An in depth interrogation of Adam J Nicolai, author of the psychological story Alex.
How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?
This is a very germane question, especially for me. As a self-published author I have the freedom to write whatever I want, and I want to write all kinds of stuff within the realm of genre fiction. But I recognize that all readers may not want to come along for the genre-jumping ride.
So far, I've only published one novel, Alex, and with that I was able to write exactly what I intended to write, including a large volume of swear words. : ) I did worry while working on the novel that the cursing might turn people off, but I'd told myself that I had to be true to the character first and foremost, and the character (Ian Colmes) is bitter, hurting, and doesn't really care what anyone thinks, so swearing was in abundance. I've only taken a little flak for it. One beta reader suggested I dial it down a bit to consider older readers who may not have the stomach for it. Later, a friend invited me to a book club in Cambridge, MN, which was comprise mainly of - you guessed it - older readers, and a few of them took me to task about how the all the foul language wasn't necessary. I thought that was apropos.
On a broader level, though, I do struggle with this in regard to my next novel, Rebecca. The story structure and narrative is very similar to Alex, and is even focused on a mother/daughter relationship (refreshingly, the daughter in this story is alive). For this reason I consider it a kind of "companion piece" to Alex, but it definitely goes places Alex never went. The main character, Sarah Cooper, struggles with a lot of questions I think every parent struggles with: Am I qualified to do this? What have I gotten myself into? Is my old life over? But the birth of her daughter is forcing some other issues into the spotlight for her, issues that she has tried very hard to avoid dealing with, her religion and her sexuality being chief among them. So the shift in theme from pure grief and how to deal with that to one that's more "sex and religion" is one I'm hoping people will come along for the ride on.
So in the short term, I'm striking the balance by writing a similar style of book that plays with different themes. In the longer term, this will be more of an issue. My third novel, Children of a Broken Sky, which I'm hoping to have out there by mid-summer 2013, is actually the first in a 6-book fantasy series. I want to see how it's received before I decide exactly how many more of the books to write, though I suspect at some point I will write them regardless; I'm head over heels in love with the setting, and have been since I was 14. After Children, I'll either do the sequel, or a different novel, which is actually a sci-fi piece. So there is genre-jumping in my future. In case the Alex- (and, hopefully, Rebecca-)lovers balk at all this genre hopping, I want to sprinkle around some Alex-style books (of which I have at least three mapped out) between the other genre experiments to keep them interested and keep building that base. My plan is to publish two books a year from here on out. Maybe in 2014 I could commit to one Alex-style and one other genre a year.
What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.
Well, to carry over from the last question, a lot of different genres appeal to me. It's more about the story for me; and then, whichever genre fits the story best is what I write.
For example, I never would've set out to write "a ghost story." It was more that I wanted to express the depth of my love for my children, and that love never aches as much as it does when I imagine losing them. One morning I heard my son playing in the hallway - much like the first scene from Alex - and I thought, "What if he wasn't really there? What if he was gone, and I was just imagining him?" From that point on, it became a "ghost story." (I put that in quotes because of course, if you've read the book, an argument can be made that it's not a ghost story at all and never was.)
I'm fascinated by smart phones and the impact they are having and will have on our global society. I think if you run ahead 20 years or so, there are some really profound things about our entire species that these devices have the capability to change. So that's an idea I want to explore, and setting a story 20 years in the future and focusing on technological impact makes it a sci-fi story, so that one's sci-fi.
Fantasy is really the only one where the genre itself holds a certain appeal for me, independent from the story being told, so I'll focus on that one a bit. My favorite flavor of fantasy is the Stephen R. Donaldson type - the ones where the enemy is titanic and the odds are not just long but appear completely hopeless. I love the ideas that success or victory is always possible, that some things are worth dying for, and that enough effort and enough willpower can manifest into miracles. No genre really exemplifies these grand notions like fantasy does.
At the same time, in my fantasy setting, I like to temper these ideas with rationality. They're old ideas that I've had since I was a kid, but as I've grown older, I like to make them believable, too. I hate deus ex machina, and fantasy is prone to falling into that trap, so it's a fine line.
Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?
Oh, definitely, though I'm not much for physical media. I have a "story ideas" doc where I keep those little one- or two-sentence blurbs for ideas I've had. The ones that come to me with a little more flesh on the bone might get a whole page, and the really big ones may get their own Word doc in the same folder. If I'm not near my computer when the idea strikes I just email it to myself quick (see my earlier comment about smart phones!).
So I have a little garden of ideas and I let them germinate and see which one grows fastest, and that becomes the next book.
