By Derek Gunn
Nicholas Kaufmann is no stranger to writing. Over the last few years his short fiction has been nominated for a number of awards including the Bram Stoker Award (“General Slocum’s Gold”), the International Thriller Writers Award (“Chasing the Dragon”), and the Shirley Jackson Award (“Chasing the Dragon”).
He has now entered a tough market so he will need every bit of that experience. Urban Fantasy has become a very popular market in recent times with so many books on the shelves that it is not easy to get noticed or to survive. There are some very big players in this market and lots of pretenders to the throne. There are sub genres too. Stories with hints of horror, steampunk, erotic, and other stories with more than a hint, vie for our attention. So what is different about this one I hear you ask – or is that just the voices in my head?
Well for one thing – this book is very well-written. Believe me that is not a given in this field. Characters are well fleshed out, have real issues and come across well. The writing is stylish, you might expect that for someone accomplished in short story writing but it does not always come through in novels. Romance, horror, belly laughs – this one has it all. Except for a zombified werewolf – no my mistake – it has one of those as well. Intrigued? You should be. For another thing this book is fresh. It’s as if the Urban Fantasy genre wasn’t already – dare I say jaded ? Told in the first person this really does slap you in the face with its wonder and awe at strange phenomena. When was the last time you read a book where normal people did not totally accept the supernatural far too quickly?
Trent works for a local hoodlum. Why? Well he woke up a year or so earlier with no memory and a dead body beside him. Now, every time he dies he wakes a few minutes later having sucked the life from anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. This has happened nine times as our story starts and Trent keeps a list to remind him of the cost of his ability. Not all of the deaths were deserved either so Trent has a lot of guilt.
It’s not easy to live normally when you don’t know who you are and Trent has fallen in with the local crime boss using his particular talents to steal, smuggle and generally survive. The story quickly ramps up as Trent is sent to steal an antique box and is introduced to an age old battle that threatens to destroy the world.
I’m not going to ruin any of the plot lines by telling you anymore but there are plenty of twists and turns and surprises to satisfy everyone in this one. I did get the chance to interview Nick though and he has some insights that may pique your interest.
Urban Fantasy is a tough market with some very heavy hitters dominating – What do you feel your character brings?
I hope there are two important things Trent, the protagonist of DYING IS MY BUSINESS, brings to the table. The first is a sense of mystery. Trent doesn’t know who he is, only that he has some strange abilities. Not the least of which is that when he dies, he doesn’t stay dead. The second thing Trent brings is a sense of wonder that I feel has gone missing from many urban fantasies. Magic and the supernatural have become commonplace, even institutionalized in the genre. Characters work for special government agencies that handle the supernatural, or are P.I.s that specialize in supernatural cases. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted a world where the supernatural is hidden from the public. And that includes Trent. So every time he discovers something new, it fills him with wonder or dread or terror. That sense of awe follows him throughout the book. I was careful to remember that as the protagonist he’s a stand-in for the audience, and I want the audience to feel that same awe and wonder and terror. If Trent is jaded or bored by the world he lives in, the readers will be, too, and that’s death for a book.
Looking through your bibliography I note there are a number of short stories nominated for awards. Do you approach novel writing any differently?
I don’t approach novel writing any differently from short story writing, really. For me, writing is just moving forward one sentence at a time, regardless of how long the project is. The only real difference is that for longer pieces like a novel, I will write an outline first. This outline usually fluctuates between the cursory and the ridiculously detailed. I’ll throw in dialogue sometimes, or descriptions, but then when I actually get around to writing that scene I’m just as likely not to use it. Sometimes characters I thought would be there for the scene are actually somewhere else entirely. So while I rely on an outline so that I’m never stuck staring at a blank page and wondering, “Now what?”, it is certainly not set in stone. I leave myself a little room for spontaneity, because I find that the scenes I didn’t plan are the ones where characters really come alive.
Can you give us an understanding of how your writing process works?
I feel like my writing process is the least efficient imaginable, and yet it’s my process and I seem to be stuck with it. I start with the outline I mentioned above. I work my way through the rough draft, often with the help of the writing group I’ve been a part of for a decade now. Time and again, their input has proven invaluable. But it’s a slow process because I’m a slow writer. Just completing the rough draft can take me about a year! When I finally reach the end of it, I feel like collapsing into an exhausted heap, but instead I begin the editing/revising process. I hate rough drafting, it feels like a chore, but I really enjoy editing and revising once the rough draft is done. That’s where I think the magic happens and the book has a chance to become something special. Once I have the manuscript in shape structurally, I print it out and attack it with my trusty red pen, polishing up the prose, filling in the logic holes I didn’t see before, and correcting typos. I’ll do this at least twice, or until the prose is polished enough for me to read it without cringing. Only then do I feel like the book is ready to go. This whole process takes a really long time. A year or more. I have friends who can crank out a novel in three months–a good novel, no less!–and I’m very jealous of them. But that’s not my process. Everyone’s is different.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
DYING IS MY BUSINESS is a hardboiled urban fantasy-noir laced with mystery, adventure, and danger. Given his line of work in the employ of a psychotic Brooklyn crime boss, Trent finds himself on the wrong end of too many bullets. Yet each time he’s killed, he wakes a few minutes later completely healed of his wounds but with no memory of his past identity. But cheating death isn’t as convenient as it sounds. Each time he comes back, someone else must die in his place.
Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
I don’t really have a ritual, unless you consider my obsessive need to check email, read blogs, and browse Twitter and Google+ before starting to write a ritual. I also do this when I finish for the day. And pretty much every 30 minutes in between. Another vaguely ritualistic component is listening to Pandora while I write. Lately the station I’ve been listening to most is the one I titled “Goth Station of Doom.” But my “80s Pop Radio” station gets a lot of play, too. I have eclectic taste. But that’s it for ritual. I don’t light candles and pray to my muse or anything. Although I’m open to trying it if it’ll make things go more smoothly! (As for planning out, see my discussion of outlining above!)
In between work and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
Like many writers, my desire to write came from an early love of reading. So yes, I always make time for it. I don’t always make as much reading time as I’d like, but I always try to be reading something. My favorite author is Peter Straub. I’ve loved pretty much every book he’s written. His work is like brain candy to me, nourishing and illuminating. It’s so smart and so deeply layered. His prose is perfect. I’d give anything to have even a fraction of that man’s immense talent.
The sequel, which is currently titled DIE AND STAY DEAD, should be out in the fall of 2014 from St. Martin’s. I also have a story coming out later this month in PS Publishing’s new anthology, DARK FUSIONS, which is edited by NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Lois Gresh.
DYING IS MY BUSINESS is released on October 8th and is well worth taking the time to read. October is a month for horror so brush aside whatever you are reading and get a copy of DYING IS MY BUSINESS. You will cheer, laugh and squirm, though not at the same time I hope. More detail can be gleaned from Nick’s website and on Twitter.
To learn more about Nicholas, please visit his website.