For the past seven years novelist Kem Nunn has been busying it up in Hollywood writing for TV shows such as Deadwood and John from Cincinnati. Lucky for us, he’s back on the book scene with a new novel. Chance tells the story of Dr. Eldon Chance, a brilliant neuropsychiatrist in San Francisco coming to terms with the end of his marriage, who risks everything by getting involved with a beautiful multiple-personality patient and is led into a the city’s dark underworld.
You took a break from novels while writing for TV shows such as “Deadwood.” Did you miss it?
I’ve continued to write fiction since being in television. TV is a different kind of writing, but it’s all writing. It was David Milch, of Deadwood who helped me to see it that way. We later collaborated on the short-lived John from Cincinnati, but I’m very proud of the work we did together. I’m now on Sons of Anarchy, a different kind of show but also daring in its subject matter. I’m happy to be a part of that too. It’s hard to make a living as a novelist. My first novel Tapping the Source made quite a splash in Hollywood, and people started asking if I wanted to write scripts. I quickly realized I could make a lot more money that way. My editor used to say that if I’d stop screwing around in Hollywood and write more books, that eventually I’d drive up my numbers and could make a living that way. I’d like to think so, but meanwhile someone’s offering me $200,000 to do a script rewrite.
You have a wonderful character in the book named only D, an expert knife fighter who becomes Chance’s friend. The two couldn’t be less alike. Is D based on anyone you know?
He’s loosely based on a guy I know named Tom Kier, who makes his living teaching Navy Seals how to fight with knives. Like D, Tom is a big strong guy, who grew up on the streets, but he’s also a real autodidact. As a writer, I love being around Tom because every time he opens his mouth new story ideas come out.
There’s a profound psychological aspect in Chance that goes deeper than your other books.
I’ve always relied a lot on landscape in my books, the atmosphere of a particular place, as well as a fair amount of external action. While writing Chance, it occurred to me that this is the most internal book I’ve ever written. So much of the action takes place in Chance’s head. It was the nature of the story as it began to develop. Chance is constantly trying to make sense of what’s going on around him and of who these people are, and this took me into deeper waters, which is not to say I didn’t have fun with it.
All of your novels are different, and as a writer you seem to defy genre.
I think there are recognizable themes in my books, and that people find the highest expression of their humanity in community. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s line: “I only know God in the company of my brothers.” My books often involve characters who began in some form of mental isolation, with a feeling of having died to the world. Then they become involved in some kind of action where by necessity they’re forced to reengage, to get back into the game of life, as it were. You could say that about Chance.