Welcome back to Literary Mary Chats, a series of interviews with authors.
This month, I’d like to introduce you to Nik Markevicius
(sounds like more cabbages, 🙂 )
Nik V. Markevicius is a half-crazy wordslinger who lives and breathes all those weird little what-ifs most people dismiss out of hand. He is the author of 8 novels and counting, plus the all-new collection Thong-Sized Stories. Not only does he hear the little voices in his head, he argues with them.
Nik’s work is available in print and digital formats. Free samples, rants, raves, and the stories behind his stories can be found at his website, http://theimaginaryplayground.com.
Nik, our paths have crossed many times in various ways over the past fifteen years, beginning with your talented arty (not then) wife, Margie, in the infamous paper-making class at NIU, and also through the Waterline Writers, their Art in Your Eye spawned my Word of Art. I notice you are active in several writing groups…
1. What are some of the requirements, expectations, and benefits of being in a writer’s group?
First, I think it’s nifty how art and technology have kept the two of us in communication! We’re of the same “tribe,” and that sense of community is perhaps the greatest benefit a writer receives from attending writers’ groups and/or events. My group, Fox Valley Writers in North Aurora, focuses on two things: fostering that sense of community, and getting some writing out on to the page. I make it a point that we support and nurture each other, rather than compete or judge, because at the core of it, being a writer isn’t about measuring your skills against others. It’s about telling your stories, your way, to the best of your ability. If your tribe isn’t helping you do that, none of the down-the-road goals such as publishing or submitting to agents/editors matter, because you’ll be too focused on matching or one-upping the gal in the seat next to you. My friends in FVW all have different goals for their work. Some are happy to simply explore their creativity on their own terms. Some want to branch out into new forms of writing. Others have an aim towards publishing. Most of us enjoy “talking shop” with each other, and that makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about how solitary creative writing often is. When you sit down with the laptop, the tablet, the notebook, whatever, it’s just you and your imagination. If you’re regular about your writing habits, that can lead to a sense of loneliness which pervades all aspects of your creative life. Getting out there and sharing your work and passion in a safe environment can combat that loneliness, which in turn leads to a heightened sense of confidence when you sit down to write. It’s circular.
Attending or participating in readings, workshops projects, or other literary events such as Word of Art, Waterline Writers, Elgin Literary Festival, Lit By the Bridge, and many others is another way to foster that sense of community. Let’s use Waterline as a quick example: at any of their events, you’ll be in a room with, at the bare minimum, the five authors reading from their work, plus all the authors in the audience, usually some visual artists checking out the show that’s held in the art gallery, and an minimum of fifty folks who are interested in hearing stories from local authors. They’re also there to connect, to feel that sense of community, to know (even if they don’t express it outright) that there are more folks out there spending their free time striving to make something physical from an idea, to connect with themselves and others through art. That’s empowering in a similar way to writing groups, only this has a broader scope…and if you’re feeling shy, you can just sit and enjoy the presentation and draw your inspiration from that. As for requirements, I like to keep it simple: be involved and be positive. If you want a group with more structure, or deadlines, or whatever, I’m sure those exist in the area, too. They’re just as valid; in short, it’s about what you need to feel a sense of community and belonging, and perhaps get challenged a little along the way so you can grow.
With 8 completed novels and a profusion of short stories, ideas do not seem to be a problem for you! Ideas may come easy, but hours are few and commitments are many.
2. How do you manage to juggle meetings, your day job, family time with your wife and two young sons, being a homeowner, a pet owner, and creative time?
It feels like juggling! If I had three wishes from a magic lamp, I’d ask for four more arms, two extra hours in the day, and a doppleganger who does all the menial things like toilet cleaning, grocery shopping, and so forth. Seriously, though, time is my greatest adversary. The thing is, much of what takes up my time falls into the category of, “I did this on purpose.” I chose to have two kids. I chose to buy a house and take on all that entails, rather than rent. I chose a houseful of pets. I chose to say yes when the former leader of my writing group nominated me to take over for him. I wasn’t conscripted, coerced, bullied, or guilt-tripped into anything; such isn’t in my nature.
What is in my nature is to follow though on my convictions. I’m not always perfect at it, as my wife knows, but to me, juggling commitments like these is part of the process. I’ve even integrated it into my creative process by developing a system of time management. It’s not glamorous, nor does it jive well with the classical image of the creative artist following the muse whenever and wherever, but keeping to a schedule and a system just plain works for me.
The most important component is setting and keeping a writing schedule. I’m at my creative best in the morning, so I rise at 4 A.M. and spend about two hours writing each morning before my older son wakes up or I need to get ready for my day job. That time is for writing only (save emergencies like malfunctioning furnaces or barfing kiddos) – no social media, no correspondence, no bill paying or other chores. That’s my guaranteed creative-time for the day, and I try to respect and take advantage of it every day. I’m more relaxed and less apt to be off in my own imaginary worlds when I’ve already spent time there earlier in the day.
I’m also more analytical about my process and projects than someone with less responsibilities. As much as I want to bounce around and explore multiple ideas as they occur, I’ll never finish anything if I allow myself that kind of wide-open freedom. Additionally, I’m working on drafting straight into the computer, rather than by hand as I’ve been doing. It’s an adjustment, but it saves me the time of typing up three or four hundred pages before getting into the nitty-gritty of revision. That’s the type of analytics I subject myself to: what can I do to make more creative time? Am I focused on what I perceive as my strongest project? What are my short- and long-term plans for writing? What’s next? What’s after that? How many days or weeks or months do I budget to a particular project? Again, not glamorous, but it works for me.
