Nic Schuck on Writing Native Moments: A Coming-of-Age Surf Adventure Novel
In this episode, I had the chance to talk to a #1 bestseller author from Pensacola, Florida—Nic Schuck.
Native Moments is Nic's debut novel. It's a coming-of-age surf adventure novel set in Costa Rica. 2.5 years after it was published, it reached #1 bestseller status in the Central and South American Travel and Tourism category on Amazon, which lets him know that it survives in an era of easily disposable fads.
In this episode, he lets us in on what the book is all about, his inspiration in writing it, what his process is like, and so much more.
Social Media Profiles:
- Website: https://nicschuck.wordpress.com/
- IG: https://www.instagram.com/nic_schuck/
- FB: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1184058670
Get a copy of Native Moments and Nic's 2nd book, Panhandlers on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Nic-Schuck/e/B01AFM1FM4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
- Tell us about Native Moments.
- What inspired you to write Native Moments?
- Why Costa Rica?
- Did you read in search of Captain Zero?
- What was your writing process like?
- When did you know that was this book you wanted to write?
- Tell us about your second book.
- What writers inspire you?
- What are your 3 all-time favorite fiction books?
- What recommendations would you give to new writers?
- Are you working on anything right now?
Location: Pensacola, Florida
Saltwater High! I am here with Nic Schuck. We're going to be talking about his awesome new book. Nic, how are you doing, buddy?
I'm doing great. How are you doing?
I'm doing really well, man. Thanks for taking the time to do this podcast. I'm excited not only to hear about your book, but to read it. So you definitely got a future reader right here.
That's great. That's what I'm hoping.
Yeah, good. Hopefully we get a lot of them at the other end of this mic. So give us your summary of the book and what's it about. Yeah.
Yeah, so it's a coming of age story. Couple of kids from Pensacola, that's where I'm from, Pensacola, Florida. It's the panhandle Florida. Military town, right? And so they try to do the opposite of the American dream, right? So instead of following in their father's footsteps going in the military and going to college and doing the things they're supposed to do, they decide to take the little bit of money they made selling pot and go see how long they can live in Costa Rica.
It's set during the 90s. So those people who had traveled to Costa Rica in the 90s, I think they'll get a really good nostalgic feel for the area back when it was—still a lot of dirt roads now, but even more so back then.
Yeah. So that's going to be close to my heart because I actually took a trip to Costa Rica in the 90s and I drove there from California.
So I drove the whole coast. And then, yeah, I got to Costa Rica and spent some time there. So I'm really stoked to read the story now.
Yeah, yeah. So the thing is, when I was down there, we spent three months down there and I feel like we had it figured out as kids. I was only 20 years old at the time and we were [inaudible 00:02:11] surfboards and living at this lady's backyard for a buck fifty and living in a tent and her husband [inaudible 00:02:18] and for three bucks we get dinner. And beers were only a dollar a piece.
Yeah. Were you in Jacó? Where was the town you're in?
Tamarindo. Nice, yeah.
And I felt like we had it figured out. I won't say what happened because as it is the climax of the book. So a lot of it is nonfiction, but I fictionalized it to protect the innocent.
Or the not innocent.
Yeah, very cool. Very cool. So in some ways, it was a story about your own coming of age. And then I guess any time we write, there's always parts of us that we live in the sentences, right? So that's awesome.
Yeah. I figured as writing it, it's just strictly nonfiction. It didn't work like I wanted it to. I had to rewrite it a couple of times, so I realized fictionalizing, kind of doing like Hemingway used to do, where it was kind of a blend of the two, I think worked best because I could tell the story that I wanted. That what really happened in my life didn't really create the story that I was trying to tell. I don't know if that makes sense.
Yeah, totally, totally. I think we're in some ways we're always trying to do that in life, right? We're always trying to tell ourselves a story that either is partially true and then partially we want to come true.
Or we wish it went a different way, so we make up a story.
Yeah. It was my attempt to find out why that trip was so important to me as well. And I felt like through mythology, you kind of get that so kind of fictionalizing these two characters, Sanch and Jake, trying to create like a myth around them. I think it helped me understand my own ideas, my own coming of age a little bit better, yeah.
Very cool. Nice, man. And did you ever read Finding Captain Zero?
Yeah. So that book came out around the same time I started writing.
Oh okay, yeah.
And I remember being really mad.
Like this guy I did it!
