SIGN UP FOR THE MULHOLLAND BOOKS NEWSLETTER for breaking news, exclusive material, and free books

Sign Me Up

Hard to Shake Off: In Conversation with Mischa Hiller

Aug 14, 2013 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

This week, Mischa Hiller’s SHAKE OFF, picked by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker as one of 2012′s Best Books, hits paperback! The following is a conversation between Mischa and his editor at Mulholland Books, Wes Miller. SHAKE OFF can now be foudn at bookstores across the country.

Wes Miller: Let me start by saying SHAKE OFF was one of those novels I just knew we needed for the Mulholland Books list as soon as I started reading it. The degree to which you bring readers into Michel’s world—a world in which almost anything is either a weapon or a tool, in which everyone Michel meets may be trying to lead him astray—is just astounding.

One of the things I’ve noticed about SHAKE OFF, rereading that evocative first chapter, is how absolutely chock-full of seemingly genuine tradecraft the opening section is. Had you done deep research into the tricks of the espionage trade in writing SHAKE OFF? Were there books or individuals (whether you can tell us about them or not) that were particularly useful in crafting such an air of authenticity? And did you always know you’d start the novel with what is practically a how-to on the art of subterfuge, or was this something that came later as you were figuring out how to introduce Michel’s world to readers?

Mischa Hiller: Well, let me start off by saying how proud I am to be published by Mulholland, whose list includes some great writers. To answer your question: yes, I did a lot of research, but was also lucky to have access to someone who had gone through this kind of training. There are books you can buy that detail surveillance and counter-surveillance but it’s the little insights that make it real, like trainee surveillance officers using dead letter drops to get their paychecks.

I felt the training was an integral part of the book in the sense that it is part of what makes Michel and explains his paranoia. A lot of spy books imply that this sort of constant subterfuge can be lived with easily, without any effect. My premise was that actually the whole idea of living a lie is quite damaging.

I should add here that it’s not just the tradecraft that’s written with such command in SHAKE OFF—it’s the sense of alienation with which Michel views his surroundings. It’s something I personally responded to in an unexpected way. You and I have never actually discussed this before, but we are both mixed race—you’re half Palestinian, half British, and I’m of Chinese, German, and Irish descent. I’m not sure if your heritage was something I knew about you when I started reading SHAKE OFF, and Michel himself is not biracial, but at least to me, the way Michel describes his sense of not quite belonging to his surroundings (something I know I’ve at times struggled with) was extremely well-taken and quite emotionally accurate.

Was cultural alienation something you’d known you wanted to write about, or a theme that grew naturally out of the genre as seen through your own particular cultural perspective? (Did you begin wanting to write a spy novel, or by wanting to write about a Christian orphan from the Sabra refugee camps?)

That’s an interesting question. This idea of belonging and identity is something that interests me, no doubt, and I recently wrote an essay on what it means to me to be of mixed race, and the challenges this poses (in terms of belonging and acceptance) and the advantages it can provide, especially as a writer, in terms of being able to look at things ‘from the side’, as it were. I mentioned in a previous blog post about how I drew on my own feelings when imparting the alienation Michel felt in the book, and of his being a fish out of water. One could say that this was a theme I wanted to explore to some extent, and indeed the outcome of the book is his way of addressing this loss of identity. As for wanting to write a spy novel or a book about someone from the camp I think both came to me simultaneously. What would happen, I thought, if an orphan was groomed for espionage and placed in an alien environment? Also, I did think, how great it would be to have a Palestinian protagonist in a thriller.

 I’ve given much thought to genre and subgenre in the years I’ve spent working exclusively with suspense fiction since the launch of Mulholland Books. I’ve heard it said that it’s often those moments outside of those expected from the conventions of the form that affect you the most strongly.  (Michael Connelly and Mark Billingham touched on this in their conversation on the MulhollandBooks.com earlier this summer—the “looking out the window” moments from Connelly’s Bosch novels being some of Billingham’s favorites—and there’s a TED talk with JJ Abrams where he mentions subgenre in discussing the unspoken reasons a film like Jaws becomes part of the cultural lexicon.)

