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GOATS EAT CANS VOLUME 1: Of Course They Think I’m Hot

In Personal Stories on June 5, 2012 at 1:14 am

In honor of our newest book of the month, LitU is proud to present a a sample chapter from Steven Novak’s Goats Eat Cans Volume 1.|

Enjoy?

 

OF COURSE THEY THINK I’M HOT

I was in high school. It was about 11:30 at night, and I was driving home from my job as a ride operator at Six Flags Great America in my mother’s GEO Prizm, which I was allowed to drive only to and from work.

Yes, I know. I led a glamorous lifestyle, didn’t I?

Anyway, I was stopped at a light on Grand Ave about three miles from my house, when another car pulled parallel to me in the next lane over.

The song “Waterfalls” by TLC was blaring from the speakers so loudly that it literally shook the seat beneath me.

Keep in mind, that this was way back in 1996, so an annoyingly loud TLC song was a slightly more acceptable and common occurrence.

Honestly though, is TLC acceptable in any year?

Hidden beneath predictable lyrics and a laughably common beat was laughter and voices—the laughter and the voices of girls—real life girls.

Girls scared me. They still do. I swallowed deep.

Quite unexpectedly, the music lowered. “Hey, cutie!”

I sort of half-glanced toward the car and spotted a girl with dark brown hair hanging halfway out her window. She wasn’t drop dead gorgeous or anything, but she wasn’t unattractive either.

Plus, she had boobs. I liked boobs.

Was she talking to me, though? She couldn’t have been talking to me. Why would she be talking to me?

I looked over my shoulder and in the other direction, expecting to find someone more befitting of the description of cutie. There were no other cars. It was just me and a streetlight and the dark.

Holy shit. She must be talking to me.

I sort of turned my head again in her direction, though my eyes opted to look at the street instead. I was moving like Frankenstein in a full-body cast after a ten car pile-up on the I-10. My heart was beating double-time. My limbs were shaking. There was absolutely no way whatsoever I would have been capable of eye contact. My head would have exploded and drenched the windshield in brain matter.

“Me?” It was a lame response. It was also all I could manage. It squeaked out of me like I was a timid twelve-year-old girl being asked on a first date.

“Yeah, baby! You wanna follow us to a party?”

Oh, sweet lord.

What the hell was going on? This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I wasn’t entirely sure it was supposed to happen to anyone in real life.

This was how pornos began.

Another girl with blonde hair and a shirt so low I thought I was staring at the Marianas Trench leaned out of the back window with a beer bobbling around in her hand. “Come on, sexy! Follow us!”

The light in front of me turned green.

***

Let’s stop for just one minute and take a breather, shall we?

Here’s the deal, in high school my mother used to tell me that I was the coolest kid in my class. She even tried to convince me that the only reason people would pick on me, throw crap at me, or get a little group together and beat the snot out of me was because they were jealous.
I was well aware that she was shoveling me a steaming pile and hoping beyond hope that it would make me feel better. That’s what moms do. I just wish she could have come up with something a bit more believable.

Jealous of what exactly, mom?

Maybe it was because my oversized hindquarters were so dimply, they looked like the surface of the moon and were more red than the lady-lips of a porn star after filming fifteen separate films over the course of a three-day period?

How about my shy, not-so-vaguely girlish personality?

My lack of self-esteem?

My bad hair?

My terrible fashion sense?

The fact that I smelled like a sweaty sock filled with poop, dipped in olive oil, and swabbed with dog saliva?

I’d always assumed that my mother was either too nice for her own good or a complete idiot. With a car full of girls playfully referring to me as cutie in their flimsy tops filled with their perky flesh, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was onto something.

Maybe I was a cutie.

Maybe I was the cutest cutie that ever cutied in the history of cuties.

They seemed genuinely interested in me. Maybe I was cooler than I thought.

***

With images of boobs and lips, and booze and crotch (neatly shaven or otherwise) clouding my brain, and despite my better judgment, I hit the gas and actually followed the car of my new drunken friends.

It was unexpected, and it was exciting. My chest was heaving. The hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention, and the stick in my trousers was doing the same.

