AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK ANTOSCA

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The most common word I hear when discussing the writing of Nick Antosca is “sexy.” I agree because I met him once, three years ago, at a Mexican restaurant in LA where I admired his chest muscles and thought, “that guy does a lot of bench press.” But the adjective is misleading when applied to his writing – sure, he possesses a knack for writing intimate prose minus the cringe factor – but his stories are also intensely dark, wildly inventive, and masterfully crafted tales about relationships between all things with a beating heart (humans, aliens, rat beasts, dogs, amphibians). Saying his stories are “sexy” undercuts and distracts from the fact that he writes serious literary fiction.  

He’s also prolific on a wide scale. His work has appeared everywhere from Hustler to The Paris Review, and he’s currently working on a new NBC show with Alfonso Cuarón and JJ Abrams called Believe. The guy gets around.

I emailed Nick to discuss how he juggles his various projects, his new collection of short fiction The Girlfriend Game, and to find out if he has a sexy workout routine.

— Shane Jones

THE BELIEVER: How do you feel about people referring to your stories as “sexy”? Do you agree?

NICK ANTOSCA: I feel good about it, and I do agree. I’m glad people see some of the stories that way. I see where they’re coming from, although none of the stories are specifically intended to arouse. There is a gender divide on the short story “The Girlfriend Game” — women seem to consider it “sexy” but men usually find it uncomfortable. 

BLVR:Why do you think men find the title story uncomfortable and women don’t? Maybe it’s the change of power — the male narrator thinks he’s safe inside the game of role-playing with his girlfriend, letting other guys at the bar think she’ll go home with them, and then she flips it and actually leaves with someone. The “game” quickly becomes a humiliating reality for him where he can’t control it, but she can. 

NA: Yeah, I think that’s right. Before I wrote the story, I described the concept to a female friend and she said, “What’s she mad about? She has to be mad about something or she’s just a capricious unsympathetic bitch." And she was right. So in the story as written, the female character is justified and powerful, and women who enjoy the story seem to get where she’s coming from. An ex-girlfriend had read it before we started dating and liked it because "the girl has all the power,” which in retrospect seems meaningful.

I just found an email a male friend sent me after reading the story — he wrote, “it made me very, very anxious considering my recent history,” which I guess meant he’d been cheated on. Yeah, most guys don’t like to think about going to a bar with a girlfriend and watching her leave with someone else.

BLVR: I work a 9-5 day job, have a one year old son, a wife, and occasionally it feels difficult to find writing time. For example, yesterday I wanted to write about crystal holograms floating around two black horses, but my son needed a nap. As a fiction and television writer (which I imagine comes with demanding, long hours) how do you schedule your time?

NA: I’m not disciplined in terms of scheduling. I work best late at night, but I can’t do that when I’m on a TV show — our hours are roughly 10-6:30, so I have to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. So I’ll sometimes write fiction for an hour or two in the evenings, or several hours on the weekend afternoons — unless I’m actively writing a script for the show I’m working on, in which case there’s no time to write fiction at all.

I write out of enthusiasm. Momentum that comes from a new idea. Eagerness to explore.

I also write out of fear—fear of losing an idea—fear of feeling stagnant.

BLVR: One of my favorite action scenes is the car chase scene in Children of Men. The way the camera moves from inside the car, seeing the mob run down the hill, the fire, the motorcycle flipping, the gunshot coming through the windshield and at you, it’s a thrilling panic-attack of a scene. Have you had a chance to meet Alfonso Cuaron while writing for his new show? Would it be too much of a stretch if I said I see some of his ticks in your writing?

NA: Yeah, Alfonso’s all over the world for Gravity right now, but he’s involved with the show—he created it. We met him before we got hired—me and my writing partner Ned Vizzini. Our job interview was having lunch with him and the show’s other creator, Mark Friedman. Then of course after we started working on the show, he came into the writer’s room. He’s a force. You start to say something and he looks at you, paying very close attention, and in your head you go, Oh shit, this better be good. People in his presence feel compelled to do their best work, to rise to his standard.

BLVR: Many of the stories in The Girlfriend Game originally appeared in some of my favorite literary journals—The New York Tyrant, n+1, Metazen, and Mud Luscious. And The Girlfriend Game is published by the much-loved Word Riot, making the whole package feel aggressive and independent. How important are these journals and presses to you, and in a larger scale, the future of literature?

NA: I read and admire most of the places where I’ve been published. I had a story in the first issue of The New York Tyrant. And Word Riot—we have a long history. I met Jackie Corley, the editor, through readings and friends. And right before my second book, MidnightPicnic, was going to come out, the press that was publishing it went bankrupt—and Word Riot stepped in and published it themselves. 

I don’t really think in terms of the future of literature. I think literature will be around “forever” — but in a relatively niche way, like jazz and poetry, although probably more widely consumed than jazz and poetry since it’s fundamentally a narrative form. And I think that’s important and places like Word Riot and The New York Tyrant and n+1 will be responsible for keeping it alive.

BLVR: I’m really impressed at how fast your stories move. Many short story collections read like a gun that needs reloading, or like a fat guy trying to run a marathon, but The Girlfriend Game is so automatic and fluid, I just wanted to keep going. Do you think this speed comes from your television writing? Or is there an influence from somewhere, or someone, else?

NA: Thanks, that’s a great compliment and one I like even better than “sexy." The pace of the stories doesn’t come from TV writing—most of the stories were written before I ever considered getting into TV. I never even entertained the possibility of trying to write for TV until I was 25.  

I think the reason the stories are briskly paced, when they are, is that I like story. I like stories where things happen and there are surprises and reversals, in addition to vivid characters and a memorable voice. So those are the kinds of stories I try to write. And it turns out that’s pretty much the only kind of writing that works for TV. It’s a medium that just devours story, demands surprises and reversals. So my sensibility is suited to TV storytelling, at least as we think of it today.  

BLVR: A few years ago we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. You may not remember me because it was an absurdly large group (Ken Baumann, Blake Butler, Ned Vizzini, and about eight others) but I remember thinking you seemed to be in extremely good shape for a writer. Do you have a workout routine?

NA: I don’t, actually. I don’t think I’ve ever bench-pressed anything in my life. Until about two years ago I swam a mile almost every day. Then I stopped and I lost a lot of weight because my appetite was less. I’m not skinny now—I’m spindly. I eat an extremely simple diet—mostly salmon, avocado, feta cheese, chicken, eggs, peanut butter, blueberries, and quinoa. I rarely exercise at all, except I have some hand weights that I’ll lift idly while I’m watching TV. I did do some push-ups last week and somehow hurt my shoulder.

Shane Jones lives in Albany New York.

Photo courtesy HIH Hotties of the Week.