Cabin Goddess Interviews – David Nickle author of Rasputin’s Bastards
I totally lucked out again with my good friend Jessica over at Jess Resides Here pointing me in the right direction. I had read her own interview of David Nickle back at the beginning of May and she knew I wanted to read the book, so she sent me the contact info for the publisher, Chizine.
I am all over anything involving Russia. The stories, mysteries and all the intrigue.. and this one has a twist! remember through the end of the Cold War, loved Ian Fleming books when I was a kid plus as you all know I also love horror stories and cultural myths. After reading the title and subsequently the synopsis. all these things drew me in! Sit back with your tea and enjoy! I think I hit a home run with this great interview! Thanks for stopping by!
1. They say that people spend less than 20 seconds on a page before deciding whether or not to continue reading, so things must now be able to be ingested quickly! SO, before we go further give this a whirl! Sell me your book in tweet format, 140 characters or less?
Psychic spies from Russia self-actualize at the end of the Cold War. Hijinks ensue. #spytweet
2. OK I can be a bit silly, I realize this, but while we are still outside the box, if we were to engage in a conversation at pub and the subject of what you do came up, how would you casually describe Rasputin’s Bastards?
Rasputin’s Bastards is Gravity’s Rainbow without the literary merit. It’s a big novel about a group of specially-trained, specially-selected psychics who worked for the KGB and Kremlin during the Cold War. They were very good at being psychics, but had the wrong attitude for being spies. They were fundamentally Bastards about it. They behaved a bit like Rasputin did in the court of the Romanovs, if you want to be honest about it: seducing and tricking everyone in sight, and ultimately doing no good for anyone but themselves.
(At this point, we would order another round and digress as the waitress, having overheard, asked us if we believed in psychic powers and we answer with nothing but the power of thought)
It’s also about the ‘sleeper’ agents who were specially trained and selected to serve the psychic spies in the field. Using a technique known as dream-walking, the Bastards could enter the minds of the sleepers, and take control of them – or if they didn’t want to do that, leave instructions for the agents to carry out. As the Cold War ends, many of those sleepers wake up, and have some hard questions about just how badly they were used.
(One of us would have to take a pee break at this point, so you would be left a few minutes to ruminate on the implications of all that and ask what I meant by the Gravity’s Rainbow line)
I invoke Gravity’s Rainbow because the end result of this is a big, sprawling book that looks at a lot of things besides just psychic spies and their chattel. There are giant squid, and mobsters, and the musical stylings of Ivan Rebroff, the cinematic stylings of Walt Disney and the adventures of a very unlucky girl detective. There is contained in the pages the surprising back-end contents of the catalogue of an outdoor sportswear co-op, and there is world travel by private jet, yacht, submarine and Greyhound bus. It is stuffed to the gills, just as Gravity’s Rainbow is. But it may not be quite as good.
(And that would be enough to change the subject for awhile, until the calamari arrives and you ask me if I seriously said “giant squid”)
3. What is your world view like?
Well I come at the world from the point of view of a journalist, so I guess you might say it’s measured. I am dismayed at the divisions along cultural and ideological lines that have emerged and amplified
over the past decade and a half. I am suspicious of authority, and encourage independent thought. In spite of being a journalist, whose job is to seek two points of view, I believe that there are correct and incorrect assumptions, and that we muddy the waters by giving equal value to unequally valid opposing points of view. I believe that the state has a role to enrich and protect the lives and the quality of life of its citizens, and that those citizens should be prepared to pay for that. Everybody should be able to marry, and evolution trumps intelligent design every time. I am fundamentally optimistic, but nothing makes me warier than an optimist with a bit of money.
4. Authors are all about getting a reader engaged in their story. What tricks of the quill did you use to suck us deep into your tale?
With Rasputin’s Bastards, as with everything, I try to raise questions—far more questions, initially, than I answer. Readers are suckers for this kind of thing. It’s a way to do a cliff-hanger without actually having anyone hang off a cliff, although I’m not above a cliff-hanger of two either.
Sex and violence doesn’t hurt either, at least not necessarily.
5. You work with a small press house ChiZine which I saw mentioned in another interview by you. What, based on your experience, has been the primary difference between a small press and self publishing in the world of Indie?
Well, I’ve never self-published, so I can’t speak to that. And ChiZine is a very special small press. They’ve got powerful distribution, through Diamond in the U.S. and abroad, and Harper Collins Canada in Canada and in e-books. So when Rasputin’s Bastards came out in Canada, it showed up in the big Canadian bookselling chain Chapters-Indigo in force, in some stores displaying front-of-store with all the big publishers. In a lot of the ways that matter, working with ChiZine is like working with a big publisher. The covers are, if anything, better looking than the covers I’d get working with a bigger outfit.
Another thing that I get from ChiZine that I wouldn’t get from a larger publisher is a sense of family. ChiZine’s proprietors, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi, are both old and dear friends, and they run the publisher like an extended family. Sandra’s been my editor for three books now, and the process is easy and friendly and respectful. We consult on every aspect of the book’s production and marketing. And we look out for each other when times are hard.
They also take risks. All my books with them have been weird and tough-to-market properties, that at least so far, have done better than you’d think they would. They have hit a niche in readership that’s looking for genre work that’s a little different, and they’ve done that by being small and agile.
