Nick Feldman is yet another author I met initially via Facebook then subsequently in person, since he is a fellow Seattleite. He has read at my seasonal Noir at the Bar Seattle events and proven himself to be as engaging a live reader as he is a writer, which is no mean feat, especially for such a notoriously introverted demographic.
His knowledge of literary matters extends beyond basic techniques into the history as well as the potential future of the form, all while keeping quite busy in the present. Though currently concentrating on crime fiction, his artistic scope encompasses many aspects of the human condition, which is what makes any writer, in any genre, relatable and accessible to a wide audience.
In your experience as both writer and reader, what distinguishes crime fiction generally from other genres in terms of voice, character, etc?
That's a really tough question, and I think it gets easier to answer as you narrow crime fiction down to its various sub-genres, but something that's fundamental to all of it is desperation; crime stories are stories of people governed by need, not want. The really great ones are tales of how far someone can be pushed by the world around them... and how hard they can push back.
Aside, or perhaps alongside, from that, they're also stories about the search for truth. If a crime has been committed, generally there's somebody (protagonist, antagonist, or otherwise) trying to solve it. That lends the story some automatic structure, if it needs it. If there isn't somebody trying to solve things, then more often than not the characters are solving themselves, whether they mean to or not. The crime reveals the criminal, and there's no going back once it does.
Crime stories hurry towards an absolute, inevitable resolution in a way that other genres don't have to. A crime committed demands a resolution (if rarely a happy one), and as such there's an inherent narrative momentum that drags the characters (and readers) along in its wake. Other stories can meander or equivocate, but at the end of any crime story, the criminals are pretty much either successful, in jail, or dead. There are variants (the success might not be worth what it took to get there, or what have you), and probably even a few exceptions if you look hard enough, but for the most part these are stories barreling towards a final, often fatal, conclusion... and one with an inherent moralism to it.
I could go on and on about this, but if I were to boil it down three things, it'd be those: Desperation, truth, and inevitable finality.
How much of “you” is in your fictional work, if any, and do you think weaving true life experience into a creative narrative is even necessary?
It varies a lot by the work, but in general less and less as I get older. I think almost everybody's first book - or first attempt at a book - is about themselves (even if they don't want it to be), and the more you write, the better you get at filtering that out. That said, you're never going to write a book where none of you seeps into it, and you shouldn't want to. I still have the odd character who came from a specific experience or part of myself, or the odd joke/opinion that came from life more than imagination.
As for whether or not it's necessary? I don't think it's necessary to seek it out, to do it on purpose; if you're a good enough writer, authenticity isn't an issue. But I do think it can be helpful, especially for writers who either have a hard time getting started or struggle to inject pathos into their world. I guess "true life experiences" aren't a requirement, but they can certainly be a useful tool or shortcut.
Do you enjoy doing live readings of your work? If so, why? If not, why not?
It really depends. For me personally, it can be hard to shake the "writers write so readers can read" ethos, and there's a lot of stuff, at least in my work, that plays more naturally on the page than out loud, especially if you use a ton of parentheticals (like I do), or lots of different speaking characters; most writers aren't actors, and coming up with a half-dozen "distinctive" voices on the fly can be a recipe for disaster. That said, it can be a really great experience if you're smart about reading the right bits of your work in the right environment.
I think a good rule of thumb when looking at a reading is specificity; if you ask me to be on something called "Noir at the Bar," I'm probably going to be into it. That's my kinda writing, and therefore, my kind of readers. That takes a lot of the pressure off. But if you ask me to be on something called "Local Writers Showcase," I'm probably gonna pass; there's nothing worse than reading for an audience that's got no interest in your genre.
I'd also recommend checking out any reading you're thinking about going to as an audience member first, if at all possible. Some readings are really well run and professional, some are just a bunch of college kids trying to shout bad poetry over the ambient dinner conversations of customers that didn't know there was a show tonight. One of those is a lot more fun than the other.
I'm also a thousand percent more likely to say yes to a reading in a bar than a reading in a coffee shop. Alcohol's a lot easier on the nerves than caffeine.
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
My biggest influence is film noir. I'm an addict, and I steal liberally from the classics. The really great ones are focused, dark stories with complex characters that whiz by in a blur of whiskey, snark, and violence, and ultimately I think that's gotta be the goal. Noir is refreshingly devoid of characters who fit the classic heroic archetype (though a few sneak into detective pictures sometimes), and it's been my experience that a world shaded grey is always more compelling than one in black and white. You keep your Superman and Luke Skywalker, I'll take my chances with Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth, and have more fun doing it... though you'll probably live longer.
At a more specifically literary level, my biggest influences are Raymond Chandler (just like every other crime writer), Lawrence Durrell, and Christopher James Priest.
What’s next for you?
I've got two books I'm about halfway through writing. One is the third in my "Mina Davis" series, as Mina runs up against a duplicitous femme fatale who seems to be two completely different people. That one's called Gutterpunk Chanteuse, and also features an Indian casino, a murderous Interpol agent, and an increased role for fan-favorite supporting player Lieutenant Linda Lovelorne.
Before that, though, I have a heist book on the way about a gang of five female thieves from around the world reluctantly teaming up to rob a psychopathic former mobster blind. That one'll be called "The Fifth Woman," and people who pay close attention to that title might figure out some of the twists and turns a little bit faster than the rest.
I've carved out an extremely feminist and largely LGBT audience for myself, and both of these books lean into those elements pretty hard. There really aren't enough badass female-driven and/or queer (never mind both) crime stories out there, and certainly not enough in the hardboiled sub-genre I like to hang out in, but at least now there'll be two more of them. You know, assuming I actually finish the damn things.
We should all be half as prolific and promising as you, Nick. Cheers
Nick Feldman is a crime writer from Seattle, Washington. Best known for his "Mina Davis" series of hardboiled detective novels, Nick's carved out a niche for himself as one of the few writers dealing in feminist noir. His most recent novels are Hungover and Handcuffed, which was recently featured at Cornell University, and Asshole Yakuza Boyfriend, which briefly topped the Amazon short crime fiction charts. His books, and opinions (which come somewhat less recommended) can be found at www.nicksblogamericain.com
PHOTO: NICK FELDMAN