double(s) duty: an interview with novelist nic brown

One of the upsides to working at a bookstore is stumbling across hidden gems of the literary world. The gem I happened upon a couple of weeks ago, Nic Brown‘s new novel, Doubles, isn’t exactly hidden: the acclaimed author of Floodmarkers takes his sophomore swing with a story entrenched in the world of tennis. I got my hands on a copy of an uncorrected proof a customer was buying just long enough to jot down the title and author, and found that Brown had the thumbs up of many a folk, including The New York Times Book Review (from his prior work): “What Brown does so expertly is to summon the brief, intimate moments—the single word shared between two characters, the simple gesture that quietly reveals hope.”

Doubles was released last week, and TSF got the chance to interview the tennis-loving author via email. Check out our revealing and candid exchange from this bright writer below.

TSF: First and foremost, why name your main character “Slow Smith?” We’re obsessed with it, but there’s gotta be some calculations behind such a name. Explain.
Nic Brown: Slow is almost seven feet tall and has a ridiculously long service routine. His doubles partner, Kaz – who started playing with him when they were five years old – coined the nickname when they were kids. At the time, Kaz didn’t know much English, but he did know the word “slow” and would yell it at Smith when he took too long between serves. Hence, the nickname. It stuck. Also, because of Slow’s height, he just sort of lopes around the court in these big floppy steps.

TSF: Golden. And sure as heck better than “Bepa.” Did you take into consideration the name of famous American tennis player Stan Smith? There’s some similarity there…
NB:
Yeah, the name is a nod towards Stan Smith. I mean, I knew Slow was going to be the character’s first name, so I figured I’d make it alliterative and give him a last name that echoed Stan Smith. Also, Stan Smith’s kids played college tennis in the area [Brown is a North Carolina native] – his daughter played at UNC and his son at Duke. It seemed a fitting allusion, albeit one that is totally unrelated to the actual narrative.

We’re digging the Doubles cover, photographed by Michael Rolph.

TSF: Before we dive too far into your narrative work in Doubles, tell us a little about yourself.
NB: I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. I spent most of my time playing drums and skateboarding, but – barring skating – the only sport I played or was even remotely into was tennis. I did play quite a bit of it – losing 100% of my matches against my primary foil, Ralph Brabham from down the street – but was never on any teams or leagues or anything. I was a fan, but it wasn’t until later, when I became very close friends with the tennis player Tripp Phillips, that I started to become really obsessed with the sport, both as a spectator and player.

Read more about Doubles, and Brown’s adventuring in the world of Challenger tennis, his thoughts on tennis relationships, who his favorite players are and how he discovered John Isner 10 years before his 11 hours of fame-making.

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