The Scariest Part: Nick Kolakowski Talks About ABSOLUTE UNIT

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Nick Kolakowski, whose latest novel is Absolute UnitHere is the publisher’s description:

Absolute Unit is a dark carnival ride through the underside of the American Dream, where hustlers and parasites fight to survive against gun-toting furries, sarcastic drug kingpins, old ladies who are startlingly good with knives, and angry ex-girlfriends. It’s a hardboiled slice of modern American horror that asks the deepest question of all: Is the human race worth saving?

Bill is a nobody, a health inspector who’s not above taking a few dollars to overlook a restaurant’s mouse problem, and hated by nearly everyone except his long-suffering girlfriend. His nephew, Trent, isn’t much better: sexually and morally confused, he’s probably the worst teenage con artist on the East Coast. But today, these two losers are going to become the most important people in the world.

That’s because Bill and Trent harbor a sentient parasite with a sarcastic sense of humor and a ravenous appetite. As the parasite figures out how to control its new human hosts, the focus of its desires grows from delicious cheeseburgers and beer to something much darker and more dangerous.

The apocalypse might come from within us…

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Nick Kolakowski:

Sometimes a book is written in a sustained rush, your mind pouring out thousands of words per day. And sometimes it’s much harder, the words slowing to a trickle over months or even years. Absolute Unit fell into the latter category; I wrote the first portion in 2015 before my mind squeezed off that particular idea tap. The flow didn’t start again until 2019.

Absolute Unit is told from the perspective of a sentient (and highly sarcastic) parasite that lives in the gut of a corpulent, corrupt health inspector named Bill. Over the course of a wild morning, Bill and his parasite friend find themselves embroiled in a crime spree involving a demented police detective, a mysterious body in a car trunk, and Bill’s sexually confused nephew Trent.

That first portion ended there. It was a complete story unto itself. But the parasite still spoke to me at idle moments; it had bigger dreams than merely spending its days in the gut of a guy who shook down convenience stores and restaurants under the guise of public health inspections. It suggested a further plot to me, a horrific one that involved conquering the world.

When I sat down to work on Absolute Unit again, the world was a far angrier place. I was a far angrier person — not just because of the political situation, but because the world seemed to be falling apart faster and faster. Climate change. Financial turmoil. Jerks who didn’t respect bike lanes. My own anger about it all scared me at moments. I decided to pour it into the story.

Now here comes the scariest part, for me at least: How could I convey that broad-based anger in a way that fused organically with the narrative? If I executed incorrectly, I risked coming across as stilted and preachy. Nobody likes pages of monologue, unless you’re an Ayn Rand fan (spoiler alert: I am not). Nobody likes it when you bring the plot to a screeching halt so that characters can make some kind of point. But a speech is exactly what I wanted a character to give, and it risked derailing the action.

In the end, I wrote and re-wrote that climactic sequence in a number of ways, trying out each for effect. The speech is as extreme as the environment around it (a burning hospital, zombie-like revenants, a SWAT team positioning outside), and I’d like to think that the combined effect is a primal scream. Once I finished a satisfactory version, I went back and wove ample foreshadowing into the preceding chapters, so the end doesn’t come completely out of left field.

I finished the book in 2019. Then 2020 hit, and suddenly, I had a new thing to frighten me: What if people thought I wrote a book about a world-conquering parasite as a metaphor for everything happening with COVID-19? Especially since the climax is in a hospital? True, books are usually written years before they actually hit bookstores, but most folks don’t know that — I feared they’d assume I’d written the thing as a pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of people. I didn’t want to be perceived as leveraging a real-life catastrophe to sell books.

But there’s nothing I can do about that. Some fears you just have to live with. There are always scary parts you can’t do anything about. But I’m grateful for how the book gave me an opportunity to externalize some of my anger. I hope it soothes some of yours, as well.

Absolute Unit: Amazon

Nick Kolakowski: Website / Twitter

Nick Kolakowski is the Derringer- and Anthony-nominated author of crime and horror thrillers, including Boise Longpig Hunting Club, Rattlesnake Rodeo, and the Love & Bullets trilogy of gonzo crime novellas. His short fiction has also appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road (Crystal Lake Publishing) and the infamous Tales From the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror (Perpetual Motion Machine). He lives and writes in New York City.

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