About fifteen minutes later, their car stopped in front of a house with seventeen or so other cars parked around it. There were multi-colored lights flashing from inside. The music was blaring. There were empty bottles and dented cans scattered across the lawn. It was an actual party.

It was an actual party with actual people, and I was actually there!

I tried my best to steady the wild beating of my heart and slow my pulse. I was experiencing a weird sort of nervousness I’d never felt before and trying my best to put thoughts of orgies and booze and all sorts of unspeakable debauchery out of my head. I didn’t want to step out of the car with a hard-on.

That might have been awkward.

I couldn’t believe I was doing what I was doing. It was so unlike me. It was something cool people did. There were to be cool people at this party, and I was going to be one of them. Finally!

This was going to kick so much ass!

SPLAT! Something smashed against my windshield.

SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT! Two more pelted the side, and one slammed into my mirror.

They were eggs.

Someone was throwing eggs at me.

I peeked through the splattered yolk on the windshield and noticed the dark-haired girl standing outside her car, laughing. To her immediate right were a whole group of idiots in hysterics.

Damn, cool people.

Damn, cool people with their cool tits and cleavage and cool hair and mostly non-offensive body odor.

I hate cool people.

SPLAT! They disappeared into a yellow, gloppy haze just as another egg hit the passenger side window.

CRASH! CLUNK! KRASH!

Shit.

Guess they ran out of eggs because those last three were rocks.

 

Steven Novak is not only an official member of LitU, but an author, blogger, podcaster, illustrator, graphic designer, and the host of LitU’s official podcast. You can find everything you need to know about him, and a bunch of things you don’t, at NOVAKILLUSTRATION.COM.

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Featured Author: Nina Perez

In Featured Author, Interviews on April 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm

LitU’s resident interview guy, Steven Novak recently sat down with author Nina Perez to discuss the release of her novel The Twin Prophecies: Rebirth. Not surprisingly the conversation turned to True Blood, Twilight, poo-filled trash cans, big girl panties.

This is one you don’t want to miss.

LITU: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? What is it exactly that makes Nina Perez tick?

NINA PEREZ: I’m a wife, mother, writer, blogger, and professional TV watcher. I don’t like leaving the house and for the most part, people annoy me. Well, real people. Fictional folk and I get along juuust fine.

LITU: All fictional characters? Even Lucy Wagner (For those of you unaware that’s Britney Spears’ character from Crossroads.)

NINA PEREZ: You know what really disturbs me about that question? You didn’t even Google that. I bet you knew her character’s name all along. Frightening. Very frightening.

LIT U: Don’t judge me. Don’t you dare judge me. Back to the topic at hand. How did you get started with writing?

NINA PEREZ: I think I’m a late bloomer. I hear a lot of writers say they’ve been writing since they came out the womb. I started in my teens. The first time I thought I might actually have some writing talent was when I was about 17 and my Dad found the first two pages of a story I’d written about a serial killer. I’d accidentally left it in his car. I remember he told me how confused he was because he wondered why I was walking around with the first few pages of a book typed out on printer paper. He didn’t realize I’d written it until I told him, and I was so proud of how impressed he looked.

After that, life got in the way. I’d start so many projects, but never finish them. Writing took a backseat to working, school, marriage and motherhood. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I decided to pursue it seriously and make it my business to finish what I started.

LITU: Where did the idea for The Twin Prophecies come from?

NINA PEREZ: I’d had this crazy dream that led me to an idea about a journalist who discovers she intimately knows a serial killer. I started doing all of this research and began writing an outline for that novel when my daughter (Kali, 11) asked, “How come you never write anything I can read?” So I asked, “What would you like to read?” She gave me the scene that later closes the first chapter of Rebirth. But from that one scene, I kept thinking, “What if…” The ideas just kept coming.

I’d be sitting on the sofa playing Halo with my husband, Donny, and I’d stop to write notes and ideas for this book. I couldn’t stop! Pretty soon I realized that I had too much material for one book and that it would probably be a series.

LITU: How did you get hooked up with the fine people over at LitU?

NINA PEREZ: As raggedy as that place is now, I have to give Myspace credit for putting some awesome people in my life. Because of the popularity my blog enjoyed there, I made great friends who were both readers and fellow bloggers. That’s how I met you, (Steven Novak) dork. When I saw what you were doing with the LitU on Facebook, I was hoping to be asked to participate, but my book was nowhere near being finished or good enough.

