Interrogation—Nik Korpon

Who: Nik Korpon


Where: Baltimore

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

We are two weeks out from the release of your new novel, THE REBELLION’S LAST TRAITOR. What can readers expect this time around?

It’s a lot different from my other books, but at the same time it’s very similar. I’ve never written an out-and-out sci-fi novel (though TRAITOR splits the line between sci-fi, murder mystery, and revolution novel), but at the heart of it, it’s a novel about families—whether that’s blood relations, friends-who-are-family, fellow countrymen, all that. But there are still a couple dick jokes and a Shaun of the Dead reference, so it’s definitely a Nik Korpon book.

In the book, “memory is a commodity—bought and sold, and experienced like a drug.” What was the inspiration for that black market?

To be totally honest, I have no idea. This book has gone through numerous iterations over the last six or seven years. I think I wanted to write a book about a thief but didn’t want it to be a regular thief. So I started thinking about different things they could steal. After a bunch of riffing, I thought stealing people’s memories would be pretty and totally unique—then to give my brain a rest, I went to the movies to see the new Christopher Nolan film (Inception) and was pretty pissed. But I figured fuck it. I had the idea first.

That aside, I’ve always had a fascination with how memory informs our sense of identity, that we assume we are who and what we are because of what we remember about ourselves. So it was a natural to take a character who has built himself on that idea and totally ruin his life.

Your protagonist, Henraek, works as a memory thief, bringing a criminal twist to this Sci-Fi story. Do you think about genre when you write?

I default to crime because that’s what I’ve written most and read most, but generally I don’t worry about genre much. Or rather I didn’t before this last year. A lot of talk with this book (and also in conversations with my agent about new books) has been about genre classification. Like: Is this SF/F or is it mystery? Is this a hardboiled novel or a more mainstream thriller?

When I started writing, I always thought all the talk about genre classification was horseshit because I’m an artist, man, and all that stuff budding writers say. But it becomes really important really quick when you’re trying to market a book that is as much sci-fi as it is a mystery novel.

Not to say that the genre constraints are terrible. It’s fun to look at the expectations of, say, a commercial thriller and say, “How can I make this more interesting?” or “How can I turn this convention on its head?” But unfortunately a lot of those questions are answered with “There are a finite number of dick jokes you can put in that kind of book.” Delineating between genres for marketing purposes ain’t a real sexy conversation but I think it’s interesting and also really important for writers on smaller presses who are trying to reach the right markets—and maybe stretch into new markets.

Who are some other writers that you think do a good job of blending Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Noir?

There are a ton. Currently writing: Stephen Graham Jones is always doing really cool things. Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic series is awesome. Axel Taiari’s short stories are really soulful and incredibly imaginative. Gabino Iglesias writes barrio noir, but there’s this really cool otherworldly/spiritual aspect to the world. There are a lot more, but if I start listing them, I’ll forget others and feel bad.

Aside from genre, how does THE REBELLION’S LAST TRAITOR differ from your previous books like STAY GOD, SWEET ANGEL and OLD GHOSTS? How have you evolved as a writer?

I think it’s more confident, if I can say that without sounding like I’m wearing an ascot. I don’t rely on crazy metaphors and the more bombastic sentences like I did in SGSA and instead just let the story do the work. I think I’m also getting better at plotting, which has always been a weak point of mine. The books have gotten more complicated as I’ve written more. I have two thrillers with my agent that I’m really proud of and both of them are more ambitious books (maybe too ambitious, but that’s another story).

To be clear, though, every time I start a book I have no idea what I’m doing. When I finish the first draft—and even through a couple of rounds of edits—I’m not sure if the books is really good or if it’s hot buttered garbage. That seems to be pretty common.

Much of your previous work exposes the seedy side of Baltimore. What’s the appeal of writing about that town?

I’m not really sure. I’ve always been interested in crime. I didn’t have much of a social life when I was a teenager (not like that’s changed now) so I spent most weekend nights watching The Godfather, Juice, New Jack City, Menace II Society, Heat, a lot of those great 90s movies that they don’t make anymore. I think the turning point for me was seeing The Wire, which I didn’t catch until it was wrapping up because I never had cable. But it was a revelation to see these big, sprawling stories centered around people I knew—metaphorically and literally—and kind of showed me that I could set stories in my own city. It sounds stupid to say in retrospect, but it was a big thing for me.

Random aside that I’ve told a couple of times: I was running the valet stand in 2003 at the hotel in Baltimore where the cast of The Wire was staying during season three. I’d bullshit about films with Ed Bianchi, who is a phenomenal director, and some of the cast members while the valets would get the cars (which is funny, because if that happened now, I’d be pushing books on them). Anyway, one day this black gentlemen comes up in a town car and I can see he’s blind. I help him out and get him up to his room, help him feel where everything is. Everything’s going great and I’m sure I’m going to get a big tip from him. As we’re chatting, I ask what he’s doing in Baltimore. He tells me he’s got a recurring role on The Wire as a drug supplier. I say, “Oh, that’s awesome! I heard that show is great but I haven’t seen it yet.” To a blind man, I said this. He—Butchie—says, “Yeah, I haven’t either, but people seem to like it.” Doesn’t say anything else, but this little smirk crawls up over his lips. All I could do was stand there

How do you celebrate the release of a new book?

With the finest of wines and plates of oysters and crawdads like it’s a Tuesday night in Ro Cuzon’s house.

Nah, it’s been a while since I’ve had a book come out. The last two times, I’ve bought a bottle of Whistlepig rye—partially because it’s delicious and partially because it was in Breaking Bad and some part of my brain thinks that for some reason I’ll have more success if I drink that—but Traitor comes out two days after we move house, so it’ll probably entail a lot of unpacking and drinking half a beer before falling asleep on the couch next to my wife.

Find Nik Korpon: Facebook, TwitterWebsite

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