John Wisniewski interviews Nick Kolakowski

  1. When did you begin writing, Nick?

I’ve always written. Like so many others, I had one of those cliché writer childhoods where I wrote and drew my own little books. I also had an intense interest in crime fiction from a young age, as well — when I was nine or ten, my dad gave me an old paperback copy of “Trouble Is My Business,” which kicked off a lifelong addiction to all things noir. But I didn’t start writing crime fiction in a serious way until my late 30s, after veering through everything else — journalism, nonfiction book-writing, copywriting, etc. Plunging into crime fiction, and finding the community that came with it, felt like coming home.

2. Any favorite crime authors?

Among contemporary authors, some of my most hardcore favorites include Steph Cha (whose “Your House Will Pay” was my favorite book last year; it’s an excellent, searing mystery), Sarah Jilek (who just published “Saint Catastrophe,” a wonderfully weird and sexy book about cults, biker gangs, MFAs, and violence), Sean Cosby (whose ” Blacktop Wasteland” is a hell of a masterpiece), and David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s “Winter Counts” (an incredible mystery set on a Native American reservation). All of them are pushing the boundaries of what crime fiction can be, especially as a lens for viewing some of the biggest issues hitting society at the moment.

3. What makes a good crime novel? How do you create suspense?

If you want to build great suspense, you have to delay gratification. All the common tools of suspense — the cliffhanger, etc. — stem from that simple principle. You delay and delay and delay, in a way that leaves the audience wanting more. When I’m reading a crime novel or short story, I know it’s failing when they’re relying too much on spectacle — when they overstuff it with events because they think those will hold the reader’s attention. That doesn’t do anything but wear the reader down. Teasing them along, though… that’s the magic.

4.Could you tell us about writing “Rattlesnake Rodeo“, one of your latest?

“Rattlesnake Rodeo” is the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club.” I never intended to write a sequel to “Boise,” but the characters kept speaking to me after I finished the book. Plus, if you’ve read “Boise,” you know that it ends with a lot of plot threads still unresolved. With “Rattlesnake Rodeo,” I wanted to raise the stakes by an insane degree, to put the characters in pretty much the worst type of situation you can imagine any noir characters being plunged into.

5.How did you create the Jake Halligan character?

Jake’s history as a bounty hunter and a former soldier comes from a few people in my life who were former bounty hunters and soldiers. I like the idea of a roughneck who cuffs people by day but comes home and reads a ton of books—there’s a dichotomy there that breaks a bunch of clichés.

Many characters in noir and hardboiled fiction are fundamentally immoral, because that’s how you drive the plot—they’re fighting their dark places. With Jake, I wanted to create a character who was fundamentally good but grappling with some broken pieces (many of those the result of his experiences during the Iraq War). Jake’s sister, Frankie, is the opposite—she’d be a complete psychopath except for whatever wiring in her brain allows her to love her friends and family intensely.

6. Tell us about the Love & Bullets series? How were those characters created?

With the Love & Bullets novellas (“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” “Slaughterhouse Blues,” and “Main Bad Guy”), I wanted to create something that was action-heavy, funny, and extremely hyperactive. Bill and Fiona, the two main characters, aren’t quite as smart as they think they are, although they’re more than capable of surviving when they rip off their gangster bosses and try to escape to the Caribbean.

The novellas were originally published via Shotgun Honey, which specializes in noir novellas. Then a large German publisher bought and translated the novellas in one volume for the German and Swiss markets, which meant I needed to rewrite the books slightly, in order to ensure the narrative read smoothly as one giant novel as opposed to three shorter ones. Now Shotgun Honey is going to publish the novellas as a complete book in English, which gave me the opportunity to rewrite yet again—and add to it. It’s a rare gift to be able to rewrite and adjust your book repeatedly as times go on; I’ve used the opportunity to tweak issues, improve the plot, etc. So that’s been fun!

7. In another of your most recent novels “Boise Longpig Hunting Club”, Jake Halligan faces many dangers, in a novel full of action. Does this help to draw the reader in, to keep the reader guessing?

With “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” I was inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game” and other novels and movies over the past hundred years that have featured people hunting other people for sport. Given the political and cultural polarization in America, I thought it’d be interesting to revamp that story with a lot of contemporary subtext.

At the same time, I also wanted “Boise” to be something of a mystery, because that would keep the reader engaged until it was time for the big hunt to kick off. I was borrowing a little bit from the Lee Child playbook with that one—if you’ve read the Reacher novels, you know that Child is very good at weaving together mystery and action to keep you glued throughout the entire book.

8. What will your next book be about?

I’m actually working on *two* novels right now. One is an Agatha Christie-style locked-room mystery that takes place in a highly unusual time and location; the other is a ticking-clock mystery/action novel that goes in a really odd direction for its final act. I’ve been increasingly interested in what happens when you mix genres together—comedy and horror, mystery and horror, and so on. These two manuscripts are experiments in that vein, and we’ll just have to see how I do.