A Thing (or Two) About the Virtuous Nick Fowler
By Carin Chea
When you are as brilliant as musician and esteemed novelist Nick Fowler, you cannot help but be a fountain of energy and thoughts.
A graduate of Cornell, multi-talented Fowler hails from a creative, yet admittedly difficult, upbringing, which he funnels beautifully into his writing. To speak with Mr. Fowler is to be infused with a liveliness that only an exceptional mind can induce.
Transparent and raw, Fowler doesn't simply invite readers into the hidden corners of his psyche; he pulls us in through irony and heartbreakingly relatable self-deprecation.
You seem to do it all. How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a musician? What was that "a-ha" moment like?
It seems like I do a lot, but it's really not so. I'm just always working on stuff. I don't believe there's really such a thing as "talent", but more believing you can do it. My parents had me singing for company at three years old, and I started playing guitar when I was 12.
You were on The Sopranos! How did that happen? What was filming like?
That was a wonderful experience because nobody on the crew or cast knew this show was going to be this cultural and commercial phenomenon. We just thought this was an HBO series that might go nowhere, so it was very casual and fun and organic.
When things took off, we were all really surprised. Everyone was very sweet and exactly as they were in real life, very much like their characters. They weren't pretentious at all. They were regular people, and I think that's what makes the series so fun and cool because you could really see these people as those characters.
What initiated your transition from music to writing?
I wrote music for The Sopranos, but I'd majored in writing in college. I've been writing since I was a little kid. Even when I was a professional musician, I was always writing novels and keeping journals. I knew that one day I'd want to write fiction about sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Plus, before I was a professional fiction writer, I was a journalist for music magazines. I'd been interviewing musicians. I knew that if I started writing about music, things would just coalesce. There's a lot of brutality in show business, but also a lot of glory.
It's great to be able to express one's self and be acknowledged. If you're following your bliss, you'll succeed.
How did you begin writing for GQ?
I was out in LA, this was after the first book deal. I was so lonely. I was this displaced novelist and I was really depressed. But I saw the humor in this situation. I was having trouble because whenever I'd start dating a girl, she'd always ask for access to something.
For instance, I knew this girl in New York. When I moved out to LA, she was also in LA. She was a cocktail waitress at this swanky nightclub. She was impressed that my book was being published.
So, on our first date, it turns out she thought I knew Benicio del Toro. I didn't. It turns out she's also dating George Clooney. Everywhere I turned, there was a parody of dating life in Hollywood. I couldn't offer this girl anything. I couldn't give her access to anything.
So, I pitched this idea to my agent about how all these Hollywood girls wanted access through me, and how I couldn't provide it, how I was irrelevant. That's how I started writing for GQ. I thought I'd made the best of it. Whenever I'm miserable over something, I think, "Okay, where's the wisdom in this? Where's the humor?" You can't take yourself too seriously.
Your first book, A Thing (or Two) About Curtis and Camilla, garnered praise all around and caught the attention of The New York Times Book Review. Tell me about the journey of writing that novel.
I was 30, a dinosaur as far as the music business goes. They want an eight-year-old they can groom into superstardom. So, here I was, at 30. Over the hill. I had lost all my record deals, and I meet this seemingly great girl.
So I based the book on this girl who was working for a powerful music attorney in Manhattan at the time, but who didn't believe in me enough to pitch me to her boss! She basically gave me an ultimatum: she was going to break up with me unless I got a real job. So, she dumped me. I was so hurt and angry, but again - I wanted to turn this into something good, something funny. To make art out of life.
When I'd start writing in my journal about all these things - feeling sorry for myself - I thought, "This would be kinda funny if I turned this into an exaggerated version of me." So, I made the guy, the protagonist in the novel, balding. I was exaggerating everything.
As my anger and resentment against her sharpened, I think I managed to portray the fact that she was someone who valued form over content. It was a horrible heartbreak, but as I started to write about it, I realized: How valuable could this person be if she values me like that?
It didn't matter that I was as talented as Jeff Buckley; she didn't like that I didn't have a record deal. She chose against me because I wasn't a bread winner.
So, at least I got a novel out of it.
Your second novel, My Virtuous Sister, is coming out this year. Tell us about this book and the inspiration behind it.
I was physically and emotionally abused as a child by my parents. I'm not angry anymore. As I started to write this novel, I wrote about a girl who was abused because it was easier for me to write behind the mask of a girl.
I was able to write about these things in my own life and disguise it in these ways. The father is this bully who's jealous of his daughter's creativity.
It all started because I was trying to work out some kind of issues in my own life. As soon as I started writing from the little brother's perspective, I found my way "in", the magical perspective, my angle.
Long story short - I found my narrative "way in" when I discovered I could write about this gay little brother who was both envious and adorative of his older sister. I crisscrossed these emotions and made it work.
It was easy for me to talk about it through this snarky, sardonic narrative via this little brother who's been left behind. He isn't good-looking or talented, and he's left behind because his big sister was offered a record deal, but she's told to leave him behind. Writing from his perspective allowed me to dispense with sentimentality.
How would you describe your creative process?
I'll have some emotions. I'll try and pinpoint what they are and think, "How can I comment on this objectively and humorously?" I want to find a tone where I don't feel sorry for myself.
One of the ways I did this in My Virtuous Sister is that I have the kid writing this (who is about 16) and he mis-uses words. Malapropisms. I made this narrator seem like he was trying to be a lot smarter, which creates a sense of dramatic irony, an alliance, a complicity between the reader and the writer.
What do you want your readers to take away from My Virtuous Sister?
I want to tell them, "Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't do anything." My parents were always competing with me. My parents are both fiction writing professors, but they could never actually write fiction. They're still blocked.
I think I worked so hard at everything because my parents were so competitive with me. We can't pick our families, but we can pick our friends and partners, which is one of my mottos for this novel.
If anyone in your life, including your parents, is telling you that you can't do something, they're probably projecting their own insecurities onto you. Take it as a chance to tell your parents, "I'm going to take a chance and live a good life without you."
If you want to do something to help the world, you have to follow your dreams. Don't let anyone beat you down. If you want to do something, don't think there's this magical fairy dust called "talent."
It's those people who persevere, who are resilient, who get things done, who succeed. I guess my lesson is: Don't take any shit. When you feel like the world is against you, try to see the humor in it. Try to see that people have their agendas. They're trying to do the best they can with their level of consciousness. Everyone has his own narrative.
If you were to collaborate with any writer (dead or alive) who would it be? What would the two of you work on?
I'd like to work on something with Salinger. I always wanted to turn Catcher in the Rye into a movie. I think it'd be fun to be the director, with Salinger as the writer.
To keep up to date with Nick Fowler's upwardly booming career, please visit www.NickFowlerAuthor.com/ and also www.NickFowler.com.
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