Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview with Steve Novak

Welcome to another author interview! Today's victim--er, subject, is debut author, Steve Novak.

Here's all the swell places to go to stalk Steve:
Also, you can buy his debut novel, FORTS: FATHERS AND SONS at all kinds of swell places, like this, and this starting on March 20, 2010. (Hey, isn't that this Saturday? Why yes!)
I'd give you his home address, but I'm told his wife frowns on that sort of thing.

In case you don't feel like initiating your stalking career before you read the answers, let me give you the skinny on FORTS:

After stumbling quite accidentally onto a doorway leading to another world, Tommy Jarvis and his friends end up becoming major players in an ancient war between creatures they once imagined only existed in dreams. The more time they spend in this incredible new world, the more they begin to unravel a mystery as old time itself. The only question now is, will they make it home alive?

Now, to the questions!

LC: Was there any one thing that provided the inspiration for FORTS?

SN: At it’s most basic the story is ultimately about finding strength in creativity – something I think I know pretty well – and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I’ve written variations of this very theme at least a thousand times over the course of my life.

I figured if I rammed it down their throat enough someone was eventually going to publish it – for no other reason than they’re sick of me.

Apparently it worked.

Annoyance can be a powerful ally.

Seriously though, the book was actually inspired by a lot of situations, and feelings, and people I’ve encountered over the years. Buried beneath the sword fights, the foul-mouthed fairies, and the underground creatures that can see the future, there’s a surprising amount of my life.

LC: I think most writers use their lives for inspiration. How far did you take it, though? Are any of the characters in FORTS based on people you know in real life?

SN: There are a lot of characters pulled directly from my life, or at the very least aspects of them are. Put a snapshot of my profile alongside the drawing of the wispy, blond-haired main character on the cover of “Fathers and Sons” and you’d have to be the world’s biggest dope or pretty much anyone featured on an MTV reality show to miss the similarities.

LC: (I don't know what he's talking about.)

SN: Heck, the brother of the main character has the exact name of my actual brother…

My attempts to mask the real life comparisons are quite pathetic.

It works for me to write that way though. I’m not entirely sure I could do anything else, and I don’t think I would even want to. If it doesn’t mean something to me personally, I don’t see the point. If I don’t get something out of the act of writing it, why am I bothering?

LC: I know FORTS was always planned as a trilogy. Do you think you'll be able to let these characters go when you're done, or is there a chance for a fourth some time in the future?

SN: Not a chance. When the last words on the last page have been typed, that’s where it ends. Honestly, there won’t be anywhere else to take it. Without giving anything away, when you read those last words you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

You know, because everyone dies.

Oops, should I have typed “spoiler alert?”

Actually, I’m just pulling your leg, not everyone dies – just some people – maybe.

Despite there being a very definitive beginning, middle, and end to the story, I have toyed with the idea of a prequel that would expand the background of some of the ancillary characters. I think there’s a wealth of good, interesting stuff there, and I have a few ideas on how to present it and hopefully still keep it interesting. The biggest question is whether or not I’ll have the energy for it. I will have spent three years with the characters and there’s a high possibility I’ll be burned out and ready to move onto something else.

Plus I’m lazy - so very, very lazy.

LC: My kind of guy. Also, he's a liar. Just see his website to see how not lazy he is. Speaking of which, FORTS is your debut novel, but you've been working professionally with your drawing for a while. Are your friends reacting differently to you being an author than as an illustrator?

SN: It’s weird that you ask that, because yes, yes they have. It’s something I never anticipated. There are quite a few people that seem more than a little surprised by it. I’m not sure if they thought I was too dopey to write anything at all, of if they’re simply shocked by the fact that I was able to stick with it long enough to get 120,000 words out – then do it again – and again.

In fact, just recently my wife told me about a conversation with a family member that went a little something like this,
“Steven’s book comes out in a few weeks.”
“Steven wrote a book?”
“Yeah, three of them.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he wrote a book.”
“Wait…do you mean he wrote ALLLLLLLL the words in it?”

I’d like to officially announce that I did indeed write ALLLLLLL the words in my books. I didn’t create them mind you, but I did assemble them in my own personal way, thus making them mine.
ALLLLLLL of them – every last one.

LC: Can you tell us about your experience with an independent publisher? What's the best part about working with Canonbridge?

SN: Canonbridge has been fantastic. In fact, I don’t have a single negative thing to say about them. If I hear you talking bad about the company I’ll box your jaw Marquess of Queensbury style – you know, like a flabby boxer from the twenties with a mustache so curly and smooth it makes the flappers swoon.

My editor Maggie Stewart-Grant was an absolute dream to work with, and I am forever grateful to her for taking a chance on the series. Despite its somewhat traditional, arguably safe cover art, I like to think that there’s a little more nastiness, fat, and grizzle on the “meat” of the books than one might expect. This becomes even more prominent as the series moves forward into books two and three.

