I love hearing about authors and books that never before pinged my RADAR, and Nick Kaufmann is one of them: I got an earlier copy of Dying Is My Business a few weeks before, and turning the first page found me grabbed immediately by the story, my treachea firmly gripped. So, here’s Nick to answer some questions about that very book…
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I’m a forty-something author from Brooklyn, NY with a background in the book business. I was Publicity Manager for a small literary press, a pitchman for a widely respected PR firm specializing in TV and radio author appearances, a bookstore clerk, an independent bookstore owner, a manager for Barnes & Noble, and a development associate for a top literary and film agent. I was also manager of a small indie video store for a time. I’ve been nominated for a few literary awards: the Bram Stoker Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the International Thriller Writers Award. I haven’t won any, though. Clearly I’m a charlatan.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
DYING IS MY BUSINESS is a hardboiled urban fantasy-noir about a thief for a Brooklyn crime syndicate who can’t stay dead. Also, monsters.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
This novel is such a burrito of pop culture influences that it’s hard for me to pinpoint just one. Basically, I knew I wanted to write a chase novel set in New York City. I also knew I wanted the impetus to be something different from the usual thriller MacGuffin of a stolen thumb drive or microchip. I’ve always loved supernatural stories, so I went in that direction instead. Now the MacGuffin is a ancient, mysterious box that our hero, Trent, must retrieve and protect without knowing what’s inside. Of course, what’s inside turns out to be something awful that puts all of New York City in jeopardy.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
I think I bring a few things to the table. First and foremost is my sense of humor. DYING IS MY BUSINESS is a dark and gritty novel at heart, but it’s also got its fair share of humor. There’s a lot of snark. But there’s joy, too. There are so many stories out there that don’t have any joy in them. I wanted to change that and lighten the darkness of this story with actual moments of joy. Another thing I bring along is a background in horror rather than fantasy. Most of my published work has been in the horror genre. So I called on that to instill the world in this novel with a certain darkness, a certain creepiness. Here, magic is dark and dangerous and has the potential to drive you insane. It can also mutate you physically into something monstrous. Many of the supernatural entities Trent encounters are truly alien and unknowable. This isn’t the kind of urban fantasy where magicians drive tour buses in their off hours (I love you, Egg Shen!). This is an urban fantasy where magicians risk madness or worse whenever they cast a spell.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING DYING IS MY BUSINESS?
I spent two long, grueling years writing and rewriting and rewriting again until I was satisfied with the novel. The work was hard, no doubt about it. Sometimes I felt like I was going nuts. But the hardest thing of all was not knowing if the work would pay off. I didn’t have an agent at the time. I certainly didn’t have a publisher waiting for me. The novel was written on spec, with no guarantee that I wasn’t wasting two years of my life where I could have been earning money instead with a “normal” job. Luckily, I have a very patient and gainfully employed wife who refused to let me quit. Believe me, I know how lucky I am. Not every writer has that luxury. But the gamble paid off, thank goodness. The novel landed me a great agent, and he, in turn, got me a deal with a great publisher.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING DYING IS MY BUSINESS?
I learned some hefty lessons about plotting. I love great characters and I love emotional arcs, but I’ve always been a plot-heavy writer. So I thought writing a chase novel would be a breeze. Cue the loud buzzer and the giant red X from Family Feud. Turned out I had a lot to learn about plot and pacing. My initial draft was crazy front-loaded with exposition. I guess I thought I needed to get it all out of the way so I could get on with the action. My mistake. I eventually learned through trial and error that doling out information over time made it far more readable. It also made the mystery at the heart of the novel that much more compelling. Another thing I learned was how important choosing the right POV is. At first, the novel was written in third person, but it kept fighting me. I could only progress in fits and starts. It was only after I switched to first person that the chain caught and the novel took off.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT DYING IS MY BUSINESS?
I genuinely love the world I created for this novel. Dark magic, monsters lurking under the streets or around alley corners, even a theological hierarchy of sorts with entities like the Guardians and the Ancients. On top of that, I got to base it all in my hometown of New York City! Everyone who lives here has a love/hate relationship with the city. I’m no exception. I got to show my love for the city through the eyes of my characters, but also show my frustration with it by, well, destroying parts of it.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
I would trust myself more. I think a lot of what made this novel such a long journey (and by “long journey” I mean “stultifying shit show”) to write was that I wasn’t trusting my instincts as a storyteller. I second-guessed myself a lot. I wondered whether certain choices would limit my readership. At times I over-explained things because I didn’t trust the reader to get it. I see now how all of that existed only to trip me up. They were distractions at best, and pitfalls at worst. Once I trusted myself, things went a lot better.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
I think my favorite paragraph may be the opening lines of the novel. Which is really two paragraphs. I’m totally cheating.
“It’s not as easy as it looks to come back from the dead.
It’s a shock to the system, even more than dying is. The first new breath burns like fire. The first new heartbeat is like a sharp, urgent pain. Emerging from the darkness like that, the sudden light is blinding, confusing. Coming back from the dead feels less like a miracle than like waking up with the world’s most debilitating hangover.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
The sequel, currently titled DIE AND STAY DEAD, is set to come out from St. Martin’s in the fall of 2014. I also have a story coming out later this month in PS Publishing’s new anthology, DARK FUSIONS, which is edited by New York Times bestselling author Lois Gresh. In the near future, I plan to start work on the third book, tentatively titled ONLY THE DEAD SLEEP, as well as another urban fantasy that’s completely unrelated.