LITU: Shut up. You knew we’d come calling. Self-publishing, is it pretty much a big pain in the patoot, right? What has the process been like so far?

NINA PEREZ: It’s hard, but I get off on stuff like this. If I say I’m going to do something on Monday morning, by Monday night I have lists and spreadsheets on the project and I’ve already sent out two dozen emails trying to make it happen. Once I gave up the idea that querying literary agents and getting rejected made me a legitimate writer, and actually listened to what some of my friends who were independent authors had to say about the process, I knew it was the right move for me.

The world is changing and the way people receive their information and entertainment is a huge part of that. I like having the control over how this book is conceived, born, and shared. Of course, this means that I’m completely responsible for EVERYTHING including marketing, but I’m okay with that. Maybe it’s the control freak in me, but I love that this book’s success or failure is in my hands.

A lot of people turn up their noses at independent publishing, but I think the assumption is that the product will be crap. I think there are a lot of us out there taking great care and effort to ensure the books are the best they can be before release. We’re taking the time to make sure they’re edited and formatted properly. We’re collaborating with talented artists – like you – to ensure the covers are quality.

The hardest part is also the most fun (so far): figuring out the best way to get the book in as many hands as possible. I find I’m up late almost every night thinking of how much time and money it’s going to take to market this book. I believe in the book and the series so I’m willing to do whatever it takes. Independent publishing works for me because I don’t know anyone that will work as hard on my behalf as me.

LITU: What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?

NINA PEREZ:

1. Keep writing – I wasted a lot of years not writing. I don’t regret the things I did instead (raising a family, going to school, marrying my amazing husband, etc.), but I wish I knew then that I could truly have and do it all. I’d be an even better writer if I had just consistently put in the time.
2. Learn to take feedback – This was a big issue for me. You have to be able to take a step back and see where criticism may improve your story. Also, you have to learn to trust your own style/voice and defend it. It’s a tough balance. I got a lot of feedback from trusted authors/editors (more on that in a bit) as Rebirth was being polished and though I think I took a bit of advice from each of them, I didn’t immediately take every suggestion by every one of them.
3. Read – I devour books. I’m always on the lookout for new books and I pay attention to what others are reading on sites like Goodreads.com. Reading helps you see what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find good examples of how to create tension, pace dialogue, etc. Then, hopefully, you’ll be able to duplicate that in your own style, telling your own stories.
4. Surround yourself with other talent – I have a super network of writers, editors, and artists. I think that is extremely helpful, but especially so if you’re going the independent route. Having trusted professionals that can help you with edits and feedback for free or at a discount is awesome.

LITU: Earning what I like to call your criticism callus can take time. Was there something specific that hardened you up?

NINA PEREZ: I think it was finally having pieces of work that I thought deserved better than my ego getting in the way. Also, like you said, time. After ten years, you realize that not everyone is going to love everything you write, the way you write it. I think as long as the criticism is coming from a good place and a place of authority (fellow writers who know the ropes and avid readers that know what they like and what works), then you’d be a fool not to just put on your big girl panties and find the value in what they say. Again, you also have to know when their advice is subjective and not right for your particular story. It’s tricky.

Also, I really hope you don’t have big girl panties.

LITU: Once again I’m going to have to ask you not to judge me. They’re comfortable. Enough said.

Dexter or True Blood?

NINA PEREZ: Dexter all the way. The Sookie Stackhouse books are on my list of books to read this year (I’ve pledged to read 60 in 2011), and I’ve been avoiding them because I didn’t want to spoil the show. While I enjoy True Blood, Dexter is smarter programming. It delves into questions that are deeper than, “Bill or Eric?” Besides, Sookie is so damn annoying.

LITU: Twilight or a roundhouse to the baby maker?

Twilight. Hey, don’t judge me! I liked those books. I found them after all four books had already been published and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I try not to judge other authors too harshly. I have a lot of respect for anyone that has an idea, nurtures it, and delivers a finished product. Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s okay. As a mother who had to force herself to get up every day at 5am just to MAKE the time to write Rebirth, I’m not gonna knock Stephenie Meyer for doing it while taking care of three little ones. I don’t begrudge her the success. The main people complaining about books like Twilight or Harry Potter aren’t the intended audience. But you know what they say: haters gotta hate.

