Born in the bubbling cauldron of Tanzania, author Nelson Lowhim picked up his first pen at the age of two and chewed. He’s progressed much since then. He wrote his first story at five, a knockoff of all the prince-saves-princess stories he’d read at the time.
Life took him to India, then frigid Michigan. Soon he was hitchhiking the mountainous American West, where the outlaw locals kept his journal full of color. It wasn’t long before he joined the US Army, where he served as a Green Beret Engineer and the detritus of Babylon only furthered his literary ambitions. When he returned from Iraq, he attended Columbia University and published his first short story, The Struggle.
Lowhim currently lives with his girlfriend in the Bronx, and his most recent novel, Ministry of Bombs, was released in December of 2013. Readers can also learn more about his books and keep up to date with Lowhim at his website.
I’m not sure about direct influences (and my success in including them when I write), but I can speak of writers who inspire me. Conrad’s writing is what brought me back into fiction (I had a streak of non-fiction only for some time) almost a decade ago. It was beautiful, and to this day I try to write like he does: with an eye to description as well as the larger story including the realities of life. Borges’ writing is simply concise and beautiful while his imagination manages to crack open my mind. And Vonnegut’s humor while looking at dark subject matter also influences my thoughts while writing. There are more: Coetzee, Adichie, Bolano & Vargas Llosa come to mind though I know I’m missing a few. Outside of writing, visual art can inspire as well. I’m not sure I have single favorites, though certain pieces speak more to me than others.
What made you decide to explore the west by way of hitchhiking? And what was the most memorable part of that journey?
I first hitchhiked, with some friends, in Alaska. This trip had us picked up by a man who hanged effigies of Ronald McDonalds out of his house (there was a neighboring McDonald franchise with which he had some serious issues). I was hooked, and enjoyed using it as a way to get around (and backpack) while I was out there. Usually one has to keep a conversation, and you end up speaking to a lot of interesting people.
How did your time in the Army shape (and/or change) your outlook on life?
In some ways it made me more cynical. But not in a bad way, simply that it forced (and forces) me to look at everything with a critical eye.
As a country — from politicians down to the common man — do you feel as though we learned anything from the Iraq war?
I’m not sure there was a full on discussion about the war. Though I’m not sure how such an item would be dealt with in terms of a large democracy; it only ever appears to be a case of blaming one of either side. Currently, there appears to be fatigue with war, which is not a bad thing, but fatigue ends in at least a generation. So I’m not certain that we’ve learned anything.
Some of this is on us veterans needing to bridge the gap with civilians and let them know more about what happened. Unfortunately, when I hear talking heads, and the main channels talking about nation-on-nation confrontation, there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to change views (they seem to spout the same ideas behind the Iraq war, regurgitated for a new place) for a new world. And again, statements seem to follow a subscribed, at best binary, route.
As a great man once said: and so it goes.
How have you evolved as a writer?
Initially, writing was a way to vent. So my first few stories were about Iraq or war and the divide between soldiers and civilian life. That still plays a role in my writing, but I’m more interested in the struggle that everyone goes through in this ever changing world, and the unanswered questions in this life will always influence me.
Which of your published works are you most proud of, and why?
I especially like The Struggle Trilogy, as that was particularly hard to write. My main gist was to write about an insurgency and try to take into account the majority of influences and reasons that go into such a situation. I’m proud of the When Gods Fail series, as it’s grown into quite the story that I never expected it to. While my latest, Ministry of Bombs, is also interesting as it’s my attempt to tackle multiple views in the world (never an easy thing).
Aside from your own, what book do you think everyone should read?
Can’t really pick one here… But too many to list. So… I’d say read Borges (Ficciones is especially amazing), and Vonnegut’s Mother’s Night is great and Conrad’s Secret Agent is especially good.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write (if you love it), read, write. And understand that it’s a tough slog.
What is your biggest regret, and how would you do things differently if you could?
Hard to say. I think I’ll be bold enough to say I have none… Perhaps I’m too young for regrets (or dumb). I’ve always thought that the trick is to live and learn from your mistakes. Maybe when I’m older and all probabilities and hopes are memories, I might have a few.
You’re obviously a well-traveled man. Where are you most comfortable these days?
Ah. I still love traveling, though it’s with another soul and thus less chaotic. Nevertheless, I do like New York. But I miss many aspects of the west: the mountainous vistas, that beautiful large sky above, and the calm still such views can incite.
If you could snap your fingers and jump to any point in history, where would you go and why?
Ah, fun. The past interests me, though I have no rosy-eyed view of it. Assuming language wouldn’t be a problem, I’d say Rome at its height would be a place of interest.
If this were a time machine, I would want to go into the future, say 500 years, and see what has become of the world.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the fourth book in the When Gods Fail series, as well as a Borges-inspired romp through American outlaw-dom and New York, and the West. I also have plans for another sci-fi book, though this one is taking some time to outline.