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Craig Nova: The Writing Life - Part 2

The Informer: Recent Press

By Craig Nova | March 22, 2010

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Philip Marchand, who writes the Open Book column for Canada’s National Post, reviewed The Informer this week. He writes:

If you want to construct a moody, noir thriller, you can hardly pick a better setting than Berlin in the year 1930. Violence, corruption, decadence, footfalls heard in the night on deserted city streets — it’s all there in The Informer, by veteran American novelist Craig Nova, a tale of sex, murder and politics in the last years of the Weimar Republic. His Berlin is a city where political parties have their own armies, and Socialists, Communists and Nazis battle on the street — as much for adrenalin release, on the part of the male participants, as for political principles.

Click to read Philip Marchand’s full review on the National Post website.

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The Informer: Now Available

By Craig Nova | March 16, 2010

Hailed by John Irving as “a dark but fantastic novel…” and called a “fine novel” that “smoothly combines crime and politics” by Publishers Weekly, Craig Nova’s 12th novel, The Informer, is available now. Set in 1930s Berlin, this taut literary thriller masterfully captures the menace and malice of pre-war Berlin through the eyes of characters dealing with forces far beyond their control.

Click the image below to read an excerpt, or buy the book on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or at your local bookstore.

Read more about The Informer on Craig’s website, including an author interview.

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Talking with Three Guys One Book

By Craig Nova | February 27, 2010

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jason Rice, one of the writers behind the excellent blog Three Guys One Book.  We talked about the writing life and also about my new novel, The Informer, which will be published on March 16th.

You can read the full interview and check out the other great content over at Three Guys One Book.

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Leaving Los Angeles

By Craig Nova | February 7, 2010

Tolstoy says someplace that the primary job of a writer is to explain the circumstances of his birth.   Or, at least, the circumstances of his youth.  This came to mind the other evening when I was having dinner and I mentioned that when I was sixteen or so I used to race Steve McQueen on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles.  Or maybe it is better to say that he let me follow him for awhile.  He was driving an AC Cobra, although I can’t recall the color of it now.   Perhaps white.  But I can remember the way it moved through the turns on Mulholland and how the valley spread away, in the distance, like some collection of broken glass.  I was behind him in a 1955 Chevrolet, which, to say the least, didn’t take the turns the same way an AC Cobra did.   McQueen, though, seemed like a nice guy, and he could see that if he let me hang around this way, I’d probably get killed trying to keep up with him.  He put his hand into the air, glanced at me in his rearview mirror, waved, and then simply vanished.

The fact that this seemed to amaze the woman at dinner proved one of my pet theories, which is that children think that the circumstance of their own lives are perfectly normal, and that the rest of the world is just like the one that they experience, and, in fact, growing up is the realization of just how false this belief is: the rest of the world is so different from the circumstances of Hollywood, California, or many other places, for that matter, as to give me the sense of the infinite.

And yet I did grow up there and I used to play at the base of the Hollywood Sign, which in those days was made out of corrugates sheets of tin, or something like tin, the kind of thing that is used to make roofs for shacks in border towns like Nogales.   I used to climb up on the back of it, or some of the way up, but it seemed pretty rickety.  Covered with rust and rundown.  The entire thing, to me and the friends who came with me, seemed tawdry.  Just like playing on any billboard.

I went to Hollywood High, which, in hindsight was more unusual than it seemed to me that the time.  The parents of many of the kids I went to school with worked at the studios, not always as directors and the like, but also as carpenters, costume seamstresses, electricians, camera operators, and a thousand other jobs that had to do with the fact that the studios were factories.  Of course, the sons and daughters of directors went to school there, although the directors were journeymen, and not particularly distinguished.  And child actors went to school there, too, although not the really well known ones who attended something called Hollywood Professional, which was a dodge to get around the truancy laws.   Some of the Mouseketeers, for instance, went to Hollywood High, and there were young women who wanted to act.  Some of them even had some success, such as Terri Garr.   She was in my class, although I didn’t know her well, and she didn’t seem as glamorous as some of her friends.

