Nathan Kotecki might live in North Carolina now, but it’s York Catholic High School that partially inspired his new novel, “The Suburban Strange.” The 41-year-old author, a 1989 YCHS graduate who lived most of his childhood in Spring Garden Township, describes the book as “an autobiography by way of funhouse mirror.”
The novel follows a high school sophomore named Celia Balaustine, who arrives at her new school to find that mysterious things seem to keep happening — “a conflict between good and evil that hides in plain sight.”
Kotecki will return to York next weekend for a Nov. 16 visit at Northeastern High School and a Nov. 17 book signing at Irvin’s Books in West Manchester Township. We caught up with him to talk about his writing and advice for aspiring authors.
Book Buzz: You’re from York originally, correct? Did you graduate from high school here?
Nathan Kotecki: I wasn’t born in York, but I lived there from ages 3 to 18, and I definitely consider York my hometown. I lived in Spring Garden township in the beautiful neighborhood of Elmwood. I attended Mount Rose Elementary School (long gone), then St. Joseph School, then York Catholic High School, where I graduated in 1989.
BB: “Suburban Strange” is your first novel, but your book jacket mentions a degree in architecture and a jaunt as a DJ in New York City. When did you start writing?
NK: I earned my degree in architecture at Miami University of Ohio, after which I moved to New York City. DJ culture in New York City is unlike anywhere else, and some people will joke that everyone’s a DJ in NYC. I did it for fun, really — spinning indie pop and indie rock nights at midtown bars and dance parties, and occasionally doing goth/darkwave break sets for my personal favorite DJ at his club night.
It’s difficult to say when I began writing, because on the one hand I’ve always been a writer — filling up notebooks since middle school — but I didn’t take myself seriously as a professional author until 2008-2009, when I finished the first draft of “The Suburban Strange” and began exploring the options to get it published.
BB: Tell us a little bit about the novel. How much is derived from your actual high school experiences? Where else do you get your inspiration or ideas?
NK: I like to describe “The Suburban Strange” as an autobiography by way of funhouse mirror because, though it is fiction, so many of my experiences and so many people and places from my high school years are in that book, albeit in rather distorted forms. I’m sure it’s not lost on residents of York that there is a Suburban school district, but those readers who attended York Catholic will notice the striking similarity between the layout of my Suburban High School and YCHS. My old house, Elmwood Boulevard, the old mansion at the end of the Boulevard that I think is owned by York Hospital, and even Rocky Ridge Park all make uncredited cameos in the book. “The Suburban Strange” is both an homage and a kiss-off to my time in high school: on one level it is a sort of wish fulfillment of what the perfect high school experience would have been for me — but again, that may be completely unrecognizable, buried in all the fictional elements.
Inspiration comes from all sorts of places, but the thing I’m noticing as I work on more projects is that music is a pretty constant element in my storytelling. “The Suburban Strange” has so many alternative music references; the reader can create a soundtrack for the book by stringing together all the songs the characters mention. And the two other projects I’m kicking around right now both have strong musical foundations — it’s too early to tell you about those, though! And classic literature and poetry are always lurking around the edges of my writing. The other day a poem by Marianne Moore provided exactly the inspiration I needed for a scene I was writing.
BB: The book is the first in a series. What can readers expect next?
NK: I am really excited to continue this story. The second installment in the “The Suburban Strange” series, titled “Pull Down the Night,” is finished and scheduled for publication in fall 2013, and I am ready to write the third one now. The greater mythology of the series — a supernatural conflict hiding in plain sight at Suburban High School — has barely been revealed. I can tell you the series does not follow Celia, the heroine of the first book. Each subsequent book is told in the following school year from the point of view of a new character. I really like the way the series will shift like a kaleidoscope with each new installment. So there are new characters and new supernatural threats, along with more coming-of-age stories involving characters who have no idea anything supernatural is going on.
BB: You’re speaking with Northeastern High School’s Bobcat Book Club and a few classes Nov. 16. What would your advice be for aspiring writers? Any tips on what not to do?
NK: I don’t presume to have a lot of answers, and I think there are many ways to be a good and/or successful writer. When I have been asked this question, I invariably start with a piece of advice I’ve found quite compelling: in order to be a good writer, one must be a good reader. That doesn’t mean reading a lot (though that never hurt anyone!) — it means taking an interest in someone else’s good writing to figure out what makes it good. If you can make sense of why someone else’s writing works — the choices the author made, why certain things were included and other things were left out, the technical elements that make the telling of the story particularly effective — you are in a better position to wield those tools in your own writing.
The other thing I’ve been asked a few times already is, how do you keep going and not run out of interest/stamina/discipline before you finish a story or book? I don’t have a good answer for that, but I do believe when you discover the thing you’re really supposed to be writing about — not the thing you’d like to write about — then the writing becomes much easier, and you can find yourself with the opposite problem of neglecting other parts of your life while you pursue that story that has clicked with you. That’s definitely been my experience.
Name: Nathan Kotecki
Lives in: Durham, N.C.
Hobbies: Writing feels like as much like a hobby as a profession — I seem to do it all the time; reading — particularly classic literature; indie and alternative music
Online: thesuburbanstrange.com, Twitter @nathankotecki, search for Nathan Kotecki on Facebook
If you go: Kotecki will sign copies of his novel from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 17 at Irvin’s Books, 2159 White St., West Manchester Township. Call 717-843-2947 for details.