SHAKE OFF does this better than most in the slow introduction of Helen, Michel’s flatmate, into Michel’s otherwise almost hermetically sealed life—their budding romance is the reason that suddenly this nail-biter of paranoia, dead drops, and clandestine missions becomes an almost lyrically-written love story as well. Many, many writers struggle with the idea of sub-genre and romance in particular—do you have any tips to share with any colleagues who might be reading? What would you (humbly) say about writing Helen and Michel’s story makes their relationship seem more genuine than most? And are Helen and Michel based on any people in particular or serve as amalgamates of people you’ve known?

I am pleased, as reviews and readers have suggested, that I have managed to escape the confines of the genre. To me this is the greatest compliment I can be paid as a writer. Genre can be limiting (both in terms of writing and what people will read), so if, as a writer, you can fuse more than one genre, or transcend the genre you are ostensibly writing in, without pretension or creating a horrible mess, then you may be onto something. You can appreciate this effect better in great films, as you mentioned; they are about something greater than the plot, which is often incidental.

For me, SHAKE OFF could easily be about Michel and Helen’s relationship, with some spying and politics that get in the way, rather than the other way round, and my only advice would be to give as much thought and weight to one aspect of a book as you do another. Unfortunately a lot of books, and films, bolt something on (usually the ‘love interest’) rather than weave it in, but it is obvious and therefore unsatisfying.

Michel and Helen are not based on particular people but there are aspects in each that I have observed in others and myself.

Your earlier novel SABRA ZOO focused on the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 in Beirut, Lebanon.  SHAKE OFF is also Michel Khoury is a survivor of the Sabra massacre, an event that haunts him throughout the novel.  I believe you were living in Beirut at the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacre—what was it like, being in Sabra then? How would you describe living in cities torn apart by sectarian violence to Americans, whose almost sole point of reference would have to be the events of 9/11?

It is difficult to explain what it is like to people who haven’t experienced it, which I guess is why some of us write books about it. I suppose, therefore, people could do worse than read SABRA ZOO to get a feel for what it was like in Lebanon at that time.  But there are other fine books that deal with conflicts in a serious and sensitive fashion. A couple of years ago, after SABRA ZOO was published, I read HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche which is set against the Nigeria-Biafra war of which I was completely ignorant. It is a powerful book that I felt had effectively tackled the Nigerian Civil War in a way that I had aspired to do with SABRA ZOO for the Lebanon Civil War.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a crucial part of the drama of SHAKE OFF. While in a less astute writer’s hands, treatment of the conflict might have seemed more didactic and overtly polemical, because of the work you’ve done in crafting Michel as such a seemingly real and empathetic character, the Palestinian perspective (and the Israelis’ as well, through Michel’s reading and education) comes through in remarkably nuanced fashion. For me, those sections of SHAKE OFF that address the conflict head-on reminded me in a way of some of Dave Eggers’ later work—another testament to SHAKE OFF’s complexity.

Given that you’ve done such great work in depicting the nuances of the conflict—to such a degree that you’ve made even this self-professed Apathetic American feel deeply for the plight of Michel and those like him—what is your view of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  Fully realizing what an impossible question this is, what do you think it would take for a solution to be reached—and would there ever be one that will satisfy both ends of the negotiations?

Well, I am pleased that it has had this effect, and I’ve had emails from people expressing similar sentiments. Fiction is a great way to give narratives that are rarely heard an airing, and I thought Eggers did that brilliantly with ZEITOUN.

This is probably not the forum to propose a detailed solution to the Israel-Palestine problem, but I would start with the naïve and basic premise that everyone living there should have equal rights.

 The PLO is still active and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. Given this, why did you decide set SHAKE OFF in 1989 before the end of the Cold War instead of the modern day? Other than the later historical landmarks that would influence parts of the story (the Madrid conference of 1991, the Oslo Accords, etc), would you say that this novel could at least in spirit be set in modern times?

Yes, it could be set now, but that was such a fascinating time – a year that culminated in the fall of the Berlin wall – with the PLO still being supported by the Soviet Union and its allies within the context of the Cold War. Also, the spying game was a lot more interesting then because it was still people-driven rather than technology driven. Intelligence officers today spend more time in front of a screen than talking to agents. A contemporary book would therefore look different, but there is certainly still plenty of political intrigue to mine.

Mischa Hiller is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the Best First Book category for South Asia and Europe. Raised in London, Beirut, and Dar El Salaam, he lives in Cambridge, England. Visit him at www.mischahiller.com.

