This Is What Disabled Looks Like: Living With An Invisible Disability

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Angela Clarke is a crime novelist, who also happens to have an invisible disability. Today, on Writer’s Blog, I wanted to share this important article she has written to highlight the plight being suffered by many people who also have disabilities that you cannot obviously see. Let it serve as a reminder that we should not judge a book by its cover!

The young woman twiddled her Edinburgh Festival staff lanyard and gave a loud, frustrated sigh. She was no more than 21, we were three-quarters into the August arts festival that colonises Scotland’s capital annually, and I could tell she’d had enough of unreasonable requests. Except I hadn’t made one.

Arriving to see a play based on Jurassic Park (if you don’t know the Edinburgh Festival, this is towards the normal end of the programme), I’d discovered the venue was up five flights of stairs. It happens. There are over 10,000 performers sprawling across the capital and it’s impossible to research every venue when you’re packing in five shows a day. No biggie, I just asked if there was a lift.”There is, but I’ll have to ask if you can use it,” the woman replied, before speaking into her walkie-talkie. “Wait here. I’ve called for the manager,” she added.Time ticked towards curtain up, and my friends were looking nervous.

“Can I just go in and use the lift myself?” I said hopefully.

The girl scowled at me.

I told my friends to go. My husband waited with me.

“Is anyone actually coming?” I asked the girl again.

“The disabled entrance opens directly onto the stage,” she replied as if in answer.

With a minute ’til the show started, I sent my husband running up the stairs to catch it. My door guard was still huffing and puffing. I knew what was coming. I’d had this before. Her whole reaction had been as if I were asking for something outrageous. With a triumphant look, she said, “You’ve missed the show. No late admittance.”

“I’d still like to speak to the manager,” I said, feeling myself blush. Alone on the street, I didn’t feel so confident asking for my rights.She gave me a long look up and down. I’m 35. I was wearing Zara denim cut-offs and a Marc Jacobs jumper (sale bargain). My hair is highlighted, and I’d blow-dried it. I wasn’t wearing much makeup but my nails were gel manicured. She thought I was a diva. A Mariah Carey wannabe who didn’t do stairs. Some kind of blagger. She raised an eyebrow and with pointed emphasis said, “Can I ask exactly what is wrong with you?”And I felt sorry for her. “I have a degenerative connective tissue disorder that, among other things, means I injure and dislocate easily, and my mobility is compromised. I find stairs very difficult.”

A FEW WEEKS AGO, A BARMAN REFUSED TO GIVE ME A KEY FOR THE DISABLED TOILET UNLESS I PRODUCED MEDICAL PROOF IN FRONT OF A PACKED PUB. SERIOUSLY, WHO THINKS HAVING A GO IN AN ACCESSIBLE TOILET IS A WINNING SCAM?

The moment the word ‘degenerative’ came out of my mouth, her face fell. She was mortified. She’d made a wrong assumption about me. She was young, she didn’t know better. It’s possible she’d never met anyone like me. Or more likely she had, and never realised. I am one of the 11 million people in the UK estimated to be living with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability. There are no statistics on how many of those 11 million have an invisible condition – the term used to describe a wide spectrum of hidden disabilities or challenges that are primarily neurological in nature. But based on similar data studies carried out in the US, we could estimate that 74% of those who live with severe disability do not use either a wheelchair, a walking stick or a cane. In other words, they, like me, often don’t have a visual “tell” that they are disabled. And that is at odds with what many people think someone with a disability looks like.

The Edinburgh Festival worker wasn’t the first to treat me as if I were trying to cheat the system. It happens all the time. Just a few weeks ago, a barman refused to give me a key for the disabled toilet unless I produced medical proof and history in front of a packed pub. (Seriously, who thinks blagging a ride in a lift and having a go in an accessible toilet is a winning scam?) People may think they’re doing a good thing – protecting services for those who they believe truly are disabled – but it’s time for greater awareness. It’s humiliating to have to share personal information just so you can pee. It marks you out as ‘other’. People look at you differently. You quickly become someone to pity, when all you wanted was a glass of wine and a whizz. Able-bodied people aren’t required to give intimate details about their health in front of strangers. Why should I have to justify my need to use a disabled bathroom or the lift? If someone has gone to the bother of queuing at a bar to ask for a disabled toilet key, as opposed to just nipping downstairs to the main toilets, chances are there’s a reason. You shouldn’t be made to feel as if you’re taking the piss when you’re simply trying to go for one.

