark right after they publish my book.

The bigger publishers have taken a beating, both financially and in their reputation, and I don’t think it’s unwarranted. Most of the ways they operate are archaic. But, I think there’s a new breed of indie coming up, presses like Angry Robot and Exhibit A, that have the mentality and adaptability of a small press, but have the distribution of larger presses. Curbside Splendor is doing something like this too, I believe. I think (and hope) that this is the new norm because, for all of the amazing things a small press can do with experimentation and shining a light on new voices and all, none of it really matters if no one can buy your book, right? Despite all the end-is-nigh articles you read on the internet, this is an exciting time to be writing.


You can learn more about Nik Korpon and his work at www.nikkorpon.com, find him on GoodReads and follow him on Twitter.

And, as always, find me on Facebook here, GoodReads here, and Twitter here. There. Now you're all social-media'd up.

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