But I think reading his book, as a nonfiction account, I think helped me realize how important it was for me to write it as a fictional or my own story is a fictional account trying to stay nonfiction. Because I think what happens when you're trying to tell a story, you try to stay nonfiction. Too close to the truth. There's a moment where the truth is kind of it's out there and it's not really tangible.
It's getting a little abstract here, but through...
It's okay, I'm with you.
Yeah, but I think through storytelling, you can capture those things that may exist kind of on a different level.
Yeah. Yeah. Because what comes to me is that any time we experience something, there's the external experience, right? It's like being in Costa Rica surfing. But there's also an internal thing that's happening that isn't always so clear, not only to others, but to ourselves. Right?
I think writing in a lot of ways, helps expose that or discover that, right?
Yeah, yeah. I think you said on it. Yeah. It was the kind of the discovery part of it as well. Yeah.
Yeah. So what was the process of writing like and then when did you know, okay, I need to write about this or this is going to be a book. Yeah, tell me about that whole thing.
Yeah. So like I said, this happened in the 90s and I came back to Florida. And I didn't really have much plan, many plans, I was young. My goal was to make enough money to get back there and I ended up deciding. I was like, this is how young and naive and stupid I was, I was like, "Oh, I'll just write a book." I was like, "This was amazing."
So you thought that as soon as you came back then?
Because, well, I would sit around at bars and I'd tell people a story that happened because it sounded so fake. It was an incredible experience and it sounded fake, as I told it, even though it was real. So that's also one of the reasons that I fictionalize it, because if I wrote it as nonfiction, it almost sounded believable. But if I fictionalized it, then it sounded really believable. And everybody they're like, "Oh, that's really your story." I was like, "Well, no, not all of it. I had to fictionalize some of it." But if I told it as myself, it was unbelievable. But I can't tell too much of it is in the book. So, yeah, I decided I'm going to write a bestseller. It took me something like 17 years. Because I had no idea what I was doing.
Now, you studied writing, didn't you? In college? Did I see that somewhere? Yeah.
Well, that's what happened. I ended up writing this book by hand on a journal. And then the more I wrote, the more I started reading other writers. And I realized that I really had no idea what writing was, what good writing was. And so I decided I'll just go to school, get my degree in Literature and really take this craft seriously. And so I graduated and I began teaching English, but still writing the book, still kind of perfecting my craft.
Got really discouraged for a long time after 70 something rejections, and so then I put it away for years. And my daughter about 10 years ago was being born and I was like, "Well, how am I going to give up on this goal that I had and try to raise this human to follow her goals?" So I decided to get it back out and I went back to grad school. I was like, maybe there's more I could learn. And so I went back to grad school studying literature and writing, and I just kept at it and finally found a publisher and then wrote Native Moments. It happened. I rewrote it and rewrote it probably 18 times. Yeah.
Yeah. So how much of the original manuscript was left 20 years later?
Yeah, it's so different seeing the two. I mean, it's embarrassing how different it is. I've held on to the original and I don't think anybody's ever read it. It's handwritten and it's so bad. It's embarrassing. I'm hoping my wife never finds it.
It's that journal that's hidden away underneath your bed mattress or something.
Oh, yeah, it's bad. But there's a part of me that I can't get rid of. I spent so much time on it.
Dude, no, that thing's sacred. You should have it read at your funeral or something.
That's what it is.
Wow, that's awesome. So that book changed your whole life. It sent you to college to study writing. It's kind of amazing when you think about it, right? That trip.
Yeah. And in all honesty, I don't know if I've ever thought of it in that sense. That writing that book guided me into this position. Now I teach high school seniors, I teach a writing course at the university here in Pensacola, and yeah, it was all because of attempting to be a writer. And before that, I wasn't doing anything.
Yeah. I had no ambitions.
Yeah. So you wrote a second book I saw.
Tell us a little bit about that one. Yeah.
Yeah. So throughout the process of writing Native Moments, if I would get stuck into that, I would write other things. And so when Native Moments came out, I had enough material to gather a second novel. So this one's called Panhandlers. And it's set in the panhandle of Florida, and it's more of a crime novel, but not in the traditional sense of crime novel. It's another. It's more of a family drama of poverty and people relying on crime as an attempt to escape the poverty. Pensacola is an interesting town. It's a military town, it's a beach town. But when you get outside of the tourist areas, there's some really almost forgettable towns. So I created a fictional town that was kind of a mixture of the towns around Pensacola that are oftentimes forgotten.