Wes Miller is a Mulholland Books editor who has been at the imprint since the launch of its first list. You can find more of his MulhollandBooks.com posts here.

SHAKE OFF, which has been praised by Charles Cumming as “a spy thriller of the highest class” and by David Morrell as “smart and tense and real enough to be scary,” is now available in bookstores everywhere.

0 Comments

Hey, Sinner Man, Where’d You Go?

Aug 09, 2013 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Today marks the three-year anniversary of MulhollandBooks.com! To celebrate where we’re going with where we’ve been, we’ll be re-featuring our very first guest posts throughout the day. Some authors we’ve gone on to publish; all of them we’ve continued to admire. What’s next? You never know what’s coming around the curve…

You’ve probably heard the song. It’s a spiritual, and it starts out something like this:

Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
All on that day . . .

In the verses that follow, we learn that ol’ Sinner Man has run to the north, the east, the south, and the west, to the rock and to the hill and to any number of other sites, and nowhere can he find a place to hide from divine judgment. Then he runs to the Lord, and that turns out to be the answer.

When you look at it like that, it sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of the truly awful actor in the truly dreadful showcase production of Hamlet. When some audience members walk out during the famous soliloquy, he breaks character and cries out, “Hey, don’t blame me — I’m not the one who wrote this shit!”

What I did write, however, was a crime novel I called Sinner Man. It was my first crime novel, though it was a long way from being my first published novel. (And it was also a long way from being my first published crime novel, as you’ll see.)

If memory serves (and I might point out that, if memory truly served, there’d be no need for me to write this piece or for you to read it), I wrote Sinner Man sometime in the winter of 1959–60. In the summer of 1957, after two years at Antioch College, I’d dropped out to take a job as an editor at Scott Meredith Literary Agency. I was there for a year and wrote and sold a dozen or so stories of my own during that time. Then I dropped in again, or tried to; I went back to Antioch, but by then I was writing books for Harry Shorten at Midwood and had sold a lesbian novel to Fawcett Crest, and I had more books and stories to write, and what the hell did I care about Paradise Lost or Humphry Clinker, let alone The Development of Physical Ideas? So at the end of the year, I went to New York and took a room at the Hotel Rio, where I wrote another book for Midwood and, as my first for Bill Hamling’s Nightstand Books, one I called Campus Tramp.

Continue reading ›

0 Comments

Live Chat with Don Winslow

Aug 09, 2013 in Guest Posts

Today marks the three-year anniversary of MulhollandBooks.com! To celebrate where we’re going with where we’ve been, we’ll be re-featuring our very first guest posts throughout the day. Some authors we’ve gone on to publish; all of them we’ve continued to admire. What’s next? You never know what’s coming around the curve…

What follows is a transcript of the live chat with Don Winslow, author of Savages, a book that I think is the literary equivalent of narcotic stimulants.

We’ll start with a few questions from me:

Sarah Weinman: – So first I wanted to talk a bit about Savages opening chapter (or opening line) and, at the risk of quoting myself – always dangerous – my sense was that “If you cackle out loud, you may proceed to Chapter 2. If not, you’re not Savages ideal reader, and it’s no great loss.” So was “fuck you” always the way the book started? Or did you have to pare things down, hack away at it, before that phrase became the book’s opener?

Don Winslow: First, Sarah, thank you for all the very kind words about the book. As a matter of fact, ‘fuck you’ was the first sentence I wrote, even before I had characters or a plot. I guess I was just in a bad mood. But then I got thinking, ‘What about it?’ Who says it? Who thinks it? The next thing I knew a 20-something Orange County woman named O was describing her friend Chon, and it went from there.

Sarah Weinman: Savages has quite the high-wire act in that it starts out as kind of high comedy – two guys and a girl, partying in the USA, so to speak, a threat nobody really takes seriously – and then things get Very Serious and it turns out that light-hearted beginning is basically a big lie. How did you make sure not to have too much comedy or too much tragedy, so that the tension between the two keeps the reader going until the illusion basically gets ripped away?

