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A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part I

Suffering from post-Comic Con withdrawal? Get your fix with the below conversation between award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others, and Duane Swierczynski, originally appearing to celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES. Hardie endures!

Ed Brubaker: So, Duane – FUN & GAMES, am I right in saying this is your first non-Philadelphia book? (Not counting any co-writing) Did you leave your hometown behind in life and fiction?

Duane Swierczynski: You’re right — this is my first book set in a place other than Philly. I still live in Philadelphia (for the time being), and my fictional heart still lives here, too. But I do cop to a little bit literary wanderlust. The idea for FUN & GAMES, grew out of repeated visits to the Hollywood Hills over the years, and even though I tried (at one point) to set it closer to home, it refused to work anywhere but L.A.
Ed, how important is “place” in your work? You’ve created this brilliant fictional location in CRIMINAL‘s “Center City,” but was that on purpose? Why not, say, Chicago, or Seattle, or NYC?

EB: I think with CRIMINAL, it was to make it like the city in Walter Hill’s The Driver, or to use Chandler’s Bay City and Macdonald’s Santa Teresa as location names. Also, I was a Navy brat, so I don’t have that hometown thing a lot of writers have. I lived in DC (or right across the bridge in Arlington) in the summer of 1979, so I get Pelecanos’ views of it from the little I experienced at age 12, but I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to a lot of crime writers I love is the way their books inhabit a city, in a way I never could, as the always traveling outsider.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part I”

Don Winslow, Interviewed by Shane Salerno

Today, the film Savages, based on the Don Winslow novel of the same name, opens in theaters. Check out the trailer, if you haven’t already. Directed by Oscar winner Oliver Stone, the film’s screenplay is the product of a collaboration between novelist Don Winslow and screenwriter Shane Salerno. Winslow and Salerno have known each other for a long time – thirteen years to be exact. They have worked together, including creating the NBC TV series UC: Undercover, trust each other implicitly and often exchange early drafts of their work and talk on the phone every day, usually about film adaptations of Winslow’s work which Salerno produces. At our request, Salerno rang up his buddy Winslow who was in the middle of a cross-country book tour and interviewed the acclaimed crime writer about his life and work.

Salerno: What does it mean for you to be a writer?

Winslow: It means everything to me to be a writer. You know I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I grew up with great story tellers. My old man was a sailor, and I used to sit under the dining room table when he had his old Navy buddies over, and he’d pretend to think that I’d gone to bed and he’d let me sit there and listen to some of the best story tellers in the world so I always worshiped those guys. And we always had books around the house. My old man came out of World War II, you know 17 years old on Guadalcanal and what he wanted to do was ride around on boats, go to every zoo in the world and sit around and read books. So there were always books around our house and we were allowed to read anything we wanted at any age. There was no censorship, no nothing and so I imagined from when I was 5 or 6 years or so that if I could be a writer that would be the best thing in the world to be.

Salerno: Tell me 5 books that knocked you out?

Winslow: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential–where am I? that’s three?–a book called A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, it’ll come to me, a really beautiful Indian novel about Mumbai, and, without question, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

Salerno: Name some authors’ you consistently admire in the genre?

Winslow: Well, James Ellroy, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Connelly, Ken Bruen and John Harvey, Dennis Lehane and Lee Child.

Salerno: You’ve been married for twenty-five years, and yet all of your characters are a mess. How do you access that?

Winslow: [laughs] All of my characters are a mess?

Salerno: They’re a mess!–Every single one of them.–A beautiful mess in some cases but…

Winslow: Y’know, I think methods are interesting. You know what I mean? Vulnerability’s interesting. I don’t think like ‘steady’ is real interesting in fiction, you know? I think that a character’s flaws are what give a character depth and interest. So, I’ve been married for 25 years but I had a life before I was married. It’s a little hard to remember sometimes but I did and I think I was the same kind of flawed, kind of vulnerable kind of character so it is pretty easy for me to access that .

At the same time, I think, you know any writer looks around him. You know, you look at people you look at relationships, you look at other people you know, you look at people in restaurants and cafés, you sit there and you make up stories about them you hear snatches of conversation you see little bits of behavior and that finds its way into your work. But if I was to just sit and write about myself I think we’d have some damn dull books. It would be about some guy sitting alone in a room typing. Not very interesting

Salerno: Give us a short history of your childhood, your parents and growing up.

Winslow: Oh, man. There’s no short history. My dad was a Navy man, Marine in World War II, and then into the Navy, Childhood was spent on most of the destroyer ports on the East Coast. My mom was from New Orleans, my dad met her while he was on leave during World War II. They got married six weeks later, and she came from a family of gamblers. My grandmother was a ward healer for Huey Long after the depression, and then she worked for Carlos Marcello the Mafia chief who probably had Kennedy killed — who by the way I met as a child we used to go to parties at his house in Algiers.

Continue reading “Don Winslow, Interviewed by Shane Salerno”

A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I

Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.

Lawrence Block: How did a nice fellow like you get into this business?

Robert Silverberg: When I went to college, I went to Columbia.  I lived in Brooklyn and my first year at Columbia, I had to commute to Upper Manhattan to get to college and I saw working people on the subway with me, riding, riding, riding.  And I thought if I get into this business, I can stay home when I work.  I don’t have to do that.

LB: That does incentivize a person, you know.

RS: And I’ve never worked for anyone else.  I worked at home as a professional writer for the last (When did I graduate? 1956) for the last 54 1/2 years and that’s because I didn’t want to be riding the subway.  What’s your excuse?

LB: Well, I had the good sense to get tossed out of college, so I didn’t have anything to fall back on.  And you know, that’s just as well.  Because there were some times when if I had had something to fall back on, I would have.

