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.
Hi Duane (and Mike),
Duane, I last caught up with you and Guthrie in those fine leather chairs at the Madison airport. Sorry we didn’t have more time together.
It’s terrific to get to know you a bit more in this interview. I especially appreciate the “jump in with 3000-7000 words and see if it sticks” philosophy. I never know when to quit a bad idea. Or move along until it gels.
Thanks for the great advice. And thanks for the great interview, Mike!
What a gas to read Duane’s comments about writing, his books, and the upcoming movie. Wow.
Thanks for the insights, the list of authors, and a wonderful interview to cap this wild year.
Mike . . . boy, am I glad you’re part of Murderati.
Thanks for the opportunity to get to know Duane better, Mike!
Happy New Year, Murderati! My best wishes for a prosperous and productive year for each of you.
Thanks for the kind words, and for dropping in.
I’m glad I’m part of Murderati too.
Oh yeah, what did everyone think of my creative spacing?
Of course I meant to do that.
Mike – your creative spacing was ground breaking and so damn eclectic. Could you show me how to do that too?
And Duane! What fun it was to finally ‘meet’ you. Now, more than ever-I’ll be waiting for a real-time intro. And I especially enjoy seeing characters threaded amongst books. Paul Giamatti? A brilliant actor who is finally getting his due – he’d be perfect!
Thanks Mike for having Duane – hope he’ll visit often. Hmmm…maybe I should get him back on OTB? What say, Duane? You ready for Evil E?
Hey, Mike,I just figured out how to get pix to line up side by side . . . At least I think I have. We’ll have to see tomorrow.
In the meantime, I just figured your spacing was yet another manifestation of your astounding and off-kilter originality.
Folks, you can’t blame Mike for the “creative spacing.” There’s a guy in a window across the street, and he tells me that unless I indent everything, he’s going to put a bullet in my head. Mike’s just saving my life here.
Louise: I wish we had more time to hang in Madison, too. But I’m sure our paths will be crossing soon enough this year…
Pari: Is it me, or did Murder in the Magic City feel like it was just yesterday?
B.G.: Four of five people who have gotten to know me better report they “regret the encounter.” But cheers to you anyway!
Elaine: My worship of Paul Giamatti began as a kind of weird joke, but soon developed into true admiration. The man walks on cinematic water. As for OTB… bring it, Evil E!
I wish I had the rights to THE BLONDE, but Swizzle Stick doesn’t like me….
Paul: Who loves ya, baby?