Known as Nick of Night on Reddit, Nick Carey is writer who has honed his craft and partially built his professional identity from brilliantly participating in Reddit’s writing community. After being inspired by a writing prompt, Carey soon realized his response needed to be expanded into a larger story. This larger story became The Carnival of the Night. Wanting to learn more about Carey’s background, his thoughts on Reddit’s writing community, and his novella, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories that you loved? Do you still enjoy revisiting any of these tales?
Nick Carey: As a child growing up in England, there were no Dr. Seuss books or Calvin and Hobbes stories available to me. I have no doubt that I would have loved them, if I’d only managed to get my tiny hands on them. Instead, I grew up on the incredible imaginings of Roald Dahl. Some of the stories that stood out particularly to me were: The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches. Each book was magical. Many of them, I think, are about escapism – the protagonist was often an orphan child who suddenly had something bizarre thrust upon them. It’s a timeless recipe for writing children’s literature (Harry Potter springs to mind), because every child wants to feel special. Roald Dahl never patronised kids, and I think that was an important part of his success. Children were to him, in a way, the better audience to have, because their imaginations are limitless, they just require fuel and a spark to get them going. He tended to write rather macabre, but moral, fantasy. The imagery in some of his stories, such as The Witches, terrified me as a child. My writing often leans somewhat on the gruesome side, but hopefully in a fun way. I think that can be attributed to Roald Dahl.
As I grew older, like so many others before me, I read The Hobbit, which led me onto Lord of the Rings, which in turn took me to further fantasy.
I don’t revisit my childhood books often, but Hollywood has thrown a good dollop of nostalgia at me in recent years.
Yanes: You have a degree in English Literature. How do you feel this education has impacted you as a writer?
Carey: What I’ve found is that audiences don’t want to read a lot of the books that I studied. As brilliant as Thomas Hardy or Leo Tolstoy were, their styles don’t work for the voracious appetites of modern audiences. Back then, there was much less choice, so a rambling, maundering interlude of fifty pages, that really had very little to do with the main story arc, could easily be forgiven. More to read – brilliant! It’s not like that so much now. We demand faster paced page-turners. I’d say, study literature for the love of literature, but don’t become snobbish about writing. If you try to recreate the classics, you’ll have a hard time finding an audience.
Yanes: You are part two unique writing communities: Reddit and Amazon self-publishing. What was it that got you involved in Reddit’s writing community?
Carey: One of the wonderful communities I’m part of on Reddit is called WritingPrompts. This is a place where anyone can submit a one or two sentence idea for a story, and then writers (like me) try to tell that story, providing we find the premise interesting enough. It’s usually done in a flash fiction format, so a thousand words or less, but it’s not unusual for writers to carry that story on for much longer. Sometimes even for an entire book (as I have done).
It’s a brilliant place for any writer looking for inspiration, or even just to practice. You’ll often get feedback on your stories from readers whether you want it or not. Many writers shelter themselves from feedback and are very precious about their writing, not letting anyone see it until their masterpiece is ‘ready’. I don’t think that’s healthy, and sometimes, because of a lack of feedback, these masterpieces fall flat. Writing Prompts is a good place to expose your writing to gentle scrutiny and get an idea of where you’re currently at.
Yanes: How have you benefited from Reddit’s writing community? Specifically, do you think Reddit has helped you build your ‘brand’ as a writer?
Carey: Reddit has helped me in so many ways. The variety of prompts submitted daily has allowed me to explore a multitude of genres. It has let me get a real feel for what works for me. I found that slice-of-life stories – those mundane every day tales – are actually one of my favourite genres to write, along with sci-fi and fantasy. That took me by surprise!
Reddit has also allowed me to test the waters, to see what type of stories and styles of writing people are interested in reading right now. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve gradually been able to build an audience that is interested specifically in my writing, and as such my sub (a place on reddit where I put most of my writing) has just over ten thousands subscribers, which is amazing to me. I’m so grateful for that.
Yanes: Amazon’s self-publishing is quickly becoming the go-to platform for new writers to release their content. Given your experience, what advice could you offer other writers who are thinking of using Amazon to self-publish?
Carey: Amazon is such a powerful tool for writers thinking of self-publishing. Now that they’ve bought and integrated CreateSpace, authors can offer their readers beautiful physical editions of their books, at no cost or risk to themselves. It’s very simple to use and gives your writing a potentially massive reach. Potentially, however, being the keyword there.
Amazon alone is not the Holy Grail. You can write the most amazing book and put it out there through Amazon, but it doesn’t mean it will sell a single copy. If you’re thinking of self publishing, you need to build an audience for your book to succeed. Traditionally, that wouldn’t be your responsibility to do. But when you decide to go self-pub, all the chores that would have fallen on a publisher’s/agents shoulders, now fall on yours. Editing, cover art, promotion. They’re the big three. Learn to sell yourself. Learn to wield the power of advertising, if you have the budget. Try to understand social media, and make sure you set up a newsletter.
Yanes: You recently published a novella titled, The Carnival of the Night, which was inspired by a Writer’s Prompt on Reddit. What was it about this prompt that caught your attention?
Carey: I believe the original prompt was along the lines of: “You are on a bus. There’s a girl behind you and you gather the courage to get up to talk to her. Once you say hi, her face turns pale and she says, ‘You shouldn’t be able to see me.'”
The hook here is that the girl is surprised you’re able to see her (Why is that strange? What’s wrong with her?). But what I really liked about this prompt was simply: the bus. Where was it going, with these two strange people on board? Well, it ended up at a rather macabre carnival, but it could have gone absolutely anywhere. Prompts that allow a lot of possibilities are by far my favourite to write for.
Yanes: As you began working on a response to this Reddit prompt, when did you know you needed to expand this story into a book?
Carey: I had no idea where it was going when I wrote the first part. I thought I’d write something with a bit of banter between the two characters, and then leave it on a dark cliffhanger. However, I soon found myself wanting to know the answer to the cliffhanger, so I wrote another part. It was one of those stories that wrote itself. By the time I’d reached chapter five, it had become something that needed completing, that needed telling. For me, as much as for anyone else.
Yanes: While developing The Carnival of the Night, who were some characters that took on a life of their own? Are there any who you want to revisit in future stories?
Carey: Without giving too much away, there is a cowboy character in it who I think became the moral heart of the book. It was as much about his redemption as it was about the protagonist’s journey. I’m actually planning out a sequel at the moment, and we’ll certainly be seeing a few of the characters again.
Yanes: When people finish reading The Carnival of the Night, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Carey: There are themes in the book that I hope stay with people for a little while after they’ve completed it, but I think most of all, I just want them to feel like they’ve been on an adventure. It’s a fast paced book and there’s a lot of action and plenty of grim scenes. When they finally put it down, I’d love it if they just took a deep breath.
Yanes: Finally, what are you currently working on that people can look forward to?
Carey: I’m finishing editing a second novella (it’s about forty thousand words) called: The Smuggler of Souls. The premise is that God/Heaven has been overthrown, and it’s down to Death and a rag-tag army of souls that he’s been able to smuggle out to restore order. Again it’s rather macabre, with scenes such as the lead characters using the Devil’s gigantic skull as a boat to travel over a lake. I’d say this is more inspired by Lord of the Rings, than anything else.
I’ve also got a sci-fi book planned, called Magnolia, which is based on a short story I wrote, and I can’t wait to get going with that. It’s a detective noir thriller set in the future, with themes such as AI and cloning.