LITU: You stumble onto a garbage can in a vacant lot filled with month old pudding that the local hobos have also been using as a toilet. At the bottom of it is a million bucks and a tag that says “If found, return to Scott Jorgenson.” It also has Scott’s address – which is across the street. Are you going to keep the million bucks? Are you even going to fish it out of the pudding-poo/pee?

NINA PEREZ: *sucks teeth* I’m going to fish that money out and use it to buy new hands. Forget Scott Jorgenson. I got kids to feed.

LITU: Take us out with something magical. Make us remember the name Nina Perez.

NINA PEREZ: Magical? I’m so pretty, I fart fairy dust. Does that count?

LITU: It’s a little gross, but magical. I guess. If nothing else it no doubt leaves your big girl underpants really sparkly. Nicely played.

The e-book version of The Twin Prophecies: Rebirth is available through the LitU store with a print to arrive soon.

Featured Author: Ryan O’Neil

In Featured Author, Interviews on March 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm

LitU’s very own Steven Novak sat down with author, Ryan O’Neil recently to discuss a wide variety of subjects. The pair touched on everything from the release of his Young Reader Novel, Plain Old Kirby Carson, to future projects, Batman, and all things bacon and bacon related.

Snag yourself a cup of joe, lean back in your chair and enjoy.

LitU: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes Ryan O’Neil tick – other than bacon, bacon grease, and BLTs without the lettuce or tomato?

RYAN O’NEIL: I’m assuming that I shouldn’t refer to BBQed meat here? 😉

LitU: As long as there’s no mention of bacon, I think we’re good to go.

RYAN O’NEIL: This may sound cliché, but I just like to have fun. I like to think that I make every situation as interesting as it can be. I like to spread my own brand of entertainment and hope to make people smile.

LitU: We’ve heard that you have a background in horror writing. If so, how was it making the transition to something like “Kirby Carson?” Where did the idea come from?

Ryan O’Neil: The idea for Kirby was born about 20 years ago. I’d written a couple of chapters and never completed the story. Then about 6 years ago I was writing a daily blog and making fun of my past when I posted a couple of sample paragraphs from the original Kirby story. I did it purely as a goof, but people wanted to know more about the character. That led to two months of updates where I literally created the story on the fly. At the end people seemed to enjoy it and someone suggested that it should be a book. I like being different and I saw writing Kirby as a challenge to do something really different for myself.

LitU: Any future plans to play around in the genre, maybe visit the world of Kirby again?

Ryan O’Neil: I have a brief outline in my head for a return to Brook Harbor to visit Kirby, Sue, and their friends for one more adventure. The entire Kirby process has been such a public journey that started with my blog friends and has grown from there. So while I have an outline, I wouldn’t make the trip unless my friends wanted to go back.

In the meantime I am developing another Young Adult / Middle Grade genre book in which the main character’s younger brother is on the Autism spectrum. My son has Autism, so this is more of a personal mission to both educate people and show them by example the ups and downs of having a friend or relative on the spectrum. It’s not all misery and gloom. These kids are just like everyone else and can be a lot of fun!

LitU: How about a return something more “adult,” any future interest?

Ryan O’Neil: Definitely! My true writing love is to scare people, make them uneasy, and sometimes just gross them out. There are some plans in the works now to release some of the horror stories that I’ve been sitting on. About a year and a half ago I was signed on to contribute five stories to a book, and unfortunately that project fell through. My goal is to get at least those tales released, if not more.

LitU: How did you hook up Auriferous Books and the Literary Underground? What’s the experience been like so far? NOTE: The editors of the LitU blog fully reserve the right not to include any comments that belittle or disparage the company in any way. We’re jerks like that.

Ryan O’Neil: So often I talk to writers who are brilliant, but get bogged down with tradition. In fact, so bogged down that they’ll never put a book out. It’s shame really. Their work is amazing, but no one will ever read it.

