Author Interview: Steven Novak

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Today on the interview block I’ve had the distinct privilege of interviewing the uproariously funny author, Steven Novak. Please join me in extending a little Southern hospitality—and fresh squeezed lemonade—and welcome him to my humble blog.  He can be found on his website, blog, or FB page.
BIO:  Born in Chicago, Illinois, Steven Novak has spent the majority of his life drawing, writing, and creating. In doing so he’s forsaken things like a personal life, social graces, and good hygiene. After spending four years at the Columbus College of Art and Design, in Columbus Ohio, he moved to California and married a woman able to look past the whole hygiene thing. He has spent the last ten years working as a freelance illustrator, designer and writer for a wide variety of clients in both print and web media.  Steven’s book Fathers and Sons, will be released in March of 2010 from Canonbridge.  He is collaborating with Paul Wood, illustrating Here Comes Cousin Albert, which will be released in April of 2010.
 (Bio, cover art, and author picture courtesy of Canonbridge, LLC.)
JS:  When did you begin writing, and did you always envision being an author?
SN:  I suppose I’ve been writing all of my life, though I never for a second imagined becoming an author. For years the first thing that came to mind when hearing the word “author” was some guy with an expertly manicured mustache, sporting a pair of dark glasses that’s dressed head to toe in black with one of those silly little beatnik hats on his head.
Maybe he’s sitting in a coffee shop puffing away at a cigarette or something.
Later he has a political rally of some sort to attend.
It’s weird, I know.
I was into comic books as a kid, but it was more because of the pictures than the story. Painting, sketching, scribbling, drawing – these were my first loves, and if I’m honest they remain so to this very day. If I’ve had a bad day I tend to reach for my sketchpad before my laptop.
Still, I’ve always had a love affair with books and enjoyed the act of writing. It didn’t come naturally the way drawing did though. I knew early on that I was going to have to put in some effort if I wanted to get any good at it. Unfortunately effort and I have a history of going together as well as a Thanksgiving dinner with the Hatfields and McCoys.
JS:  What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a writer?
SN:  Mostly just clearing out some space in my grossly overcrowded head. It’s spring-cleaning. There’s far too much going on up there and if I don’t dump some of it onto the curb for the garbage man to haul away I would likely go bonkers. I could give a more standard answer like, “watching as my characters come to life and begin to breathe before my eyes” or something along those lines, but in truth they’re already alive inside my head anyway.
I talk to them all the time. It scares people.
I won’t deny that there is something undeniably fulfilling about knowing – if I’m lucky – someone out there might read, and enjoy, and fall in love with them as much as I however. There’s some vanity involved I guess. I’ll fess up to that much. It’s not the most important thing though, and it’s not why I do what I do. I write, or paint, or film little movies because I have to. It’s what I’ve always done, and what I’ll always do. It helps me sort things out for myself, and quite honestly keeps me sane.
Which is a pretty astounding feat.
You know, because I’m a bit of a weirdo.
JS:  The most challenging?
SN:  Without a doubt it’s the technical stuff. Up until about five years ago I was still using the wrong “your” in my sentences. It’s not that I’m an idiot – because I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent man – it’s just that I didn’t much care. I don’t think I ever took the act of writing seriously enough to be bothered with the little things – you know, like “proper grammar.”
Another big issue for me is that my head is “The Flash” and my fingers are your ninety-four year old grandma lugging a couple tanks of oxygen behind her – more often than not they can’t keep up.
I know what I want my characters to do, what I need them to say, and where I’d like them to be while they’re saying and doing it. That being said, I often have to stop myself and figure out the ideal way to express what they’re doing, saying, and why in the world anyone in their right mind should care about the lot of it. 
JS:  Tell me a little about your book.
SN:  “Forts: Fathers and Sons” is the first in a three-part series telling the story of a group of kids that stumble through a doorway leading to another world and find themselves caught up in a war in which the fate of the universe is at stake. It’s epic scale stuff that I tried my best to tell on a very small scale. A lot of people have asked me what age group it’s for and my answer is that it’s part young-adult, part adult-adult, part adult that refuses to grow up-adult.
Does that make any sense?
Maybe not.
Long story short, there’s a lot going on. I touch on friendship, and creativity, hint at youthful infatuation and love, and even delve fairly deep into child abuse – which is the aspect I think will catch most people off guard.
JS:  Can you tell us a little more about how you conceived the story?
SN:  In one form or another it’s a story I’ve been writing for twenty years now. The overall theme of the entire series has popped its way into just about everything I’ve ever done.
Except when I painted my living room the color my wife told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to paint it…
It wasn’t there.
The lead character has a whole lot of me in him – right down to the hair – and there are nods to people I’ve known or met over the years. I find it easiest to write what I know. Anything else comes off not only feeling weird, but false. I like to think that I managed to sneak some meaty, worthwhile stuff in-between the sword battles between giant turtle-men and overly muscled lizard soldiers with forked tongues. Hopefully there’s a little something for everyone to relate and latch onto.