Don Winslow: Well, I like the high-wire, maybe because I’m so afraid of heights. I think life itself constantly flips between tragedy and comedy, and often very quickly and without warning, so I just wrote it that way. Frankly, if I thought something was funny, I put it in and took the chance. But as the story moved inexorably toward tragedy, the events argued against going for any laughs. Sometimes I think of story structure as a wave – it builds and builds and can do some funky things, but when it breaks, it breaks – when it crashes it crashes.

Harry Hunskicker: No memory, U wake up in a motel w/ pile of $ & dead hooker, police at the door. What fic. charac. do you call?
Don Winslow: [laughs] I call Philip Marlow, no question. But if you really are in this situation, Harry, you might want to consult a good lawyer.

Sarah Weinman: There’s a one-page narrative monologue near the end of the book that I think really delivers Savages knockout punch to American material culture and to the way boomer selfishness has not only failed subsequent generations but the country as a whole. Which is to say, you don’t mince words, and it seemed like the whole book was written from a place of frustration, if not anger, at how we ply ourselves with consumerism and are wholly ill-equipped for a world where such values don’t count.

Don Winslow: Yeah, I was pretty angry when I was writing this book. Hell, I’m pretty angry now. The widening economic disparity, the yapping, quarreling politicians who won’t address the real problems, the obsession with celebrity and cheap fame, and the endless consumerism that serves as a narcotic – really our worst drug problem. I was especially pissed off at the right-wing media bullies and congressional cretins who feel entitled to say anything, but then go running to mommy if anyone hits back. So I thought I’d take a rhetorical baseball bat to them.

Mexico's war on drugsDuane Swierczynski: Do you research before, during, or after writing a novel — like, say, Savages, which is full of tons of sharp insights into drug cartels, grades of marijuana, etc.? (Then again, it is entirely possible you’ve run a cartel at some point, and research is a moot point.)

Don Winslow: Thanks Duane! You know, I do a fair amount of research before and during. And so, it’s funny because you don’t know what you don’t know until you have to write it and so you think you’ve done enough research and then you’re writing and you realize there’s something you don’t know.

Afterwards, I try not to, I try to forget it and move on to the next book

Kathy Roberts: What’s on your iPod?

Don Winslow: Steve Earle, Robert Earle Keen, lots of Springsteen, James McMurtry (like in Larry McMurty’s son), Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and a surf reggae band called Common Sense out of Laguna Beach

Cort McMeel: For me, The Power of the Dog was a seminal work of fiction. You wove an extremely complex plot with a lot of uninventable details of the Mexican drug trade while painting an in depth portrait of a whole gallery of characters. My two questions:
1) In your research did you interview any actual DEA agents, drug cartel members, Mexican police and/or prostitutes? 2) If so, who was the most interesting to you personally, and why?

Don Winslow: Thanks for the kind words, Cort. I have to be really careful about this. Suffice to say that I did a lot of research, including talking to people. Beyond that, I think I’d better be discreet. You know, they’re all interesting in their own ways.

Continue reading ›

0 Comments

Batman is my Mr. Miyagi

Aug 09, 2013 in Guest Posts

Today marks the three-year anniversary of MulhollandBooks.com! To celebrate where we’re going with where we’ve been, we’ll be re-featuring our very first guest posts throughout the day. Some authors we’ve gone on to publish; all of them we’ve continued to admire. What’s next? You never know what’s coming around the curve…

I write mysteries. I love writing mysteries. And I also write comic books. So when I was recently at Comi-Con, someone at one of the panels asked me how comics have influenced and/or seeped into my mystery and novel writing. Indeed, one of the editors at Mulholland Books asked if the action-packed nature of comics helped develop the action and pacing I use in the novels.

So let me tell you the answer.

Yes.

Duh.

And the best part? I had no idea I was doing it.

You see, when you do your first novel, it goes out, and you hope people read it. Same with your second. But by the time you hit your third, people start looking at all the books together. It was then that the smart readers stepped forward. One e-mailed me through my website and said, “I’ve now read three of your novels. What are your issues with your father?” And later, someone else wrote about how reading my novels was like seeing the underbelly of the pacing in a comic book: short chapters and a cliff-hanger, short chapters and a cliff-hanger.