NEWSFLASH: DISABLED PEOPLE AREN’T SOME DICKENSIAN THROWBACK STEREOTYPE. WE’RE CLEAN, WE TAKE PRIDE IN OUR APPEARANCE, WE LIKE GOING OUT FOR A DRINK AND A LAUGH.

As disability cuts are rolled out, and politicians talk in the rhetoric of “strivers” and “skivers”, there’s an increasing sense that those with disabilities are only ever a drain on society. In 2015, an open letter from Sam Cleasby to a woman who tutted at her using a disabled toilet went viral. Sam is a glamorous 33-year-old who suffers from the invisible condition ulcerative colitis and wears a j-pouch bag that collects faecal matter. In the same year, Corinna Skorpenske’s online response to this note left on her car went viral: “You should be ashamed!! When you take a handicap spot an actual disabled person suffers!” Corinna was with her 16-year-old daughter, who has the invisible but debilitating and painful condition lupus, which severely restricts her mobility. This was the third anonymous note Corinna had received.

Anyone with an invisible condition will recognise this attitude all too well. The reason the Edinburgh Festival worker couldn’t get her head round me being disabled is the same reason why people doubted Sam Cleasby, Corinna Skorpenske’s daughter and countless other sufferers of invisible conditions across the country. People expect those who are disabled to look like victims. Newsflash: disabled people aren’t some Dickensian throwback stereotype. We’re clean, we take pride in our appearance, we also like going out for a drink and a laugh. We have careers, deadlines, lives, loves, and family. We look just like you. Living with an invisible disability throws up enough challenges; don’t let your attitude be one of them.

***

Angela Clarke’s new book Trust Me is out now. You can get your copy here.

Via: http://www.refinery29.uk/amp/invisible-disability

Writing Prompt: Love Without Cliché

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It’s hard to escape that most talked-about and often clichéd theme: love. It’s a fundamental part of many stories, whether it’s love between people, love for a thing, or love that was lost.

But how do we approach the topic of love in our writing without sounding sappy or following too closely in the footsteps of the many authors who have written about ‘love’ before us?

This writing prompt is about battling the clichés and writing something original.

Write a scene where two characters show love for each other.

Sounds simple enough, right? Here are the rules:

  • Set your scene somewhere completely unromantic (the dump, a fish market, a funeral – it’s up to you).
  • You cannot use the words, ‘love’, ‘beautiful’, ‘overwhelming’, ‘heart’, or ‘butterflies’.
  • You cannot use a ‘love at first sight’ or ‘let’s make love’ plot (keep it PG-13, people!).
  • Avoid clichés at all costs!

Writing about love (and making it sound sincere rather than silly) is a difficult thing, so cut out the clichés and broaden your imagination.

Happy writing!

Via: https://writersedit.com/weekly-writing-prompts-16/

Gone Girls, Found | Talking with Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed

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CHICAGO — The pairing of Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed seems at once too obvious and not obvious enough.

Too obvious because both are female writers who happen to have had best-selling books optioned by Reese Witherspoon and made into high-octane, swinging-for-the-fences films.

And not obvious enough because Ms. Flynn specializes in probing dark, unsavory recesses of the human psyche, like her antiheroine Amy in the 2012 novel “Gone Girl.” Ms. Strayed rocketed to fame the same year with her memoir “Wild,” about her redemptive 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail as a brokenhearted divorced 26-year-old grieving the early death of her mother.

Yet the authors share similarities that run deep. Feminists both, they create bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

They have also forged roads to Hollywood gold. Directed by David Fincher and adapted by Ms. Flynn herself, the film “Gone Girl” has earned more than $300 million globally. “Wild,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, adapted by Nick Hornby and starring Ms. Witherspoon, is one of the season’s most anticipated films.

The first and last time Ms. Flynn and Ms. Strayed met was two years ago at a literary event in St. Paul, and they reconvened on a wintry Halloween here, greeting each other happily with hugs. Ms. Flynn, 43, has a newborn, her second child, and lives with her family in Chicago, and Ms. Strayed, 46, happened to be in town with her husband and two children.

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. Tell me about when you first met, in St. Paul.

A. Cheryl Strayed It was freezing. We went on a hike, and I didn’t have a jacket. It was like “Wild” all over again, with the elements for which I was unprepared. And I remember I was talking about how our books are so different, readers have a different relationship to them. People who read “Wild,” they’re like, “You don’t realize it, but you’re my best friend.”

