Thursday, March 04, 2010

Pro-File: Duane Swierczynski

Pro-File: Duane Swierczynski

The 2010 Remix

Hi, Ed:

When you suggested I do another Pro-File, I went back and realized that I submitted the original back in March 2006—exactly four years ago. So I went back, checked my answers, and updated where needed. (I used to be a magazine fact-checker, so this is second nature to me.)


March 2006 Bio:

Duane Swierczynski is the author of Secret Dead Men (Point Blank Press) and The Wheelman (St. Martin’s Minotaur)—the latter of which was praised by the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer and Mystery Scene, and was optioned for film by director Simon Hynd. Duane’s short stories have appeared in The Adventure of the Missing Detective, Dublin Noir, and the forthcoming Best New Noir.

By day, Duane’s the editor in chief of the Philadelphia City Paper, that town’s top alternative newsweekly, and has worked as an editor at Men’s Health, Details and Philadelphia. He lives in Philly with his wife, son and daughter. “Swierczynski” is Polish for “Smith.”

March 2010 Update:

Ah, I was so young and innocent back then. Anyway.. I left the City Paper in February 2008 to freelance full-time, diving my days between novels and writing for Marvel Comics, and I couldn’t be happier.

After The Blonde I wrote Severance Package, as well as two “interactive mysteries” for Quirk Books (the same publisher responsible for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Most recently I collaborated on a “digi-novel” with CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker called Level 26: Dark Origins, which features a serial killer in a full body condom. The sequel will be out this fall.

The biographical details are still accurate. Still married. The kids are school-age now, which is frightening. When the hell did I get old enough to have school-age kids?

1. What is your most recent book?

March 2006 Answer:

My third novel, The Blonde, is due out this November. It’s the first novel I’ve written with someone looking over my shoulder—that is to say, expecting to publish the damn thing when it was finished. Which was weird. The first two novels were more or less experiments. With Secret Dead Men, it was “can I write a novel-length piece of fiction?” With The Wheelman, it was, “can I write a novel-length piece of fiction without any soul-swapping or other goofy sci-fi ideas in it?”

I’ve been told by friends who’ve read The Blonde that it’s a nice blend of the oddball concepts of Secret Dead Men and the fast-paced action of The Wheelman. We’ll see. I’m in that extremely sensitive place where the book is turned in, it’s not due out for eight months, and I’m worried that I completely screwed it up, and thus sabotaged my fledgling career.

This is normal, right?

(Um… right?)

March 2010 Answer:

My fifth novel, Expiration Date, is due out at the end of this month. Interestingly, it’s another novel-length piece of fiction with some goofy sci-fi ideas in it. (Time travel, out of body experiences.) It’s also the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written, and the most Philly-centric. I’m just as nervous about this novel as I was The Blonde.

And as it turned out, I didn’t sabotage my fledgling career with The Blonde. It received some very kind reviews, and was even optioned for film by actress Michelle Monaghan. But don’t worry. I’m sure my career-killing book is just around the corner.

2. What are you working on now?

March 2006 Answer:

Funny you ask. I submitted a short synopsis for my next St. Martin’s book, which my editor really likes (as do I). It’s called Violent Type.

But I’ve been cheating on it with another idea that hit me three weeks ago. I’m a big fan of non-supernatural horror novels—stuff guys like Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Dean Koontz and a certain writer named Ed Gorman have done so brilliantly. So I’m trying to fuse that horror sensibility with the pace and spare language of an action thriller, set in a place where horror stories are almost never set.

Again, it’s all about experimentation. That’s what makes this profession so much fun.

God, I hope my editor isn’t reading this.

March 2010 Answer:

So strange to read this now. This “other idea” I mentioned turned out to be Severance Package, and I think it did turn out to be a blend of non-supernatural horror and action (with a bit of espionage thrown in, for good measure). It was optioned for film, and last spring I co-adapted it with director Brett Simon. Nothing new to report, but I do wonder what my March 2014 Answer to this question will say.

Violent Type was put on the back burner, and remains there. I love the story, but there are too many other ideas clamoring for my attention right now.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

March 2006 Answer:

Entertaining people. For me, that’s what writing has always been about. When I was in high school, I’d write two-page horror stories in class, then pass them around to my friends. The expression on their faces was worth the risk of getting caught. And that’s still my prime motivation.

March 2010 Answer:

This hasn’t changed.

4. What is the greatest displeasure?

March 2006 Answer:

The toll it can take on your personal life—especially when you’re really, really in that story zone, and you kind of check out from real life for a while. When I finished the last sentence of the first draft of The Blonde, I let out a sigh of relief. So did my wife. If my home had a guy doing voice-overs, he’d be saying something like, “Rejoice, citizens. Our long national nightmare is over…”

It’s not easy balancing family and writing. If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to choose one over the other, I couldn’t decide. Living without either is unthinkable. Hence… the tension.

