Bar Scars by Nik Korpon

When I think back to when and where my writing career really started, about five years ago, one of the first names that pops into my head is Nik Korpon. He was there when I discovered what neo-noir was all about, and he’s been a brother-in-arms ever since. With the release of Bar Scars (Snubnose Press) he puts together a compelling collection of neo-noir fiction that is always entertaining, thought provoking, and unexpected. Since we both have collections coming out with Snubnose this month, I’m going to talk about Bar Scars, and he’s going to talk about my collection, Herniated Roots, over at his blog. So check out both posts, it’ll definitely be worth your time.

“This Will All End Well”
SYNOPSIS: A man walks in on his girl with another guy. Or does he?
COMMENTS: With a title like “This Will All End Well,” you know it can only be the opposite. What Nik does so well here is set you up, again and again. First, it’s the cheating wife, the politician tossing money on the floor, begging for forgiveness, caught in the act. Then, it’s the fact that she hasn’t been cheating at all, this is all a set up, they’re in on this caper together. But there’s more here. And that’s what I love about Nik’s work, it just goes deeper. Adding in his usual lyrical voice and ability to turn a phrase, set the stage, and you have a great opening story to his collection.

“A Sparrow With White Scars”
SYNOPSIS: A man in a bar has an ongoing relationship with a young girl.
COMMENTS: Tension is another thing that Nik does really well. I was nervous throughout this whole story. An underage girl, a man who is spending time with her when he shouldn’t, love that knows no rules. The violence fans out in every direction, and in the end, it’s a brutal story, one that cause you to shift loyalties several times.
QUOTE: “Darla straddled a stool, listening to a man in a white polyester suit tell a joke. He looked like a Messiah Elvis. Her pockets peeked below the frayed edge of her jean shorts, a bikini strap caressing her neck underneath a tank top the color of a fresh bruise. She threw her head back when she laughed, tender breasts rocking, slender throat pale and exposed and I could taste the salt on her neck, smell the hot sweat on her thighs. When the troll turned to order drinks for them, she glanced over to me, licked her teeth and winked. My stomach filled with moths and metal shards.”

“Intersections”
SYNOPSIS: A man prepares to propose to his girl, but an accident ruins everything.
COMMENTS: Of course the title gives you the first clue, “Intersections.” This story moves along at nice clip—we see the seedy underbelly of Baltimore, a guy trying to get out from under a rock, no more working for Mr. Harry. And in one evening things take a dark turn. I thought I knew where this one was going, too, and the tension, that beautiful moment when you get a shock through your system, muttering to yourself, “No, no…it can’t be.” And then you think, he’s going to get away with it, it’s okay, you realize there is a tape, and there is proof now, and everything spins out of control. Nik is very adept at creating these situations, things get bad, and then they get worse, and then there’s no way out.

“That Pale Light in the West”
SYNOPSIS: A confrontation in a bar does not go well.
COMMENTS: In a very short period of time, two pages here, we get the whole story. It doesn’t feel like a set-up from the beginning, but at some point you know it’s going to go wrong. The last line is heavy. It’s nice to know that psychopaths have rules.

“Alex and the Music Box”
SYNOPSIS: A man sneaks into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment to get something turns out bad.
COMMENTS: The tension of not only sneaking back into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment but then her coming home with a guy? Man, that’s tough. Poetic at times this story, like much of Nik’s work, has layers, and we keep getting into it deeper and deeper until there’s no way out. I like that he leaves it open, the ending. We’re left with that anxiety of what to do.
QUOTE: “I lay listening to breath drift from my mouth for minutes or hours. Rub my palms over my cheeks. I blow on her hand, and when she doesn’t move, I slide around it and stand. Naked, sweaty and flushed, she’s sprawled over her bed like a gunshot victim. Red phantom fingers wrap around her neck. I want to lay my hands on them, pretend they’re mine again. No smell of latex and I hope she doesn’t regret this tomorrow. I kneel beside her, penitent.”

“She Sleeps Beneath Clouds of Embers”
SYNOPSIS: Foggy memories and a strange hotel room lead to some very strange moments.
COMMENTS: “This is one of Nik’s more atmospheric pieces, and really, doesn’t a foggy memory, bruises and a dildo always lead to trouble? There is a sadness that permeates this story, the last line echoing desperation and loss. And somehow in the midst of this Baer inspired madness he made me laugh twice.”

“Haymaker”
SYNOPSIS: A fighter runs into a bit of bad luck.
COMMENTS: “This one kind of breaks my heart. I hate it when the good guy gets screwed over by a crooked cop, some palooka trying to work his way out of the gutter with his fists, or some straight blue collar job, but the man keeps pushing him down. The ending just makes me sad.”

“His Footsteps are Made of Soot”
SYNOPSIS: When his mother’s memories and bruised love can’t be ignored any longer, our protagonist opts for a risky surgery.
COMMENTS: “This might be the best story in the collection. It’s the back and forth between the basement surgeries he assists and the broken body and mind (and heart) of his mother that really pulls you in. The final scene, and the final words (or lack thereof) are so powerful, they just echo out into the silence. Classic Korpon.”
EXCERPT #1: “Sometimes things happen in home surgery, and it’s easier to be objective when the body doesn’t have a name, an address, a way
they take their coffee. Everything’s easier when history is malleable.”
EXCERPT #2: “I just nod and lay down, close my eyes. A muted rainbow of dots float across the flesh inside my eyelids. I focus, try to rearrange them into a halftone print of a family portrait with only two people. Inhale. The smell of damp smoke floods my nostrils, and Marcel gave up cigarettes years ago when his wife died of cancer. Exhale. The sound of game-show audiences drowns out scratchy country guitars. Inhale. A fist of cheap cologne, vodka and the burnt baby laxative used to cut dope crushes my nose. Exhale. A whiff of ash, of baby powder, of Mom’s shampoo from when I was younger that always reminded me of cut grass. Inhale. Nitrous oxide and Marcel’s liquid voice telling me to count to ten. Somewhere beyond my ears, past bloody eyelids and clenched fists and bruised legs and pipe-burnt chests, Hank Williams drags his voice over broken glass in the darkness.”

