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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on Nick Stokes

Nick Stokes writes novels, plays, fictions, nothings, arrangements, pieces of prose, and other undefinables. His novel AFFAIR was serialized online at and published as an ebook by The Seattle Star. AFFAIR is available in print and ebook formats at major online retailers. Other writings have appeared with BumfPaper DartsCrab Orchard Review,Word RiotCreative ColloquyMixer PublishingAtticus ReviewWaccamawPrick of the SpindleKnock, and others. 


His plays have been seen and heard with various stray theater companies in the Pacific Northwest and beyond; as part of AMADOR/STOKES his play DUELS was in On the Boards NW New Works Festival 2013. He has been awarded Artist Trust's Camano Island Residency, a GAP award, the Rannu Fund Prize for Writers of Speculative Literature, and a Hugo Writers Award. He lives mostly or mostly lives in Washington; he packs mules in the backcountry of Montana; he's been elsewhere. Among other explorations, circa 2014 he's working on an immersive (anti)-choose-your-own-adventure novel: YOU CHOOSE for short. For more information refer to nickstokes.net.

The Interview -- Part II

Scroll Down For Part I

You've done a lot of work through e-publishing, Internet, Websites, how did you come to work in this "medium" -- what are the advantages/disadvantages of these technologies and opportunities for writers?
Well online magazines have become more and more ubiquitous and respected since I seriously started writing 14ish years ago. I've been published in online and print literary magazines, and I value both. There's not much money in either, so that's not much of a factor. Depending on the mag, there may be more prestige in print, but the difference there is becoming negligible. The pluses for online mags are that the work is easier to share; it's easier for people to find your stuff; and the writing hangs around archived in the electronic ether for a long time for potential people to potentially find and read. 

The trend just seems to be reading online and on devices more and more. In terms of book length works, the publishing industry is in shambles. The big five publishers used to be vilified; now Amazon is often vilified. I'm not necessarily a big fan of either, but both have a function, and Amazon has done a lot to push publishing into the electronic future whether we like it or not, and made it easier for authors and small presses to publish and reach readers, even if Amazon is a little icky too. 

The disadvantages of independent publishing, I suppose, are that you must do everything yourself (or contract it), a feeling of a lack of stability because no institution has your back, and reaching readers. These same negatives apply to big publishers, or else the inverse does depending on one's mood: the author isn't involved enough, the author has to do their own publicity or their book and possibly career is gonna die a fast death, the institution doesn't have your back or care about you as an author, and it's hard to reach readers as a less-than mid-list author. 

A plus of independent publishing is you are beholden to no one: you don't owe anyone another book, you won't be pushed to make the current one more salable, you don't have to accept crappy cover art. I can use semicolons when and where I want (one must be self-critical, however). One of the big roles of the publishing houses has been as gatekeepers, and when I'm not pounding on the gate and being denied entry, I can appreciate the need for gatekeepers because there is so much stuff out there, a flood of content, an inundation of writing ... without someone telling us where to start, how are we to find the good? 

On the other hand, I think that mode of gatekeeper is dying. I don't know what's to come, except that I hope we don't end up in an even more consumerist mode of reinforcing bestsellers without the ability to spotlight or validate less mass market books. I read print, and I'm a big supporter of local bookstores, but everything is moving electronic and it's silly to miss out on that. In all this too, there is the issue of respect or prestige or recognition or whathaveyou with independent publishing. I think there's still a sense of being looked down on for independent publishing, perhaps less so for genre work and more so for "literary" work, not to start an argument about the difference between those categories here. But again, I think it's all in flux and changing and overall the system is moving towards creator produced content connecting directly to users (readers, viewers, listeners, etc.).

Your life has been very eclectic, from high school Physics teacher to mule packer, how has your life outside writing impacted your life inside writing?
Material! Expanded knowledge, varied experiences, greater understanding and even empathy. The old saw that you have to live to write is true, I think. I've also worked a fair amount of labor jobs, and I've worked with a lot of people who are not "literary". Though they're intelligent. More people are smart and insightful than one knows. And it's important to be connected in some way to "real life," to everyday people, which sounds deprecating but I mean if we're just writing for academics or writers without the average person in mind, what's the point? 

I feel that way even though I write in non-mainstream styles. And all the other jobs, some of which I love, some of which I did for a paycheck, some of them both, have reinforced my belief that I should write. While working outdoors, packing mules for example, fulfills part of me that writing does not, writing also fulfills (or at least engages) part of me that other activities do not. Also, I'm a dad, which influences my writing in so many ways, but is most of all my bedrock.

