Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Nik Korpon

Nik Korpon teaches writing. Automatically he knows more than I ever will about writing. Want to see for yourself? Check out his work from Snubnose Press, the novella Old Ghosts and the upcoming story collection Bar Scars. Or maybe his novel Stay God. And there's more. The man writes a lot.

Not enough for you? He works at a motherfuckin' tattoo shop. Checkmate. He's already won the sweepstakes, but read on anyway for more about Nik Korpon and his job(s).

What do you do as your day job?
I teach writing at a community college and create ridiculous lesson plans tying together narrative essay structure and Back to the Future. Weekends, I work at a tattoo shop and tell college girls that Beatles lyrics on the ribs aren’t as original as they think. Both groups usually give me blank stares. You know half of my students have never even heard of, never mind memorized, Back to the Future? I’m frightened for the coming generation.

Since you teach writing, do you ever get any derisive scoffs at your choice to write dark crime or "genre" stories?
No particularly. Most of my classes are either Comp 1 or 2, or developmental. If I can get them the least bit invested in English and writing, it’s a win for me. A fair amount of my students are marginally interested because I’m not writing boring books, and I talk about Star Wars and films noir in class and all. I had one student who called me a hipster because all I talked about were noir films and I dress like Hank Moody. I’m still not quite sure how to respond to that.

As far as the staff goes, the ones who actually write think it’s cool that I’m publishing books, though I don’t think they’ve ever read any of them. The others give me that grandmotherly pursed lip smile, pat my cheek and say That’s very nice, Nik. You’re late for class.

When do you find time to write?
I don’t have a lot of time to write because I have a toddler and two jobs, so I write half the stories in my head as I’m walking around, at the grocery store, going for a run. Once I get the ideas pretty sorted, I wait til my son goes down for a nap then type as fast as I can for those two hours. I tried writing at night after he goes down but then I never saw my wife. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and have time between classes or when the shop is slow. 

When my son was born I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write but I’ve been finding that I probably write more, or at least more efficiently, since he came round. I think something clicked inside my head and realized that I only had that little section of time to write, so it just switches on. 

Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?
Totally. I meet all kinds of crazy people at the shop and walking around the city, see weird tattoos that give me ideas for stories, hear random stories from my students. Some of the guys at the shop have led interesting lives—MCs and sketchy conventions and other assorted debauchery—so I get little snippets from their accounts and turn them into stories. 

What would it take for you to quit and write full time?
Money, unfortunately. Made more unfortunate because I don’t have any.

Do your coworkers know you write? Do they know you write dark crime fiction?
Some do. Some at the college think it’s cool, though we have very different frames of reference for cool. I don’t go into detail about the novels because they write a lot of poetry and I don’t want them to hear about my characters enacting foreplay with straight razors. The guys at the shop are supportive of it. Some of them have read my stuff, but mostly I just tell them when I put one of their anecdotes into a story. 

What do they say about it?
Either, ‘I read your book. You’re not as smart as I thought,’ or, ‘I read your book. You’re smarter than you look.’

Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less “work” than a labor or office job?
Other artists respect it as a job because they understand the process. Or rather, people who do similar things (like English teachers) appreciate it. The people who don’t respect it, I don’t really care about. There are plenty of reruns of The Bachelor for them.

I'll ignore the fact you insulted The Bachelor, which pays my mortgage, and ask if you would ever consider writing for TV, or is that like asking you to start eating meat again?
I don’t have anything against The Bachelor particularly, just all of those TV shows in general. Which is probably a pretty backhanded faux-compliment. The need for artificial reality and mental laziness of the general public just bums me out. That being said, if they called and asked if I wanted a job, I’d trample whoever was in front of me to snatch it. Being paid to write? I’m down. I don’t really care what it is. I’ve written a couple screenplays, only one of which was ever made, but I think the idea of television writing, of hitting these plot points within a certain number of pages while still making it interesting, it’s an interesting idea. I’d definitely like to try my hand at it (as I clear my throat, looking expectantly for TV producers to jump out of my refrigerator with a contract and pen.)

