1. Books

What's Nathan Hill reading?

Nathan Hill

In the generational story The Nix, Hill, 43, takes the reader back and forth in time to places like the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as well as inside the World of Elfscape, an online gaming universe. Along the way, we get to know main character Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a stalled writer who was abandoned by his mother as a child. After vanishing for years, the woman resurfaces — in a wacky, 21st century, viral sort of way.

Since Hill saw the release of the 625-page novel in 2016, his first, it has been optioned for a TV miniseries with Meryl Streep, and its publication rights have sold in more than 16 countries. Hill earned a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from the University of Iowa and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He taught writing for several years at Florida Gulf Coast University in Naples. Having lived in New York, Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., he's now back in Naples, where his wife is a bassoonist for the Naples Philharmonic.

What is on your nightstand?

A neat thing about publishing my book is I get to read all these books that haven't been released yet that people send me. It makes me feel like a cool insider. I'm reading Gary Shteyngart's Lake Success. It's not coming out until next year. I'm also starting Omar El Akkad's American War.

Are you writing a review or book blurb for Shteyngart? Can you tell us what you think of the book?

Well, I feel like I'm not nearly important enough for Gary to need a blurb from me, but yes, whenever I'm reading advanced copies I write notes on the back. It's a really enjoyable book about a couple who is separated and were trying to figure out what to do. He also wrote Super Sad True Love Story. It was very good as well.

Maybe it is because of your play in The Nix on naming a gaming character Dodger (for the Artful Dodger), but just wondering, was Charles Dickens a big author for you?

It's funny. I feel once removed from Dickens. I read Dickens in high school, but I never read him too much in my adult life. But I am a giant fan of John Irving, and Irving is clear with the fact that he is inspired by Dickens and so I think I inherited Dickens via John Irving.

The humor in The Nix just killed me. Would you say you are a satirist or a cynic?

Only two choices?

Yes. Definitely.

Well, I guess more of a satirist then, but the book does end in a noncynical way. I feel like the beginning of The Nix is quite cynical. It's very absurd and madcap, but I knew I couldn't maintain that register for a 600-page book. ... So it moved into a more sincere and emotional direction. I guess what I was intending was to give an interesting and varied experience.

I loved Pwnage's scene with eggplant in the refrigerator. Can you talk about food as a writing tool?

That's hilarious. You are the second person today to mention the eggplant. It's a pretty standard cinematic trick to have someone look at something that reminds them of a story, then you tell the story. In this chapter, the trigger was food.

When you are working on a novel, do you shy away from reading other novelists?

I think I write so slowly that if I didn't read novels while I did my writing then I'd never read novels. I feel like each novel has something to teach you, whether it is something like the sentence construction or the plot construction. The first thing I do in the morning is I read a novel with my coffee, then I begin my writing, but reading is always one of the first things I do.

Contact Piper Castillo at Follow @Florida_PBJC.

Times Festival of Reading

Nathan Hill will be a featured author at the 2017 Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 11 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He will speak at 2 p.m. in the Barnes Pavilion at the Poynter Institute.