The best part about this was the invisibility of fame.   No one, or at least I wasn’t impressed by it, since it was around us, and we were as indifferent to it as a kid in Cooney Island is indifferent to a hot dog.   Fame was what the town made, and everyone knew it, just as we knew, since we saw some of the people who had been promoted, that the people who appeared in the news and on TV or in the movies had very little to do with what they really were.   This is a good lesson to know early, and one that has served me well.

Of course, like many novelists, I left home early and moved in with the family of a friend of mine.  This friend’s father was a screen writer, although in “the east”, or “back east,” as we used to say, he had been a novelist.   I sat in his office from time to time when he pitched an idea to one of the studios, and he demonstrated to me that one of the great skills a successful screen writer needs is the ability to think on his or her feet, and to be able to come up with stories or complications on the spur of the moment.   Still, this man had gone through one career as a novelist, which had come to an end when he went to Hollywood, and then he had gone through a second career as a screen writer, which was coming to an end when I knew him.   He was having a harder time getting his scripts produced, and had slowly worked his way down to the bottom of day time TV.  When I think back on this, on his struggles at the end, it reminds me of the rust on the Hollywood Sign.

He had loved writing novels.   He had taken time to teach me things about writing them, and he had done so with patience and affection.  He didn’t sneer at my adolescent theories, which, I now realize were so wrong as to be an exact algorithm of what not to do.   It was his sense of loss that lingers and is associated with Hollywood and with Hollywood High, too.   When I was leaving Los Angeles, to come to New York to see if I could write and publish a novel, this man took me aside.   We stood on the lawn in front of his house.   It had a view of the Valley and the Universal back lot, which in those days was more factory like than the theme park it is these days.   The glass in those cheap housing developments in the valley glittered, so filled with false promise.   The screen writer looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Whatever you do, don’t come back here.”  Then he turned and went into his house.

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Craig Nova Reads “Flying with Jack”

By Craig Nova | December 1, 2009

On November 19th, 2009, Craig Nova read his non-fiction piece, titled Flying with Jack, at the Weatherspoon Museum on Spring Garden Street in Greensboro, NC. His reading was part of Will Read For Food, an annual benefit for Greensboro charities. The event was sponsored by the MFA Writing Program at UNC Greensboro.

Click to listen to Craig Nova reading Flying with Jack (mp3)

– Via StorySouth

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The Silent Telegraph

By Craig Nova | November 24, 2009

13 Romano-Byzantine

One aspect of the writing life that I haven’t seen mentioned before is what I call the Silent Telegraph. It may be odd to think of silence as a method of communication, but where writers are concerned, it is one of the basic facts of life.

By the Silent Telegraph I mean a disruption in the usual cadence, if that’s the right word, that a writer has with an editor, an agent, a publisher, someone in the movie business, or anyone else that a writer deals with on a more or less constant basis.   The Telegraph comes on slowly, and for awhile you aren’t even aware that it is running, or sending its message.  A first, when the phone stops ringing, or more recently, when the in box of your email program becomes conspicuous by what is not there, you begin to feel the first sensation: it isn’t that you are worried, not yet, just mildly aware that for some reason or other you aren’t hearing anything.

And, of course, this is more prominent when some particular negotiation is in progress, a new book deal, for instance, or maybe a movie option, or an assignment for a magazine.   Still, as time goes by, and the silence grows, you begin to break the lack of noise into the varieties of silence.   Or, maybe it is better to say that you begin to wonder just how serious the silence is, or what it means.

Continue reading The Silent Telegraph…

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Out Takes

By Craig Nova | October 29, 2009












A writer will often cut a lot out of a book before it is published and will then keep these pieces of fiction, these out takes, around for one reason or another.   Mostly, I think a writer does this because it’s just too hard to throw away what you’ve put so much work into.

Anyway, when I was writing a book called Trombone, I had included a three hundred page section, in the middle, about one of the characters, Ray, who makes a trip to South America.