“Glass Bubbles”
SYNOPSIS: Hanging out in a local bar you can only get yourself in trouble.
COMMENTS: “This story touches on those lost moments, things you can’t get back, better days. I love the way he doesn’t tell this story in chronological order, it makes it much more powerful.”

This is a great collection of Nik’s work. Chuck Palahniuk said something like “Teach me something, make me laugh, and then break my heart.” And that’s what Nik does. Whether it’s educating me about Baltimore or basement surgeries, boxing or drug dealing, his stories always resonate with authority. He also has a way of turning a phrase, juxtaposing words in a way that is totally unique, his own language. And he also creates plots that aren’t what you expect, layers and turns that keep you guessing. He’s one of my favorite neo-noir authors going, and if you haven’t read his work before, this is a great place to start.

Also, keep an eye out for a future project we’re doing together entitled Four Corners, a series of four novellas that Nik and I, along with Caleb J. Ross and Axel Taiari have written and are currently shopping. It’s some of his best work to date, I think. You can find more of his work on Amazon, of course. I suggest Stay God as well as By the Nails of the Warpriest.

READ HIS COMMENTS ON MY COLLECTION, HERNIATED ROOTS, HERE.

Podcasts – An Update of My Recorded Work

If you’re not absolutely sick of hearing my voice, here’s some stuff to consider—podcasts! With so much going on these days, I thought I’d post up some of my podcasts that I’ve done over the last couple of years. Two places that you should for sure keep on your lists, and subscribe to if possible (iTunes, etc.) are the Velvet Podcast series and the Booked Podcasts,who are currently running a series on the Warmed and Bound authors. Lots of great information and entertainment at both of these sites, so be sure to bookmark, get your RSS Feed on, whatever.

1. Episode 16: Great Writers Edit. Bad Writers Discuss Editing on a Podcast.

I join authors Caleb J. Ross (Stranger Will), Gordon Highland (Major Inversions) and Gavin Pate (The Way to Get Here). Nobody enjoys editing, but we all go at it differently.
Don’t mind the tornadoes in the background. I was hiding in the basement for a bit, if you notice me dropping off the recording for awhile.

VELVET PODCAST 016

2. Richard Thomas Booked Podcast Inverview

I join Livius Nedin and Robb Ols0n over at Booked Podcast to talk about Warmed and Bound, and a lot of other stuff: my novel Transubstantiate,
The Cult, Speedloader and my reviewing at The Nervous Breakdown. Great time.

BOOKED PODCAST SESSION 023

3. Episode 008: Don’t Pull My Hair Unless You Mean It

I join writers Nik Korpon (Stay God), Pela Via (Warmed and Bound) and Nic Young to grind out the topic of sex and violence in fiction
and their complex relationship to sadistic bedfellows, love and shock.

VELVET PODCAST 008

4. AWP Live Reading at Leela’s (Denver, Colorado)

Live reading from my novel Transubstantiate.

DENVER READING

5. BOOKS AND BOOZE

Questions and answers. You know the drill.

Stay God, the debut neo-noir thriller by Nik Korpon IS OUT RIGHT NOW!

“Someone stabbed the sun. It’s dripping onto Baltimore, seeping through gauze clouds onto the cobblestone street, reflecting off wet tire tracks in pinpoint sparks like the ones that follow a two-by-four across the nose. It’s dimming, dying, falling in slow motion, but the city is oblivious. Couples in matching jackets and complementary scarves walk arm-in-arm down Thames and through Fell’s Point. They push strollers with babies double-wrapped in winter coats. Share hot chocolate and kiss the dot of whipped cream off their noses. Window-shop the poster place next-door, looking for the perfect thing for the TV room. Happy lives, happily self-contained in their happy little oblivious universes.”

I’ve known of this book for years, been reading it in our Write Club workshop, and was thrilled when it landed with me at Otherworld Publications. Nik is one of my neo-noir brothers, a guy that doesn’t mind laying on the mood, the setting, injecting the emotions, slapping you in the face with the harsh Baltimore weather, every grimy cobblestone on top of every chipped brick until you are immersed, a part of it all, trying to keep up, trying to find a way out, holding your breath as you turn the page.

Stay God is a neo-noir thriller, one that isn’t afraid to go dark. But it’s not one note. He puts your through the wringer, making you laugh, become friends with this cast of miscreants, understand their love, and then shatter it all in the blink of an eye.

Chuck Palahniuk said something like “Teach me something, make laugh, and then break my heart.” Nik Korpon does this and more. It is a book I really enjoyed reading, from start to finish.

Pick it up at Amazon or Otherworld Publications, and spread the word. This is Nik’s debut, not long after my debut, and part of the pantheon of excellent work that OWP is putting out. Keep an eye out for Caleb Ross, Brandon Tietz, and Michael Sonbert in 2011 on our label as well. More compelling fiction that isn’t afraid to punch you in the gut and walk away.