Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nik Korpon, Author of Wear Your Home Like a Scar

I first met Nik Korpon at a Noir at the Bar event he put on at Slainte in Baltimore. Outstanding and versatile writer and a hell of a nice guy. Our Venn diagrams intersect through quite a few friends and we tend to show up at the same Noirs at Bars and his writing never disappoints, even sometimes becoming performance art. He straddles the line between science fiction and crime as well as anyone I know and he always has thoughts worth sharing so it’s a treat to have him here today.

One Bite at a Time: It’s been almost two years since we last got together here. You’ve wasted exactly none of that time, I see. Two books coming out the first half of this year with Down & Out Books and a recent announcement of another deal. How did you hook up with Down & Out?

Nik Korpon: Thanks for having me back! Yeah, it’s been a pretty busy year, or two or three or… I’ve wanted to work with Down & Out for a while but, for a variety of reasons, things never lined up right. Then Eric (the head of D&O) approached me after the press that had released Old Ghosts and my short-story collection went dark, asking if I wanted to put them out with D&O. Of course, I jumped on it. It’s been a long road with both of the books but I’m very proud of what we came up with.

OBAAT: Old Ghosts came out in February. Give us a little scoop on that.
NK: I’ve written a lot since the first iteration of Old Ghosts but it’s always been a special book to me. I think it was because, prior to that, I’d written about Baltimore as a way to “visit” it while living in Europe or Massachusetts. But I wrote Old Ghosts in this little crappy apartment in east Baltimore where my wife and I lived when we got married, and I’d walk through the same streets in the book on my way home from the tattoo shop where I worked at the time. There’s something about the love triangle within the book that I’ve written around a couple times, with the main character Beto being pulled between mundane life with his wife, whom he loves, and the idealized past of Chance and Delilah. It’s like that pg. 99 song, “In Love with an Apparition.” So he’s pulled between these two possibilities, both of which are real in their own way, but some are more real than others.

That said, I found a lot of stuff I didn’t like as I was editing. Some passages were overwrought (hey, I was still figuring out how to write [actually, I’m still trying to figure out how to write; I just suck less now than I did then]) and there were a couple narrative inconsistencies within it that I fixed. But overall, I wanted to make the book a little more current, more applicable to life in Baltimore as it is now, so there are more themes around gentrification, immigration, stuff the city is dealing with. I couldn’t go into it as much as I wanted/should’ve (as one reviewer pointed out) but that’s the trade-off with novellas: choosing between propulsive stories or expansive themes. Still, I’m proud of how it turned out. It was nice to see that I’ve learned something over the last ten years.

OBAAT: Wear Your Home Like a Scar is the next book up, due out May 13. Tease us with something about it.
NK: I’m super, super stoked about this one. One of the books Down & Out asked about was a collection called Bar Scars. I initially said sure, why not, but after reading through it—and looking at all the stories I’d written between publishing the collection and now, I felt like I was doing a disservice to myself to put out that collection again. So I pitched a new, better version to Eric, which he thankfully was cool with. I took three of the stories from Bar Scars and re-edited them—one of them changing a ton, as well as moving from the Jersey Shore to Medellín, Colombia—then found a handful that had been published in places like Thuglit and Crime Factory along with others I loved but had gone in small anthologies that didn’t get the recognition I felt they’d deserved. To round it out, I wrote a couple new ones that filled some thematic spots within the flow of the collection.

What I found especially interesting was revisiting all of these stories and seeing my various preoccupations pop up across the years. There are a lot of stories dealing with dislocation or trying to reinvent yourself, things I’ve become more aware of as I’ve gotten older. But it was also a chance to push myself with new settings, different narrators and such. I made up worlds when I wrote the Memory Thief books but in crime I’ve never written about any place other than where I’ve lived—everything’s Baltimore or Massachusetts. So it was fun to pull other interests into these stories, try new things. There’s a second-person la Llorona story set in Mexico. More set on the border and in South America. I actually got ideas for a few of them from a podcast called Radio Ambulante, which is like a Spanish-language This American Life. They did a two-parter on the ruta negra—the clandestine plastic surgery trade— in Medellín that was tragic and morbidly fascinating. I asked a friend in Cali (Colombia, not California) about it and we had this long conversation about how pervasive it is, the socioeconomic implications of it, plus how these various illicit markets still thrive despite the city making massive moves to overcome the stigma of Pablo Escobar. (Though I did write an Escobar-adjacent story that was based on a line I heard in El Patron del Mal, but it’s not the typical narco story.) I think that, overall, the collection is very much a Nik Korpon book, but a different and better one. If that even makes sense.

What was I just saying about learning how to write?

OBAAT: I struggle with titles and often don’t have one until I’m halfway or more through the drafts. Wear Your Home Like a Scar is a fantastic title. How did you come up with that?
NK: Ha. Basically, a long text chain between me, Chris Irvin, and Angel Colón. I initially felt like there should be some sort of connection to Bar Scars because I didn’t want people to think it was a totally new collection and feel duped but also wanted to make the name better.

Then it turned into a wholly new collection, so the name had to change. We were texting back and forth about ideas and whatnot, and eventually I hit on the idea that most of the people in the collection are trying to reinvent themselves or find a new place where they fit but are unable because of whatever baggage they carry from before. They’re hampered because they can’t leave their home (whatever that means to them) behind. It came pretty quick after that.

OBAAT: Your new news is a deal with ChiZine Publications for your novel Rogue Matter. Tell us a little of the deal and what we can expect from the book. I also hear rumors there’s a film agent linked to the book. Do tell.
NK: When I was just starting as a writer, I loved the hell out of the books ChiZine put out and it was always one of my white whales, so I was super stoked they loved the book. I’ve gotten to know Sandra and Brett (who run CZP) over the last few years and we hit it off really well. I’m looking forward to working with them.

Rogue Matter was a really fun book to write. I’d been killing myself trying to figure out a different book and it just wasn’t happening, so to clear my head on the way to work, I listened to a podcast that was The Shield writers’ room reunion. I kept thinking, Man, The Shield was so damn good. I should write a book like that. But of course, The Shield is The Shield and I couldn’t top that. Then I thought, if I can’t top it, just make it different—like, The Shield in Space. A week or two later, I had a full outline and was laughing my ass off as I was writing it. I kept calling it Fly Hard, to which my agent said Yeah, that’s funny; no, we’re not using that title. But that gives you an idea of the book. It follows a group of rogue space cops called the Meros as the former-straight-arrow lead cop tries to earn enough money to save his adoptive mother in Mexico. It’s kind of like the lead-in to a bad joke: a Swede, a Colombian, and a Brazilian walk into a bar with their capybara and it all goes to hell. There are a bunch of insane fights and explosions. Outer space chases and a bunch of soccer references. Though it’s a crazy book, I think the emotional underpinning—what constitutes family, trying to find something that fills your missing parts—keep it from being just an action book and give it some grounding. Another bonus of that whole world is that they can go to different planets, and each one acts as a different movie genre. So in Rogue Matter, they visit a cartel planet, a Shaw Brothers/Hong Kong planet, a Blade Runner-type planet. I have ideas for additional books that let me write all these sort-of mini-genre-movies, which is really exciting.

As far as the agent, Eric Reid from WME heard about the book and really dug it, so he took it back to the in-house team at WME and they all loved it, so as far as I know, it’s making the rounds. I’ve heard some things here and there, but nothing’s ever done until it’s really done so I can’t say much more than that. I’m crossing my fingers and making every kind of offering I can think of, but mostly trying to keep my head down and work on this next book to keep my mind off it.

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