You are multi-published, independently and also in collections with your writer’s group(s).
3. How invested are you in the self-pub process–do your duties include formatting, editing, and marketing?
Let’s tackle each type separately. With Fox Valley Writers, everybody who submits to our books also takes on the role of editor. We read and critique each other at the draft stage, but as for final submissions, those fall in the purview of the individual author. I rarely edit content submitted, and when I do, it’s for obvious spelling, grammar, or other relatively minor issues. When it comes time to put the book together, I’m usually the person formatting everything into a “book,” since the relationship between Amazon and Word is a little quirky. It’s just easier at this point to do the formatting myself and avoid the pitfalls, although we’re working on an easy-to-use guide to that sort of thing. Marketing is an emerging interest for the group; we’ve recently run our first Facebook ads, and have translated page views into sales, so I think we don’t really suck at it.
For my own work, I do the editing (I know: duh! Right?). I’m lucky enough to be married to a graphic designer who helps me with making my books look pretty in ways I don’t see until after they’ve happened. Marketing is the same with the group – a new horizon for me. I’m finding it’s like a yard with a high fence. You want to know what’s back there barking at you, but when you finally clamber up on top of it, you see it’s a six-pound shih tzu who just wants to be your buddy. I’m planning on delving deeper this year.
4. You are a self-proclaimed “half-crazy word-slinger” and “weirdo”, how do you think that identity informs your writing and affects your reading audience?
If you’ve ever spent time in a structured writing program (or read the how-to books), you’ve surely come across the idea of, “finding your voice.” I thought I knew what that meant when I was in my early twenties, since I was the guy who started seriously writing at sixteen and by the time I paused to give much thought to voice, was already halfway through my fourth novel. I was very sure I knew who I was as a writer, what I wanted to write about, and how I got those interests. I was a Stephen King junkie, and had pretty much made up my mind that his kind of stories resonated with me, so I should try to do the same thing.
The funny thing with that kind of thinking is, it’s parasitic if you don’t move beyond it. Around age 25, I found myself writing a novel that sounded to my ear like a King knockoff. Moreover, I wasn’t having any fun with writing, which I rationalized is part of the job of being a genre writer. You write this kind of story you’re good at, work hard at it, and get it out in the world. Bing-bang-boom. Only…what was writing sucked. No way around it. I felt it in my heart like this black hole that sucked at my will to be disciplined and create to the best of my skills. I even stopped writing for a short while. It was one of the worst periods of my life.
Instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about what the hell I was doing and how I was doing it. I looked at story fragments I’d written, things I’d kept despite feeling they weren’t up to the horror-snuff I’d been aspiring to in the past. I didn’t understand why I kept those fragments until I was talking with my mother one evening about my struggles, and in the true fashion of inspiration, two disparate concepts smashed together in my mind when she said, “You always talk and joke about those weird things. Why don’t you try to write a story like that?”
Why not, indeed? As I examined my creative life, which I can trace back to elaborate scenarios I built with my toys in grade school like Transformers vs. Ninja Turtles, I realized that the stories I wrote or set up with toys or told to my friends and family all held the same note of weirdness. I can see now that I had a better affinity with the Muppets and absurd Nineties sketch comedies like In Living Color, but at the time I didn’t understand that I could write stories about things like that. I didn’t equate unique with weird, even thought it’s glaringly obvious now that my voice comes out when I’m exploring topics like coffee that gives you ESP, a dog’s pre-neutering party thrown by his ultra-macho owner, a topless pancake house in Vegas, and so on. These strange little what-ifs are mostly dismissed by the masses as one-chuckle jokes, but those same masses, if reminded of those jokes, won’t get tired of laughing at them.
I decided to see where the weird could take me on the page, and from one of those fragments I mentioned before, I began writing off-the-cuff a novel which would eventually gain the title Redheads & Bubblegum. It’s about aliens vs. proctologists, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s my joy and humor on the page. You can tell I had fun writing it. It’s really in my voice, you see.
Like I said, it’s not great, but it served as a renewal for me. I dove off the cliff into the sea of weirdness after that, and I don’t think I’ve finished a story in the last 14 years which in which I didn’t have that sense of the bizarre. It’s what I like, and I have to please myself first or the story’s never going to get anybody else’s attention.
5. I would count your literary successes as many! What’s up next for you and what are some long-term goals?
Thanks! Next up is a novel called Trollbooth, which marries fantasy mainstays to government bureaucracy. This guy Joe Keester is a career screw-up, and when his home state annexes the Enchanted Forest, he’s tapped to manage it so the bosses can get him way out of their way. It’s the first in a series I’ve been percolating for at least a decade.
Long-term, I want to quit my day job because I’m making money as a novelist. One of the things I miss from the early years writing is having hours and hours to work on my art, so getting back to that place – without destroying my family’s stability – sounds nice.
Thank you, Nik, for sharing your writing world!
Readers, I encourage you to check out the FoxTales publications, you can never go wrong with a collection of short stories and poetry. These collaborations are an author buffet! Sample sized stories for your reading palate. Book 7 in the series is expected early May, which gives you plenty of time to graze editions 1-6.