By Sean Tuohy
Author Nick Kolakowski has the ability to create shadow-filled, noir worlds populated by bloodthirsty characters you root for.
His latest, Boise Longpig Hunting Club, is no different. It’s a wonderful, dark, and charming novel that follows a bounty hunter named Jake who is trying to stay alive during a deadly manhunt.
Kolakowski swung by to talk about his new novel, his favorite characters, and his writing process.
Sean Tuohy: You describe Boise Longpig Hunting Club as “a contemporary update of The Most Dangerous Game, only with more snark and a bit of political subtext…” So where did the idea come from?
Nick Kolakowski: There are a lot of political and social divisions in America right now; it feels like everyone’s at somebody’s throat. I wanted to write a book that took that vague anger and distilled it into something real, sharp, and nasty. What happens when people with too much money devalue human life? What would happen if Americans sought more bloodthirsty entertainment, akin to what they had in ancient Rome?
The more I thought about how to articulate those themes, the more I settled on the idea of people hunting people for fun. It’s not a new idea by any stretch, but I think it’s one that has a good deal of resonance at our current moment. And of course, I wanted protagonists able to survive such a hunt, and came up with two people—Jake and Frankie—who are also the result of contemporary forces: a veteran and a criminal who live more on the edges.
ST: Jake is a nice guy who is tough and good at his job. How do you shape a likeable character when the story is dark and brutal?
NK: I think the important thing is to make them human and show their inner vulnerability. For Jake, I pulled a lot of details from friends and family members who had rough jobs and have lived rough lives—soldiers, bounty hunters, and so on. So when Jake has his Iraq flashbacks, or describes his day of bounty hunting, those are lightly fictionalized versions of what real people have gone through.
Once you glimpse Jake’s pain, I think you build a bond with him. Plus, he’s a guy who ultimately tries to live within the lines: he wants to do right by his wife, daughter, and sister, and he doesn’t want to break the law if he can help it. With that kind of grounding, you can throw him into the middle of a dark and brutal narrative, and he’ll (hopefully) make it through with the audience’s sympathies intact.
But that’s not to say he won’t do some very bad things when his back is against the proverbial wall.
ST: Where the hell did you come up with Frankie? She is a snarky arms dealer who I wish was on my side during a fight.
NK: I wanted to design a character who lacks much of a conscience, but who the audience nonetheless finds sympathetic. Jake is a tough guy but ultimately a big softy; Frankie represents the harsher side of their family DNA, someone who only sees the extremes. If you bring a rifle to a gunfight, she’s going to show up with a rocket launcher and a bunch of psychos.
At the same time, if you craft a character who’s just a straight-up murder machine, it can get boring really quickly. So from the very beginning, I wanted to give Frankie an inner code, just like Jake. She’s still a bit of a psychopath (actually, maybe a lot of psychopath), but she definitely lives by a framework that she won’t violate, and she places family over everything else. Hopefully that puts her in a better light than the people she faces off against.
ST: What is your writing process? Has it changed since your first book?
NK: The process of actual writing hasn’t changed all that much—you have to sit down and grind it out—but the research for this book was definitely unique. I spend a fair amount of time in Idaho, because my wife’s family is from there, and I used our past few trips there to basically hunt for scenes and locations for the book. People who live in Boise will recognize some of those.
This book also involved a lot more gunfire than my previous ones, so I consulted with some friends who know more about weapons than I do, and I spent some time on the firing range. Folks who’re into guns are (rightfully) sticklers for detail, so I was paranoid about getting everything as right as I could when it came to terminology, how bullets actually sound when they snap past your ear, etc.
ST: What’s next for you?
NK: Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Boise Longpig Hunting Club. It’s titled Voodoo Potato (tentatively), and it’s set in New Orleans. Frankie and Jake find themselves trapped in a bad situation involving…data analytics, which sounds like a dry and esoteric subject for a crime novel, but it actually leads to some very messy, bloody, kinetic outcomes. I like using Frankie and Jake as a vehicle for exploring how messed-up contemporary society has become.
ST: Can you tell us one made up fact about yourself?
NK: I can play the guitar like a mean sumbitch.