Hmm interesting, very cool. So why the second book, you had the extra content, so you're like, "Oh, I just want to keep writing." Or did the publisher publish the second one also or?
The same publisher? That's awesome, yeah.
Yes. So that one was picked up. And after spending so much time, it's just kind of it's hard not to write now. So I'm in the process of writing my third and fourth book. It's almost the same way as those two worked out is I write one and I get stuck. So I started writing another.
I've got two novels that are about half-finished. Whichever one finishes first will be my [inaudible 00:12:59].
So what's your process like? I also write and I'm actually in a Seth Godin, I don't know if know who that is, Writers Workshop right now. It's what we called The Creative's. He's this kind of marketing guy. I'll send you a link after the show. But, for me, it's hard work.
It's extremely hard work. It's way harder than I ever imagined it would be, yeah.
Yeah, yeah. So do you have a time or a place or a process or how does it go down for you?
I wish. I used to be more disciplined, but, we've got three kids. In fact, one on the way.
We're about to have a fourth.
Oh my goodness, bro!
And I teach full-time, high school. I teach one class a semester at the university. I run a business. I have a historic tour company that I run downtown, that I take people out on walking tours, basically pub tours. But I tell them the history of the city and they buy me beers. And our house recently flooded with a hurricane lately. So for the past five months, we've been rebuilding a house. And so my writing is very sporadic right now. When I can find time, I write. I used to be way more disciplined, but it's still there. It's still happening. It's still working.
I read everyday.
Yeah. When you write though, do you have a goal? Thousand words or thirty minutes?
One of my favorite writers, Barry Hannah, he said that 500 words a day, if you can make yourself do that, in three months, he'd have enough material for a novel. So when I find that time to write, I tell myself, just knock out a good 500 words. Don't try to overstretch it. And then I use Hemingway's technique too is even if the process if it's going really well and I could keep writing, Hemingway always suggested stop when you know what's coming next so that you have something to go back to the next day. If it's going really well and you just stick it out and you write that whole scene out and you get to the point where you don't know what's going to happen next, when you sit back down to write, your back at that blank screen and it's more difficult. So I use those techniques from the masters.
Awesome, awesome. So that was going to be my next question. So besides those two, who also inspires you? Which writers inspire you? I was checking out your Instagram feed and you've got some great books on there.
Yeah. I use reading, I think, almost as a procrastination for writing. But I've convinced myself and I think it is true as well, that it's still practicing the craft. Reading certain writers. Hemingway was the first one that really stuck with me when I was younger and I read everything he wrote. And then Cormac McCarthy, I did the same with his stuff. But then when I started kind of narrowing, I think into my own voice, the panhandle of Florida characters, I started looking at more regional writers who really captured the area, the region that they wrote in. So Larry Brown in Oxford, Mississippi, Barry Hannah, those guys from the Mississippi area and Florida writers, there's a guy named Harry Crews who was he's kind of like has a cult following. He was never very well known, I think. He was like, you know how people say like comedian's comedian, he was like a writer's writer. People write who he was, but he never had very big commercial success. And for Florida writers, he's kind of the one that I really looked up to.
Why do you think it's important to read regional writers? Do you feel like they're helping educate you on linguistic styles or I don't know, I'm just trying to make that connection.
Yeah. So I think what it was is this idea of capturing a place. And because in that way, the place kind of becomes a character along with it. And as opposed to being plot-driven stories like when I said a traditional crime novel. Instead of like a detective novel or a westerner, instead of having a genre and it being plot-driven like one of those things, I think when these regional writers, what they did was focus on the characters. The people make up those towns, those cities. And so it's more of a character study kind of as opposed to being plot-driven.
I think characters is really what makes people fall in love with a piece of literature. Plots can be reused and recycled over and over but characters are so unique and wise. And I think that's what I was drawn to with these type of writers. Yeah.
I really like that. That's a killer. If you had to pick three books like if you had to go to an island, right, and you can only take three books, which three would you pick?
I know I hate this question, but..
I would take Harry Crews' book, Feast of Snakes.
I would take Larry Brown's. Luckily, they just put together all of the collection of short stories in one, so I don't have to just pick one of his short stories. So the complete collection of Larry Brown's short stories.
And then I would take Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
Oh, dude, that's such an amazing book.
Such an amazing book, yeah. That's one of my all-time favorites for sure. Yeah, very cool.
Yeah. In my early 20s, I would reread that every year when San Fermín was happening in Spain.