Incidentally, I also do this for whatever I'm currently writing. Scenes will occur to me that don't fit the part I'm currently working (I write chapters sequentially, even though I know many authors don't). So I'll just make note of them - snippets of dialogue, or ideas that need to be conveyed, or whatever - and when I the old writer's block hits or I'm not sure what comes next, I'll just go to the doc and pick out whatever seems coolest. : )
How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?
See last question - if they're really breeding and just won't stop, they're quite likely to become the stuff of the next book.
How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ?
Ian Colmes, the main character in Alex, is probably 80% me. The chapters of that book just flew by, because I was practically writing a [fictional] diary. His reactions were the reactions I am pretty sure I would have in the same situation.
It was precisely because he was so easy to write that I wanted to take on a bigger challenge for the second novel, Rebecca. The main character in that one is two things I am not: a mother to a newborn, and a lesbian. So it was more of a stretch, and it was tougher than I thought it would be in many ways. Don't worry, I had plenty of mothers and lesbians (and even one lesbian mother) read the beta of the book and make sure it was honest. The feedback's been really good so far.
As for who I'd like to be... this might be boring, but right now I'm just really enjoying being me. : )
Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?
No, not usually. When I'm really into it I tend to sit around and stare into space a lot, plotting (or scheming). So she'll ask if I'm all right or something like that. But generally, I don't get "sucked in" to the stories I'm writing. I try to keep them at arm's length. Writing is my work, and with any work, I think it's important to be able to keep myself separate from it. Especially when I get stuck on something, taking a break to recharge is invaluable, and I can't do that if I can't get it out of my head.
What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?
I'm really all over the map these days. I like fantasy stuff like Abercrombie's First Law, or the aforementioned Stephen R. Donaldson, which I re-read once every 2-3 years. But I also just finished The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, which is not fantasy at all but is still fiction. I also really enjoyed The Crooked God Machine, by Autumn Christian, which was a surreal dystopian kind of thing. On the non-fiction side, I finished Dawkin's The God Delusion not too long ago and am reading Sex and God by Darrel Ray right now.
Hm... from that list you'd think I was extremely interested in books with "God" in the title, which is not always the case, but given the subject matter of Rebecca has maybe been more the case in the past year.
This seems like as good a place as any to mention that the biggest single influence for Alex, stylistically, was Heart-shaped Box, by Joe Hill. I could not put that book down, and when it was done with me, I asked, "Why was this so compelling?" and tried to work the answers to that question into Alex's structure.
What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?
I'm not sure what this means! My guess would be that "x factor" is a similar idea to a killer app. Like a killer book? Outside of trying to write the best book I can, the answer is: probably not enough. : ) Until recently I had very little time to dedicate toward publicity or marketing. In December I was lucky enough to be able to quit my old day job and focus much more on my writing, though, so hopefully this will be changing.
How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?
A) Grateful that they took the time to let me know.
B) Deeply embarrassed that the errors were there to start with.
3) Impatient to fix the issue as soon as possible.
What do you like most about visiting forums?
Again, this is something I haven't had a lot of time to do as of yet, at least not in the role of author. : )
What is on your near horizon?
I just recently signed a deal to license the audio rights to Alex, something I was intrigued to look into but just hadn't time, so working with a publisher on that is really nice. I don't have any details on when the audio book will be available, but I'll keeping readers posted through my blog and Facebook page.
I am scrambling day and night to finish work on Rebecca, which will be available exclusively through Amazon on January 8th. Rebecca is about a young, single mother who resents the impact her newborn daughter is having on her life. She wants to love the girl but doesn't know how. She is sinking into depression, and she's ashamed of the choices she made that got her into this position. She prays about it, and when she does, God says He wants her to kill her baby.
After that I'll be diving straight into the final revision pass on my epic fantasy novel, Children of a Broken Sky. This will be the fourth major revision this book has undergone, but I'm hoping it will also be the last. That one should be available, as I mentioned before, mid-summer 2013 sometime, if not sooner.
After that... it'll either be A Season of Rendings (the sequel to Children) or the aforementioned sci-fi novel. I'd be thrilled to write either. : )
2013 is going to be a very exciting year for me. There is a lot going on. For the first time in my life I'm going to have the time available to write at a much faster pace than I've ever been able to before. I'm looking forward to it.
Where can we find you for more information?
My website's not pretty, but it's a great portal into all things Adam J Nicolai, including my blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, links to the books, and current news. You can find it at http://www.adamjnicolai.com.
Thanks so much for the interview!