An Interview with Nico Laeser, Author of Skin Cage and Infinity

If you haven't delved into the work of independent (i.e., self-published) authors yet, you're missing something. Freed from the formulaic constraints of what a traditional publisher thinks will sell, self-published authors are producing astonishingly original works of fiction. I reviewed a book that epitomizes that trend last month.

Titled Skin Cage it's written in the first person from a most unusual perspective. The choice of that viewpoint, as well as the degree to which the author succeeded in accomplishing what can only be described as a challenging task, left me more than usually interested in conducting an interview. Happily, Nico Laeser said yes.

Q: Your first book, Skin Cage, is written in first person, through the mind of a quadriplegic who is unable to speak, or even to breathe on his own. Did the idea for the book come to you as an abstract notion, or was it based upon your knowing someone in this condition?

A: The first chapter was based on a dream I had, a dream within a dream, and with full narration from the main character, Daniel. I awoke from that dream and wrote what eventually became the first draft of the first chapter of Skin Cage. This may seem bizarre, but most of my ideas are conceived or developed during meditation or in the subsequent dreams that follow.

Q: What was it that appealed to you about this concept? The opportunity to portray the thoughts of someone in such a terrible position, the plot opportunities it presented, or something else?

A: All of the above, and also the restriction of the chosen perspective and tense. The thought of being a ‘fly on the wall’ in one’s own life, only able to view it as a spectator, was both terrifying and fascinating. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, as a story, or as experiment of perspective, but the initial premise seemed too powerful to ignore, and the more I wrote, and researched similar conditions, the more I felt that it was a story worth telling.

“This may seem bizarre, but most of my ideas are conceived or developed during meditation or in the subsequent dreams that follow.”

Q: Did you find that you conceptualized the thoughts and emotions of Daniel Stockholm, the paralyzed young man, differently as you spent more time imagining yourself inside his reality? If so, what did you learn along the way?

A: As a reader and writer yourself, you know how immersive it can be to spend countless hours in someone else’s world or in ones that you have created. In a way, we are using only those senses that are still available to Daniel. I did a lot of research into similar conditions, and some of the real-life stories are way more powerful than anything I could create in a fictional world. Some of the stories told from recovered sufferers of ‘locked-in syndrome’ are incredibly moving. Their shared experiences of being thought of as ‘brain dead’ or in a ‘vegetative’ state, helped deepen my understanding of Daniel as a character, and also helped to deepen my sympathies for anyone suffering in a similar state. It is amazing what we take for granted, right up until it is gone.

Q: One of the interesting devices that you employ is to give each chapter a title that begins, “I am …” that relates to the scene that you are about to develop. How did that come to you, and what did you hope the reader would draw from the titles?

A: My chapter titles are as much a writing device, as they are a device for readers to know my focus for the chapter. During the second draft of my manuscript, I title my chapters as I go. If I can’t name a chapter, then that chapter has no clear point or meaning, and is either revised to make the point clearer or deleted. The titles usually pertain to two elements within the chapter, one obvious element for first time readers, and one more obscure or thematic element for those who have already read the chapter. I have always liked short chapters, because my reading time is seized usually in ten or twenty minute intervals and being able to read a complete chapter in those stolen moments is great. I like book chapters that are almost short stories in themselves, and where possible, I try to accomplish this, and name each story.

Q: The blurb for your second book, titled Infinity, begins, “A seven-year-old boy is hit by a car and momentarily separated from life. When his eyes reopen, he can no longer discern the boundaries between reality and delusion, or perhaps between this life and the next.” Let’s just say that in the second paragraph in the blurb, things go downhill from there. Where did your interest in exploring the lives of people experiencing terrible tragedies come from?

A: Life is full of tragedy. It is in spite of those tragedies, or perhaps because of them, that we appreciate the small wonders and beauty in the world. I think that most of my work, like life, can be viewed from an optimistic or pessimistic perspective, and I try not to impose my view as to which perspective is correct.

Q: Are you already at work on your next book, and if so, does it continue in this vein or are you trying a new direction?

A: I am currently working on two novels. One is part way through its first draft, and the other is in its final draft before editing passes. The first is a dark comedy with the working title “Enablers Anonymous,” and the second is a novel that I intend to release this year, titled “Harmonic.” Although not strictly part of a series, I will be writing more stories in the “Harmonic” world, with one novella and four novels planned. I have at least a dozen other novels that are in varying stages from basic idea to fully outlined, waiting to be written, but all will be done at the pace of one man with not enough time in any given day, and written one word at a time.

Q: You’re also a very talented artist. Do you find time to pursue both pursuits as much as you wish, or is one crowding the other out?

A: I find that art, music, and literature, for me, are different tools with which to pour out different emotions. I still make time for all three, but spend most of my time writing. A piece of music, a painting, or a thousand words can tell the same story, but to three different people.

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