The experience so far has been great (Yes, your check cleared…LOL)! All kidding aside, Lit U is a great bunch of people who just want to help each other. Everyone has something to offer whether it be editing, beta reading, formatting text for e-books, etc, etc. They are all very supportive and honest. Lit U will help you get your work in progress to the point of publication and beyond. It’s like an old hippie co-op garden, except we’re growing works of literary art instead of pumpkins. Auriferous Books is a nice small up-and-coming publishing house. So far the experience has been fantastic!

LitU: Did Hippies grow pumpkins? I thought it was mostly hemp?

Ryan O’Neil: One man’s pumpkin is another man’s cannabis.

LitU: Not really, no. Trust me, I tried to smoke a pumpkin once. It didn’t end well. Anyway, 80’s hair metal—what’s with the obsession? I mean, seriously. Defend the things that bring you happiness or prepare yourself for ridicule!

Ryan O’Neil: 80’s hair metal and glam rock was just so much fun! Glam rockers put on a show like no other. There’s no standing there, staring at your sneakers and whining about how tough it is to be a rock star. Life is too short to mope around the entire time. Glam rock forces you to have fun, and look good doing it. I know not everyone can appreciate neon colors. It’s an acquired taste. 😉

LitU: What sort of advice would you have for the aspiring writers out there?

Ryan O’Neil: Believe in what you write. If you believe in yourself and what you create, then others will too. Frustration and rejection are a part of the game. Don’t let it get you down or stop you from following your dream.

LitU: Batman or Bruce Wayne?

Ryan O’Neil: Batman! While Bruce Wayne was smooth with the ladies, it was Batman who rocked the nighttime world … or was that Gene Simmons? I mean, come on, who wouldn’t like to someday punch someone and have a big neon colored “BLAM!” pop up? And don’t even get me started on that utility belt!

LitU: For every cool utility belt there’s a Robin though. How about this; Motley Crue or Poison?

Ryan O’Neil: Poison was prettier, but the way that the Crue was, was just bad ass. They were like skinny Elvis with brass knuckles. Not even Chuck Norris could take them down.

LitU: Freddy or Jason?

Ryan O’Neil: Michael Myers. Michael Myers scares the s#!t out of me! The dude is creepy scary … and simply won’t die!

LitU: Ham and cheese or turkey on rye?

Ryan O’Neil: Bacon!

LitU: We set you up for that one.

Leave us with something spectacular—the blog equivalent of Broadway jazz hands.

Ryan O’Neil: I’d like to thank everyone who is onboard with Kirby. The journey has been a long one, but fun nonetheless. It’s my friends who believe in the journey that fuel my fires. We still have a lot of adventure ahead of us so I hope to see you all smiling and having fun!

Ta da!

LitU: Well done. Your jazz hands need work though. Maybe put down the uncooked bacon next time.

The print version of Plain old Kirby Carson is available through the LitU store with e-books to arrive soon.

The Business Of Art

In Personal Stories on February 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Whether you’re working with an established company or rolling up your sleeves, poking your thumb in the eye of the establishment, and doing it yourself, the business of being creative is a funny thing. Truthfully, like Mel Gibson and little Joey Finklestein’s Bar Mitzvah, or Taylor Swift and my ears, the words “creative,” and “business” simply don’t belong together.

Quite a few years ago—not long after I left the brat-gobbling, beer-swilling Midwest and headed for the shores of sunny California, I stumbled onto my first professional job as an illustrator. It was for a picture book being published by a small publishing house local to the area that specialized in direct market stuff. I’m pretty sure that the company has long since folded.

Maybe it had something to do with me? Maybe? Naw.

Anyway, I was pretty damn happy when I got the call to do this thing. I was still working as a production artist for a local newspaper at the time and this was going to be a big break for me. Sure, it was a smallish, semi-local publisher, but it was much closer to what I had always wanted to do with my life.

Believe it or not, when I was twelve years old my lifelong dream wasn’t to. spend five days a week whipping up ads for local video stores that still offered Beta movies in their selection and local real-estate “tycoons” that insisted on using pictures of them taken in the 1970s for their bios.

You aren’t fooling anyone, Fred Anderson of Red Wagon Real Estate. The three-foot afro is a dead giveaway.