What are you working on now?
I always have a few short prose pieces in the mill, but right now most of my writing energy is going into editing what I call an (anti)-choose-your-own-adventure novel. It has a very long title, but "You Choose" for short. It follows the traditional choose-your-own-adventure format (numbered passages, jumping around, interwoven narratives). Sometimes you have a choice, sometimes you don't, sometimes you think you do and don't, and sometimes you don't and do. 

The tagline might be: Sitting in your chair, you hear a scream; what do you do about it? It concerns choice, indeterminacy, many worlds theory, quantum mechanics, labyrinths, the functioning of the ear, pizza delivery, and a whole host of things. It's intended to be immersive, about You. It's messed up and fun for me and hard to wrap my head around. A selection from it was recently published in an online mag, Bumf, out of Australia. This fall I'm going to have to decide what the next step is for it. How to try and publish it? 

Final Words of Wisdom
Write big; write with desperation; write for yourself for others.

The Interview -- Part I

You work in multiple genres, how do you decide what "kind" of story you're writing? (play, novel, short story, etc.) Does the story determine the genre? or do you decide to write in a certain format, then find a story?
I'd say that usually both the story dictates the genre and the genre dictates the story. I'm a little hyper-aware of the typical conventions and structure of both theater and fiction, and pushing back on those conventions, or expanding them, or defying them, influences my concept of the story. In that way, the genre is all wrapped up in my original take on the story. 

At the same time my first germ of an idea for a story tends to lead me directly to a genre, whether short or long theater or short or long fiction or short fiction-ish prose. For me the words are always important, but I do tend to think more in images and of course dialogue when I'm in theater mode. I also tend to go in genre spurts; when working in theater I have more theater ideas, and when working on fiction I have more fiction ideas. To further muddle the answer, I've written works that are hybrids of genres (theater/prose) and works I've crossed over from one genre to another and works that are somewhere in between genres (long short story / short novel, flash fiction / prose). In those cases maybe I didn't decide.

Tell us about the process for your novel, Affair: 
I wrote the first draft of Affair in 2009. The genesis of the story came from the merging of two ideas: the implications of an author writing about an affair, and a quote from Kierkegaard about an author writing about a character going insane but instead going insane himself. The novel went through various edits over the next few years, though the structure and essential "story" remained unchanged. I mostly edited the prose. I sent it out in the typical way to medium and small publishers and contests; I received a few complimentary replies, but nobody picked it up. 

When The Seattle Star began publishing online in 2012, the publisher expressed interest in carrying some of my writing and I pitched them on a few chunks of Affair. This evolved into a serialization. We eventually found a rhythm and the novel was serialized over the course of about two years. Throughout the process I continued to edit each piece before I sent it off. When the serialization was complete, The Seattle Star released a free epub ebook version of the serialization under a Creative Commons license. Which was awesome of them. I took that and rereleased ebook versions through Smashwords, which distributes to Apple and Barnes and Noble and others in multiple formats, and Amazon with a few changes, taking it back to the unserialized format. 

I then published the print version through CreateSpace, which distributes to Amazon and other online retailers, using the Seattle Star's great cover. All of the versions are under a Creative Commons license. As for PR, I'm still working on it. All of this publishing happened in a rush this spring before I disappeared (am disappearing?) to the mountains for the summer. I've used Facebook some to reach people who know me; I got myself going on Goodreads; a few local bookstores have agreed to carry the book; I've contacted a few local periodicals, online and in print, about reviews and publicity; I've done a few readings. Publicity is still a work in progress, and not my favorite endeavor, though I do intend to extend my reach this fall.

How does environment impact you as a writer? Are you a "Northwest" writer?
I'm not sure. Certainly my theater pieces are not recognizable as New York-ish, urban, or living room pieces. Most of them are set outside (sometimes in the mountains) or in some nonspace or surreal (but not dream) space. Western motifs show up in many of my writings (horses, cowboys, mountains, wildlife, rivers and large bodies of water). And solitude, or escape, or "getting out," has always been prevalent too. 

The outdoors and working outside and nature are important to me, personally, and my writings are extensions of me, so they are somehow central to the work. I don't know whether or not to categorize myself (I'm not one for categorization) as a Pacific Northwest or Western writer. I'm a transplant to both locations, though I've lived in one or the other for most of my adult life. I wouldn't say that either the Pacific Northwest or the West is my subject matter, but the backgrounds on which my stories play. Or they provide the materials with which I play, or bend, or tell a story. All that said, I do have a few stories that are very Western in nature. And I've come to appreciate the value in local literary/writing communities, in being involved with them, the support and contact one can find there. In that way I do identify myself as a Tacoma/Seattle writer, since those are the communities I'm most connected with.

Check back July 15 for Part II