Gillian Flynn [Deadpan] They don’t feel that way about Amy?

Strayed Maybe it’s a little more like they’re fascinated to know who you are. Who’s the person behind that crazy story?

This question is from a Times reader: “Witherspoon wanted to create better roles for women, but has ‘Gone Girl’ shown women in a better role? Is it empowering or continuing stereotypes?”

Flynn I’ve been asked that a lot, and to me the answer is always: “Of course, it’s not misogynistic.” Women shouldn’t be expected to only play nurturing, kind caretakers.

That’s always been part of my goal — to show the dark side of women. Men write about bad men all the time, and they’re called antiheroes.

Were you surprised that that was the reaction you got?

Flynn I had about 24 hours where I hovered under my covers and was like: “I killed feminism. Why did I do that? Rats. I did not mean to do that.” And then I very quickly kind of felt comfortable with what I had written.

Cheryl, it’s your story, but did you get blowback from people, or was it just more relief at having told an honest story?

Strayed It never occurred to me, not once, that the book would be read as an inspirational tale. I really have no interest in likability when it comes to characters. It’s always about credibility, and to be credible you have to seem human. One of the most difficult things reading about the movie “Wild” was when people started writing about it and me in this shorthand way. I knew they hadn’t read the book, because the things they would say about me were just patently untrue.

What kind of stuff were you getting?

Strayed Often, they’ll say my problems were self-inflicted. And really the two biggest problems I began the trail with were the opposite of self-inflicted: the dead mother and the abusive father who wasn’t in my life. Those were my two most significant wounds, neither of which I inflicted upon myself, both of which I had to heal in myself.

It’s interesting what Gillian is saying. I think the lazy interpretation of Amy is she’s this evil psychopath and she’s all darkness. I think so much of the reason “Gone Girl” is so successful is that all of those very winning passages where Amy writes about her romantic life, falling in love with her husband, the way she constructs herself as a woman in the world. Those are very recognizable to us.

Flynn I think we wouldn’t have heard as much anger about it if she was more dismissible. She’s understandable, and that makes her a little harder to just write off. She’s not Norman Bates’s mom just sitting there in a rocking chair being evil.

Is there a double standard, where male characters don’t get that level of scrutiny?

Flynn The likability thing, especially in Hollywood, is a constant conversation, and they’re really underrating their audience when they have that conversation. What I read and what I go to the movies for is not to find a best friend, not to find inspirations, not necessarily for a hero’s journey. It’s to be involved with characters that are maybe incredibly different from me, that may be incredibly bad but that feel authentic.

When you were writing the books, did you think, “I’m breaking the mold and pushing the edges of these women characters?”

Flynn A theme that has always interested me is how women express anger, how women express violence. That is very much part of who women are, and it’s so unaddressed. A vast amount of literature deals with cycles of violence about men, antiheroes. Women lack that vocabulary.

Strayed The story I wrote has an ancient tradition in literature, man against nature, the hero’s journey. I was conscious of the narratives that I was both taking part in and also countering because the variation on the theme is: It was a woman, and it wasn’t “versus.” I say the wild felt like home to me. It wasn’t me trying to conquer it; it was me living in it. So much about “Wild” is about acceptance and surrender and vulnerability. To me that’s the greatest strength, not this conquering kind of narrative that we have embedded in our bones.

[To Ms. Flynn:] Is “Gone Girl” the movie being talked about as a feminist film or an anti-feminist film, or is the jury out on that?

Flynn The jury is still out. That’s what’s been interesting: Is it anti-woman? Is it anti-man?

Strayed What do you think it is?

Flynn To me, it’s neither. It’s about two specific people who are battling and who happen to be a man and a woman. I certainly enjoyed playing with those gender roles. Amy is certainly a character who understands every single female stereotype — and uses it. So when people say she’s embodying awful stereotypes about women, I say, “Yes, exactly, and that’s kind of the point.” She knows every trope there is. She’s a storyteller, she’s a studier, and she has absolutely no compunction about using the female victim role, using the femme fatale role, using the girl-next-door role.

Strayed I was so mindful that I had not written a book for women. I think the death of us would be if our films or our books were interpreted in this kind of “You go, girl” thing. And I think the last frontier for women is to say we are fully human, which means that our stories are as relevant to men as they are to women.