To be honest, I was surprised. But the moment I heard it, I knew it was true.
Continue reading ›

0 Comments

Making Sense of Nothing and Making Nothing of Sense: A Maundering on the Taxonomy of Writing and I Forget What Else

Aug 09, 2013 in Guest Posts, Mulholland News

Today marks the three-year anniversary of MulhollandBooks.com! To celebrate where we’re going with where we’ve been, we’ll be re-featuring our very first guest posts throughout the day. Some authors we’ve gone on to publish; all of them we’ve continued to admire. What’s next? You never know what’s coming around the curve…

“Fair is where you go to see the pigs race.”
— James Luther Dickinson

We are uncomfortable with works that can not be placed comfortably into a category. The English-speaking literary establishment has embraced the French word genre since the eighteenth century. We would do well to remind ourselves that the term, via the Latin genus, is a cognate of another French word, générique, whence the English generic. And, for example, noir, given generic catch-all meaning by American critics in the 1940s, is but another blanditude that consigns to the supermarket-aisle school of literary values many books whose unique qualities are thus obscured.

As George Eliot said in her 1856 essay on Heine: “In every genre of writing it preserves a man from sinking into the genre ennuyeux.” The “it” refers to wit, and the French phrase displays her own subtle wit: “the boring genre.” And it is true that most books consigned to one genre or another belong to the far-encompassing genre of boredom, even if there are no Boring sections designated as such in bookstores.

Most best-selling books belong to one genre or another—espionage, crime, horror, suspense, romance, mystery, self-help, ghost-written political memoirs that take the genre of boredom to a ghastlier realm. Best-sellers that perfume themselves with a contrived literary air fall short of what good genre writing offers. What, after all, was The Name of the Rose but a bad mystery whose plot-workings could not be believed at any turn? I actually read that one. We speak of putting the wounded out of their misery. I have now long felt the same about semiologists. As for something like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was said to far transcend the romance genre, I would never read a book with such a pretentious title so like the whine of a moon-calf. Semiologists and moon-calves aside, even straightforward attempts at genre by real writers of true greatness often fail dismally: William Faulkner’s 1949 volume of mystery stories, Knight’s Gambit, is one of the worst books he did.

I am not saying that any genre writers, be they scriptomanic pulp hacks or masters of their corner of the marketplace, could ever beat out, except maybe financially, the few writers of our time who have doomed themselves, or been doomed, to the lower-paying racket of greatness.

But what of the latter, the great, or of those who walked the edge of greatness, who have been relegated to the ranks of the former? That’s what I want to talk about here.

Specifically I want to talk about Patricia Highsmith and George V. Higgins. Why these two? As I’m not auditioning for a creative-writing teaching job—I’m too old to look up girls’ skirts and fill them with the unbearable lightness of being—I’ll tell you the truth.

Continue reading ›

0 Comments

Weekly Links: Weaponized Edition, Part II

Aug 02, 2013 in Mulholland Authors, Weekly links

Contrasted ConfinementWhat better way to cap off a great launch week than with a roundup of the fantastic features and amazing content to date for Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim’s Weaponized?

Us Weekly included Weaponized on its Buzz-o-meter of the top five things that have them talking this week! And US Weekly isn’t the only one talking—on Barnes & Noble, one reviewer raves, “Thrilling, exciting, could not put it down. There is one twist after another, and the action never lets up. This has movie potential.” On Amazon, another reader adds, “The fact that I am writing this review so soon after this book came out is saying something! I started it yesterday and literally could not put it down. The action scenes were insane and the story kept throwing curveballs at me. It reads like a really fun action movie!”

Good news for all those reviewers noting Weaponized‘s cinematic quality: as Deadline noted, film rights have been acquired by Universal Pictures, which means Weaponized: the Movie can’t be far behind!

On pub day itself, “11 Movies that Inspired Weaponized went live on the Scott Moyer’s Go Into the Story, the official screenwriting blog of the Black List—if you’re looking for some great film recommendations, look no further.

Right here on MulhollandBooks.com, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting Mennuti in conversation with Alan Glynn, author of Graveland and Limitless, adapted into the film of the same name. It’s a true meeting of the minds as two of our best paranoid thriller writers come together for one epic conversation.

For more, check out the WEAPONIZED Spotify playlist, or start reading the novel right here. And if you’ve got questions for Nick on Weaponized or anything else, ask him at the discussion group on Goodreads!

