This week we are talking with Nick Valentino, author of Thomas Riley, who has been signed to continue that world with two more books. Nick hails from Nashville, TN. He’s an ex-band member and music lover, a hockey and roller derby fan, and a confirmed beer nerd who regularly writes reviews of favorite brews. I interviewed Nick at Steamcon II in Seattle WA, last November, and had a chance to catch up with him again recently.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Nick, thanks for taking time to talk with us again. Before our interview at Steamcon, the last time I saw you was in Victoria, BC, at the Victoria Steampunk Expo, but I didn’t get a chance to talk much with you, and then missed you on the ferry back to Seattle. Let’s start off with the important item: beer nerd. You write reviews for the beers you’ve sampled for the “Proletariat Beer Review”. I’m actually allergic to beer and need to live vicariously through you – what are some of your favorites from around the world?
Nick Valentino: The beer review is my brainchild that’s taking forever to make happen. I just got into crazy microbrews and foreign beers across the states and it’s really a strange thing that I have enjoyed more and more. All the different flavors and brewing techniques and such. I have this big idea where what I want to do is a blue collar, proletariat, almost snarky at times, kind of review. Where it’s your common average Joe’s idea review of what it tastes like. I don’t need to have hoppy notes at the end that remind me of “X”. I’m looking more for “I can look at it and that’s what it tastes like.” Boom – it’s done. I want to make an app out of it. Some of my favorites are Hoppy Monster, not sure who brews it, but it’s from Colorado. I’m also into English Porters and brown ales, that kind of malty flavor more so than hops. Everywhere I go, I try to find the local beer and local flavor since I won’t get it anywhere else. I also like Spitfire, Bombardier, British porter ale.
AA: Speaking of traveling, you do a lot between promotions and conventions. What is life on the road like for you and who creates that schedule?
NV: It’s super hard and super fun at the same time. I go to a lot of cons and I think I was home only 9 weeks in 2010. Being in Nashville, I’m close to a lot of places like Atlanta, Huntsville, Birmingham, and anywhere in Kentucky, so I have a big range of places I can go by car.
It’s really lonely and it’s lots of hard work, but at the same time, I go to cons and I meet all kinds of readers, kids, all these awesome people who are really excited about any kind of fandom. That’s huge for me because it makes all the difference when I’m sitting all alone at a con and it’s kind of freaky. I have been in some tiny little towns and I really have met the greatest people. Even at general science fiction conventions and SCA cons, it’s really awesome the cross section of people. That’s made up for a lot of the hard times. There’s a lot risk involved, at least for me. I do all the planning and work. There’s just a few books fairs I didn’t plan and that were done for me but otherwise, it’s all me. It’s air tickets, hotels, how to get there, gas money, whatever. That’s scary, too, and I just have to weigh it all out. For 2010, I chalked it up to being a trail and error year, and I’ll figure out the best cons, the best books shows. It doesn’t matter where it is, it could be Victoria, or Baltimore, Indianapolis, Texas, it doesn’t matter. There’s no way to make something happen unless I do it.
AA: That’s certainly a lot of work, but necessary, too, to be successful. With all those different kinds of events, what kind of reaction are you getting?
NV: It’s been awesome. Every bit has been awesome. At general science fiction conventions, people are still learning what steampunk is. They’ve heard about it but haven’t read anything. Thomas Riley has been a good introduction to it. They appreciate it and that’s great to get that out of sci fi fans; that they are accepting of steampunk in general. At book fairs, people don’t know what steampunk is and I have to go through this whole spiel about it. For Thomas Riley, for people who don’t know what it is, it’s Victorian Indiana Jones with gadgets and sky pirates. For the most part, that’s all people really need to here. Everyone loves Indiana Jones, so there’s that association.
It’s been huge and every book fair I go to, the cons and book stores, I’ve had the most amazing experiences and I’ve met great people in each one. I was in South Haven, Mississippi, and people came dressed up for the book signing. It was awesome. Things like that make it worthwhile for me.
AA: All of that sounds like a great opportunity where you have been able to connect with others and their interests. One of your other interests is ice hockey. Do you get to see many games while you are traveling?
NV: I’m a season ticket holder for the Predators, I’m kind of lunatic for ice hockey and when I have to start traveling, I miss a lot. It hurts my soul that I can’t get to see a lot on the road because I don’t go to everything and that I don’t get to go to cities that have hockey teams. I went to St. Louis once and they were playing in Nashville that night. So the one day I’m there, I miss it. I would go if I could. I haven’t seen anything yet while I’ve been on the road. I haven’t really seen anything at home. I’m a lunatic, so if I’m home, I’m there at the games.
AA: Maybe tweeting your fans would help in getting tickets while you are traveling! Your home base is Nashville, where I used to live in many years ago for the tail end of college. What do you enjoy about the city and its people?
