"Chicago has developed and matured like that strange girl in high school with the big-framed glasses and pink-dyed hair, and many writers are now coming to find out what literary gem the Midwestern city is." from "On Their Own Terms" (published by decomP 9/26/06)
Fiction writer, Nick Ostdick, is at the center of this growing and maturing Chicago literary scene. Whether it is through his literary magazine RAGAD, his novel "Sunbeams and Cigarettes", or the various short stories, articles, or interviews he has had published on online, Nick is working hard to advance the scene and promote the city. He believes the key to scene lies in the networking between the writers and publishers, and in the fact that the underground has remained "untouched by corporate hands". He continues this networking by holding and participating in readings throughout the city and the suburbs, and he recently took time out to answer a few of our questions.
Orange Alert (OA): Who are your biggest literary influences?
Nick Ostdick (NO): Well, Faulkner is a big one—he has such a defined and unique voice, and that’s something that I really value. Kerouac is another biggie. He managed to capture the mood of a generation in a very sharp and concise way, and I think his work will resonate quite loudly with this generation’s youth as well. Nelson Algren was a lovely writer as well, same goes for Kurt Vonnegut—I admire that he is still producing great work. Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day was just gorgeous, and Allen Ginsberg’s spirit and enthusiasm on the written word really inspires me as well. Donald Barthleme is another hit for me as well, his short stories especially. His short fiction was fantastical and crazy and beautiful, and I really think that he mastered the art of the short story like no one else. As far as my contemporaries, Joe Meno is a huge influence on me. He’s from Chicago, and writes these very real novels with painfully genuine characters and dialogue. Love him. Chicago in general has produced many writers l like—Todd Dills in particular, who runs The2ndHand, a great lit mag. There is a really lively literary scene in Chicago right now, real grass roots and from the heart. I also really like Paul Toth, John McNally, and Joshua Braff.
OA: How has the internet (websites, webzines, blogs, etc) affected you as a writer?
NO: I would say it greatly has affected me. This is a burning debate in the lit world right now: what is considered being published? Blogs? Online lit mags? I have a big chunk of my heart invested in online lit mags and such. They’ve given my work a home. They’re much more accessible too, which to me, makes them more important and reputable than print lit mags. I’ve had work published in print, and it is nice to have that tangible item to hold and admire, but at that same time I always wonder who is reading this? The journal printed up 500 copies of it, most of which they won’t be able to sell. The online magazines I have published in get something like 3000 to 4000 people visiting every month. And even if half of those people click to read my work, that’s still 1500 people who have read my work, almost three times that of said print magazine. That’s what is important to me: readership. Stories were meant to be told, and good online lit mags give more people the chance to read my work than any print ones do—except for maybe The New Yorker or something like that.
OA: Why do you write?
NO: Tough question. There’s a lot of reasons. I write because I feel I have some stories deep inside me that need to be told. I write because people live inside me that need a life external from me. I write, and I think this is true of all writes, because I am a selfish person. Writing is a real selfish art I think, real solitary and closed off from other kinds of art. It’s just you and a blank page, and you get to do whatever you want, and you never have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to.
OA: What are the biggest challenges that face young writers today?
NO: Hmm…I think that writing industry itself is a pretty good challenge. With POD publishers and anyone being able to publish a book, the competition is crazy. You have to be that much better than everyone else who thinks they are a writer. A colleague of mine said once he was going to tell people he was an astronaut when people asked what he did for a living, because when he said he was a writer everyone always said they were a writer too. And that’s true. Everyone is a writer, and with technology more and more people are publishing and getting their work out there. The bar is quite high now.
OA: Who are some of your favorite musicians currently? Does their music affect your work in any way?
NO: That’s a good question. Right now, I’m in the middle of doing an interview with another writer for 63 Channels Magazine, and I asked him the same question. There seems to be some kind of bond between writers and music. Jason Jordan, the writer I’m interviewing, said that Kurt Vonnegut says music is the closet art form to God we have, and that writers are attracted to that for some reason. I think it’s mainly the lyrics part of music that writers are attracted to, the story telling though an almost-poetry/prose clump of words. I listen to artists like Wilco, Sonic Youth, The Flaming Lips, The Shins, and old singer songwriters like Bill Fay and Roy Harper. One of my favorite solo artists is Jim O’Rouke. He made these really deep, layered, records that always open your eyes to discovery and wonder. I love that. That’s what I really try to do with my writing, I guess—give the reader a sense of wonderment and discovery.
OA: What’s next for Nick?
NO: Well, right now I’m putting together a chapbook of short stories called Periscopes, which will come out later this year. RAGAD Books is putting it out. I’m real excited about it. I’m working on a new novel currently titled Misfits in America, as well as other short stories and article-like pieces for various magazines.
For more information on Nick visit his website and visit his online/print literary journal RAGAD.