Q&A: Fabian Nicieza, Author of ‘The Self-Made Widow’

From the co-creator of dead pool and author of Suburban Dick’s comes a diabolically funny murder mystery that features two incredibly likable–and unlikely–sleuths investigating a murder that reveals the dark underbelly of suburban marriage.

We chat with Fabian Nicieza all about his latest release The Self-Made Widowalong with writing, book recommendations, and more!

Hi Fabian! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

I am just a boy, standing in front of an audience, asking them to love him. Seriously, I could stop there or draw this out for a while.

I am a New Jersey suburban schlub, married for 142 years with two adult children. I like them all enough to love them all. I immigrated to the US from Argentina when I was 4 ½. My brother and I were immediately drawn to comic books, which helped us learn how to read and write English without any delays in school.

I wrote and drew through my entire childhood and wanted to become a writer since I was 10 years old. I graduated from Rutgers with a degree in Communications for PR/Advertising. I got a job at Berkley Publishing (whose sister hardcover company would one day publish my novels!) and from there moved to a job at Marvel Comics, where I became their Advertising Manager. I started writing for Marvel in 1987 and within a few years was writing several books a month for them while maintaining a staff job as well.

Over the course of many years, I’ve worked on comic books, animation development, video game script and consultation, virtual world development and in late 2017 I decided that if I didn’t write the book I wanted to write soon, I might never write it at all. So, I wrote Suburban Dick’s and was very fortunate that it drew the interest of several publishers and got me a two-book contract which leads us to this point where you asked me about myself. It’s been a while, did you forget you’d asked that question?

How has the first half of 2022 been for you?

Pretty > meh < if we're being honest. It feels like that's kind of reflective of the current state of the planet in general?

When did you first discover your love for writing?

Maybe when I realized I was unlikely to ever become a good enough artist to draw comics professionally? I started seriously creating stories and then focusing more on writing by the time I was 12. I wanted to be a writer since I was in high school but understood early on that it didn’t seem to be the kind of job one got by applying to Want Ads in the newspaper.

Quick lightning round! Tell us the first book you ever remember reading, the one that made you want to become an author, and one that you can’t stop thinking about!

The first things I read were comic books. An Argentine magazine called Antiojito and Antifas. Then Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, and Amazing Spider-Man in 1967.

The book that made me want to become an author was probably Stephen King’s The Stand. For me at that age, it was story world building on a massive level and I love the scope of it all.

The Self-Made Widow is the follow up to Suburban Dick’s and it’s out now! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?

What will you sacrifice for justice?

I know, that’s six words. I’ll follow that by noting I can’t even say my own name in less than five words, so expecting me to summarize an entire book that way seems unnecessary and even want only malicious on your part.

What can readers expect?

A bit of a moral and existential crisis for our two main characters in the process of investigating a murder that might not be a murder and, during the course of that investigation, realizing the answers they are searching for might blow up both their lives.

Andie Stern, who rediscovered who she always should have been in suburban dicks, faces a potentially life-altering conflict when the husband of one of her close friends, Molly Goode, dies of obvious natural causes, leading her, of course, to suspect her friend of murder.

For reporter Kenny Lee, having reclaimed his financial and professional name, it is an opportunity to expose the “next big story,” though in the process, it forces him to question why he is so insecurely incapable of being satisfied with what he has when what he has is pretty darned good.

Where did the inspiration for The Self-Made Widow‘s story come from?

Several things that developed in my brain over a long period of time. just like that Suburban Dick’s was crafted in 1995 as the result of real political issues that were happening in my life at the time, The Self-Made Widow began percolating under tragic circumstances, which was the passing of a close friend in 1996 at the young age of 43.

Unfortunately, through the grief, the way my brain works, I thought, “What if it wasn’t natural causes? What if his wife killed him? Which, for the record, I knew was not the case, but rather my brain extrapolating fiction from a reality I wasn’t happy about.

SW, The Self-Made Widow had been in development in the back of my mind for almost as long as Suburban Dick’s had.

Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced while writing and how you were able to overcome them?

Oh, since I started The Self-Made Widow manuscript just as the pandemic shut us down in March of 2020, it was a very interesting writing process.

My challenges had nothing to do with the actual writing – which I found incredibly easier and more comfortable than Suburban Dick’s – but in finding quiet corners in my house that I could write in! My wife was working virtually, my daughter’s work went on hiatus, my son came home from college, and my sister-in-law was staying with us during that year, so my house was crowded!

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I overcame them by ignoring reality and typing! Actually, it was a pretty soothing way to deal with the insanity our lives had become.

Were there any favorite moments or characters you really enjoyed writing or exploring?

I love writing all of the characters equally, honestly, even the characters I don’t particularly like, but my three favorite scenes are probably:

  • Kenny with Andie and three of her kids at the Delaware-Raritan canal tow-path as he experiences Andie’s daughter Sarah having a breath-holding spell and has a quarter-in-the-curse-jar panic attack.
  • Andie and Molly having a verbal fencing match at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.
  • A very long, very desperate diatribe about the ennui and agony of suburban living that erupts out of one of the more unexpected sources in the book during a major confrontation scene.

What’s the best and the worst writing advice you have received?

It’s not writing advice, but rather career advice that has always informed my writing and my professional drive (and my insecurity and my ego, too!).

When I was hired for my first job out of college by Ony Ryzuk at Berkley in 1983 for a production assistant position that was one of the lowest paying the company had to offer, he said, “If you’re still doing this job in six months, either you suck or I suck, let’s see which it is.” Five and half months later, I received a promotion within the company as Assistant Managing Editor.

Forever after, the thought of remaining stagnant for too long at my job equated to “sucking,” so I have always moved forward. Next opportunity, next assignment, and especially next new thing. So, thanks, Ony!

What’s next for you?

Not being contracted to write a third (or fourth or fifth) Suburban Dick’s Mystery book yet, I have been in “percolation mode” for the last year. I’d love a chance to revisit Andie and Kenny and continue moving them through life with entertaining, quirky mystery stories, but next new thing, right?

So, I’ve been working on as bunch of stuff, a new comic book from Image called Free Agents coming out in 2023, content and narrative development for a metaverse site, and a middle reader graphic novel proposal called Murphy’s Law that my agent at UTA really wanted me to flesh out based on the idea I had pitched him.

Lastly, do you have any 2022 book recommendations for our readers?

I would recommend the novels by all of my fellow nominees for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best First Novel By an American Author. That’s the award-winning, Deer Season by Erin Flanagan, Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurlan, What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins, and The Damage by Caitlin Wahrer.

I also loved Secret Identity by Alex Segura, a comic book industry murder mystery set in 1970s Manhattan that pushed all the right buttons for me, and Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears by SA Cosby.

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