A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski’s back for another round of questions (feel free to check out the last round while you’re here), to commemorate the kick-off to Main Bad Guy (which I just posted about), the conclusion to his trilogy of Love & Bullets Hookups.

Since we covered a lot of the basics last year, I dove deeper into this trilogy than I usually do. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did and that it spurs you to check these books out.

Was A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps always supposed to kick-off a series, or did that idea come during/after writing it? It’s not your everyday way to start a trilogy about a couple, why this approach?
“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” was originally going to be a standalone. After it was finished (but before publication), I found myself still jotting down bits of Fiona and Bill—scraps of dialogue, the outline of an action scene, etc. So I realized I wasn’t done with either of them, at least on a subconscious level. But where to take the story next? I didn’t want it to become an open-ended series, so I needed to figure out a way to climax it, to resolve all the dangling plot threads I began weaving in “Brutal Bunch.” And that meant taking Fiona and Bill back to New York City, where everything began.
Why the Elvis suit? It was absolutely a great idea — but I’ve spent weeks coming back to this question, why did you pick that?
The suit is iconic and ludicrous, but it’s also (to me, at least) a symbol of courage. Can you imagine what it took for Elvis to suit up in that thing every night, step in front of hundreds of people, and belt out something like “Suspicious Minds”? In any case, the suit has so much power, it felt like the perfect thing for a character who’s emotionally wounded and more than a little insane to slip into—he draws enough from it to keep going.

I (very) briefly considered making it a John Wayne thing, and having him put on a vest and a cowboy hat, but that didn’t really work—as a costume, it didn’t pack the same ludicrous punch as a sparkly Elvis jumpsuit.

Two things in particular made me realize that Main Bad Guy was going to be the best of the trilogy early on — Fiona’s “origin story” and Walker. I love it when we get a mysterious figure like him and are given juuuuuuust enough information to buy into the character, but are left with a billion questions. Where did Walker come from, and have you considered doing more with him?
“Aging Badass” is a noir/thriller trope that I particularly love—the older guy who’s seen and done too much to get particularly bothered over anything that happens, even if what’s happening is really ludicrous and bloody and crazy (think James Caan in “Way of the Gun,” or Jonathan Banks in “Better Call Saul”). I’ve wanted to do my own variation on that type of character for years, but I needed him to be a bit more flawed and human. Walker is a badass but his skills are rusty; he’s a tactical genius but he has a certain impulsiveness—mirrored by his daughter—that leads him to do things that get him into trouble.

I do want to do more with Walker in the future. Writing him was an enormous amount of fun, especially the scene in “Main Bad Guy” where he walks into his favorite bar and finds it’s been converted into a hipster hellhole, complete with paintings of pugs on the walls. Maybe I’ll do a novella where he comes back and wrecks it.

There’s this great thread running throughout the trilogy, chronicling the rise and evolution of The Rockaway Mob. Some authors would devote a novel or three to this saga, you make it something that can be overlooked. How intentional was that, and what was your reasoning?
It was pretty intentional. I wanted the books to be as fast as possible, and as much as I loved (briefly) tracing out the rise and fall of this very weird gang (and its very weird leaders), I felt it would distract a bit from the core of the story, which is the incredible flight of Fiona and Bill.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I’ve wanted to write a historical novel for years, but haven’t quite had the courage (or the time to plunge into extensive research). Maybe I’ll get to it—I just need to really commit myself to such a massive effort.
Thanks for your time — and thanks for these Hookups.
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A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski: A fast, fun, and bullet-ridden adventure

A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken SapsA Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

by Nick Kolakowski
Series: A Love & Bullets Hookup, #1

Kindle Edition, 128 pg.
Shotgun Honey, 2017

Read: January 17, 2019


Bill is a con man, a hustler, a grifter with a gift — one that has been put to good use by the Rockaway Mob until the day that Bill has had enough. He just can’t keep going the way he’s been going. So he leaves New York and heads off on his secret plan to leave the country. Of course, before he left town, he helped himself to a large amount of the Mob’s money to fund his retirement. Which is as popular a choice as you can expect.

Only . . . his plan isn’t as secret as he thinks and people are on his tail immediately. A pair of employees are sent to take care of Bill and retrieve the cash. And then another is shooter is sent before those first two have even had a chance to fail. And it’s a good thing that happened.

Which is all I should probably say about the plot. Very little goes the way you think it’ll go once things get rolling. What follows is fast, fun and violent. It’s the least subtle critique of civil forfeiture possible — and a whole host of other things.

The backup assassin is our entry into this world, these characters — .he’s notorious, he’s infamous, he’s “that guy.” And . . . he’s kind of falling apart — his wife can’t handle his vocation any more and is divorcing him. His point of view chapters are a mix of attitude, a little snark, mayhem and despondency. Somehow, that mix is a blast.

On the other hand, we have Bill — who you somehow can’t believe was ever brought into the fold by the Rockaway Mob, but he’s clearly good at what he does. But little else, it seems. He has a real knack for moving from fire to fireplace to somewhere hotter yet. One of the other assassins sent after him was the one who brought him to the Rockaway Mob, who vouched for him. Her name is Fiona, and she’s one of the fiercest, deadly, aggressive characters you’ve met recently — and at least until recently, was in love with Bill (not that he treated her too well in his exit, and probably cooled her affections as a result).

This is a novella — and there’s not a lot of space for character development, for fully drawing out a character — and while these three aren’t as well drawn as Kolakowski has in other work, they’re good enough for what he’s wanting to accomplish here. (I hope that doesn’t sound like a slight — it’s not supposed to be). They may not be fully drawn, but they’re a lot of fun — and there’s some intriguing emotional beats between them and some of the other characters in these pages.

This book is primarily an exercise in violence — there’s a hint of torture, just a hint (but most of it happens off-screen). What’s not hinted at are explosions and gunfire. There’s a lot of it — the literary equivalent of so much of the stylized cinematic violence inspired by Tarantino in the 90’s. It’s adrenaline set to music — think Edgar Wright action scenes, but more lethal — to skip a couple of decades (actually, I bet this novella would pair well with much of the Baby Driver soundtrack).

I had a hard time accepting how the last few chapters went, because I had the wrong idea about what Kolakowski was up to with this book (and, I bet, the next two books that follow). But I had a blast with it — even the last chapters, once I gave up my preconceptions.

This is a fast, lean novella — there’s not an ounce of fat, not one unnecessary sentence to this. Kolakowski has a story to tell and he tells it. I knew going in that this was going to be a fast read, but I couldn’t believe how quickly I got through it — between the lean prose, the fast pace of the book and the action scenes, this was just a bullet train of a read (no pun intended).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author. My opinions expressed above are my own. I appreciate the book, but I didn’t sell out my opinions because of that..

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3.5 Stars

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2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Opening Lines – A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit? How can you not?

Listen.

At some point, a poor sap will look at you and say, “This is the worst day of my life.”

But as long as you have breath in your lungs to say those words, you’re not having your worst day. You haven’t even hit rock bottom, much less started to dig. You can still come back from a car wreck, or that terrifying shadow on your lung X-ray, or finding your wife in bed with the well-hung quarterback from the local high school. Sometimes all you need to solve your supposedly world-ending problems is time and care, or some cash, or a shovel and a couple of garbage bags.

If you see me coming, on the other hand, I guarantee you’re having your worst day. Not to mention your last.

Let me show you how bad it can get. How deep the hole goes. And the next time your idiot friend says something about worst days, as the two of you stand there watching his house burn down with his pets and one-of-a-kind porn collection inside, you can tell him this story. It might even shut him up.

Let me tell you about Bill, my last client.

from A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski