What better way to ring in 2007 than by talking with "hard-boiled punk rock" author Duane Swi…Swier…Swierczynski?
Okay, so I can’t pronounce his name. Just make sure you remember it, because if you miss Duane’s The Blonde, you’ll be missing out on one of the most original, adrenaline-fueled thrillers in years.
Duane was kind enough to chat about his newest novel, the writing process and the thrill of being an author.
MM: I remember reading "Lonely and Gone" in the Dublin Noir anthology, and thinking it had the making of a novel. Did you know the story would turn into a full-fledged book?
DS: I had no friggin’ idea. I thought the story would be it, but the plot device kept nagging at me. Lately, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to just write a short story. Every story idea demands to be the wife, not just a piece on the side. (I may regret that comparison later, when my wife reads this.)
MM: Both The Blonde and The Wheelman were totally unpredictable. I never knew what was lurking on the next page. How do you accomplish this?
DS: With THE WHEELMAN, it was easy: I was made it up as I went along. In fact, whenever I started to consciously plot, the characters shut down on me.
THE BLONDE, however, was outlined in full, down to the last minute. So I’m glad to hear you say it was unpredictable. Part of that comes from good advice I received from an editor friend years ago, which was: "Keep the surprises coming, and never let the reader get too comfortable. Keep ’em off kilter whenever possible." (I actually have this advice printed out and taped to a wooden rule I keep in my desk.)
If I have a process, it seems to be this: Jump right into the pool and knock out anywhere from 3 to 7,000 words to see if an idea will fly. If it does, great. If not, I move on. If I’m stuck, but really can’t get the story out of my head, I’ll write a bunch of notes or brief outline. To me, that first burst of 3 to 7,000 words is important; it tells me if the voice will work or not. Every book has its own way of telling itself.
Which is another way of saying it’s all about the voices in my head.
MM: In a world of bloated books you give us a thriller clocking in at a lean 226 pages (The Wheelman was almost exactly the same length). Did you make a conscious decision to write a shorter novel?
DS: I absolutely love short novels. Ken Bruen was the one who taught me that length really doesn’t matter; the novels in his brilliant WHITE TRILOGY are damn thin, but you really don’t notice. Maybe it’s the journalist in me. Ink is a precious commodity; it kills me to waste any. Even electronic ink.
Plus, I’m deathly afraid of boring the reader. To me, that’s the ultimate failure. I’ve put down many more 500-page novels than I have 200-page novels.
MM: Was there ever any pressure (say from your publisher) to write a longer book?
DS: I thought there would be. Being an eager-to-please sap, I was fully prepared to add 40,000 words upon demand. Thank God it never came to that, or THE WHEELMAN would have a lot more scenes with clouds in them.
MM: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times-the modern thriller needs more clouds.
I enjoyed how you strung some of the characters from The Wheelman into The Blonde.
DS: Like Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, I liked the idea that my books make up a loose "Swierczy-verse." (Try saying that three times fast.) The fun for me is to make really strange connections between the books. My next one, SEVERANCE PACKAGE, features one character from THE BLONDE, and can be seen… if you squint real hard… as a kind of a follow-up, but the two books couldn’t be more different.
MM: My secret insider sources (your book jacket) tell me that The Wheelman has been optioned for a film. Who would be your dream cast? How about your dream director? Guy Ritchie would be my pick. I just loved his work on Swept Away.
DS: Paul Giamatti… IS… Lennon. As for my dream director, I already have him: Simon Hynd, the Scottish director whose debut will be an adaptation of Stona Finch’s SENSELESS, is a ridiculously talented guy. I can’t wait to see what he does with the story.
And I’m not just saying that because he forked over the option dough. If someone where to execute Simon, I wouldn’t be happy until they cloned him and/or reanimated his corpse so he could get back to work on THE WHEELMAN.
MM: Name one author we aren’t reading yet should be.
DS: Aside from Mike MacLean?
Okay, I’m going to presume everybody is already reading Sara Gran, Allan Guthrie, Megan Abbott, J.D. Rhoades, Theresa Schwegel, Sean Doolittle, Ray Banks, Victor Gischler, Charlie Huston, Jim Born and Simon Kernick, just a few of the new-ish authors who have made a big name for themselves in the past few years.
So that said…
One writer who’s really hauled ass out of the gate is Canadian writer John McFetridge, whose DIRTY SWEET is supremely fast-moving, kinky and violent. I just received a copy of his latest, EVERBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, and I can’t wait to get crackin’ on it. I think you’re going to be seeing his name a lot in the coming year.
And seriously, folks: Mike MacLean.
MM: That just earned you twelve dollars American my friend.
If you could jab a hypodermic full of killer nanobots into one person’s neck, who would it be? (This question makes a lot more sense if you’ve read the novel.)
DS: Sheesh, Mike. I’m no killer.
(But I’d probably keep the hypodermic handy, just in case.)
MM: So far, what’s been the greatest thrill in your writing career?
DS: This is the toughest question of the lot. Because really, it’s all a big fucking thrill. Writing the book. Seeing it in print. Hearing from readers. I can’t pick one moment, because I’ve been blessed with hundreds of them in the past two years.
My thanks to Duane for fielding a few questions. I also thank all the Murderati readers out there for stopping by. Now go hoist a pint (or five) and have a happy New Year.