Nothing beats the feel of a solid, weighty book in one’s hands, and recently reviewed Knight in Paper Armor is just such a book, both hefty in your desired unit of measurement, and also in message.
Having enjoyed the book immensely, I was interested to dig deeper into the book and the mind of author, Nick, himself, who kindly agreed to answer some questions, a taster of two are below, and the the others will follow in an upcoming post:
Knight in Paper Armor has been with you for a long time, how long has this story been formulating in your writerly mind and what were the specific inspirations?
The first inklings of the concept – and the title – came to me all the way back in 2010, actually, before my first book even saw print. It took me a long time to figure out how to write it, however. Every time I tried to draft it, it felt like I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t crack the code. Most of these drafts had very little in
common with the finished novel, but there was always one core element that remained—the idea that, basically, there’s something wrong with the world, and there’s this boy—Billy—who, through his strange powers, feels the pain of everyone out there, and wants to help.
Here’s the thing. What is this “pain of others,” exactly? As a writer, with a concept like that, you have to decide whether you’re going to be vague, for the sake of not polarizing readers, or if you’re going to be upfront, honest, and forthright about the brutality, inequalities, and unfairness of the real world. Explicit parallels felt necessary, but back then, I don’t think I had yet gained the maturity and life experience to tackle these sorts of complex, heavy subjects, yet. Writing Pale Highway, which came out in 2015, was the book that really propelled my skills and confidence forward, in that regard.
Enter late 2016, where the world suddenly felt a lot darker. Then 2017, where the news cycle became a constant, drumming chorus of horrific events: systemic racism, xenophobia, hate crimes, mass shootings, rising antisemitism, the human rights crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, family separations, children being kept in cages, refugees being locked out for xenophobic reasons, giant corporations doing power grabs, white supremacist rallies with torches … I’m not trying to preach, here, but living in a world
where this stuff is happening, and feeling my own privilege quite starkly, it became clear to me that I had the responsibility to pivot my writing in a direction that involved me speaking up, and speaking out. This applied most immediately to my journalistic pursuits, but I’m a novelist above all else, and I believe in the power of stories to forge real world change. However, I needed the right story.
And then, I remembered the concept I’d nearly given up on. Knight in Paper Armor. The book about a psychic boy, who feels the world’s pain, and wants to make a difference. And I realized, right then, that this was the moment for this book. And I also realized, right there, that if I was going to write something like this, I owed it to every reader to pull absolutely no punches, whatsoever, when it came to depicting everything in this story. Because while Knight in Paper Armor is set in a future dystopia, that future is only three quick steps away from the world we live in today. At my core, I’m an idealist. An optimist. I love human beings, I love this planet, and I have to believe that as damaged as we are, we can pull together and fix things. Tikkun olam: repairing the world. However, if we are going to build a better future, as a species, we have to first confront exactly what is wrong with the present, and the past. And so, while this book is, on one hand, a dark cautionary statement, I feel like it’s important to state that it’s primarily grounded in hope, particularly in regard to the youthful idealism found in both Billy and Natalia.
What makes the book so readable is those moments that focus on relationships, and one scene in particular stands out, the fire tower scene, so memorable that it makes the front cover. How did the setting come to you, and if you can manage without any spoilers?
Thank you for that! The fire tower scene is, to me, the heart of the book. Because Billy and Natalia first come together through trauma, the fire tower scene is basically their “first date.” It’s the moment where now, after having gotten to know each other a bit, they unify and empower one another – in a
way that, importantly, pushes them to become better versions of themselves. It’s a moment wherein two lonely outsiders see, for perhaps the first time, a possible future that isn’t so dark and despairing.
Now, as far as inspiration? That’s easy. My very first dates with Veronica, my wife, often involved sneaking into abandoned locations, the beach at night, and so on. Rebellious, sure, but the biggest thing was that shared enthusiasm for adventuring.