Flynn I would love it if I could do an event without a very well-meaning man telling me, “I don’t normally read books by women.” Do you get that?

Strayed All the time. One of the first experiences I had when “Wild” came out was this male radio host interviewed me, and right before we went live, he said, “I picked your book up and I couldn’t stop.” And then we’d go live and he’d go, “Cheryl Strayed has written a great book for women.”

Where does the twisted girl come from?

Strayed I remember, at our event we did together, you told some funny story about being a kid, it was about some early indicator.

Flynn I had a bunch of cousins, all girls, we’d play dress-up, and they’d always go for the princess costumes, and I was like, “I’ll be the witch” And we had this game called Mean Aunt Rosie, where I was basically their evil caretaker aunt.

Strayed I do think those things are like early indicators of what our obsessions are going to be as writers. When I was 6 and 7, when my mom’s friends were going to come over, she’d say “O.K., you’re only allowed to ask three questions.” Because otherwise I would get them in a corner and just grill them about things that were kind of shocking to them.

I wanted to hear from other people what they thought about their wounds, and I was trying to find out in ways that made adults very uncomfortable. I’ve always been the one to ask a question beyond the one that’s appropriate.

I want to talk about that move from book to screen. Cheryl, were you O.K. with Nick Hornby and was that difficult for you, turning it over?

Strayed He read “Wild” the first week it was out. I didn’t know him, and he wasn’t being considered as the screenwriter at that point. He just wrote me the world’s nicest fan email. So when Nick came on the project, I felt he understood the book on a deep level. It was always clear that I would read the screenplay, I would weigh in on it, I would be listened to, and I was.

Flynn Which is huge. You and I both talked about the stories you know about the author going to Hollywood are full of heartbreak. We both ended up with Reese, who is a woman of her word and does really care about writing, loves telling a story right.

You were working with David Fincher, who is known to be thorough.

Flynn I was on the set, but the script was locked by then. We just had a great back and forth, a lot of it by phone, since I’m in Chicago. When you hear David Fincher is going to direct your movie it’s, “Oh my God, I’ve got to step up my game.” But I wanted a David Fincher version of “Gone Girl,” so I was very much inclined to step back.

Strayed With Jean-Marc, I told him: “I give you my book. The only thing I ask is that you make a perfect film.” And he laughed. I gave him my opinions only when he asked for them.

And I told Reese the first time we talked, “You need to make this your story, not mine.”

Now, because I was so much a part of this, I would totally adapt my own book. I would do what Gillian did.

Via: https://nytimes.com/talking-with-the-authors-of-gone-girl-and-wild

The Five Stages of Publishing Your Book

It goes without saying that, first, you have to write the book. But if you are at that glorious stage where the book is actually written (and edited, and redrafted) then you might be asking – now what?

So, here is some handy info to help you answer that question:

Stage 1: Submission

  1. Read the subs guidelines! I know they’re annoying and it’s a pain to have to format (I submit too, so I have a lot of sympathy for the never-ending task of re-formatting things) but it really does make reading easier.
  2. And on the same note, please send the amount asked. If the guidelines wants 10,000 words, a little under or over is fine…but don’t send your entire manuscript.
  3. Having a synopsis is nice; it gives the reader some idea of how the story unfolds. They often won’t have time to read the entire thing, so the first 30 pages and a synopsis is excellent.
  4. Tell them something about you; you don’t have to seem quirky, but just some insight into who you are is nice. However, your work will speak for itself, so if (like me) you’re fairly self-conscious when it comes to showing off, you won’t miss out by not giving a huge bio.
  5. And lastly (again) – read the guidelines! You want to make the publisher’s job as easy as possible – and that means sending what they’ve asked for. Yes, it sucks when every single submission wants a different style and set of information, but them’s the breaks. Just do it.

Stage 2: Waiting. And waiting. And more waiting.

However, there is quite a lot going on behind the scenes…

  1. Slush-pile read; this is simply someone working through the submissions. At this stage, if you get rejected then you’re likely to get a form rejection. It sucks, but take it as a learning opportunity. Was there anything you could have done better? Did you submit to a publisher who might not want your genre or type of story? Are there better forums for your work? Or, put bluntly, does your work stink? (Most awful writers seem to believe they’re amazing, so if you’ve got a healthy dose of self-doubt then you’re probably fine.)
  2. The deafening silence. If you don’t get an immediate rejection, take heart; they’re considering your work. Most publishers will have guidelines for when you can bug them; please do remember that reading takes time, and the publisher might have 50 or 100 things to read!
  3. Request for a full manuscript. Yay! They liked it!
  4. Acceptance or rejection! You may get more feedback at this stage; most publishers are too busy to go into much detail, but they won’t lie – so if they say they liked it, then they liked it. Usually the choice simply comes down to tone or style. Again, treat it as a learning opportunity; was there anything you could have done better? What could you improve?

