Our interview this week is thanks to the extra effort of Emily Reardon at Penguin Random House in NYC and our own Lora Brown here at Mysterious Book Report. Together, they coordinated our questions and corresponded with author Nico Walker, who’s currently an inmate at the Ashland Federal Correctional Institution where he’s serving an eleven year sentence for bank robbery. His debut novel, Cherry, is reviewed in MBR No. 362. He is a gifted writer, a decorated war veteran, a former heroin addict, armed robber, convict and PTSD sufferer whose personal story is available on Buzzfeed in an article by Scott Johnson entitled, “How a War Hero Became a Serial Bank Robber”. Nico Walker is thirty-three years old, with one of the most unique and original voices in American crime fiction. He’s scheduled for release in November of 2020. His answers are some of the most insightful we’ve ever received and, just like his novel, come straight from his heart. With many thanks . . . here’s Nico Walker:
Why do you write?
I write because they (Correctional Officers) let me. And I’m grateful to them for that. It’s the only way I can win in this life.
Where do you write?
In the housing unit library/card room, H-unit B-side, Ashland FCI. Also in the typing room in the education department, where the typewriters are.
Are any of your characters autobiographical?
Some of them.
Who’s your favorite author?
Alive – Tom McGuane. Ever – Hemingway.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
Usually wing it.
Do you read your reviews?
Yes. Negative reviews help me write. I want to prove them wrong.
Does luck play into success?
In my case, luck was everything. That and I had stories and I knew how to write a sentence. It helps if you take yourself seriously. Always take yourself seriously. If someone insults my writing, and he’s a dude, I want to fight him. If a woman insults my writing I get real depressed about it.
What makes a character compelling?
What makes a character endearing?
What makes a character despicable?
Lack of empathy.
Do any one of the above attributes make a more interesting character than another?
Fallibility is more important than contrition.
How did your book first get published?
How long did it take?
Do you use humor in your work?
I try to. It’s good to have it. You can’t make them cry if you haven’t made them laugh. Because that’s life.
What method do you use to keep track of plot details?
I get so into it that I can’t forget things.
Where do you get most, some, or any your story ideas from?
Real life. Despair.
Do you belong to a writers group?
Do you use long, detailed and in-depth descriptions of your characters and their environs?
No, I don’t. I rely on dialogue and actions to show who they are. (One trick with the dialogue is you can use variations in word order to distinguish one character from another.)
I only use the big descriptions if it helps what I’m doing read well. If it sounds good I’ll use it. I don’t force anything if it messes the sound up.
Does your style make use of adjectives and adverbs?
I use adverbs sometime, just not to describe verbs if I can help it. I don’t like to use tons of adjectives. Two in a row’s the limit, I think. Usually that’s too much, though. I’ll try and use noun phrases, clauses, preposition phrases, whatever I can use to try and get away from the dark, stormy night format of description.
What type of scene is most difficult for you to write?
Scenes where I have to know things about what people who aren’t failures would do.
Are you more comfortable writing in the first, or third person POV?
First person works better for me. You don’t have to know things when you’re writing in first. You can be ignorant.
How can we, as writers, promote and encourage more people to read?
Don’t be boring. Don’t be childish. Don’t just say what everyone already thinks. Don’t write clichés unless they illustrate ways of speaking that are specific to a type you’re trying to show and they aren’t generally known. Don’t try and be clever all the time. Write honestly about what life’s like and what’s true.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Pay attention to sound. First, make sure you’re not full of shit. Then try to sound good. And don’t force things. Don’t try to write someone else’s book. Do what comes natural to you. That’s your voice. Trust it.
Bonus question, and your last chance for brilliance . . .
Do you have any other comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes, quotes or inspirational material you’d like to share?
Bonus answer: If you want to be a writer, then stop whatever it is you’re doing, and don’t do anything else except for what’s absolutely necessary until you’ve written a book. For example: don’t hang out with your friends. Your friends don’t want you to write a book. Your friends just want you to waste all your time hanging out with them and bullshiting. So screw them. Another thing is don’t read. Definitely don’t read, unless (maybe) if it’s for research (and even then probably you’re better off not reading and just making some thing up).
Thx again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time out to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project.