And on my 27th birthday, I went to Pamplona and ran with the bull.
Awesome, awesome. You didn't get gored, did you?
No. Yeah, so I should say I ran away from the bulls.
Yeah, yeah. For anyone out there that has never experienced that and I actually lived in Spain for a couple of years.
So it's an amazing not only is the event great, but the town is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, stunning. Actually, I did the Camino de Santiago, I don't know if you've heard of that. Goes across north of Spain and it actually goes through that town on the Camino. So I stopped there.
Is San Sebastian on the coast? Is that part of it too?
Yeah, exact. So San Sebastian is actually it starts in France and it goes across the French border from the Alps and then into San Sebastian and then along the whole Santander and that whole area. That whole area for me is I go back frequently to that area. And I love that whole zone. Many people go to Spain, they go to Barcelona or they go to Madrid or Valencia or Seville. But that corner up there, we call it [inaudible 00:21:30] path.
Yeah, the Basque country.
Yeah, the Basque country. And not only that it has some of the best surf in all of Europe, which is in a place called Mundaka, which is an absolutely incredible wave. And then waves all the way from the French border wraps around to Portugal. So that's a really good surf trip.
Yeah, I surfed San Sebastian. I went to San Sebastian because that's where Hemingway ended up or Jake Barnes ended up at the end of Sun Also Rises. I went there and I went on a surf trip. I rented a board. Waves were about waist high that day, maybe thigh-high, but it was one of the most fun waves I'd ever ridden. Yeah.
Yeah. Did you surf that big bay and the big with rock up front, yeah?
Yeah, that's a very cool town.
Yeah. Great food, great wine. Yeah.
Yeah. It's good living over there, bro. It's good living. Very cool. So what else did I have on my list here. Oh, what recommendations would you give to or what do you give probably to your students, to new writers, or to writers in general?
I know it's a tough one.
Yeah. Well, reading, I think, is the biggest thing. You have to read a lot and you have to read with purpose, not just for entertainment. You have to figure out what it is that these other successful writers are doing. The certain turn of phrase is the details that they use to, how are they making things their own and making things unique. And so I think reading with purpose, reading a lot, but then also writing and failing and just getting in there. Barry Hannah, I use another one of his suggestions, is you have to put your ass in the seat. There's no way around it. You have to sit down and you have to do it and you have to struggle. And I think Hemingway said there's nothing to it, you just sit down at the keyboard until your, well his a typewriter until your end starts to bleed.
That's awesome. I couldn't imagine writing on a typewriter. I would be horrible at it.
So have you heard of Steven Pressfield? He's written a couple of books, one called, basically talks about resistance, right. And he's a writer. So this one book, it's the Art of War or something like that.
You said Pressfield?
I'll look it up.
I'll send you the link. But you'd really like his writing. He's got a couple of excellent books. But one in particular that he wrote for writers, which I absolutely love the title, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. So he's like, how do you write something that people will want to be stoked about reading it.
There's so much out there and everybody's so busy and not to mention attention deficits. Like in order for someone to want to read your whatever you're writing, whether it's a short story, an article, or a book, he's like the first thing you have to realize is nobody wants to read it. Right?
That's amazing. Yeah, I'm going to have to read it.
Oh, dude, you'll love it.
That's one thing I tell my students. It's hard enough to finish a piece of writing that you're working on, but when you finish it, that's not the hardest part. Then you got to find a publisher or you've got to learn the trade of self-publishing, which isn't easy. You've got to do book design, editing, and formatting. And so then you've got to do that. And still then that's not the hardest part. Then you got to sell the book. And not only that, they've got to read it and talk about it. So writing it actually ends up being the easiest part of the whole.
Yeah. Which is extremely hard.
Right, right. I think it's interesting where do you come down on traditionally, publishing, there were gatekeepers, right? Publishing was about getting your work being so good or at least close to being good where the gatekeeper recognizes it. And then once the editor, like many times, an editor will make the work great. Right?
Absolutely. They have to have good editor, yeah.
So what is your feeling in the world where someone can just push a button and publish? What do you talk to your students about in that process? Because if everyone feels like they can publish, it doesn't mean they should, right?
