Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nik Korpon's Guide To Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today, Nik Korpon assigns each of his books a drink. Bottoms up!

Drinking in Baltimore: A Functioning Alcoholic’s Guide to the Books of Nik Korpon.

A lot of my writing is set in bars. I don’t know what that says about me. Or maybe I do, but I don’t want to admit it. I worked as a bartender for a couple years, saving up money to put myself through grad school. Met my wife while standing behind that same bar. The way I like to frame it is that I’m a naturally curious person, as all writers probably are, and I enjoy watching people, seeing what mask they put on in front of a specific person, or if they even feel the need to wear one. As a crime writer, there is an untold amount of stories to be lifted from day laborers after their third Turkey with a Boh back, and nothing’s more unbelievable than real life.

If I was to get philosophical about it, as I am wont to do about trivial things, I’d say that—at least in Baltimore, a city that clings to its working class roots as fiercely as it tries to gentrify its neighborhoods—bars are as much a representation of a block as they are a cross-section of the various socioeconomic group that inhabit that street, and the same could be said for how a drink order displays someone’s personality. In that spirit, I thought I’d draw up a drink menu for a couple of my books. It shines a little light on the disposition of each one. Might make it a little easier to get through as well.

Old Ghosts­ (Snubnose Press)
Presidente Beer

This novella is all about trying to outrun the—ahem—ghosts of your past. Cole is trying to restart his life after having to flee Boston. He’s got a pretty wife, Amy, and a cozy apartment that his construction wage barely manages to pay for. When his ghosts catch up with him—it wouldn’t be dramatic if they didn’t—havoc ensues. A lot of this novel takes place in the Butcher’s Hill neighborhood of east Baltimore. When I lived there, my wife and I drank a lot of Dominican beer because there were a ton of bodegas around and it was hot and this beer was tasty.

By the Nails of the Warpriest (Outsider Writers Press)
Budweiser or Abita Beer

I debated putting this novella on the list because I’m currently turning it into a novel, but fuck it, I guess. Warpreist follows an unnamed thief who steals memories and sells them on the black market. Along the way there are preachers who bloodlet, a one-eyed assassin and numerous manifestations of the Catholic Guilt I’ve lived with for thirty-odd years. It’s sort of a future dystopian, gritty crime stories about fathers and sons and the past we can’t outrun (sense a theme here?) and I printed out photos of post-Katrina New Orleans as inspiration for the setting. I read an interview with David Simon once about the importance of having locals on set, because everyone in Treme initially drank New Orleans-based Abita beer. Locals, though, they informed Mr. Simon that only white folks drank Abita, and the rest kept to regular old Budweiser. I thought that was an interesting distinction.

Bar Scars: Stories (Snubnose Press)
Natty Boh and Wild Turkey

I stole the title from a great column Anna Ditkoff used to write in Baltimore’s City Paper, and stole the stories from a range of people I met while at bars, whether behind the bar or leaning against it. With one exception, these are the stories most real to me, because I see these people every day.

Punching Paradise (Fight Card Pulps)

A Boharita is a true Baltimore drink that tries to make the intolerable manageable, which is pretty much what Neckbone tries to do for most of the novella. He’s nothing if not honorable, something that’s hard to come by in the underground boxing circuit. He’ll take a fall if it earns him a little scratch on the side but he makes damn sure everyone knows he doesn’t go down unless he wants. Then he loses his temper and knocks a man down too early, inadvertently throwing a young boy into the crosshairs of Bill Stokes, the local promoter and aspiring gangster. Like most everything else I write, it all gets worse from there. Kind of like a Boharita. Open a can of Natty Boh and sip off the top, then pour in Jack Daniels until it crests the top. Sprinkle on a little Old Bay and sip to your liver’s content. Or until you get a waking hangover.

Stay God, Sweet Angel (Perfect Edge Books)
Yuengling, Jameson, Murphy’s

Stay God, the original novel, was a strange experience for me. Above being my first book, I wrote it in a six-week fever dream between grad school semesters. I was living in London and missing Baltimore like hell. Incidentally, I think that’s the best representation of Baltimore: I’d been scheming for seven years to get out of there and three weeks after landing in London, one of the most exciting cities in the world, I almost spent two months’ worth of my living expenses to buy a ticket back because I missed the place so damn bad. After my girlfriend—now wife—talked me out of it, I decided instead to write a book about my friends back home. Though their quirks are slightly exaggerated and criminal tendencies (mostly) invented, I’m pretty proud of the way they came out. All the weirdness, the random run-ins, the bordering-on-suffocating intimacy of the city, it’s all Baltimore. They don’t call it Smalltimore for nothing. So why the drinks? Not as esoteric a reason as you might think. Yuengling is a great $5/6-pack beer. Nothing special, but if you don’t want to drink Natty Boh here, you drink Yuengling. At least I did. And Jameson is just good. Those were the two go-tos when I lived and bartended here, and damn it, I missed them. If I wasn’t able to procure (not to mention afford) them in London, then that’s what Damon would drink in the book. Murphy’s, on the other hand, was a revelation in England, not because it’s a great stout, but because it was less than £2.50 a four-pack. No way in hell I’d pay that stateside, so I got my money’s worth while I was living there. Not bad for student living. Doing more with less.

Actually, I think that about sums up my books.


Nik Korpon is the author of Stay God, Sweet AngelFight Card: Punching ParadiseBar Scars: StoriesBy the Nails of the Warpriest; and Old Ghosts. His stories have ruined the reputation of NeedleNoir NationOut of the GutterShotgun Honey, and Yellow Mama, among others, and he is an associate editor at Dark House Press. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and kids. Give him some danger, little stranger, at nikkorpon.com.

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