I became really interested in the novelization field, or film tie-ins or whatever they’re called, after reading an interview with Christa Faust and hearing Tod Goldberg on a panel. From what  understand, it’s a tough field to get into, but that seems like such a great gig. I’m probably romanticizing it with cigarette smoke and an Underwood and two empty pots of coffee, but it seems like it would really help you hone your craft and figure out how to turn on that creative switch, you know? I’d love to do it but have zero-idea how to find it.

I don’t have a problem with meat anymore, either. That vegan-warrior phase passed in my early 20s when I started getting sick. People should understand the connection between their hamburger and the cow in the field next door, but outside of that I don’t care. I still won’t eat it, though. Shit grosses me out.

Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you’d be disciplined about it?
I’d love the opportunity to find out.

I think I would. I juggle a ton of stuff now and still make time to write, so if all the other bullshit disappeared, I’d like to think I’d be disciplined.

What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?
Be paid to free-surf, play soccer or be a travel guide, like those Contiki people. Growing up, I always wanted to be a marine biologist and swim with sharks. I’d be down with that still. Shark Week is one of the only things I miss from having TV.

What has been your best job? Your worst?
Honestly, my favorite job was working in the bulk food section at Whole Foods when I lived in Western Massachusetts. I was active all day, talked to tons of random people and learned a lot about foods I’d never heard of. It gave me a lot of time to daydream and I probably wrote most of a novel and a number of short stories (half of which are in my upcoming collection, Bar Scars) during the downtime there. I love working at the shop too, but I’m way more sedentary here than at the grocery store.

Worst job? Most of them. I worked in Boston Market marinating dead chickens (and went vegan shortly after.) I worked at the Renaissance Festival when I was 14, cutting up steaks and grilling ribs. I delivered phone books. I ran part of a hotel for a couple years and worked 100 hours a week. I waited tables at Pizza Hut for a while. I’ve bartended. Boston Market was probably the worst.

When do you find time to read?
Because I don’t have much time, I usually have to choose between writing or reading, and most times writing wins, so I don’t read as much as I’d like. I do read almost every night for a bit before bed. That new Kindle cover with the light has stopped my wife from suffocating me with her pillow a number of times.

Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned?
Every day. A couple years ago it was a possibility. From time to time now I’ll think about it for longer, but it always comes down to my son. My wife makes a fair bit more than I do (meaning: She got a degree in something useful) but it’s not enough to support the family. If I was ever fortunate enough to make a decent income with words, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

What is your ultimate goal with writing? Full time journeyman or millionaire? Or are you satisfied doing it part time?
Millionaire. I mean, really, who doesn’t want a ton of people to read their books? 

Realistically speaking, I don’t much care. Even if I sold two books for the rest of my life, it’s something I enjoy doing and it makes the rest of my life make more sense. I make time to write now with all the other crap going on and I’m as satisfied as I can be without being complacent. I expect to write part-time for the rest of my life. Anything more than that is awesome. This is where an agent swoops in with a contract, in case you were wondering.

Given what you've earned writing, dividing it by the hours spent, what would you say is your hourly wage as a writer?
Numbers and I are mortal enemies. That aside, my books are depressing enough. I don’t want to make it worse.

Do you have a spouse/partner that would support you writing full time?
If it was financially possible, without a doubt. I’m much less moody after a long day of writing and I’m sure she’d love me to be like that more often. I’m married to a fantastic woman who only wants to see me happy, and I her. Both of us have gone through grad school, so we’ve spent a lot of time eating rice and beans. We can survive on next to nothing, but have to look out for the wee one. 

How old will your son have to be before he can read any of your work?
Can’t say. Some of it depends on what he reads. Warpriest, I’d be okay with him reading when he’s a young teen. I don’t want him to read Stay God because he’ll just look at me and go, Dad, you’re such a dork. What’s wrong with you? Some of the other more sexual and violent and sexually violent stuff I think I’d hide from him for a while. By the time he’s a teenager we’ll probably have microchips to download things directly into our brains so I won’t be able to do much about it.

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