Stage 3: Editor’s read

Your story will get read by The People Who Matter – usually the editor(s). The manuscript may come back to you with comments; you might need to change a lot or a little, and then it goes back to the editor. This could be repeated multiple times, and you might find that it’s a repeat of your alpha- and beta- process…but this is up to the individual editors, and up to you how much you want to change your story. Again; you are the author, and you have the final decisions on changes. Take their comments into consideration, and weigh up how much you want to be published against how much your story is changing. Hopefully, your story is good enough that the edits will be minor!

Stage 4: Book creation

This involves quite a lot of administration, usually involving external services. The big publishing houses will have in-house copy-editors and cover-artists, and it’s rare that the author is involved here. With a smaller indie press, more of this work is done externally, and there’s more chance for the author to be involved.

  • Copyedit & proofread (again!).
  • Typeset – and you’ll usually get a PDF proof at this point to check on the typesetting.
  • Cover produced.
  • Manuscript sent to printers, and – if you’re doing hard copy – a proof is produced.

Stage 5: Publication!

Hard copies get distributed to shops, and records get created in electronic stores. You’ll be given a release date and whatever copies you’re entitled to; you may get paid at this stage if it’s a flat fee, or if you’re getting royalties then they will trickle in. And you get the wonderful satisfaction of seeing your book in print or on the screen; it’s out there for everyone to read.

And if you’ve got this far, congratulations! You’ve got a piece of your writing published.

Via: https://www.dystopianstories.com/five-stages-publishing-book/

Writers and Authors: 5 Reasons to Drop the Word ‘Aspiring’

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There is no such thing as an ‘aspiring writer.’ You are a writer. Period.” – Matthew Reilly

The term ‘aspiring author’/’aspiring writer’ is thrown about in literary circles without anyone giving it so much as a second thought.

It certainly seems like a harmless enough phrase. You’ve no doubt used it yourself, I certainly have. But harmless as it may seem, the term ‘aspiring writer’ is actually quite problematic, and could even be holding you back in your writing career. So the sooner you quit employing the phrase, the better.

Here’s five reasons why you should never refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring author’ ever again:

1. ‘Aspiring’ is an abstract term

Aspirations exist only in thought, not in actuality. To ‘aspire’ is to think, not to do. In this way, the term ‘aspiring writer’ allows for a state of inactivity. Or, as author Chuck Wendig puts it,

“Aspiring is a meaningless, null state that romanticises Not Writing.”

By dropping the term ‘aspiring’ and stating instead ‘I am a writer,’ you confirm to yourself, and to the world, that yes, you are actively working on a writing career. You are writing. You are a writer.

2. ‘Aspiring’ takes the pressure off

By describing yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’, you are essentially stating ‘I am not a writer now, but I would like to be one at some vague point in the future’. In doing this, you are reinforcing the notion in your head that all your writing efforts – all your physical, and actual hard work in pursuing your dreams – all lie beyond the present moment.

The pressure is taken off to write right now. In other words, what you are doing is permitting a ‘diet-starts-tomorrow’ mentality for your writing. But as a little, redheaded orphan once reminded us, ‘Tomorrow’ is always a day away.

Thus, ‘tomorrow’ never comes. So, if you truly want to be a writer, don’t wait until tomorrow, start today.

3. ‘Aspiring’ undermines self-esteem

Think of all the times you have described yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’. How often have you employed the term out of a lack of confidence or self-belief? Because you didn’t feel ‘qualified’ to call yourself a writer. But even if this is not the case, the term itself could be eating away at your self-esteem, without you even realising it.

As we have already established, ‘aspiring’ implies that the state of actually being is a thing of the future. In other words, stating you are an aspiring writer implies that you will not actually be a writer until some, unknown, future date.

In this way, when you use this term to describe yourself, you nurture the subconscious belief that your goal of becoming a writer will always lie just beyond your grasp – just out of reach. Such a belief is extremely demotivating, and can thus undermine your self-esteem.