I always was intrigued by one chapter of this out take, which is a description of an airplane crash in a jungle, and so I thought I would include the chapter here.

The characters are Ray, a young man who wants to prove himself, Wofsey and Schlage, two men of dubious history and desires, and Hawkins, a pilot who has brought his DeHaviland float plane to South America to make some money.

Here’s the crash (or download as a PDF):

Hawkins started the engine of the DeHaviland when the bells were tolling for Uncle Goat’s funeral.  Ray sat on the back seat with Wofsey, and Schlage was in front, on the right hand side.  Each of them had brought a small overnight bag, all of which were under the seats along with the shotguns, which they had bought the night before.  Continue reading Out Takes…

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The Freedom To Speak

By Craig Nova | October 12, 2009

Picture 2

The defense of unpopular and even offensive speech is a difficult task. This is so because people who defend such speech are accused of agreeing with offensive statements and stupid ideas, when, in fact, they are doing nothing of the sort.

The defense of free speech is never about the substance of what is said. Rather, it is about the right to say it. In the imprecision and fury of modern political debate, these two items, substance and rights, are often and willfully confused. Once the discussion of free speech becomes an argument about what has been said, it is no longer a defense of the right to speak freely but a sort of upside down censorship, since if you have to defend the substance of hateful remarks, you have long since abandoned the right to say them.

I’d like to think that the value to speak freely is obvious, but in the current age, when so much of the political debate is about symbols rather than substance, freedom of speech needs to be invoked not only as a traditional and obvious good, but a practical one, too. For instance, in the Soviet era, writers were required to produce what is known as socialist realism, that is their work was supposed to enhance the glories of the communist state. Other notions were thoroughly if not violently suppressed (just think, for an instant, of the Gulag).

Writers do many things, but one of them is to act as the eyes of a society, and when they are forbidden to say what they see and what they feel, the society in which they live flies blind. Under these circumstances, it is only a matter of time until that mountain, concealed in the dark, gives the passengers in the plane a very nasty surprise. The collapse of the Soviet Union is Exhibit A in this example.

Or, as Ortega Y Gasset once said, “Reality has its own structure.”

You can’t change it by telling people they can’t mention it. And, it doesn’t do anyone any good if people are forbidden to try to describe it, even when they are patently wrong. In the fury of the moment, accuracy may seem inflammatory, and if the recent past is any indication, the possibility of confusing what is true with what is simply disliked is pretty good. The only solution is to let everyone speak.

And then there is another practical effect of the suppression of speech. Most writers will tell you, if they are honest, that when they sit down to write, they are exceedingly careful about what they say. For instance, a novelist will think twice about the gender and race of his characters, and if, for instance, he has the impulse to describe a character who is a member of group that has been the object of discrimination, and this character is in some ways flawed, the novelist knows he will be suspected of ugly thoughts and dubious motives. It may be, however, that his experience has been that a particular member of a group, someone he was close to, behaved in an unseemly way, and since this is the source of inspiration, he will want to use it. But the voice there in the isolation of the room where he works will say, “Are you sure you want to say that? Just think of the trouble you are letting yourself in for.”

The chilling effect of this is obvious. Orwell once observed that there was no good Soviet literature after the revolution because no one felt free to write what he really thought. This chilling effect simply makes the ability to write a good book dry up.

And, of course, the greatest danger of all is that people feel that, in the face of stupid remarks or hateful speech, they are “doing something” and that they are “taking action,” when they try to get someone fired after having said something hateful, but, in fact, repression of ideas you don’t like is not an expression of the beauty of your beliefs, but ugliness disguised as indignation. Ugliness, of course, is action separated from principle. If you believe that freedom of speech only applies to the ideas that you like, you are setting your self up for a nasty surprise. If you abandon the principle that people should be able to speak, even stupidly, one day you may find that the political landscape has changed, and that, after having abandoned the principle of the right to speak, you won’t have it to defend yourself when sometimes tries to silence what you have to say. And so, as a practical matter, freedom of speech is the most self serving of all political rights.

