This week, we celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES by Duane Swierczynski, a book that CNN.com says “reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie on speed, full of high-octane action, flying by at a breakneck pace, not for the faint of heart, but also with plenty of humor.” Here, we present Part II of a conversation between Swierczynski and award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others.
DS: The idea for Charlie Hardie, the house sitter, came first, though he didn’t have a name for a long time. You think “house sitter,” you kind of think “burnout.” (My apologies to the many fine professional housesitters working the mansions of America today; I don’t mean you guys.) Anyway, at the very least, I imagined somebody’s who’s been through a rough patch. Someone who used to know how to handle himself, but maybe had fallen on hard times, and was more than a little rusty. Like you said, all of this stuff goes into a mental blender and spins around for a long time… and slowly, a character emerged.
See, I like your question a lot — and it applies to Charlie, because it’s clear he wants to escape from his life. Yet, life won’t let him. It keeps picking on him.
The idea for the… uh, female lead (don’t want to spoil anything) was more or less inspired by certain pieces of celebrity gossip. As well as the whole idea that you can easily bump into a celebrity in L.A., which I find interesting — would you recognize, say, Blake Lively in a very out-of-context situation? Like, if she suddenly broke into your hotel room and told you people were trying to kill her?
Question for you, along the same lines: Do you get starstruck at all? And if so, is it for actors, directors, writers, or musicians?
EB: I don’t know if starstruck is the right word, but when I met Phil from the Larry Sanders Show (Wallace Langham, who is also on CSI these days) I was just delighted, more than anything, to meet someone who’d been part of something that meant so much to me. And with Jeff Garlin, who’s now actually a pretty good friend of mine, it was the same way. Just thrilled to meet someone who’s partly responsible for Curb Your Enthusiasm, and that he turns out to be an incredibly smart and nice guy, and a big crime fiction fan, is like icing on the cake. But I’m never impressed meeting someone who’s just famous for fame’s sake, you know what I mean? I could not give less of a damn about Paris Hilton or someone from Survivor or the Jersey Shore.
Also, I have this thing in LA sometimes, when I’m down there, where I see some actor at Starbucks or wherever and it really bugs me that for a second I think I know them, not them as an actor, but them as a character. Then I’m like, oh yeah, it’s so and so. When I met Kristen Bell, nice and funny as she is, I really wanted her to be Veronica Mars, but I think that it’s Rob Thomas who is Veronica Mars, if you know what I mean.
So yeah, I think it’d be pretty weird if some actress burst into my hotel room asking for my help in some dire circumstance. You’d have that momentary, “hey, Monica from Friends needs my help!” moment, and then you’d take a step back, and wonder who this person really is. That kind of celebrity is fascinating and repelling at the same time, you know what I mean? Like it must suck on some level to be “Brangelina” and not just be able to go to the movies or a coffee shop. At the same time, they can afford a villa in France and armed bodyguards at all times, so it must hugely NOT suck on another level.
So I can see why you’d want to mine that territory for a story, really.
What about you, you must’ve done research into that lifestyle… tell us about it?
DS: Any “research” was accidental. I’ve spent a good bit of the past few summers in and around L.A., so I did have the occasional celebrity sighting. Funny thing is, usually someone would have to point them out to me — and then it would be like, “Wow, you’re right, that *is* Jennifer Love Hewitt.”
I’ve become good friends with Paul Leyden, the actor and screenwriter who adapted my novel THE BLONDE for MIchelle Monaghan. What’s weird is, I know and admire Paul from his fantastic writing. Many others, however, know Paul from his role as Simon Frasier on As the World Turns. He flew to Philly to meet with me to talk about THE BLONDE, and as we sat at a bar in Old City, knocking back beers, I was extremely aware of the stares. People would look at Paul, recognize him, then look over at me, wondering who his dumpy friend might be… thuggish bodyguard, maybe? It was a kind of surreal experience.
To be honest, though, I’m more starstruck when it comes to writers. And while I do not condone stalker-ish type behavior, I will cop to doing a quicky drive-by of Harlan Ellison’s amazing home (a.k.a., the Aztec Temple of Mars) up in the Hollywood Hills one afternoon last summer…
Okay, how about one quick last round to close this baby out. What’s next for you, Ed — either comic-wise, film-wise, or perhaps even… novel-wise?
EB: Ha. I am the same way with writers, and sometimes cartoonists. The person I was most dumbstruck to meet was probably Christopher Nolan, because Memento is one of the things that got me off my ass and made me take my writing seriously.
So wait, is there any action on THE BLONDE, then? Because Michelle Monaghan is great for that part. I saw that movie she made where she’s a trucker, and that was surprisingly good.
Okay, next for me… I’ve still got a few chapters of the current CRIMINAL book to finish, The Last of the Innocent. I’m still writing Captain America at Marvel, as well as a secret project there that launches in December. And in film I have a few projects in the works that may or may not happen, as all film projects go. Novels, I’ve got an idea I keep noodling on, but I don’t know if I can pull it off. I know I plan to try, though, before I get too much older.
DS: As for THE BLONDE, nothing’s ever a done deal until you’re sitting in a movie theater watching the end credits roll… but I’m feeling really good about its chances. And yeah, I couldn’t be happier with Ms. Monaghan in the lead role. I’ve been a huge fan since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (like every other noir/hardboiled nerd, to be sure).
Next up for me, of course, are the sequels to FUN & GAMES, which are called HELL & GONE and POINT & SHOOT. I’ve treated them like action movie sequels: the budget’s a little bigger, you’re going for increasingly elaborate set pieces, and by the third installment, you’re straining credibility to the breaking point. Which, I guess, is my weird idea of fun.
Duane Swierczynski is the author of several acclaimed crime thrillers, including Severance Package (Minotaur, 2008), which has been optioned by Lionsgate Films. A regular contributor for Marvel Comics, he lives in Philadelphia with his wife and children. Learn more at www.secretdead.blogspot.com. His first book in the Charlie Hardie series, FUN & GAMES, hits bookstores this week.
A one-time cartoonist, Ed Brubaker has been working as a writer since the early 90s, and in that time his work has won several awards and been translated into eleven languages around the world. He primarily works in comics, but has also written screenplays, and will soon write both story and script for a video game. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington with his wife, Melanie, and many pets.