More power to ’em.
6. When I was choosing my focus for my MFA, Russian Literature was one of the things I pondered focusing on. You say Rasputin’s Bastards is what you consider “your Russian Novel”, can you expand about this? I realize you were not going for War & Peace, we have a book set during the Cold War, what aspects other than subject matter would you say influenced you, if at all, from Russian Literature (and not just the giant squid angle)?
Okay, omitting the giant squid’s contribution to Russian letters, there are a couple of things.
First, the book is about Russians, and, I think, takes a Russian fatalistic worldview. And it is huge, with many characters and intertwining plot-lines; so structurally, it makes demands on the reader.
It also concerns itself with some of the themes that have become emblematic of classic Russian literature. It is a story about a huge, extended family that is far from happy; it concerns itself with matters of spirituality, and man’s place in a world with an indifferent God; the state, such as it is, is an unwelcome and intrusive place.
I didn’t really set out to do all of those things, of course. I was just trying to write a novel about Russians in the Cold War. But it emerged. Perhaps there is something in the vodka….
7. Let’s paint a picture of your novel. Please choose something from each of the following categories that best summarizes the book and explain why: color, animal, US city, car, and food.
Color: Red. The book is about, of course, Reds. But it is also a rich Imperial color; and the color of blood, which runs thick through the book. Animal: Bear. Again, the Russian connection makes this too easy in some ways. But it is also a novel about powerful creatures who may hibernate for a time, but when they wake up… all Hell can break
US City: Large parts of the novel are set in New York City–Manhattan in particular. It is a place where one might lose oneself, and has for a long time been a beacon for travellers looking for a place to settle.
Car: An SUV stretch limo. With dark tinted glass. Because there could be anything inside. Even a giant squid.
Food: Not calamari – that would be cruel. Roasted Chicken, or any other comfort food. Because that is ultimately how the Bastards assert control; by making sure you’re really comfortable, and don’t mind the intrusion.
8. You’re wandering out in the desert and trip over a hard object lodged in the sand. It’s a magic genie’s lamp—OMG! Which three things do you wish for and why? Any chance you’ll regret these choices later?
Oh, I would be careful. My first wish would be for the ability to undo the two subsequent wishes at any time and return matters to their original course, regardless of whether I myself was alive or dead. I think I’d have to make that my first wish, because if the first two wishes were used up unwisely, then I could just see that bastard genie telling me that wishing for an escape clause was against the rules and it would be too late. With the first wish, we get that out of the way and I’m free to be as opulent and specific as I want to in my wishes coming later if the answer is yes.
If the answer is no and it turned out I’d blown that wish, then my second wish would be that all my worldy ambitions for myself and my loved ones should be fulfilled. My third wish should be that no one should come to harm in the fulfillment of the second wish.
If I regretted those wishes, we would be dealing with a very crafty genie.
9. TWO PART-er
a)If there was one fictional character (either from literature, television, or movies) whose
life and personality most resembles your own, who would it be and why? I am drawing a blank. My partner, Madeline Ashby, who is biased, says I am “kind of like Nick Charles” – from the Thin Man stories. “You know all the worst people,” she says. I don’t know what to make of that either.
b] Now a different spin on the same question: If you could pick, which fictional character’s life would you most want to have and why?
Fletch, the reporter-sleuth from the Gregory McDonald mystery novels. He is a much better investigative reporter than I am, is better-looking, and wins all the time (on account of being a series detective).
10. What wisdom do you have to share to help us writers with our on- going struggle to apply their dripping quills with?
Dip those quills. That’s really the only thing for it. Don’t write what you know; don’t worry about making a “sympathetic” protagonist; don’t worry if your story is YA-enough, or if your take on vampires is more Meyers or King; don’t fret about your style or your voice; don’t worry about whether the thing is going to fit the marketplace. Just write.
But not so much that you forget to live in the world. Because in addition to the fact that that’s the only way you’ll ever get any material, that’s also the only way to die happy.
They were the beautiful dreamers.
From a hidden city deep in the Ural mountains, they walked the world as the coldest of Cold Warriors, under the command of the Kremlin and under the power of their own expansive minds.
They slipped into the minds of Russia’s enemies with diabolical ease, and drove their human puppets to murder, and worse.
They moved as Gods. And as Gods, they might have remade the world.
But like the mad holy man Rasputin, who destroyed Russia through his own powerful influence… in the end, the psychic spies for the Motherland were only in it for themselves.
It is the 1990s.
The Cold War is long finished.
In a remote Labrador fishing village, an old woman known only as Babushka foresees her ending through the harbour ice, in the giant eye of a dying kraken ….
David Nickle is the author of more than 30 short stories, 13 of which have been gathered in the collection Monstrous Affections. He is author of Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, and co-author of The Claus Effect, with Karl Schroeder. Years ago, he and Karl won an Aurora Award for the short story that inspired that novel, “The Toy Mill.” Some years later, he won a Bram Stoker Award for short fiction, for a story called “Rat Food” – co-written with Edo Van Belkom. He lives in Toronto, Canada. His website, The Devil’s Exercise Yard has stories on it for free.
The Devil’s Excersize Yard
Where to find out more about Rasputin’s Bastards