If I can catch the reader off guard a bit I’ll be happier then Kevin Federline when the judge read his gargantuan divorce settlement.

LC: Except with the smarts to understand what's happening, too! Win! You mention getting a lot of rejections before deciding to go with Canonbridge. What, if anything, did you learn from the experience of rejection?

SN: People wonder why artists are often “moody weirdos,” but the answer is as obvious as Paris Hilton’s total lack of talent – we willingly subject ourselves to a lifetime of rejection. That takes guts – guts and stupidity – gutstitidy even.

If you’re an artist of any kind and aren’t prepared to accept the reality of being told that you aren’t good enough every single day, of every single year, until you die or the sun transforms into a red dwarf and swallows the earth whole, this business will eat you alive.

Quick story…

After high school I shelled out enormous sums of money to attend an art school in Columbus, Ohio. I can’t honestly say it was worth it, but that’s an entirely different story for another time. Anyway, there was a professor there that would come into class without saying a word and throw his stuff on the desk in the front of the room before sighing deeply and shaking his head. Again without muttering even a single syllable, he would begin silently examining the previous weeks homework, which the class had placed carefully on the ledges outlining the walls. For ten minutes he’d walk back and forth, rubbing his chin, occasionally groaning, and generally looking exasperated with the entire tiresome situation. After a long pause to collect his thoughts, the fun would begin.

By “fun” I mean he would start whacking stuff onto the floor.

Seriously, I kid you not. If the man came across something he didn’t like he’d grunt angrily and smack it onto the filthy tile.

With a single a swipe of his arm the illustration we spent hours lurching over your respective desks in the darkness painting would be sliding across the floor while spinning like top.

If it didn’t slide quite far enough, he’d kick it.

You may be thinking to yourself, exactly as I did the first time it happened to me, “Wow…that man right there is a D-bag of the highest order.”

Looking back on it years later however, I sort of understand what he was doing. Granted, it’s a bit extreme, but if you can have your work very literally treated like garbage one week, then dust yourself off and come back for more of the same the next, you slowly begin to understand what it really means to be an artist.

You have to be like Rocky Balboa in the original film – take your lumps and keep on coming no matter what.

LC: Okay, reason number 3,093,412 that I will never go to art school. Apart from wearing protective goggles to class to protect yourself from the shards of broken dreams, any practical advice for aspiring writers and illustrators?

SN: If your goal is to become the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King and you’re looking to spend your days rolling around in piles of money while wearing only your birthday suit, I must politely suggest that you punch yourself in the face.

If even after punching yourself you still think the naked money pile is a possibility, have someone far larger and stronger than yourself give you a whack in the noggin.

If at this point you’re bleeding form the nose, have a golf ball sized mouse forming in the space between your eyes, and you still refuse to give up on the dream, try having someone even larger and stronger than the second person kick you in the genitals.

If your goal is to make some money, support a family, and build yourself a sizable nest egg on which you can retire comfortably – become a plumber.

No one should ever go into the arts thinking they’re going to get rich. You’ve got a better chance of getting hit with lightning while holding the winning ticket to your state lottery.

If you aren’t doing this because you love it, because it’s a part of you, and the idea of doing anything else seems crazier than the insane asylum on the corner of Nutty Road and Wacko Drive in the city of Insaneville, you’re missing the point.

It’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money - mostly because there isn’t any money. If you go in with the right frame of mind I think you’ll get a lot more out of the journey.

LC: What do you like better: drawing or writing? (I know, I know, they're different and the answer is probably neither, but humor me.)

SN: Actually the answer is drawing, so suck on that Czukas! By the way, I’m still trying to figure out how to pronounce that wonderfully weird last name of yours.

LC: [Editor's Note: It's pronounced CHEW-kiss. Two fun things to do with your mouth.]

SN: Seriously though, they aren’t as different as you might think. Ultimately they’re both telling stories, they just go about the act of doing so a bit differently. Drawing however is what I always come back to. If I’m bored, or just feeling a little down I tend to reach for a pencil and a sketchpad before my laptop. I can draw with my eyes closed. I can draw in my sleep. I can scribble on the back of a menu, or if I’m feeling extra dangerous, etch something into the desk itself. Back in the days when my plump little fingers were barely useful for picking my nose, I was already scribbling. I was drawing before I could speak, write, or avoid pooping my underpants.

Speaking of pooping my underpants; my mother likes to tell this story about me pulling a dirty diaper off myself as a kid, and using the puddle of baby fudge to draw on the walls.

My hands have been aching to draw from the moment I sprung from the womb. As much as I love writing, it would be difficult for just about anything to compete with that type of history.

LC: Like you need any incentive to do this, but: Tell us five random things about yourself.