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Ten or Eleven Things I Know About Writing

By Craig Nova | October 5, 2009

16 Arabian

Number 1

The first thing I’ve learned is that fiction is comprised of a series of elements, that is structure, point of view, character, language, vision, story, and the like. And that each one of these things can be a tool, that is if you are having trouble with a story, it is a good idea to take one of these elements, say point of view, and change it. The way this seems to work is that by making the change it is possible to discover something about the story or characters that you didn’t know before. The change isn’t just a way of trying to get a story to work, but a way of discovering things.

This came about from reading an essay by F. R. Leavis. He says, more or less, that when someone changes the form of a story, from, say, drama to poetry, the author will learn something that was unknown. It seemed to me that if this worked for changing from one form to another, why then it would probably work when you changed one element, that is, point of view or structure and the like.

For instance, let’s say you are writing a story about a man and a woman who are having breakfast. They are also breaking up. But it doesn’t work. So, the first thing would be to change the point of view. If it’s told from the woman’s point of view, change it to the man’s. If that doesn’t work, change it to the point of view of a neighbor who is listening through the wall of the next door apartment and if that doesn’t work, have him tell the story to his girl friend. Or, maybe tell it from the point of view of a burglar who has broken into the apartment where the man and woman are having an argument, and who is hiding in a closet and listening to them.

Anyway, the idea here is to say that each element of fiction, character, structure, language etc isn’t so much just a word, or a critical notion, but a tool. Almost every aspect of writing a piece of fiction is adjustable, and it is this possibility that makes for really good writing. Continue reading Ten or Eleven Things I Know About Writing…

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The Open Mind

By Craig Nova | September 29, 2009


I’ve noticed a change in the way we perceive media. A few years ago, media was outside of ourselves, and we noticed it at a distance. We went to the movies and the action, the story, the gestures of the stars took place on a screen. Advertisements existed only in the magazines or on billboards.  But in the last few years this has changed.  We seem to experience media not at a distance, but inside our head.  The screen where the media plays is not at the drive in, but right between our ears.

Technology is one of the items that is driving this.    The computer makes all of our interactions with images, sounds, news, text much more immediate, much closer to where we think.     And, where music is concerned, we can now download what we want and then play what we want through new ear phones that makes us feel that we are inside the music, or, more to the point, the music is inside us.

This is true, too, for other downloads, such as Podcasts.  The voices have moved inside.

I think, too, that the scale of the computer monitor contributes to this increased intimacy with images and sounds.  It is small compared to a movie screen and we have some limited control over it, and the sense of flicking from one thing to another, from one image or one sound to another has an interior quality that is a lot like thinking.

In fact, this movement from the outside to the inside is a lot like one that took place thousands of years ago in religion.   The gods, who previously had existed in the natural world or on a specific site, like Mount Olympus, moved inside the human mind.   It was no longer a matter of Zeus taking his revenge (with earthquakes or floods) but the interior whisper of the snake, of the private tempter, that was causing us such grief.

And, in the modern age, what are the implications of this migration of media?

First, it is far more easy to believe in the illusions we see and hear, just as the modern media, with its appeal to rank emotionalism, makes us more willing to feel it as being genuine.  After all, we experience it from the heart of our existence.

The sad part is this: in the endless quest for the authentic, which youth is particularly mesmerized by, the interior media works with more power than ever before.   I’d like to point out that almost everything that appeals to youth and that makes a young man or woman feel authentic, is a money making operation, and while it seems that fashion, music, nose rings, tattoos and a million other things that make people feel unique are somehow personal, they spring from the oldest impulse of all.  The desire to make money.   And the people who are making money, or using media to make money, are not our friends.  Not by a long shot.

Frankly, I’d like to move the media back about a hundred yards: about to the distance of a drive in movie screen.   At least from that perspective we can distinguish between the observer and the thing being seen.  Right now they are almost the same.

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