My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Nicholas Kaufmann to talk about how the power of patience relates to Die and Stay Dead.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly which of my innate mutant abilities is my true superpower. Is it my unerring talent for arriving on the subway platform at the exact moment the train I need is pulling away? Is it my almost creepy aptitude in recalling all manner of trivia related to Doctor Who, the classic series? (Go on, ask me who knit the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, or why the Fifth Doctor keeps a stalk of celery on his lapel, or how Davros lost his only remaining functioning hand. I dare you. How many hours do you have?) Or perhaps my superpower is actually a curse in the form of a last name that is almost constantly misspelled, sometimes even in print by professional publications.
No, I think my true superpower might just be patience. You see, I’ve been writing for as far back as I can remember, scribbling stories in my third grade classroom about a boy and his dad kidnapped by aliens to a planet where dinosaurs still existed. This award-worthy magnum opus was fully illustrated, of course, and no doubt bore a startling resemblance to my favorite TV program at the time, Land of the Lost. But it’s clear I knew even from an early age that I wanted to tell stories. Sure, I toyed with the idea of being an astronaut and a scientist, but in truth, I only liked those ideas because I wanted to meet aliens or make monsters in a laboratory. Those potential career choices weren’t about exploration or scientific advancement; they were, at their core, about a chance to encounter the fantastic — or perhaps more accurately, the monstrous. Because monsters were what fired up my imagination, thanks largely to Scooby-Doo and the Universal horror movies and Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies they showed on TV a lot back then. Given those influences, it should come as no surprise that the stories I wanted to tell focused on the fantastic and, to a certain degree, the grotesque.
I started writing more and more, even creating my own comic books. I made up my own superhero, Orgo, who, through the magic of being zapped by radiation, could do whatever I needed him to do for that issue’s plot. Fly? Sure. Shoot laser beams out of his hands? Check. Turn invisible? Why not? His archenemy was a man with octopus tentacles for arms and a shark fin on the top of his head. I also wrote and drew an EC Comics-style horror anthology comic with a friend of mine, which we titled Chamber of Horrors. Writing thrilled me in a way it didn’t quite thrill that same friend, who routinely wanted to go outside and play rather than work on our comics. Of course, playing outside involved its own brand of creativity — I can’t tell you how many invisible monsters we slew with our stick swords — but drawing and writing felt much more fulfilling to me. Drawing eventually fell by the wayside — at this point, I couldn’t even draw a reasonable A-frame house with a sun over it if I tried — but writing? Well, I suppose I’ve been doing it ever since.
This is where the superpower of patience comes in. I wrote those first dinosaur-planet stories when I was eight years old, but my first short story wasn’t published until I was thirty-one — my first novel not until I was forty. What was I doing in between? I was writing. A lot. Learning my craft, developing my voice, honing my skills on what I now refer to, with great hindsight, as my practice stories and practice novels. I was eager to be published — it was my lifelong dream — but I knew it would take time. I just never expected it to take that much time!
I remember back in my early twenties my father gave me a beautiful leather document envelope with a magnetic clasp as a gift for some occasion or other. When my brother asked what I was going to use it for, I told him I was going to keep my rejection slips in it. “It’s not big enough,” he said. What an A-hole, I thought. But he was right. It wasn’t nearly big enough for all the rejections I received. But rejection slips are a writer’s badges of honor; their accumulation a rite of passage. A lot of people would have given up during those frustrating years of banging one’s head against the wall, both proverbially and not — hell, a lot of people have given up during that time — but I refused to be discouraged. This was my lifelong dream. I didn’t have another one. I didn’t have a fallback plan like law school or accounting or becoming an astronaut after all.
But I had patience, my superpower, and eventually that patience, paid off. I kept at it, kept working the muscles that made me a better writer, and those rejections started turning into acceptances. There was no guarantee that would ever happen, but patience kept me from stopping before I reached my goal. Patience kept me going.
Trent, the hero of my novels Dying Is My Business and Die and Stay Dead has a superpower, too. He can’t stay dead. There’s something inside him, something unknown to him, that keeps resurrecting him every time he dies. And given the dangerous jobs that fill his resume, including being a thief for a Brooklyn crime syndicate, he gets killed quite a lot. It’s hard for me not to see the parallels between Trent’s superpower and my own. Patience kept me going against the odds, while the thing inside Trent keeps him going against the odds, too — even when he’s shot, stabbed, or mauled to death by a supernatural creature.
His superpower may be cooler, but I’m pretty sure I got the better deal.
About the author:
Nicholas Kaufmann is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated, Thriller Award-nominated, and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author of Walk In Shadows: Collected Stories, General Slocum’s Gold, Hunt at World’s End, Chasing the Dragon, Still Life: Nine Stories, Dying Is My Business, and Die and Stay Dead. Over the years, he has worked in publishing, owned his own bookstore, managed a video store, and been a development associate for a well-known literary and film agent. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two ridiculous cats.
You can find him and his work at the following links.