Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Deckfight interviews Nic Brown, author of Floodmarkers

Maybe a hurricane day is the perfect day. No rules and all desperation. With Floodmarkers, Nic Brown takes on Hurricane Hugo in 1989 as it hits a small fictional town in North Carolina. Brown moves the vantage point between several sets of characters, each embroiled in their own crazy life.

A former touring drummer with acts like Matt Pond PA, Ben Lee and Longwave, Nic is a graduate of Columbia and the Iowa Writer's Workshop and is currently a communications director for a museum in Chapel Hill, NC. His book release party is at The Cave in Chapel Hill on July 3 with the bands Snuzz and Andy Ware.

Nic was kind enough to volley a few questions back and forth over email. Floodmarkers is out this July on Counterpoint Press.

Deckfight: Talk a little about your experience with Hurricane Hugo. Were you near the storm or have any memories of it? Why did this event in that time period (late 80s) have resonance for you? Why did the event lend itself to this set of stories?

Nic Brown: When Hugo came through, I was 12 years old and living in Greensboro. I got the day off school and was thrilled. I wanted the storm to nail us, basically just so something exciting would happen. Whenever I see a storm forecast, I still feel this perverse desire. I don't know how to explain it exactly, but I think it's something a lot of us feel. That's presumption on my part, but I'm going with it. Of course, I should be glad Hugo basically missed us, since it devastated Charlotte and Charleston, but at the time, I just wanted something exciting to happen that would mix things up. As it was, even though the storm didn't destroy Greensboro, it was still exciting. I got out of school and jumped on a trampoline in the rain - which was weird and sort of magical and memorable. And that's what this book is about in many ways, the storm - even though it doesn't hit Lystra full force - changes these characters' daily routines just enough so that there's room for something singular to occur.

As for the 80s, it is less the decade than the time in my life that makes the moment special. Like I said, I was 12, and everything was important and mystical and heavy. If I was 20 now, I guess I'd feel the same about 90's. Weird.

Going into the book, I didn't know how it was going to be structured, thinking it would follow a 'typical' story arc through a few characters. With that said, were there any characters that you were tempted to follow longer? Or create more stories for? Also, what was advantageous with creating these circumstances for these characters but then leaving them behind?

Because all the events take place on one day, I limited any chance to follow these characters into much longer narratives. I also wanted each chapter to stand on its own as a single story, so that – if you wanted – you could open the book at any chapter and read it and have a satisfying experience. I don’t know if this structure is advantageous, per se, but structural limitations (temporal or formal) are always invigorating. That said, I drafted many stories about these characters that didn’t make it to the final cut. However, my next book includes a major character based on Manny, who appears in the Floodmarkers' story "Trampoline." He is basically the most uninhibited human I can imagine, and that's a fun person to write about.

The different profiles of different classes and ages of people was great--and seems like a deliberative effort. Why was it important to you to show a variety of people in these circumstances?

Diversity of class and race is a matter of fact, especially in the south. I wanted to approach the subject in my writing in a similarly matter-of-fact way, trying not to be too afraid of writing about people of different class, age, or race, interacting in difficult and touching ways. The more diverse the character base, I think the greater chance there is for dramatic depth. Young white guys riffing on each other can get old and shallow quick.

What were some of the advantages to working in the confines of a fictional town?

By setting the book in the North Carolina Piedmont, I created a space where the storm could affect daily life just enough to mix things up without creating total destruction. This way the book still explores variations on daily life, not just disaster. If it had been set on the coast, I think things would have quickly become more focused on the storm than the people.

As for creating a fictional town, it was simply a construction that allowed me to combine things that I wanted from both Greensboro (where I grew up) and Chapel Hill (where I now live) while not having to stay true to either.

There seems to be this peculiar relationship between the characters and their animals (Fletcher's cat, Evelyn and the dog, the transporting of the animal in the freezer). Why did you want to bring out these relationships in the middle of the storm? What's fascinating to you about people and pets?

I like that a pit bull can love you and bite a hole in your face in the same minute. Pets are natural beings with agency who demand and give love, much like humans. But they’re not bound by the moral restraints of humans, so can act out in much more unpredictable ways. This combination of humanistic compassion and pure animal volatility opens up the dramatic landscape in a way that I enjoy.

Were any of the stories inspired by real events to you and your friends?

Yeah, I base most of stories on anecdotes of my friends. My friend Jeff worked in the graveyard shift in a hot dog factory, and I took notes on some of his stories to write Libertee Meats. My friends in Kingston NY told me about a tanning salon there that had after-hours parties, and I used that to inspire Dice. My wife went to a Christmas party once where a man said, "Y'all want to see my dead dog?", then proceeded to open his freezer and show them a frozen mastiff, along with other pets - this was the idea for "Thawing." Those are just a few examples from this book. I scavage where I can.

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