More: The Lineup: Weaponized Edition, Part I

0 Comments

Tune In to Weaponized

Aug 01, 2013 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Music

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti with David Guggenheim

Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim’s globe-trotting suspense novel about a government contractor in exile went on sale this week, and if you were one of the book’s early readers, you know why Universal Pictures snapped up the film rights so quickly: Weaponized is a lush, rollicking tale, just as much immersed in the exotic cities of Cambodia as it is in the troubling consequences of government surveillance gone awry. It’s a story that begs to be seen as much as read. But what would the soundtrack for that movie be? Here to offer a playlist is none other than Nicholas Mennuti himself. You can listen to some of these songs through the Spotify player above.

Depeche Mode – “Barrel of A Gun”
Depeche Mode has always been one of my top five bands and their Violator album has exalted status on my list of desert island discs. “Barrel of A Gun” actually comes from their Ultra album—which, in my humble opinion, is their best after Violator, and may also be their darkest album overall (which means it’s dark). “Barrel of A Gun” will put you in the right frame of mind for Weaponized before you even crack the spine.

UNKLE – “Lonely Soul”
One of the greatest songs about isolation ever recorded. The beat is all jangly electro and the vocals by The Verve’s Richard Aschroft are haunting. One refrain sums up Weaponized better than I ever could: “I’m gonna die in a place that don’t know my name.”

Planningtorock – “I’m Your Man”
Planningtorock is actually just Janine Rostron, an experimental British musician who distorts the vocals in her songs to play around with gender identity and to better suit the mood of each individual track. It sounds heavy—it isn’t; you can dance to it. She’s done some softer beats, but “I’m Your Man” is pure paranoia all the way. It’s not easy listening, but neither is Kyle’s journey in Weaponized, and this track helped me set the mood for his inner monologues.

Jerry Goldsmith – “Basic Instinct – Main Title Theme”
After Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith—to me—is the greatest Hollywood composer of all time, and Basic Instinct has one of his signature scores. If Robinson ever had theme music, this would be it: slinky, seductive, and dangerous as hell. Also, bonus points to this score for having the second greatest simulated orchestral orgasm after Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”.

Chemical Brothers – “Container Park”
Film music has undergone many metamorphoses over the years, but hiring Daft Punk to score Tron:Legacy was a big one. Hollywood has never known what to do with electronic music, even when it embraced the synthesizer in the 80’s, but Daft Punk changed that. Since then, Orbital, Hybrid, M83, and others have made excursions into film scoring—but none with the force of The Chemical Brothers in the score for Joe Wright’s Hanna. Try listening to “Container Park” and not feel the danger.

Muse – “MK Ultra”
I don’t want to call Muse a guilty pleasure, but I kind of have to. It’s the best arena rock of the 2000s. I unabashedly love this song and can’t decide whether it’s because of the song itself or just the title—but either way I listened to it fairly regularly while writing the CIA sections in Weaponized.

David Bowie – “I’m Afraid of Americans”
Earthling was Bowie’s big late-90’s comeback album wherein he fully embraced electro, sort of like Madonna’s William Orbit–stamped “Ray of Light.” No playlist I construct would lack Bowie, but this song’s special even for the master himself and really contributed to the paranoid lost soul quality of Kyle in Weaponized.

John Murphy – “Mercado Nuevo”
In my opinion, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice is the most underrated film of the 2000s, and by extension, so is John Murphy’s propulsive score. Murphy’s done memorable work for Danny Boyle—28 Days Later and Sunshine—but his work for Mann really shines. “Mercado Nuevo” is the perfect music for driving into denied territory, exactly what Kyle and Lara spend a lot of time doing in Weaponized.

Public Image, Ltd – “The Order of Death”
Public Image Ltd was John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) first band after the Sex Pistols ended and is considered by many—me included—to be the first and potentially the best “post-rock” band. This particular track may be their crowning achievement and sets the mood for the last few chapters of Weaponized—that’s all I can say.

