Today I have the pleasure of presenting an interview with Lane Kareska, the author of the recently released North Dark. I’ve worked closely with Lane on this project for Sirens Call Publications and am thrilled to see it come into fruition. So let’s take a moment and introduce you all to him…
Lane was born in Houston, studied writing at Columbia College Chicago and his MFA is from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he was awarded a Fellowship to live and write in Ireland. He traveled Europe and South America to research his graduate thesis. Lane teaches creative writing and work in technology and new media. His fiction has shown up in Berkeley Fiction Review, Sheepshead Review, Flashquake and elsewhere.
Lane is deeply addicted to comic books, thrillers in all forms, and the most lethal Chicago cuisine.
Welcome Lane. Tell us about your writing process?
My writing process is basically writing a painfully appalling first draft, and then trusting that through the next hundred or so drafts, the true story will emerge.
It really is an iterative process. I’m not sure how many “drafts” North Dark went through but I know the number was crazy high. I basically locked myself away, put my head down, and hacked away at it for a winter. Writing is one thing, but rewriting is where the knives come out. A high draft volume is critical. My feeling is that anyone who has ever produced a perfect first draft is probably either divine or a liar.
Is there a genre, other than the one you currently write in, that you wish you could break into?
The majority of my favorite books are actually spy novels; however, it’s not necessarily the spying that engages me. More often than not, what grabs me in spy novels is a combination of the travel, the propulsive motion of the plot, and the sex and action.
My graduate thesis was a spy novel and I’m actively researching and working in that genre. North Dark is not, in any real sense, a spy novel. However, there is common blood: the rogue protagonist, the driving momentum, the swift and concussive nature of the violence, and maybe even the dry gray moral center. But I dunno. When I think of North Dark and its genre, the conclusion I always come to is Dark Fantasy—which is to say people get hurt with bladed weapons.
What are the 5 books that have influenced you the most, and why?
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuinn is a phenomenal novel that can be read at almost any age. That’s a book I’ll always have on my shelf and I expect to learn something different from it every time I return to it. In addition to being a deeply instructional fantasy text, it’s also an exceedingly proficient hero’s journey. It’s one of those books that could be stripped of all the cool stuff—the dragons, the invented history, the naming systems—and you’d still have an exact and perfect template of a hero’s journey, because of that, it is a book that would speak to almost anyone, from anywhere, from anytime.
Doctor No by Ian Fleming was the fifth book featuring the character James Bond and it’s also probably the most outlandish. Bond fights a man-eating squid at the end. This novel in particular is probably the best example of the difference between Spy Fiction and what’s called Spy-Fi. Bourne would be Spy Fiction, Our Man Flint would be Spy Fi. Doctor No is rife with absurd action, exotic locales, barely clothed women, it’s an utter blast. Pure fun.
Dune by Frank Herbert was a book I had to force myself to read, but I was very glad I did. It’s similar to A Wizard of Earthsea in some respects, but a key difference is that Herbert is never content to suggest or imply anything in his world-building. He follows every line of thought, every stream of invention and explores thoroughly the universe he has envisioned. My style is probably starker than that, veering toward minimal, however, Dune inspired me to try to explore the world of North Dark as comprehensively as a sociologist would a new culture. Very little of that content is in the text directly, but it’s encoded in the spirit of the book, it supports the narrative, and hopefully its presence is felt, and the world of North Dark is more persuasive for it.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck reads like a thriller, disguised as a parable, and it clocks in at, what, less than 200 pages? This is the book that I think of when I consider the term “novella.” If it were any longer—if it was overstuffed—the tension would probably just erode. But as it’s written, it’s swift, totally engaging, and in the end, fist-to-the-nose concussive.
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, this isn’t a book necessarily, but a comic book crossover event from the mid-1990s that just utterly blew my mind. It’s collected now in a series of trade paperbacks, I think over four volumes, and I can’t say if it still stands up, but when I read it as a kid, it was like I was discovering Star Wars for the first time. Age of Apocalypse reimagines the entire history of the Marvel Universe as an apocalyptic wasteland in which Charles Xavier never formed the X-Men. The results are unpleasant: Africa is an irradiated black hole, Manhattan is a devastated blight-kingdom, and all of the character motives and relationships are reshuffled in sometimes disturbing ways. That was my first introduction into Post-Apocalyptic fiction.
If you could cast one of your works, who would you choose to play your main characters?
The main character of North Dark is a young man named Two Crows who—and this is the truth—I think has more in common physically with Jack Skellington than any actor I can think of. He’s a wiry, resilient guy who takes more than a few beatings throughout the story and by the end he’s a vastly different Two Crows than the one we meet at the beginning. He takes some beatings, but he gives as good as he gets.
What is the first thing you would do if you woke up one morning to find one of your books on the NY Times Bestsellers List?
Check my bank account.
Do you have any vices that you turn to while you are writing?
I drink a lot of liquids, listen to a lot of music, I talk to myself. The act of writing is itself a little vice-like: it’s private, weird, best done at night, in the dark, alone.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
My favorite things in the world are reading, writing and traveling. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And also, for me, those activities are cooperative; they feed into one another. Reading and travel are symbiotic, and the more I do of either, the more I want to write.
And now here are the first 9 lines of North Dark:
Treesplitter sees that his sons neither hear nor understand him, so he waves his whipping torch and they all spread out to search the ice caves. His sons are capable, not useless. His gloved hand clenches the stalk of the torch as he enters the ribbed blue socket of a nameless tunnel he played in many times as a child and teenager. The windhowl shuts off as he passes into the low slung shaft. The light of his torch flaps on the icerimed ceiling and walls. Once he is far enough within to no longer feel the sharp scrape of wind on his face, he throws back his foxfur hood, searches the ground for footprints in the frost, and sees none. That does not mean he is in no danger. That does not mean the fugitive is not just ahead of him, hiding in the dark, blade drawn. Treesplitter grips his sharpest knife and advances quietly.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I’m inspired by place probably more than anything. When I was writing my graduate thesis, I got to travel Europe and those six months were at least as beneficial to me personally as any one year spent in the classroom.
Walking around a city—especially a new city—is about the most inspirational thing I can do. I’m lucky now because I live in a part of Chicago that’s really conducive to walking around. After work, I walk to my bar, walk to the library or a café to write, walk back home to write some more, take another walk to figure out whatever problem I’m having with the writing, then walk back home. Writing is pretty sedentary, so it’s good to move and get some blood in your brain. But the larger issue of inspiration is, for me, deeply associated with place. The setting of North Dark is a frozen wasteland, a horrific tundra in the grips of a second Iron Age, and that is very much reflective of the place where it was written: Northwest Indiana during a long, cold winter. It’s a landscape that pretty neatly mirrors the world of North Dark; shuttered industrial compounds, thick expanses of woods, waves frozen in heaps on the shoreline. A lot of that—I suppose all of that—was inspiration that made its way into the book.
Now let’s take a look at the book – North Dark…
Haunted by predators both physical and spectral, the musher’s journey takes him across a deadened tundra, tortured cities and the remains of civilizations long-lapsed into madness. All the while, his enemy slides in and out of striking distance, always one step ahead, always one act of violence away.
Should you decide you’d like to pick up a copy, they can be found here:
Thank you Lane for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’d like to connect with Lane, you can find him on Twitter.