SN: 1. I still have trouble swallowing pills. I’m thirty-two years old, six-foot one, come in at over two-hundred pounds, and have been told that I can look pretty scary if I so desire. Despite it all, a single medicine filled capsule can take me down with ease. It’s embarrassing. Having to ask my doctor if a prescription is available in liquid form even more so.

LC: Eat at least four Saltine crackers without water, maybe six if you've got a big mouth. Then, when you're so desperate for water you want to die, toss the pill in and down a glass. Or, you know, stop being a pansy.

SN: [ignoring LC] 2. I was once very nearly peed on by a wild-eyed, crazy-haired homeless man in a public restroom.

3. When I was twelve years old I had a bicycle accident that ripped open my forehead and required nearly three hundred and fifty stitches – not to mention a full head cast. The accident however left me with abilities that can only be defined as “superhuman,” and to this day I use those abilities to fight crime and put the wrong things right.

Okay, that last part was a lie.

The accident did however jiggle my brain like an Etch-a-Sketch and turn me into a slightly more introverted weirdo.

That story is hardly as exciting however.

4. There are only a few movies that break through the cracks in my “manly” exterior and cause me to weep so hard the gods themselves take notice. One of those movies is “The Muppet Movie.”

The song at the end – the rainbow coming in through the ceiling – come on. You’d have to be a robot, or at the very least a cyborg of some sort to not tear up at that.

5. When I was eleven years old I approached Harlan Ellison at a comic book convention, sprawled out my crude drawings of “Spawn,” “Wolverine,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” and tried my damndest to convince him to let me be the artist on a graphic novel he’d written.

The fact that I had no idea who Harlan Ellison was didn’t deter me one bit.

Though he looked at me like I was a fool, I think he appreciated my “moxie.”

LC: Impressive moxie, for sure. Thank you for taking the time to entertain us today, Steve. I hope FORTS kicks all kinds of ass on the book charts. Before we go, is there anything else you want to share about your book or yourself?

SN: I think artists in general – we’re lucky people. Sure, we might be underappreciated and most definitely underpaid, but I for one really do feel blessed to be able to do whatever it is I do. When we’re kids it comes so naturally – creating I mean. Imagination is so simple and easy a thing to children that when it blurs the lines of reality they hardly bat an eye.

One of the absolute greatest tragedies in the world is when the weight of adulthood sets in and all of that goes away.

I think the only difference between artists and everyone else is that we find a way to hold onto some of that feeling.

I personally don’t know how I managed to do it, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Also, before I make like my grandpa and “skedattle,” I’d just like to add that everyone out there should order up a copy of the book on the 20th.

If it helps any, just pretend your life depends on it. Because it just may.

Wait, was that too intimidating?

What’s that? You think threatening people into buying the book isn’t likely to work? In fact you think it might have the opposite effect?

How about groveling? No? Groveling isn’t likely to get the job done either?

Oh, You think I should just stop typing altogether? I’m only making matters worse? Digging my own grave? Not only don’t you want to buy the book, but you think I look like an idiot to boot?

Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should call it quits.

I’m going to…

I swear…

Right now.


LC: Bye, Steve.


Jill Kemerer said...

Fantastic interview! Very funny. And wow, Steve, you wrote ALL the words in that novel? You must have gotten superhuman powers when you cracked your head open!

Liz, I have an award for you on my blog on 3/17/2010!

Steve Novak said...

As lit turns out I'm a great big liar because I didn't write ALLLL of them. The publisher put some legal stuff at the beginning.

I wrote most of them though, and that's pretty good. ;)

MJ Heiser said...

Insightful and bizarre. I expect no less from Novak.

And to ensure I don't incur the wrath of the gods, consider your book ordered, dude.

Steve Novak said...

Alright Heiser!

Threatening the lives of readers really does work. Who knew?

Wonder if other authors will jump on the bandwagon?


Liz Czukas said...

Steve, I have visions of you standing in your local bookstore, brandishing your book at patrons and sneering, like the evil monkey in the closet on Family Guy.

- Liz

Steve Novak said...

And if they refuse to buy the book is over three-hundred pages, making it a viable option for blunt force trauma.

Tomara Armstrong said...

That Steven Novak...

*Shakes her head*

You know I am ordering that book, right?

Redorkulated said...

I think I'm just going to mosey on over to Amazon and place a pre-order.

Man, I didn't even do that for Harry Potter when it was the latest craze!

Kristan Hoffman said...


Steve Novak said...

@TOMARA - Stop shaking your head at me like that. I feel like a dog that's just been slapped with a newspaper. ;)

Also, let me know what you think of the book! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

@REDORK - JK Rowling is a scrub. ;)

THANKS! Hopefully you like it. If you don't I'll cry girl tears.

@KRISTAN - I'll take that as a compliment. ;)