So the next time you describe yourself, try using a more reaffirming phrase. Don’t say ‘I’m an aspiring writer.’ Say ‘I’m a writer.’

4. ‘Aspiring’ is a term to hide behind

Writing is a very difficult profession. Unfortunately, not all who turn their attentions to the written word succeed. For this reason, those of us who do feel the yearning to construct worlds out of words carry a great deal of anxiety.

We fear failure. We fear others seeing us as failures. And if we admit that we are writers, we must then own up to how much or how little success we have actually found.

Therefore, when we are faced with the judgemental eyes of a long lost acquaintance, probing us with the question, ‘And what do you do these days?’, we feel the need to apologise for the fact that we are not J.K. Rowling. We fear being labelled a failure or pretender, simply because we haven’t sold a million copies of that novel we’re drafting.

So we hide. We hide behind the term ‘aspiring.’ Because if we are merely aspiring, it’s okay if we haven’t found success yet. Because ‘aspiring’ means we aren’t necessarily trying. We are thinking, not doing.

But here lies the problem: if we never accept our title, if we do not stop hiding from our passions and begin at last to pursue them wholeheartedly, we will never find the success we so long for. It’s time we admit what we are. We are writers. No more aspiring. No more hiding.

5. Take yourself seriously

The moment you stop calling yourself an ‘aspiring writer’ and start calling yourself a writer, is the moment you begin taking yourself seriously. This is extremely important, as writers are constantly required to make others believe in them.

We must convince agents, editors, publishers, and readers that our writing is worth their time – that they should take us seriously. But this, of course, is impossible to do unless we take ourselves seriously, first.

So the next time you need to explain to anyone ‘what you do’, don’t shy away and hide. Have confidence in your abilities, and never refer to yourself as an ‘aspiring writer’ ever again. You are a writer. Period.

Via: http://writersedit.com/5-reasons-drop-aspiring-aspiring-author/

Exploring the Human Animal | An Interview with Crime Fiction Novelist Nick Kolakowski

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Author Nick Kolakowski loves crime fiction. From his work with ThugLit, Crime Syndicate Magazine, and his latest novel A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, it’s easy to tell that the author truly values the hardboiled crime-fiction genre and knows how to write it well.

Kolakowski sat down with Sean Tuohy of Writer’s Bone recently to talk about his love for the genre, the seed that created the storyline for his new novel, and “gonzo noir”:

Sean Tuohy: What authors did you worship growing up?

Nick Kolakowski: I always had an affinity for old-school noir authors, particularly Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. What I think a lot of crime-fiction aficionados tend to forget is that a lot of the pulp of bygone eras really wasn’t very good: it was all blowsy dames and big guns and writing so rough it made Mickey Spillane look like Shakespeare. But writers like Chandler and Thompson emerged from that overheated milieu like diamonds; even at their worst, they offered some hard truth and clean writing.

ST: What attracts you to crime fiction, both as a reader and a writer?

NK: I feel that crime fiction is a real exploration of the human animal. You want to explore relationships, pick up whatever literary tome is topping the best-seller lists at the moment. You want a peek at the beast that lives in us, crack open a crime novel. As a reader, it’s exciting to get in touch with that beast through the relatively safe confines of paper and ink. As a writer, it’s good to let that beast run for a bit; I always sleep better after I’ve churned out a lot of good pages.

ST: What is the status of indie crime fiction now?

NK: I’d like to think that indie crime fiction is having a bit of a moment. A lot of indie presses are doing great work, and highlighting authors who might not have gotten a platform otherwise. Crime fiction remains one of the more popular genres overall, and I’m hopeful that what these indie authors are producing will help fuel its direction for the next several years.

Not a whole lot of authors are getting rich off any of this, but writing isn’t exactly a lucrative profession. There’s a reason why all the novelists I know, even the best-selling ones, keep their day jobs. We’re all in it for the love.

ST: What is your writing process? Do you outline or vomit a first draft?

NK: I keep notebooks. Over the years, those notebooks accumulate fragments: sometimes a line of two I’ve overheard on the subway, but sometimes several pages of story. Usually my novels and short stories start with a kernel of an idea, and I start writing as fast as I can; and as I start building up a serious word count, I begin throwing in those notebook fragments that seem to work best with the scene at the moment. It’s a haphazard way of producing a first draft, and it usually means I’m stuck in rewrite hell for a little while afterward as I try to smooth everything out, but it does result in finished manuscripts.

