Part one of the interview can be found here as well as links to Nic’s blog. A big thank you is also due for the time he took to answer my questions.
Can you explain a bit about your approach to novel-writing?
It’s a bit mysterious, even to me. I’d say that it begins with an idea… a scene, a character, a philosophical concept I want to explore, a weird scientific theory, et cetera. From this idea, I take notes. As time goes on, I continue compiling notes, character ideas, concepts, and so on. In this “genesis” stage of the process, I’m basically putting together every idea that hits me, sometimes for years at a time: since I have so many different potential novels in my head, it’s not always clear where an idea will properly fit, so I make sure to document everything that occurs to me. At this point, every potential novel is like a riddle: how will it work? Can it work? As a result, some of the novels I’ve written have gone back to story ideas I had years and years ago. With Intraterrestrial, for example, I started having ideas for it when I was just a teenager.
Eventually, as these ideas come together, I get hit with what I think of as a “lightning bolt.” I’ll be driving, in the shower, in bed, or wherever, and this spark of light just suddenly breaks open my skull and says “THIS is the solution.” Suddenly, the novel will fully crystallize, and I’ll know that I have to write it. Going back to Intraterrestrial, the moment that the novel concept felt “ready” was when I took my past ideas and merged them with my healthcare experiences: the notion of the traumatic brain injury being at the heart of the novel brought Adam’s story to life.
So, once I hit this point, I then begin writing my first draft. This is the part where other people think I’m crazy, because I write my first drafts fast, really fast, making sure to put solid work in every single day. I generally finish these drafts in one or two months, at most.
…but then, even though I write the first draft extremely quickly, I take a long time on edits. After the draft is done, I’ll let it sit for a couple of months, and then I’ll come back to it, and spend a year or two slowly editing that draft into the book I really want it to be. Some novels take only a year of edits, others have taken far longer, at which point they understandably sort of transform into entirely different books. I always know when I’ve reached the “final” draft stage, at least for submitting it for publication: something clicks, something feels right.
You are a big traveller, heading out to Africa, Europe and Asia, how important is travel to you and how does it help influence your writing?
Travel is immensely important to me. I strongly believe that travel is a strong antidote for such contemporary maladies as prejudice, laziness, insecurity, and so on, because travel forces you to break out of your boundaries. It’s easy for someone who has been sitting in a homogenous setting for 10+ years to make judgements about people or settings that are “different.” But when you go out to another country, when you sit and share dinner with those supposedly “different” people, you can’t help but be struck by how much we’re all in this together, and we need to support one another in every way possible.
What’s important though, while traveling, is to not be comfortable. If you ask me, one shouldn’t try to stay in a place that reminds you of home: stay in the place that’s totally different, that’s outside your comfort zone, a place where you can learn. In everyday life, you get so swallowed up by your daily routine that you can start to define yourself by it: I.E., I’m Joe Smith, I wake up at this time, eat these things, see these people, wear this sort of clothing, et cetera. When you travel, when you go somewhere with a different language, culture, and way of life, it forces your consciousness to expand, makes you into a better person.
And of course, yes, this has a huge influence on my writing! Traveling helps me to look at the world from many different perspectives, which is important when it comes to writing fiction.
Of your books, which are you most proud of?
I’m going to be totally honest, and say Pale Highway. Don’t get me wrong, I love Intraterrestrial, but there’s something about Pale Highway that… well, it astonishes me that I was able to write that book. There’s so much packed in there. Pale Highway is the work I really define myself by, at this point in time.
As a fellow obsessive reader, what are you favourite books and what are your recent reads?
It’s so hard to pick my top book or author, but here are a few favorites. I love Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, George Orwell, Octavia Butler, David Foster Wallace, Elie Wiesel, Cormac McCarthy, Noam Chomsky, Mary Shelley, Franz Kafka… as for my most recent read, I just finished The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas.
Tell me more about these ‘mysterious literary ambitions’ of yours?
Well, if I said too much, they’d cease to be mysterious. 😉
As much as I enjoy the romanticism of writing with a paper and pen, the truth is, it’s very hard for me to write with anything but a keyboard. When I use paper, my mind runs faster than my hand can keep up with, so I get frustrated. That said, I do sometimes use a paper and pen to take notes, write outlines, and so on.
Do you have a writing soundtrack, and if so what’s on it?
Actually, I have a different designated soundtrack for every book I write. Each book is its own story, its own adventure, with its own musical flow. Pale Highway, for example, had me listening to a lot of the Album Leaf, as well as David Gray—“Disappearing World,” for one—and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. With Intraterrestrial, much of the soundtrack consisted of the piano works of Ludovico Einaudi.
Any advice for would be authors?
When I get asked for advice, the biggest thing I can suggest is to find your path. By that, I mean that when it comes to succeeding as a writer, in any form, understand that there are no proper guidelines to follow, no tutorial, no “right way.” My method works for me, sure, but other people have done it differently.
Here’s a big key, though: believe that you’ll succeed, keep trying to succeed no matter what obstacles come your way, and you will. But also, be open to criticism: not criticism that tears you down, but positive criticism that bolsters you up, that improves your work, and makes you a stronger writer. Always be reading the books of others. Always be open to learning new things. Even in the early stages, when your writing might not be ready for publication, continually working at it will make it better. Develop your voice, keep writing, and always believe in yourself.
What’s your 7th favourite colour and why?
Seventh favorite! You might the first person who has ever asked me that. Well, my favorite color is definitely green. After that… I’d say I like black, white (I know, I know, not real colors), then purple, then grey/silver, then turquoise, then brown… probably red. I’ll go with red.
What’s next for you?
The challenge with answering this question is that since I always work on multiple projects at once, it’s hard to say in what order they’ll be released. For now, I have a near-finalized draft for my next novel, which is another one I’ve been working and reworking for many years. This time, I think I’ve slayed the dragon, and I just need to go back through and do some more editing. In the meantime, I might aim to get another short work out there, ala Clay Tongue… if I have the time! We’ll see.
I’d also love to branch out into other formats: comics, scripts… all kinds of possibilities.