Tangerine Dream – “Thru Metamorphic Rocks”
I’ve got a serious spot in my heart for 70s and 80s Krautrock, and it doesn’t get much more epic than Tangerine Dream. This track is close to fifteen minutes long—my favorite part comes in at around five minutes in. I listened to it obsessively while writing the first time Kyle and CIA agent Tom Fowler encounter each other in a hotel room. Read the chapter and you’ll see why…

Thievery Corporation – “The Forgotten People”
Choosing a Thievery Corporation track is as much about celebrating how much all their music contributed to Weaponized as it is a public service announcement. No band has gotten me laid more consistently than Thievery Corporation (maybe Massive Attack did, too, I have to think). So listen to this track, which I did, while writing the early Phnom Penh scenes in Weaponized, or just buy the whole album Radio Retaliation and thank me later.

Wang Chung – “City of the Angels”
This is another epic action track, over nine minutes; my favorite part kicks in just over one minute in. This was Lara’s theme music for me, particularly when it came time for her to start shooting people. Also To Live and Die in L.A., directed by William Friedkin, is one of my favorite films ever. Don’t let the 80s prejudice you or the fact it’s by Wang Chung dissuade you—this is film scoring of the highest order.

0 Comments

In Conversation with Nicholas Mennuti and Alan Glynn

Jul 31, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Mulholland Authors, Writing

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti and David GuggenheimThe wide-ranging conversation below between Nicholas Mennuti, one of the authors of Weaponized, and Alan Glynn, whose novel The Dark Fields was adapted for the film Limitless, covers such topics as globalization, espionage fiction, Cambodia, literary influences, and film influences—a veritable “arterial spray” of allusions (their words, not ours!). You’ll definitely want to make time to dive into this fascinating exchange.

Alan Glynn: Nick, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Weaponized and was struck by several things in it. One is the fact that it is packed—action-packed and packed with ideas, which is pretty unusual, I think, and unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. The highest compliment I can pay it is to say that the book feels like North by Northwest meets Apocalypse Now. Anyone who reads the book will know immediately what I mean: the Cambodian setting, the existential end-of-American-empire angst, the assuming and trading of identities, the espionage, the cat-and-mousing around, the playfulness, the darkness, the betrayals, the reversals, the fun and the horror (x2). Perhaps those movie references betray my age, because the thing is Weaponized is also bang up-to-date in its concerns. In a way, it’s like a primer on globalization. You leave nothing out: resource wars, pipelines, corporations, big data-driven surveillance, private security firms, the outsourcing land grab, the Chinese, the Russians, and you also debate, or pose questions about, the individual’s place and responsibility in all of this. But despite packing these themes into the novel, you don’t ram them down the reader’s throat—it’s not a didactic or polemical book. Instead, you deflect and entertain with car chases and explosions, with tense checkpoint confrontations and with the occasional spurting artery. I suppose my first question is, how important was this balance for you, and how conscious were you during the writing process of trying to strike it?

Nicholas Mennuti: First off, I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book. Means a ton coming from you. I’ve been “borrowing/inspired” by you for a while. That’s one of those jokes-not jokes.

Your question is kind of a bouillabaisse of interesting things to talk about, so if I get a bit circular I hope that’s okay.

I’m kind of an espionage thriller binger and had come to the conclusion that the model hadn’t really changed in years. You either had the sort of fussy-frilly Le Carré model (that of course started with Greene and Buchan) that Olen Steinhauer, Jeremy Duns, David Ignatius, and Charles Cumming have dragged into the 21st century. Or you get the military-jingoistic version of it with Brad Thor, Andy McNab, Lee Child. And I just felt neither of these styles felt like the right way to deal with the chaos of the 21st century.

The world had changed, but espionage fiction still felt very 1989. All of those authors (many of whom I do like) still seemed locked into talking about a world that has kind of ceased to exist. A unipolar world that one man can save from destruction. So I really wanted to talk about topics/places that I felt were being underserved/underutilized by contemporary espionage fiction. Which of course leads you into privatized spying and the third-world. Now, that’s all analytical, and I probably became more aware of that as I went through writing/editing the book. But this desire to break the paradigm was there all along.

Jack Nicholson in The PassengerBut where Weaponized really started was with my enduring obsession with Antonioni’s The Passenger. Do you know that one? It’s with Jack Nicholson. It’s all about identity switching and existential ennui in the guise of a thriller. Only problem is that it’s Antonioni—who had no interest in making a thriller. So I started thinking: what if you made an actual thriller out of this art-movie?

