By Ethan Cross
Booklist describes Nicholas Kaufman’s work as possessing “a real sense of style and wit,”while Suspense Magazine compares him to Dean Koontz and hails his latest novel, DIE AND STAY DEAD, as “creepy, fun, and immensely entertaining.”
In this pulse-pounding sequel to DYING IS MY BUSINESS, Trent, a man who can’t stay dead or retain his memories, tries to uncover his connection to a deadly doomsday cult bent on destroying New York City.
A brutal murder in Greenwich Village puts Trent and the Five-Pointed Star on the trail of Erickson Arkwright, the last surviving member of a doomsday cult. Back in the day, the Aeternis Tenebris cult thought the world would end on New Year’s Eve of 2000. When it didn’t, they decided to end it themselves by summoning Nahash-Dred, a powerful, terrifying demon known as the Destroyer of Worlds. But something went wrong. The demon massacred the cult, leaving Arkwright the sole survivor.
Now, hiding somewhere in New York City with a new identity, Arkwright plans to summon the demon again and finish the job he started over a decade ago. As Trent rushes to locate a long-lost magical artifact that may be the only way to stop him, the clues begin to mount…Trent’s past and Arkwright’s might be linked somehow. And if they are, it means the truth of who Trent really is may lie buried in the twisted mind of a madman.
Tell us about DIE AND STAY DEAD in one line.
Oh jeez, can’t you start off with something easier like “Tell us the meaning of life?” One line, oof. Okay, then. How about: “While racing against the clock to prevent a madman from summoning a demon that will destroy the world, Trent, a man who has lost his memories, must confront the dark truth of his past and the awful secret of who he really is.” Hrm. Yeah, I don’t think I’m very good at the one-line thing, but that’s the gist of it.
Do you have any marketing advice for your fellow authors? Any techniques that you feel have worked especially well for you?
I find relentless self-promoters to be tedious and, frankly, unwelcome, so if I had one big nugget of advice it would be to not be a relentless self-promoter. When authors I don’t even know, or have never even heard of, flood my in-box or direct message me with news of their latest masterpiece, it makes me not want to read their work. Ever. There were so many authors “friending” me on Facebook for the sole purpose of spamming me with announcements that I actually left Facebook altogether. Deleted my account and everything. (Okay, maybe that wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big part of it. That place is a disaster. I’m much happier now.)
The best marketing advice I can give anyone, though, is just to write the best book you can. Bookselling has changed in a lot of ways over the years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is this: the best way to move copies is through word of mouth. Write something so good that people start talking about it and recommending it to their friends. Write something so good that each positive review it gets builds on the last until readers feel compelled to pick it up for themselves and see what all the fuss is about.
Short of that, just be funny, smart, and interesting online. That seems to work, too.
What kind of research did you conduct for DIE AND STAY DEAD?
The novel takes place in New York City, which is my hometown. It’s a city I know like the back of my hand, and yet as it turns out, I still had to do a ton of research about it. In the book, Trent and his friends need to find and assemble the three fragments of the Codex Goetia (itself a real, historical artifact, which meant more research!) in order to stop Erickson Arkwright from summoning the demon. So, I needed three cool, interesting spots around the city in which the fragments could be hidden. In my research, I discovered that New York City has the most monuments in public spaces of any American city outside of Washington, D.C. I decided then that each fragment should be hidden beneath a monument, so I went about researching which ones I wanted to use. They needed to be spread out throughout Manhattan, but even more importantly, they needed to be interesting monuments to keep the reader engaged. I won’t give away which ones I chose, but they’re all real-life monuments in New York City. I happen to love architecture and statuary, so this was definitely the most fun research I’ve done.
Describe your typical writing day. How do you balance your writing with marketing, editing, plotting, and all other commitments?
My typical writing day starts with me getting up around 7 a.m., then drinking an obscene amount of coffee while I putter around on the Internet for way too long. But I know not everything a writer does is writing, so I consider this time to be “general administration.” I use it to answer business emails, deal with personal correspondence, look at websites that have news and information about the industry and the genres I work in, and occasionally write a blog post. Then I’ll hit the gym. As a writer, I tend to sit for a great deal of the day, so it’s important that I get some exercise, too. After that, I’ll head to the main branch of the New York Public Library for the rest of the day, which is where I like to do my writing. It’s such a gorgeous old building, inspiring in so many ways, that I really love going there. I find I’m also much more productive if I’m not trying to write at home, where things like dirty dishes, needy cats, and Netflix are there to distract me.
I don’t have too many commitments outside of writing that need to be juggled. My wife and I don’t have children. We have cats instead of dogs that need to be walked. My wife has a very strong work ethic, so she always understands if I need to write at night or on the weekends (which, generally, I try not to do because I also enjoy being away from my computer and living life). I consider marketing and PR responsibilities like writing guest blogs or answering Q&As in support of a new book to be just another part of the job, so if I have to give up a day of writing to do it, I try not to be grumpy about it. I remind myself that it’s just as important.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to read, I love going for long walks, I love seeing friends. I watch too much TV, even though I’ve cut down in recent years, and I don’t get to the movies often enough. I enjoy travel, though I’m not a big fan of flying. I especially love a good meal, which is another reason it’s important I go the gym!