JS:  When you write, do you always know where you are going, or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
SN:  Know where I’m going? As Whitney Houston might say, “hells to the naw.”
Don’t get me wrong; I have a rough outline in my head. I know where the story is going to start and how it’ll end for the most part. In fact, as of this very moment I know exactly what the last two words on the very last page of book three are going to be. This is despite the fact that I haven’t even written twenty-five pages yet. Beyond that however, I generally like to let things go where they’re going to go.
If I write my characters into a situation and can’t come up with a logical way to get them out of it, guess what – they aren’t getting out of it.
Forcing the issue doesn’t make any sense to me.
JS:  What advice do you give to budding writers?
SN:  The same advice I give to any artist working in any medium – if your only reason for doing it is to get rich, don’t bother. You’re missing the point. On top of it all you aren’t likely to make any money anyway so you’ll not only end up broke, but disappointed as well. The term “starving artist” exists for a reason, and it’s not because we’re all living in mansions, and sipping drinks brought to us by members of the opposite sex in outfits so skimpy they would make Lindsay Lohan blush.
If you’re going to do this, first and foremost do it for yourself. Do it because it’s out of your hands. Do it because you’re compelled to do it – because it fills a void, and because you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Do it because you love it.
JS:  What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?
SN:  There are so much of them I hardly know where to begin. Lets see – I stated earlier that I was a big comic book nerd growing up so something like Allen Moore’s “Watchmen” absolutely blew my mind when I was a kid. “The Dark Knight Returns” was another, as well as “Maus: A Survivors Tale.” In junior high and high school I started delving deep into science fiction stuff – pretty much anything by Ray Bradbury, and of course “The Time Machine,” “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “1984,” and a million others.
Considering the kind of stuff I’m writing these days a lot of people find it odd that I never got into the “Lord of the Rings” or anything like.
Movies were a big thing for me growing up as well – more so than books maybe. At thirteen I was already filled with an almost terrifying obsession with Alfred Hitchcock. While everyone else was rushing to the theater to see “Indiana Jones” I was hunting down Beta-Max copies of “Strangers on a Train.”
Needless to say, it didn’t make me many friends.
(JS:  I have to interject that I LOVE Alfred Hitchcock and that is one of my favorite movies of his.  Good on you for picking a wonderful obsession.  J )
JS:  What’s a typical day like for you?
SN:  Despite having not gone to bed until one in the morning, I generally wake up around six, wipe a few crusty boogers from my eyes and wobble on Frankenstein legs into the office to get to work.
The brunt of my income comes from graphic design and illustration work, so that’s first on the agenda. Four or five hours are spent wading through emails from clients, making obscure – sometimes entirely unnecessary – font changes and staring mindlessly at the computer screen. Seeing as I’m lucky enough to work out of home I generally bother with a shower, or for that matter a pair of pants until well after lunch.
Trust me on this – you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten your lunch while your hair is still so bed-stiff that it’s sensitive to touch.
My wife of nine years is the absolute most wonderful, caring, intelligent woman I’ve met over the course of my life. I’m a lucky man to have her. That being said, she couldn’t cook a can of microwaveable soup if her life depended on it, and because of that I generally handle the cooking chores for the evening.
Unfortunately I usually don’t get around to writing until long after the sun has gone down, and I can hear my same loving wife snoring from the other room.
JS:  How long does it generally take to write one of your novels?
SN:  It took me a year to finish “Forts: Fathers and Sons” and another year to finish the follow up, “Liars and Thieves.” To be fair though I ended up having to remove myself from both of them for two or three months at a time while writing.
When writers block hits me, it hits me like a slab of concrete to the noggin tossed in my direction by the world’s strongest man. I don’t bother trying to work through it because the stuff I write when attempting to do so is usually pretty awful. For me personally it makes more sense to let it pass on its own. If it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work and there’s no point in forcing it.
JS:  How many have you written?
SN:  I’ve started and quit so many novels over the years that I couldn’t even begin to count them.
Counting the novels I’ve actually finished is a far easier task however – in fact, I can do it on one hand.
JS:  Can you tell us more about your journey?
SN:  It’s been a long one. I’m still pretty young, so hopefully there’s a lot left. Growing up my mother would often call me “old man Novak” because I tended to not do things other kids my age were doing.
There was also the fact that I couldn’t stand when those sticky candy-mouthed rascals would ride their bikes on our lawn!
I got married when I was twenty-one, found myself with a stepson only eight years my junior, and there’s a chance I’ll sort of, kind of, be a grandfather before my thirty-third birthday.
When you think about it, I’ve lived a fairly accelerated life. If things continue on this way, maybe there isn’t much of a journey left. Maybe I’ll be sitting in an old folks home by the time I reach forty and pooping my diapers again by forty-five.
It’s been a heck of a ride though, and I wouldn’t change a single moment.