March 2010 Answer:

I’m happy to say that since quitting my full-time job, the balance is much easier to maintain. My wife and I also do a better job at communicating with each other—whereas four years ago, we both might have kept our mouths shut, thinking everything would work itself out. Well, it didn’t. That’s one thing I learned about marriage—you can’t let it run on auto-pilot.

5. Any advice for the publishing world?

March 2006 Answer:

Scratch-and-sniff novels. I’ve been saying this for years.

Otherwise… I haven’t been in the game long enough to have my spirit snapped in half over someone’s knee. (I’m sure it’ll happen sooner or later.) So let me just say that I hope publishers continue to take risks, and allow writers time to grow, and try to not have editorial decisions dictated by the bottom line instead of literary merit.

March 2010 Answer:

Forget scratch-and-sniff novels. Allan Guthrie (Slammer, Hard Man) and I want to cash in on this whole zombie mash-up trend and rewrite each other’s books… with hardcore zombie action! I have dibs on Kiss Zombies Goodbye; meanwhile, he’ll be tackling Blonde Zombie.

As for the publishing world, I’m reminded of a quote from Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten, who said:

“This is a challenging time for journalists. ‘Challenging time’ is a euphemism often used to describe disasters of epic proportions. For example, Richard Pryor was facing a ‘challenging time’ when he ran down the streets half-naked and on fire.”

But so many innovations come from “challenging times.” I think writers (and publishers) have to work harder to connect with readers, who could just as easily pick up a PlayStation 3 controller instead of your paperback. For example, I really enjoyed the first installment of Tor’s Heavy Metal Pulp series—Christopher Rowley’s Pleasure Model. It wasn’t Hammett, but it was an interesting fusion of hardboiled pulp story and graphic novel, with an illustration (sometimes three or four) on every single spread. Most important, it was entertaining as hell.

6. Any writers you’d like to see back in print?

March 2006 Answer:

The complete David Goodis. The complete Dan J. Marlowe. The complete Wade Miller. The complete non-McGee John D. MacDonald, published in trade paperback form with three novels in each volume. (Hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?)

Cornell Woolrich’s Hotel Room is a underrated masterpiece that’s been out of print since it first appeared in hardcover in the 1950s. That would be cool to see again.

I’d also kill to have more Jean-Patrick Manchette novels translated into English, as well as that French Goodis bio by Philippe Garnier.

Oh—I’m also desperate for someone to publish a trade edition of Richard Laymon’s A Writer’s Tale. The book’s pretty impossible to find, and I’m dying to read it. To even just hold it for a seconds.

March 2010 Answer:

I finally tracked down a copy of Laymon’s A Writer’s Tale. Most expensive book I ever bought, and worth every penny.

Let me add to the reprint wish list: the complete James M. Cain, in a cool Vintage/Black Lizard-style trade paperbacks. The complete W.R. Burnett. The complete Fredric Brown.

7. Do you remember selling your first novel?

March 2006 Answer:

Like it was yesterday.

(That’s because it was more or less was yesterday. April 2004, to be exact.)

Secret Dead Men was written in 1998, revised in 1999, and sent out to five publishers in 2000. One close call at Pocket Books, but no dice. It sat on my hard drive the next four years. I played with a couple of paper clips, stared at the wall, and listened to The Smiths.

In late 2003, I struck up an e-mail correspondence with the incredibly talented Al Guthrie. A few months later, he foolishly let it drop that he was the new acquiring editor at Point Blank Press, so I sent him Secret Dead Men for the hell of it. He completely stunned me by accepting it. This is not false modesty. To me, SDM was deader than Barry Goldwater.

But Al’s faith in the book made all of the difference. Without that, I wouldn’t have finished the draft of The Wheelman, which I’d been playing around with for a year or so. And it wouldn’t have sold. And I wouldn’t be lucky enough to be here, answering these questions.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. One person.

So if this all goes south, I say we blame Al Guthrie.

March 2010 Answer:

I still remember this like it was yesterday.

One small update: Last month a TV production company just optioned Secret Dead Men. As with all things Hollywood, it’s better to instantly forget it, and focus on the work at hand. Though I do wonder what my March 2014 will say about this…


Charlieopera said...

Secret Dead Men and the Blonde remain classics in the famiglia Stella. The nostalgic references in both were wonderful.

Still, I never understood the author’s affinity for Philly (i.e., the philly cheese stake thing). Why ruin a piece of steak with cheese? Do they really do that?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

As it was in 2006 and as it is now 2010, you're still one of my favorite writers. (And still one of the nicest guys in noir.) Keep 'em coming, Duane