Coffee is an unnecessary additive to the frenetic energy of artistic everyman Nathan Singer, yet he partakes in refill after refill. He drinks it up, interspersing sips of java with gulps of water. The effect fuels his mind and body into a structured whirlwind. Today's flavor is 9/11 and these world-weary trying times. He shines light on the bleakness by looking to the past.
"There had to be people in the McCarthy era that thought this was how it was going to be forever. Hopefully, these current dark ages will be over in a much more timely manner," the debut novelist explains.
This is his solace and his hope. During a sit-down at Kaldi's darkly aged coffee house, Singer sermonizes with a meticulously political stream-of-conscious passion. It's not the crux of who Singer is, but it lends support to the man and his creative soul.
He claims to shy away from being too overtly political in his writing, but he can't deny that the immediacy of 9/11 shaped his just-published satire, A Prayer for Dawn. Set in Cincinnati and written in real time as news events unfolded, the book follows a dozen disparate and often detestable people -- a prisoner, a publicist, an 8-year-old girl -- intersecting for a time to remember.
"You can't unite freaks. Freaks by their very nature cannot be united. And those are the people who are the 'stars' of A Prayer for Dawn. And that's not to say they're good people. They're horribly damaged people. Readers will identify with a particular character, and I'll think that's a really wretched character," he says, noting that he relates to all of his characters. "I've had the most time to spend with them. I know all their good points and bad points. That's not to say that any of them represent me. They don't. I don't work that way."
His only agenda is to create. He doesn't mask his own life in fiction, as some authors do. The Madisonville native even steered clear of using his hometown in his writing. "I shied away from setting anything in Cincinnati, because I thought that's dull," he comments, explaining that Prayer dictated the need for a Queen City backdrop. "It seemed like the right setting for the type of satire I was writing. A lot of the frustrations being a progressive in this town were the frustrations around the country writ large.
"This is not a left-wing book. It's not a manifesto. I hope I gave (the characters) all adequate stage time," he continues. "I think there's going to be some people who are going to be turned off by the subject matter immediately. I can't help that."
Apologies are a four-letter word. A Prayer for Dawn, thankfully, is what it is: a thrash novel that's in-your-face, edgy and fast. Every word, Singer says, is exactly how he wants it: fractured sentences, nonsense verse and all.
"I was just writing as the characters were telling it. From that point, I literally wrote it every single day in real time," Singer relates. "I probably could have written Prayer three years before, and it would have been similar. Theoretically, I could have kept writing. It's probably even more pertinent than when I wrote the last word. It will always exist as a piece of the time."
And that led Singer to be concerned that his effort would collect a hefty amount of dust before seeing dawn's light. "When I finished in 2002, my biggest fear was it was going to sit on my shelf for 10 years. I really felt like it needed to get out right away," he says.
Working without an agent, Singer sent out cold mailings. In June 2003, a year after finishing Prayer while a graduate student at Antioch College, he got the call from Bleak House Books.
"More or less I've always been a writer. I was under the impression I was going to be a professional musician. By the time I was 27, I signed my first book contract, so I was like, 'that's close enough,' " he says.
The music remains. Between interview questions, the multi-creative-tasker sings quietly to himself. The melody is his life, an indication of his abundance of creative pursuits. Singer is actually a singer, as well as guitarist, for local band Absinthium. He knocks down the spoken word circuit via the collective Voice in the Cage. And he refers to himself as a "second-generation member" of the theatrically based Performance Gallery, which in June produced Chasing the Wolf, a play based on Singer's unpublished first novel.
Singer downplays his varying creative depth, shrugging it off by explaining that he doesn't want to be compartmentalized. "If you tell me you're a nuclear physicist and a sculptor, now that's impressive," he comments, wondering why more artists don't shift creative gears. "I'm of the belief that it's not they can't, but they choose not to."
The constant shift between media doesn't impact the quality of Singer's work. "It hasn't so far. Ask me again in 20 years," he jokes.
"I find that as I rapidly approach 30 that I'm not the functional adult I should be. I don't think it diminished from my art, but it might diminish me from being a functional member of society," he says, his long head-banging hair hanging even lower as his head slumps ever so slightly at the realization of his own words. "That's probably going to make me sound like an idiot."
No, it makes him sound like an artist, one who rarely loses steam. ©