I was pretty excited that Nick Mamatas agreed to answer a few of my questions, because he’s a pretty busy guy. He’s also got a brand new book out, Bullettime, and he was kind enough to talk about that, and other rather cool stuff, so please welcome him to the blog!
Nick, as the author of five novels, including your newest, Bullettime, and numerous short stories and non-fiction novels, you’ve managed to cultivate a very wide range of work. What makes Bullettime different from your previous fiction?
All of my novels so far have been first-person stories of outsiders dealing with some sort of supernatural or superhuman perception. Jack Kerouac and his enlightenment in Move Under Ground, Herbie’s telepathy in Under My Roof, the near-omniscient collective intelligence and Julia’s bizarre understanding of world systems in Sensation, and Uncle Lono’s insights thanks to his drug use in The Damned Highway. And now, in Bullettime, we have Dave Holbrook, in a place beyond space and time called the Ylem, from which he can observe all his possible existences based on decisions he’s made (or that others have made).
But, at the same time, the range is pretty wide. Move Under Ground is Lovecraftian, Roof a parody of a YA novel, Sensation an avant-garde satire I tried to make read as though the reader is looking at a desktop with a web browser and IM chat windows and such, and Highway is a crazed jeremiad. It’s also a collaboration with Brian Keene, which is itself a significant difference from my solo work. So the books feel different when people are reading them, and they feel different when I’m writing them for that matter, but when I look at them as a whole I guess I’m pursuing a single project. Which each book, or story for that matter, I think formally. What structure should the story take—the POV, average sentence and paragraph length, that sort of thing. Then I fill it in with characters and plot. Luckily, not all my short fiction is in the first-person. Indeed, a few recent stories have ended up being fabulist, avuncular, third-person omniscient stories.
Bullettime is different because it’s about a teen and an adult, skirts the edges around fantasy and horror and confessional fiction, and takes place in Jersey City. I lived in Jersey City for years, from 1997 to 2003, but never really placed any fiction there. I’ve written plenty about Manhattan and Long Island and Cambridge and Somerville and Salem, MA and Vermont, but never about Jersey.
In Bullettime, you explore alternate universes and fate (among other things). Do you believe in fate?
I believe that all actions are caused actions, but ultimately I’m a compatibilist. World forces structure, condition, and limit our actions, but they don’t determine them. So we can act as agents within those constraints, and often those constraints are at least partially imaginary. They’re ego-forces we think of as world forces or, worse, natural facts. A lot of my work is about suggesting a desire for more freedom than we currently have from our objective conditions.
What, or who, was your inspiration for David Holbrook?
For about a year I lived across the street from a high school in Jersey City. I worked from home, so got to observe the kids pretty closely, at the beginning of the day, at lunch, then in the afternoon. Of course, bits of my own childhood are in David, but I’m in Erin and Oleg and the other characters too. So are friends of mine from junior high and high school, stories I’ve heard from other people about their own teen years, you name it.
Is there any particular thing you’d like to see readers take away from Bullettime, or do you like to leave things open for interpretation?
When I was editing Clarkesworld Magazine, we’d often get submissions of all-but-identical stories. One sort of story was something I like to call “the child molester story.” In it a creepy, ugly, bum, corners a pretty young blonde girl with curls and threatens her with rape. Then the girl turns into some sort of supernatural horror and consumes the child molester. The moral of the story is—DON’T MOLEST CHILDREN.
Now, who needs to read such a story? Most of us would never dream of molesting children, and no child molester would be persuaded by the story to stop. So, really, who needs a lesson that would listen to one? What message could Bullettime have? Don’t drink sizzurp? Don’t shoot up schools? Surely, most of us already know!
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Hmm, Kurt Vonnegut, Ira Levin, William S. Burroughs, Harlan Ellison, Kathy Acker, Joseph Heller, Paul Heyman, (yes, the pro wrestling booker), Victor Serge, William Browning Spenser, Kathe Koja’s early horror novels (horror novels could be smart??), whatever was being published in Omni in the early 1980s—Howard Waldrop especially, Shirley Jackson, the non-narrative avant-garde short films of the 1940s-1960s I watched in college in the 1990s…and dog’s breakfast, I guess.
If you could read one novel again for the first time, which one would it be?
That’s a good question. A really good one, since I decided years ago to never re-read. I know that a lot can get gotten from re-reading books, and really it’s not worth writing if the end product isn’t worth re-reading, but there’s just too much to read. I can’t spare the time. I guess I’d say Picture This by Joseph Heller. I would like to read that again for the first time, or for a second time, really.
I get the impression that you’re a pretty busy guy. When you do manage to carve out some downtime, how do you like to spend it?
I don’t have a lot of downtime. I have a full-time job, teach part-time at two MFA programs, a writing organization in Berkeley, and UCLA’s Extension School, and write books and stories and essays and such. I practice Chen taijiquan for between one and four hours a day. (Four hours on Sunday.) I do most of my reading on my commute to work, which is about ninety minutes each way.
What’s next for you?
I have a novel, The Last Weekend, which is basically a confessional fiction about an alcoholic in San Francisco, with some zombies milling around the background. That should be out in 2013. My first crime novel, Love is the Law, may also be out in 2013. And I have a number of stories coming out—”Willow Tests Well” will be in Psychos, a phonebook-sized omnibus anthology edited by John Skipp, and a story called “The Shaft Through the Middle of it All” will be in Fungi, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey. Those will be out by the end of this year.
Keep up with Nick: Website | Twitter
David Holbrook is a scrawny kid, the victim of bullies, and the neglected son of insane parents.
David Holbrook is the Kallis Episkipos, a vicious murderer turned imprisoned leader of a death cult dedicated to Eris, the Hellenic goddess of discord.
David Holbrook never killed anyone, and lives a lonely and luckless existence with his aging mother in a tumbledown New Jersey town.
Caught between finger and trigger, David is given three chances to decide his fate as he is compelled to live and relive all his potential existences, guided only by the dark wisdom found in a bottle of cough syrup.
From the author of the instant cult classic Move Under Ground comes a fantasy of blood, lust, destiny, school shootings, and the chance to change your future.
Purchase Bullettime: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
More about Nick:
Nick Mamatas is the author of the Lovecraftian Beat road novel Move Under Ground, which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards, the Civil War ghost story Northern Gothic, also a Stoker nominee, the suburban nighmare novel Under My Roof, and over thirty short stories and hundreds of articles (some of which were collected in 3000 Miles Per Hour in Every Direction at Once). His work has appeared in Razor, Village Voice, Spex, Clamor, In These Times, Polyphony, several Disinformation and Ben Bella Books anthologies, and the books Corpse Blossoms, Poe’s Lighthouse, Before & After: Stories from New York, and Short and Sweet.
Nick’s forthcoming works include the collection You Might Sleep… (November 2008) and Haunted Legends, an anthology with Ellen Datlow (Tor Books 2009).
A native New Yorker, Nick now lives in the California Bay Area.