As a reader, what are some of your personal pet-peeves? In other words, what’s your list of writing do’s and don’ts?
It’s nothing specific, but these days I can always spot when an author is reaching for low-hanging fruit, or clearly hasn’t thought a scene through properly. Lazy writing drives me crazy in a way that I think it only drives other writers crazy. I think generally readers may not be as attuned to that kind of stuff. Characters acting out of character also trips me up, or when a character I’m supposed to like or think of as heroic doing things off the cuff that I find repugnant, like fat-shaming someone or being blatantly sexist. It makes me wonder what the author was thinking, or if they were even thinking at all.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your own work?
I just finished two excellent books I would recommend to anyone reading this. The first is Christopher Golden’s SNOWBLIND, which is a wonderful, extremely well-realized horror novel. Golden understands that horror novels are about the characters, not the monsters, and his character work in SNOWBLIND is amazing. The other one is Veronica Schanoes’ novella BURNING GIRLS, which appeared on Tor.com and can be downloaded to your e-reader for free, I think. It’s a stunning work of dark, historical fantasy that’s been getting a lot of well-deserved attention, including winning the Shirley Jackson Award.
I can’t really answer what my favorite books are because I would want to change the list five minutes later, and add something a minute after that, and suddenly it would be an hour later and the list would be one hundred titles long and the whole endeavor wouldn’t make any sense anymore. I have several authors I consider favorites: Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Roger Zelazny, Sarah Langan, David Wellington, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Laird Barron, Livia Llewellyn, Helen Marshall, Robert Shearman, Simon Strantzas. God, this list is going to be endless, too! I’ve been influenced by all of them, of course, but I think it was Clive Barker who had the biggest effect on me. Reading his BOOKS OF BLOOD back in the late 1980s changed everything for me. It showed me the really amazing things you could do with horror, fantasy, and the supernatural at a time when there was a lot of schlock being published in those genres.
What’s something that you’ve learned about the publishing business that you weren’t expecting?
I’ve been very fortunate, I think, because one thing I’ve learned about publishing that I didn’t expect was how much my publisher, St. Martin’s, has got my back. My editor there has never been shy about responding to my emails, even when they’re stupid questions about whether he thinks Superman is immortal or just aging really slowly. His assistant has been extremely supportive as well. My publicist there has been great. No publicity request I send him is greeted with a no, or even any hesitation. St. Martin’s has invested time and money in these books I wrote, and they want to see them do well. It’s been an amazing experience. Working with my agent has also been outstanding, much better than I ever would have imagined. He has more than earned his cut!
On the, let’s say, less-good side of the equation, I wasn’t expecting so many readers and reviewers to bypass the publisher entirely and come to me directly with problems or requests. I’ve had readers who discovered a defect in their copy of DYING IS MY BUSINESS, contact me directly, and then ask me what to do. What did they think I was going to be able to do for them, other than tell them to return it to the store where they bought it for a new copy? I’ve also had reviewers contact me asking for review copies, as if I have personal access to the warehouse where the ARCs are stored. Instead, all I can do is tell them to contact the publisher for a review copy, which they ought to know to do anyway. I think the explosion of DIY publishing has made a lot of people believe the author is the one they need to contact about issues that are normally handled by the publishers or booksellers. I enjoy talking with my readers, but stuff like this can be frustrating.
Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?
Perseverance is key. Keep writing. Write through the bouts of low self-esteem, write through those times you’re convinced you’re a hack, write through the rejections, of which there will be many. So many that you’ll need to develop a thick skin. Never give up. Just keep writing, because I firmly believe that with every word you write, you become a better writer. Think of it as a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. I would also say read a lot. Read as many books a year as you can. Experiencing other people’s prose is an amazing way to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of getting other eyes on your work before you send it off. Get a first reader, someone whose opinion you trust, preferably another writer, one whose writing you hold in high regard. Better yet, get a bunch of first readers together and form workshop. That way, you get a lot of great feedback at once, and afterward you all get to go out to dinner together!
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the follow up to DIE AND STAY DEAD, which is tentatively called ONLY THE DEAD SLEEP. It will be the third and possibly final novel about Trent. It’ll definitely bring closure to Trent’s arc of discovering who and what he is, but the world in which the series takes place is big enough that the story can continue past that if there’s enough demand. I’ve also got some ideas percolating for other novels, including one that so far seems to be deeply influenced by the 1978 Shaw Brothers film FIVE DEADLY VENOMS of all things, as well as a graphic novel.
Nicholas Kaufmann is the critically acclaimed author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated GENERAL SLOCUM’S GOLD, the International Thriller Writers Award-nominated and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated CHASING THE DRAGON, HUNT AT WORLD’S END, STILL LIFE: NINE STORIES, and DYING IS MY BUSINESS. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
To learn more about Nicholas, please visit his website.