Right, yeah. So, yeah, here's the thing with publishing. Traditional, I think, is always probably the best way to go just because they have the outlets, right? As far as marketing and things, but self-publishing really gives you control. And I think we've kind of turned a point in publishing that self-publishing can work. You could sell a lot of books and make more money self-publishing, I think, than traditional publishing. You can get a publishing contract with a small press and you're not going to make any money. They might not sell that many books. It's different than in one of those big six, like Random House where you become a best-selling me. A lot of writers aren't making a lot of money. So like you said, as far as self-publishing goes, you still have to take that craft seriously. There's so many really bad book designs out there, there's so many bad editing jobs. And if you're going to take that route as far as self-publishing goes, it can get expensive to hire an editor and book designers, and so my goal was to traditional publish. I wanted somebody else to go in debt for my artwork. I wanted somebody else to take a chance on me to do that. And they had the cover artist and the editors and so that was the route that I was definitely going to go down.
Yeah. So at no point, you're like, "I'm just going to self-publish it." Like, "I'm going to wait. I'm going to keep working on it until somebody says yes."
Yeah. So I told myself after 300 rejections, I was going to go ahead and just self-publish. I was like this book is in my drawer or my computer forever, and after 76 or 78 rejections, I got a yes. Ray Bradbury said the key to publishing, getting published, is persistence. Because if you, back then, even when I started, used to mail in your manuscripts and you'd get actually rejection slips. So I got to move from that into email query letters and I went through that whole thing. But basically, he said if you put up all your rejection slips and you use them to fill up the walls, you'll get a yes before you fill up all four walls.
That's great. I love that.
Just takes perseverance. Just making yourself do it and yeah.
Yeah. And were you reworking the manuscript during the rejections or?
Were you getting advice sometimes like this character's weak or the plot falls off here? Or were you just getting like I guess some are more open than others?
Most of the time it was just form rejection slips. Some lists this doesn't fit our needs or we don't think we can sell this or something. But that's one of the reasons I went back to grad school. Was I thought that I could sit in these workshops and get really good feedback. And the school that I went to, they brought in some great writers for like guess workshops. So Brad Watson, he passed this past year. He died over the summer, but he was a great writer, another Mississippi writer. But he came in to teach a workshop and I got to get some feedback from him. And then two really big names as well were brought into the University of West Florida and they work first couple chapters. P.J. O'Rourke was one and another was Tobias Wolff. So those are two big names that I got to get really honest feedback. And take their advice even if it was just for the first chapter or first two chapters or first three chapters, whatever they did. I could take the advice they gave and the suggestions they gave and the criticism they gave and apply that to basically all my writing. So you have to be specific to that.
And do you remember like was there one piece of feedback that you got where you were like, "Oh, this is so right on." Or it was a real pivotal moment for you.
Oh, man. No, I'm sure there was but, I went through so many changes as far as my writing goes. Like really bad stuff. It started off just really bad and not having any experience, just going. I think it's with anything you do.
Of course, yeah.
Yeah. And I think it's just throughout the time, I don't know if there was any one moment that changed it. I think it's just this gradual change of constantly working at it and trying to get better. And the changes are small and sometimes they're not even noticeable until you look at the end. When you're looking at the beginning and then look at the end and like, "Wow, that was a big change."
You pulled that thread all the way through, yeah.
Very cool, man. Awesome, Nic. Is there anything you want to say to everyone? We'll put the link to the book in the show notes and your IG, Instagram, and all that good stuff so people can find you and reach out. And once they read the book and they can give you their stoke, their two thumbs up.
Yeah. And that's one of the highlights of being a writer. Getting feedback from people that read it, even if it's not good feedback. One of my favorite past times is go back and read the 1-star reviews of my favorite writers on Amazon.
And I remember the first 1-star review I got, this poor lady. She lives in Costa Rica and she'd heard I wrote a book about Costa Rica and that was not the Costa Rica she was expecting.
But I loved it. I was like, "Oh, my first 1-star review." She took the time to not only finish the book but to leave a review.
Wow! She invested some time into my work.
Yeah, no, that's a good feeling, isn't it? To know that you've touched somebody, whether it's 1-star, 5-star, you've touched somebody, right?
It created some type of emotion.
So I did my job, yeah.
Very cool, Nic. Cool, man. Well, next time I'm in Pensacola, we got to grab that tour and a beer.
Wish you luck on the number four coming soon. I'll definitely going to read the book and I look forward to it and I'll ping you afterwards and maybe we can have another conversation about it once I read it and go through, and all that.
Yeah, man, that's great. Thanks so much for having me on. It was fun.
It's my pleasure. And we'll talk more about how we can help you promote the book offline.
That's great, man. Cheers.
Okay, bye. Cheers, man.