JS:  DC comics or Marvel?

SN:  Ahh…there it is, the ultimate fan-boy question. I suppose it was only a matter of time before it reared its ugly head. You’re trying to expose my nerdiness, Souders – trying to see just how high I rank on the nerd scale.
You’re a tricky one. I’ve underestimated you. I shall not make this mistake again.
Honestly, I’ve always leaned toward Marvel and I think it has to do with the fact that despite the superheroes, and the villains, and the alien races, and the mega-battles between superheroes, villains and alien races – Marvel always felt more like it existed in the real word. The DC universe is closer to pure fantasy for me, and I’ve never found pure fantasy quite as interesting. I like my characters grounded in something I can relate to.
JS: Superman or Batman?
SN:  Rorschach.
(JS:  Nice choice!  I have to admit that, that’s one of my favorites too, though he is a little…scary?  J)
JS: If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
SN:  You’ve succeeded marvelously.
Ask the person sitting to your right for a high five.
JS:  Is there anything else you’d like to say?
SN:  Please buy my book. I really need you to buy my book. I promise you’ll like it. Please? Come on, I’ll be your best friend.

Does that sound too needy?
Maybe so.
Seriously though, I would like to thank my publisher, “Canonbridge” for seeing something in the novel that no one else did. I have a stack of rejection letters so high I could probably form them into a crude paper mache table with a matching set of chairs that I could then use to type another novel on.
I also want to thank all the people that I’ve met over the years while blogging and whatnot. The encouragement and friendship has meant a lot – more than they’ll ever know, and certainly more than I’m willing to say out loud for fear one of them will sarcastically respond by telling me to “go home and put on a tutu.”
Despite the dinosaurs, and the swords, and the epic battles on far away lands, there’s an awful lot of myself sprawled across the pages of this series of books. I’ve always been a glass is half-empty sort of guy and a notoriously hard critic of my own work, but I’m fairly proud of what I’ve done here.
Believe me, if it were garbage I’d be the first to point out. I would honestly feel like kind of a jerk for trying to pawn it off to you.

 Thank you for joining us today, Steven and please let us know when Forts is available, so we may buy it.  And for the record, I fully expect my copy autographed. 

7 Responses to “Author Interview: Steven Novak”

  1. in the deep end of the pool says:

    >it's cool when you arrive at your destination when you were sure you were going the wrong way.

  2. MJ Heiser says:

    >Yeah, yeah, Novak is cool and our brains are wired similarly. I already knew that.

    Thanks, Jess, for filling in the bits I wasn't sure about.

  3. Queen of Cups says:

    >I've been following Steve since the MySpace days, and I'm definitely looking forward to checking out the book.

  4. lynnrush says:

    >Fantastic interview!

  5. Steve Novak says:

    >@ Meek – It' generally referred to as dumb luck.

    @ Heiser – Cool? Did you read something other than the above interview? 😉

    @ Jules – That's far too long to have spent paying attention to me. 😉

    Also, I'm anxious to hear what you think of the book! Hope it doesn't disappoint!

    @ Jess – "Strangers on a Train" is easily one of Hitchcock's best. I would throw the often forgotten "Shadow of a Doubt" on that list as well.

  6. Liz Czukas says:

    >Novak, your depths remain unplumbed…and you can take that anyway you want.

    Great interview. Fun to see two nerds duking it out over things I know nothing about…(my nerd sphere of influence does not include comics.)

    – Liz

  7. RockDog says:

    >Another fine interview…Steve, you were alright too. 😉

    Cheers!