I simply can’t do outlines. I’ve tried. But outlining has always felt very paint-by-numbers to me; once I have the outline in hand, I’m less enthused about actually writing. But I know a lot of other writers who can’t work without everything outlined in detail beforehand.

ST: Where did the idea for A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps come from?

NK: A long time ago, I was in rural Oklahoma for a magazine story I was writing. It was early February, and the land was gray and stark. Near the Arkansas border, I saw a Biblical pillar of black smoke rising in the distance; as I drove closer, I saw a huge fire burning through a distant forest. This would be a really crappy place for my car to die, I thought. It would suck to be trapped here.

So that real-life scene rattled around in my head for years. Eventually I began depositing other figures in that landscape—Bill, the elegant hustler, based off a couple of actual people I know; an Elvis-loving assassin; crooked cops—to see how they interacted with each other. The result was funny and bleak enough, I thought, to commit to full-time writing.

ST: You referred to A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps as “gonzo noir.” Can you dive into that term?

NK: I love crime fiction, but a lot of it is too serious. That seems like an odd thing to say about a genre concerned with heavy topics like murder and misery, but more than a few novels tend to veer into excessive navel-gazing about the human condition. As if injecting an excessive amount of ponderousness will make the authors feel better about devoting so many pages to chases and gunfire.

But real-life mayhem and misery, as awful as it can be, also comes with a certain degree of hilarity. You can’t believe this dude with a knife in his eye is still prattling on about football! A reality television star might dictate whether we end up in a thermonuclear war! And so on. With gonzo noir, I’m trying to blend as much black humor as appropriate into the plot; otherwise it all becomes too leaden.

ST: Your main character, street-smart hustler Bill, is on the run from an assassin and finds himself in the deadly hands of some crazed town folks. Why do writers, especially in the crime fiction genre, like to torture their characters so much?

NK: Raymond Chandler once said something like: “If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.” I think a lot of current crime-fiction writers have a variation on that: “If your plot is flagging, have something horrible happen to your main character. Extra credit if it’s potentially disfiguring.” It’s an effective way to move the story forward, if done right, and how your protagonist reacts to adversity can reveal a lot about their character through action.

Done the wrong way, though, it becomes boring really quickly. Take the last few seasons of the TV show “24.” Keifer Sutherland played a great hardboiled character, but subjecting him to the upteenth gunshot wound, torture session, or literally heart-stopping accident got repetitive. When writing, it always pays to recognize the cliché, and figure out how to subvert it as effectively as possible—the audience will appreciate it.

In A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, Bill has done a lifetime of bad stuff. He’s ripped people off, stolen a lot of money, and left more than a few broken hearts. I felt he really needed to really pay for his sins if I wanted his eventual redemption to have any weight. Plus I wanted to see how much comedy I could milk out of a severed finger (readers will see what I mean).

ST: What’s next for you?

NK: I’ve been working on a longer novel (tentatively) titled Boise Longpig Hunting Club. It’s about a bounty hunter in Idaho who finds himself pursued by some very rich people who hunt people for sport. I’ve wanted to do a variation on “The Most Dangerous Game” for years, and the ideas finally came together in the right way. It’s an expansion of my short story, “A Nice Pair of Guns,” which appeared in ThugLit (a great, award-winning magazine; gone too soon.)

ST: What advice do you give to young writers?

NK: A long time ago, the film director Terrence Malick came to my college campus. He was supposed to introduce a screening of his film “The Thin Red Line,” but he never set foot in the theater—unsurprising in retrospect, given his penchant for staying out of sight. However, he did make an appearance at a smaller gathering for students and faculty beforehand.

All of us film and writing geeks, we freaked out. Finally one of us cobbled together enough courage to actually walk up to him and ask for some advice on writing. He said – and you bet I still have this in a notebook – “You just have to write. Don’t look back, just get it all out at once.”

I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard. It’s easy to stay away from the writing desk by telling yourself that you’re not quite ready yet, that you’re not in the mood, that somehow the story isn’t quite fully baked in your mind. If you think like that, though, nothing is ever going to have to come out. Even if you have to physically lock yourself in a room, you need to sit down, place your hands on the keyboard, and force it out. The words will fight back, but you’re stronger.

ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?

NK: I like cats and whiskey.

To learn more about Nick Kolakowski, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @nkolakowski.

Via: http://www.writersbone.com/exploring-the-human-animal-with-crime-fiction-novelist-nick-kolakowski