This was going to be a job drawing! It was going to require me to spend days lurched over my drawing table! I was going to dive in and let it all hang out! I was going to blow the minds of these people! My work was going to be so damn amazing, and fresh, and heart-wrenchingly honest that I would single-handedly take their company to the next level! After the book hit the shelves, I’d have editors lining up outside my door, just begging for me to illustrate their next book!

There was no doubt in my mind that they would start throwing cartoonish bags of money with dollar signs painted on them through my bedroom window. I was going to be the next Chris VanAllsburg. Plain and simple. I’d be better than him in fact. Chris wouldn’t be fit to wipe my keister after a particularly stick bowel movement.

As you’ve probably already guessed, none of that happened. In fact, none of what I ever think is going to happen actually happens, and Chris Van Allsburg has yet to see my sticky poop.

My plans started to crumble almost immediately after I received the story I was going to be illustrating from my editor. You see, it sort of sucked. I mean, it was really, really bad. I’m not talking about Michael Jackson dancing, parking garage bad, either. This was more like Michael Jackson luring young boys to his bedroom with the promise of “Jesus juice” bad.

I immediately convinced myself that the story wasn’t my problem. I couldn’t control it. I had nothing to do with that. Bad or not, I was still going wow them with my illustrations. I was going to hit the illustrations so far out of the park that I would take this remarkably crappy story and elevate it to a higher plain.

I dove into on my preliminary sketches that night. The editor asked to see them in a week. He didn’t seem to know who he was dealing with. I didn’t leave my drawing desk. I’d get home from my day job and work my tail off til three in the morning. Nothing was going to stop me! The sketches were supposed to be due by the end of the week and I managed to get them things done in a measly two days. Two days!

They were good too, quality stuff, the kind of sketches that convince rich socialites to get undressed for you and pose if you happen to be a stowaway on the Titanic.

I called my editor and told him I was faxing them over. (Yep, I typed fax. This was quite a few years ago, and no, I’m not your grandpa.) He sounded impressed with my speed. “You’re done already? Wow! Fantastic! Send them over. We’ll take a look and get back to you tomorrow sometime.”

Send them over I did. Tomorrow came and there was no call.

What the hell?

I imagined he would’ve been doing back flips in his office – knocking over furniture as a trickle of urine leaked down the leg of his pants. Maybe he would have decided to take his buddies out for a beer to celebrate just how damn incredible the sketches I’d given him were. I pictured him being so happy that he’d somehow stumbled across this diamond in the rough of an artist in the middle of nowhere . . .and yet there was no call.

Maybe he was so hung over from partying that he took the day off?

It didn’t make sense.

The next day came and finally my phone rang. He didn’t sound as excited as the first time we’d spoke. “Yeah, ummm . . .I’ve gotta tell you, Steve. This, well . . .hmmm . . .this just isn’t at all what we were expecting. In fact, I really can’t think of anything nice to say about what you sent over.”

My heart sank into my shoes.

“Ummm, we’ll give you a chance to fix these up, but, I don’t know.  Things might not work out.”

My ego dropped to the floor as well.

Unsure of what so say I responded with, “So, no back flips then?”

Okay, I’m lying about that. I didn’t actually say the back flip thing. I was thinking it though. The back flip thing and something along the lines of, “Holy hell, I’d love to smash my fist into your face so hard that when I pulled my hand back, I’d wearing your brain as a boxing glove.”

I reworked the sketches, keeping in mind the suggestions he’d made. When I was done they looked like an absolute pile of shit. They looked so bad that I considered giving Chris Van Allsburg a ring and asking him to come wipe them up.

Feeling completely defeated, I faxed them to the editor a few days later. A day after that I got another call, “These are much better Steve. Absolutely fantastic! We love them!”

Well, that’s just peachy, I thought to myself. Because I can’t stand them.

To this day I still can’t look at the finished book because I hate it so damn much. In fact, I think it’s easily the worst work I’ve ever produced. It’s also got my name right there on the front over in big red letters – which is just slightly less annoying than an evening of awkward stand-up comedy from foul-mouthed troubadour John Mayer.

So what’s the moral here? Screw doing your best work, because business loves crap and crap means business.

Okay, maybe that’s actually not the moral.

I just thought it sounded funny.

STEVEN NOVAK