NV: Well, it’s a great city! Nashville is awesome! I love it. When I was in my early 20s, I thought it was kind of lame, country music and such. It is not only growing but it’s also eclectic and kind of a really great big little city. There are elements of both which makes it really fun. I judge a lot of cities by what sports teams they have because it reflects on their population. If they have a hockey team then they can support “this much”. The same for baseball or basketball or football, then they have to have the size to support those teams. If they have more than one, then you know it’s a really big city even if you don’t know much about it. Nashville has an NHL team and NFL team, so you can see that it’s just big enough but not too big to be an insane metropolitan area that’s crowded all time. There’s a lot of small-town charm about it as well. There’s a lot of touristy stuff that I’m getting to appreciate more and that’s really kind of fascinating. Something that I thought was kind of kitschy downtown, like all the honky-tonks and things that seem kind of goofy, but the more you learn about it… Like there was one place that used to be a morgue in the Civil War and then there was the bar that Johnny Cash went to, after he would play shows, where he’d drink and play for free. That’s the coolest. There’s a lot of other things, too, like the food is awesome. It’s really growing in every way. I love it. I think it’s a great town and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, really.
AA: Nashville was hit hard with flooding last year. How were you affected?
NV: I was at Anachrocon in Atlanta and I get a call that my basement looks like a waterfall, so I packed all my stuff in the car and was freaking out and drove home in the insane rain. I’ve never driven in anything like that before. I got home and had to bucket out the basement. It only got in the basement, though, and the crazy thing about it is that Nashville was destroyed, it was completely smashed up and there was stuff everywhere, with 10 to 12 feet of water everywhere. Some people lost everything. The weird thing about it is that Nashville, being the Volunteer State, it was such a big movement that everyone volunteered and would go help out people. It was intoxicating. I went and did all types of stuff. It didn’t matter what it was. One strange thing about flooding that I didn’t realize was that anything the water touches was contaminated and you really can’t fix it. So if it gets on your pots and pans, you can scrub it with bleach, but it could still have some kind of contaminant on it from outside. Some people literally lost everything. We went and volunteered with Hands-On Nashville and we would just go to people’s homes randomly and see what they needed, which was mostly moving stuff out to the curb. You are touching all the really nasty stuff, but it’s just from water. I never thought it would get that bad but I’ve never been in a real flood situation. After that, we volunteered at the Humane Society, which was awesome because no one really thinks about dogs and pets. I’m a huge dog lover, so that was important to me. I spent days at the warehouse with mountains of dog food. People would come donate and other people would come and get it for free, so we would help organize and shovel it out to people. I was affected by the flooding but my house was easy compared to what I saw. It could have been a lot worse.
AA: Nashville is probably most popularly known as a music town. Grand Ol’ Opry, Music Row, and a host of celebrities. You were in a band and are still an avid music lover. What kind of music do you enjoy, and how does it influence your writing and writing process?
NV: Nashville’s great for music. I can’t write without music. I try to set the mood and scene by figuring out what is appropriate for it and usually, it’s pretty crazy stuff. I listen to weird things and I’m really into underground stuff because I was in an underground band. All we did was tour around, like I’m doing now essentially, but I was with four other guys. I’m really into underground stuff and stuff most people haven’t heard of, which affect me emotionally when I write. When I write, I sit down and blast it, and it’s painful, and I’ll write to that depending on what the scene is like. In Thomas Riley there’s a lot of fast-paced of action, crashes, and fights, and stuff like that was written to something probably violent and really loud. For Nashville’s music scene, it’s awesome too, we’re a “B” market, but we get all these awesome bands that people don’t usually hear about. So that’s the only thing that I do for fun. If I can, I’ll go to see a show. There is tons of underground stuff coming through from metal to alternative country to independents. All musicians want to come to Nashville. There’s all the studios, so it doesn’t matter what you play, people probably want to come see you.
AA: How is Nashville for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc?
NV: Nashville for writing? I like it even though it doesn’t inspire me and I don’t do a lot with Nashville in what I write. In Dreams of Steam, I wrote Engine 316 which is a Western, as a steampunk retelling of the Rube Burrows Gang There are some guys from Texas who get caught in Nashville. I finally got to incorporate it which was pretty awesome but it’s weird because I’ve never written any kind of Western before. The funny thing is that one of my favorite bars is called the Flying Saucer and they serve a serve 150 beers on tap. I go there all the time and it’s the place in the Union Station where they were when they came through on the train to rob and got caught. It was a perfect setting since I was there all the time, anyway. [In Engine 316 ] These guys actually find a tank in one of the train cars and they drive it out of the train, and it all happens next to my favorite bar! I don’t get a lot of inspiration from Nashville but it’s a great place to be, it’s calm and easy, and I’m used to it. I like it and I think it’s pretty productive for writing. There are not a lot of distractions.
We’ll take a break here in our interview with Nick Valentino. In the next post, we’ll talk about his book, Thomas Riley, and fan reaction. Until then, read more information at Nick’s website.
Click here to read the rest of the interview