North by Northwest and Apocalypse Now have been obsessions of mine since I was a teenager, so they’re just part of my creative DNA at this point. I’m sure they’re going to be present in whatever I write. If I were writing a romantic comedy, I’m sure there’d be at least one spy and one third-world setting.

Apocalypse Now in particular fascinated me. It reminded me of Graham Greene’s fiction in that the topography of the novel seemed like the perfect literal manifestation of the lead character’s interior. With Apocalypse, I’ve never been sure whether Vietnam looked that crazy, or if it just looked that crazy to Martin Sheen. And that subjectivity runs through Weaponized. I wanted people to feel Cambodia through Kyle. Just like how you feel Vietnam through Willard. That’s also something you got a lot of mileage out of in Dark Fields (Limitless). Just how subjective/expressionistic can I get with this narrator without pulling this out of genre territory. Would you agree?

And what both North by Northwest and Apocalypse Now have in common is that they’re genre movies of the highest order that managed to pack a ton of subtext into the genre without weighing it down.

I mean I could write a page just on how fascinating it is in North by Northwest that Cary Grant’s middle initial “O” literally stands for NOTHING. It’s zero as a place-holder. Is that why he could be mistaken for Kaplan on a metaphysical level in the first place—there’s no one there to start with. It’s no mistake I think that Hitchcock had him working in advertising.

In terms of what I’ll refer to “ideas balanced with mayhem,” I was definitely conscious of it. I wasn’t interested in writing a deconstructivist thriller, where I hollow out all the genre gambits, and turn it into a formal-polemicist kind of thing. The Europeans do that really well, but I don’t.

I set a rule for myself early on that any ideas, either political or philosophical, have to come out of a character, or be on the action line. For example, if I want to talk about French colonialism, it’s going to be during a chase scene at Robinson’s hotel. Or if I want to talk about Russian oligarchy, it’s going to be in a scene where Kyle’s got to pick up a gun.

I have a lot of love for the genre, particularly when it’s really working, so I wanted (and David Guggenheim was so crucial in helping me getting a frame for it) to make sure the book worked as a thriller first, and then go about layering this other stuff in. That said, even before we had the story I knew I wanted Weaponized to feel like the 21st century: fractured, neon, lonely, and set in a series of geographical non-places. I wanted to write a thriller that didn’t feel embalmed. Continue reading ›

0 Comments

Now On Sale: Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti with David Guggenheim

Jul 30, 2013 in Books, Fiction, Live Chat, Mulholland Authors

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti with David GuggenheimThe white-hot suspense novel of the summer is now available on bookshelves around the country: Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti with David Guggenheim. We’ve shared with you the book’s raves from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, but as readers finally pick up their copies of the book, the response is no less effusive. A few of our favorites from Goodreads:

And we have a special treat for those readers who are quickest to pick up and read Weaponized: author Nicholas Mennuti is answering all questions and comments about the book on Goodreads until August 6th. Come join us in this digital book club! We’ll keep an eye out for you.

0 Comments

Won’t You Like Us?

Jul 24, 2013 in Mulholland News

Facebook LikeFacebook: Mulholland Books is on it. But if you follow us on this site, or even on Twitter or Tumblr, you might ask yourself, “Why should I also like your Facebook page?” Here are three reasons:

1. Often we give away books there.
Probably the #1 reason to like us on Facebook is that we’re frequently hosting sweepstakes to give away our latest titles—sometimes well before they’re available in bookstores. If you’re a mystery fan, and especially if you’re a fan of being ahead of the curve, you’ll want to like our page to receive updates about our new giveaways, many of which are only open to fans of our page.

2. Often we reveal excerpts there.
Our genius IT team has developed a way for us to showcase exclusive excerpts on our Facebook page, available only to our fans. This is a great way for you to sample our books before committing to them, and the excerpts are quite ample—often the first few chapters of a book. Right now we’re showcasing the first nine chapters of Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim.

3. Sometimes we reveal covers there.
We’ve all wasted too much time looking at photos on Facebook. However, it’s justified when those photos are the first look at the cover of Charlie Huston’s or Joe Lansdale’s new book. Be sure to like our page to see new covers and leave a comment telling us what you think!

If you’re a fan of Mulholland Books in real life, make it official on the internet: head over our Facebook page, like us, leave us a message, and share us with your friends.

0 Comments