Nicolas Hornyak is an author, poet, and game designer. Born in Brooklyn in 1993, he studied creative writing at Purchase College, where he wrote the first chapters of his debut novel. After graduating, he published Aimless Sky in 2016, followed by The Phoenix Express in 2017. His poetry has also appeared in Italics Mine and New York’s Best Emerging Poets, and he contributed pieces to Hexblood Tales, Vol. 1 and College of Wizardry: The Magic of Participation in Harry Potter Larps. He currently lives in Jersey City, NJ.
Marina Raydun: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?
Nicolas Hornyak: My favorite novel of all time is fortunately also underappreciated. It’s this rather unheard of book called When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon, which was published in 1993 in Ireland. It is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, but the protagonist is gay and closeted in a time where LGBT issues weren’t well regarded. Lennon really captures the almost inherent futility of existing when you’re even just a little different, and captures the gay nightclub scene of Dublin in a magical yet tragic way. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s queer today.
MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?
NH: I don’t have a particular piece in mind, but as a game designer, I love reading documentation about live-action roleplaying, or LARP. These games are a sort of masterclass in storytelling, because the audience of LARPs are also the cast. You almost never see that in theater or cinema. And when you partake in LARP, you suspend reality, substituting it for an alternate portrayal shared by the people around you. In those moments, nonfiction becomes fiction, and fiction becomes nonfiction. You cannot tell the story of your characters without understand that you played them, and so they might as well be real. But you existed in a physical space that transformed into a reasonably fictional setting for the duration of the game. The documentation behind every LARP is a look at how fiction becomes real, and that is fascinating every time.
MR: What is your favorite genre to read?
NH: I’m a really big fan of science fiction and fantasy, and thus far, I haven’t really published anything outside of speculative fiction. The Phoenix Express is the closest I’ve come to a literary work.
MR: What are you currently reading?
NH: I am currently reading a book about the craft called The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. Since my two books have addressed themes of grief and mourning, The Art of Death is my attempt to explore why I did what I did. It’s very good. It subtly teaches lessons about writing via a memoir about the author’s deceased mother and her own explorations into the question of death. I will probably be rereading it for a very long time.
MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?
NH: It kind of…didn’t. At least not all that much. My first book was episodic, with each of the long chapters published as a serial through Patreon before the full book came out. The sequel was also episodic, so the process stayed the same. Things didn’t change until I left Patreon before working on releasing the full sequel. Without a set monthly schedule, I pivoted to writing my novella whenever the inspiration struck me. In the end, I published that book second, and the sequel to my first novel is going to be edited and hopefully published this year.
MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?
NH: The best review was on The Phoenix Express, where someone praised how much history, heroism, and feminism I packed into a small novella. I worked really hard to tell a story about this middle-aged courier who travels through time, so to see that someone noticed the lack of male characters and the historical nods was amazing. I’ve not received a bad book review yet, but I’ve definitely been called “bland and uninteresting” for short story submissions. I guess I make a better novelist than I do a short form writer.
MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?
NH: Omph, tough question. I guess the best answer I can give is that I owe them my friendship and love, unless they would rather abuse or toss it aside. At that point, I don’t owe them a thing. It’s definitely a brutal answer to your question, but I prefer to keep my characters very distinguished from the people I know for this exact reason.
MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?
NH: Probably my own self-doubt. I think a writer wants to do their very best to craft authentic and relatable characters. But sometimes, I do feel that for all my feminism and woman’s rights activism, I’m still doubting the choices I write into every female character of mine. It doesn’t help that I dabble in escapism, and that includes crafting worlds with better rights for women. But it is infinitely better to try and learn from experience though, and feminism only succeeds if everyone, regardless of gender identity, works for that better world.
MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your books, who would play your characters?
NH: I think from The Phoenix Express¸ Elmira would be played by Freida Pinto, while Malikah would be voiced by Eliza Dushku. In Aimless Sky, Sky Ashworth would be played by a younger Dev Patel. Never really had an answer for Chelsea Alawi, but her character was influenced by Gina Torres’s performance in Firefly.
MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?
NH: I’m not sure, actually. As a writer, you don’t want to limit yourself, but you do see the lines which you try not to cross. From a game designer perspective, I don’t write about sexual assault at all, because that’s not a topic players can have fun or enjoy a game with. As an author, consent between characters is always on my mind, if only to set a good example, but I’ve read plenty of books which discuss sexual assault. But one topic? Well, I’m almost certainly never going to write about pedophilia. And I think part of it is because there’s a history of queer individuals being labeled as pedophiles (which is obviously not true), and since I’m a bisexual man who likes to write narratives that involve queer characters, there’s no compatibility.
If you would like to learn more about Nicolas Hornyak’s work, check out www.nicolashornyak.com.
His latest work of fiction, The Phoenix Express, is available for purchase at https://goo.gl/rdG2BM