Yet More Quick Questions with . . . Nick Kolakowski

Man…this is the third time I’ve got to pick Nick Kolakowski’s brain (the first and the second, for you completists). I can’t believe he keeps coming back for more — but when I get great answers like these, I’ve gotta keep asking, you know? Do read the others if you’re wanting to learn more about him in general — I stuck to Maxine Unleashes Doomsday (I posted about it earlier today, in case you missed that) this time.

Hope you enjoy!

Did you set out to write Science Fiction or is that something that came about as you started the project?
I’ve always wanted to write a dystopian novel, but all my early attempts were ignoble failures; they were Diet Cormac McCarthy, pastiches of “The Road” that were just retreads of what everyone else was trying to do. It’s only when I mashed the concept onto a noir framework that it started to work for me—a heist novel was the grounding that I needed, even if the target of that heist, in this post-apocalyptic context, is really, really weird.
What were some of the new challenges (and/or freedoms) compared to your earlier works given this setting/genre?
I’ve never written a book that covers the whole scope of someone’s life. Any novel comes with its share of continuity challenges; even if the timeframe is really short (i.e., a few hours or days), you need to keep all of your pieces and characters aligned and consistent. But keeping the details of a character’s life aligned across decades can prove much more difficult—did this happen to her left or right arm when she was a teenager, etc.

In terms of freedoms, though, you can create an incredible character arc if you have that kind of super-expansive timeframe to play with. There’s a real poignancy to tracing someone’s life from their teenagehood to the very end, especially if the country is radically changing around them at the same time.

What came first—the story or Maxine? Is that your typical approach, or does it vary from project to project?
Maxine came first: I had a vision of a badass woman, bitter and chain-smoking but refusing to give up no matter what life threw at her. From there, I wanted a story that put her in worse and worse circumstances. What happens to someone who loses everything? What’s left?

In terms of actual writing, this book started in the middle. Then I wrote Maxine’s childhood and teenage-dom. Then I stalled for about a year because I couldn’t think of where to take her from there; it was only when I came up with the broader framework—of academics discussing her life and her impact on society—that I figured out where to take everything.

In this book, Preacher reminded me a lot of Main Bad Guy’s Walker—but a very different take on the character type. Is 2019 your Year of the Aging Badass, or is that just a coincidence?  I’m having a hard time not asking a spoiler-laden question about him, so let me take the easy way out – what would a prospective reader want to know about Maxine’s very disfunctional paternal figure?
That was a coincidence, but now that you mention it… yeah, Preacher and Walker are brothers of a type! I didn’t mean it that way; Preacher made his first appearance in my head circa 2014, while Walker emerged around 2017-18, when I was writing “Main Bad Guy.”

Not to spoil too much, but Preacher isn’t the badass that Maxine thinks. He’s ultra-tough, and he deserves his fearsome reputation in the ruined part of the world where Maxine and her family lives. But his weaknesses—and frankly, his lies—eventually force Maxine to step up. The thing about badasses like Preacher and Walker, they can serve as crutches for your main character; at some point, you need to neuter them or take them away if your protagonist is truly going to move on and grow.

Are you far enough into your next book to talk about it – are you sticking with SF, going back to Crime Fiction, or trying your hand at something like Wizards?
Haha! Noir-ish wizards would be pretty cool, although I’m sure someone has already covered that arena already. Up next is actually the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” so it’s back to crime fiction (and Idaho!). The as-yet-untitled sequel is actually giving me a bit of trouble, because I’m trying to ratchet up the tension as tightly as possible on Jake and Frankie, my two main characters (and siblings). They survived some insane crap in the first book, so I have to figure out a way to make things even crazier.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for introducing me to Maxine
Thank you! I love her. I hope readers will, too.

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