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On Kelman's View: Bad Behavior?

exclusive interview :: :: Author Nic Kelman :: The Behavior of LIght  :: a novel

Author of ::girls:: and his next to be published novel, The Behavior of Light

Nic Kelman

By Adrienne Mand Lewin

:: Moving from a character's
bad behavior in "girls" to "The Behavior of Light" Manhattan resident and author Nic Kelman says, “Everybody is sort of thinking a lot of the things I say in the book,” he says, “but across gender lines, people never discuss it.”

By Adrienne Mand Lewin

Nic Kelman is one of those rare individuals whose brain operates functionally, and perhaps exceptionally, on both its left and right sides. He studied brain and cognitive science at MIT, intending to be both a scientist and a writer, and he was awarded the university’s Burchard Scholarship for outstanding performance in both the arts and the sciences.

An aversion to doing research led him instead to earn a fellowship to Brown University’s Creative Writing MFA program, and the scientific community’s loss was the literary world’s gain. Kelman’s thesis went on to become his debut novel, “girls,” published by Little Brown in 2003 and became a bestseller internationally.

The provocative novel tells of wealthy, powerful men and their sexual relationships with women much younger than they are, pursued despite their obligations to wives, girlfriends and friends. “It was just one of the most unusual pieces of fiction I had read in a very long, long time,” says Kelman’s agent, Sarah Burnes of The Gernert Company. “It was very viscerally powerful, upsetting, compelling and beautiful in equal measure. He really achieved what he was trying to do.”

What he was trying to do, Kelman says, was simply imagine how his life might have turned out had he pursued money rather than his art. His thesis, hatched when many of his MIT friends were becoming Internet millionaires, was “an exercise in making myself feel better about going for my MFA. I thought about how I’d end up if I didn’t do something I believe in. The guys in the book are doing something they don’t want to be doing. They’re making compromises … the characters in the book aren’t me, but I feel like they could be a future me if I didn’t get my MFA.”

The raw portrayal of the characters struck a chord with readers of both genders. “I think every guy has some of that character in him,” Kelman says. “These characters are obviously extreme examples of that personality type, where it’s taken over their whole life.”

He says both men and women tell him they loved “girls” but readers of the opposite sex must be offended by it. “Everybody is sort of thinking a lot of the things I say in the book,” he says, “but across gender lines, people never discuss it.”

One of the biggest compliments he receives about the book is that most people believe he’s retelling real stories. “I’ve heard only one single conversation in the whole book that’s reality,” Kelman says. “Everything else is completely fictional.”

Though he wrote “girls” in the second person, Kelman says it was not by design -- it “just sounded right.”

“It is the way that we actually tell certain kinds of stories to each other. We do that, ‘You know when you’re at the beach and some guy comes over …’ What’s strange is it’s colloquial, but when you see it written on the page it looks kind of strange.”

For the storytelling, he says, “It simultaneously detaches the characters from their actions and involves the reader.”

When it comes to the craft of writing, Kelman fully immerses himself in his work. “It’s more sort of a lifestyle thing for me,” he says, adding, “It fills the rest of my life. I can’t go out the night before. It’s not even going out late or drinking. If I see people the night before, I find I’m not productive.”

Generally, he wakes up at 8, enjoys a cup of tea and reviews his work before writing from about 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. “I have to put myself in that place all the time, at least for extended periods of time,” he explains, adding, “I really feel like I’m inhabiting a new place, so every reminder that I’m not in that place makes it really hard.”

For his next book, Kelman delved into entirely different subject matter. “Video Game Art,” published in 2006, explores the imagery and design of video games in the context of art history.

He says there are many misconceptions in the general public about games, despite the fact that the industry is booming. “You’re either a gamer or not a gamer,” he says. “You either know everything or nothing.”

Kelman has finished his sophomore novel, currently titled “The Behavior of Light,” and is looking for a publisher. “It’s better than ‘girls,’” he says of the work, which he describes as “a much more traditional narrative, almost chronological, about a relationship disintegrating, basically.

“It’s totally fictional again,” he says. “The emotional content is much more through personal experience, but it is fiction … I’m proud of it.”

So is Burnes. “I think that his mind doesn’t work like other people’s,” she says. “It’s just incredibly interesting to see what it is that he’s working on. He really has a very unique voice -- that’s such a banal way of saying it, and it’s fundamentally true.”

Calling both novels “incredibly interesting and intense,” Burnes hopes people will stay tuned to Kelman as his writing career advances.

“I think, if we look back five books from now, there will be this kind of purposeful, intelligent path there,” she says, “and I just can’t wait to see what the next thing is.”

Adrienne Mand Lewin
is a freelance writer who formerly was a national news producer with ABCNEWS.com and a national news reporter for FOXNews.com. She is a frequent contributor to WordSmitten.com and lives and works near Manhattan.

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