RS: What college did you get tossed out of?

LB: Antioch.

RS: Oh, very classy.

LB: It’s tough to get tossed out of Antioch.

RS: It’s one of the best to get tossed out of.

LB: What happened was I went down there for two years.  And after the second year, they have a work study program there and instead of taking one of the jobs that the school had on offer for that semester, that term I went off and found a job. And the job I found was at Scott Meredith.

RS: You better explain.  Tell them who Scott Meredith-

LB: He was a literary agent.  Well—

RS: My literary agent.

LB: A sort of literary agent. Um-

RS: He wasn’t very literary, but he sure was an agent.

LB: Yes, yes, he had that part covered.  And I got a job there as an editor and my job was to read the manuscripts submitted by hopeful writers who paid a fee to have their manuscript read by Scott personally and get a response from him.  And I would write the letter and it would be one-and-a-half single-spaced pages, a long letter they got for their money, and it would come with their manuscript, which was returned, and it would say, essentially, “There were things wrong with this story which cannot be fixed because it is the plot that is at fault, but you are actually a superb writer and we hope you’ll be sending future stories to us, each, of course, accompanied by a fee.”  And it was the best school for a young writer that there could possibly be.  You can’t learn that much by reading wonderful work.  You can learn a tremendous amount by reading things that don’t work.  So it was a great education.  Aside from that the only honest work I’ve ever done was a couple of years later when I took an editorial job in Wisconsin because I had had a falling out with Scott and a lot my markets suddenly were closed to me.

RS: He did control a lot of markets.

LB: Indeed.  But you started out writing science fiction from the very beginning?

Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I”

Blow It Up Better: Thomas Mullen interviews Paul Malmont on Pulp Fiction, Imagination, History, and Comics

Paul Malmont is the author of three novels re-imaging the lives of early 20th century pulp writers to thrilling effect: his first, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, placed ‘30s authors Walter Gibson (The Shadow) and Lester Dent (Doc Savage) in their own pulp adventure, complete with zombies and phantom freighters, and his second, Jack London in Paradise, took a look at that author’s mysterious later years in Hawaii. Malmont’s new novel, The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown, takes us into the mad laboratory of the early sci-fi writers who were enlisted by the U.S. Navy during World War II to use their imaginative brawn and scientific know-how to create military super-weapons. (Loosely based on fact, amazingly. Or astoundingly).

I met Paul at a book conference a few years back, and we’ll both be at Comic Con next month. And because I’ve been increasingly interested in the interconnections between what his characters call “what’s real and what’s pulp,” I tossed him a few questions.

Thomas Mullen:  While I was reading your book I happened to see X-Men: First Class and I couldn’t help but think of some odd similarities. The movie is a sort of prequel, showing the origins of mutant superheroes that we’ve come to know and love, with the occasional cameo from someone like Wolverine at a bar, and placing the story in a historical context (the Cold War). Your book traces the early lives of writing legends (like Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard), explaining their motivations and dreams, again with some cool cameos (like Ray Bradbury and even Einstein), and placing it in a historical context (World War II).

Paul Malmont: I love the literary mash-up form.  I love when something you’re familiar with collides with something you aren’t. That’s my favorite kind of illusion. I’m a big fan of pop-culture shout-outs, and references and allusions. I think they work in things like X-Men and our books because they validate our love of these geeky things. If you look Alan Moore’s work, especially League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it’s just one huge geek-out. But at the same time, he’s trying to get down to the essence of why we still love these characters and these stories.

Philip Jose Farmer was a master of this, too, and he had such a huge influence on me.  He created a family tree that linked all sorts of great fictional characters from Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan to James Bond and Nero Wolfe—the Wold-Newton Family. Win Scott Eckert and other fans had Farmer’s blessing to build onto the tree, so now its branches extend to Steve Austen, Buckaroo Banzai, Peter Venkman, and Buffy Summers.  But Farmer was the first one to do the mash-up.

TM: Your book plays with the idea of imagination and how it can influence the real world. In this very unique writers’ workshop, sci-fi authors are conducting research for the Navy; on a chalkboard someone has written the following inspirational bullet points:

CAN WE MAKE IT FLY HIGHER OR FASTER OR BY ITSELF?

CAN WE MAKE IT VANISH?

CAN WE BLOW IT UP BETTER?

CAN WE CONFUSE OUR ENEMIES?”

One character even explains that sci-fi writers, by imagining a future, actually do bring that world into being, by putting their visions on paper to catalyze their readers (mechanics and inventors and engineers), who will take that imaginary baton and run with it. I loved that motif.

PM: My first book was really about the redemptive power of the imagination–how the writers could always use theirs to pull them back from whatever brink they stood upon. My second was about the destructive power of the imagination–how it could turn to obsession and despair. So the theme of this one is what are the limits to imagination? How far can you take an idea before it breaks? Or breaks you? All these guys are so in love with different visions of the future and they really want to bring it about. But reality intrudes in the form of bureaucracy, relationships, an entire planet at war.

Something from Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ that made a big impression on me was the sense he created that the coming of the Messiah was so imminent, it could happen at any moment.  It seemed to be in the air and it was what everyone was talking about. I tried to capture some of that sense for these writers. I think they felt that they were part of something so huge that they got swept up in it–creating the future.

By writing it out on that board, I’m trying to show what the stakes are. Can these guys, who put such faith in their imaginations, bend reality to their will. Writers try to convince you that what the world you’re reading about is, in some sense, real, and I’m using the Philadelphia Lab as the analogy for the creative process of a writer. That part introduces the brainstorming process when every idea seems glittering and golden. Then, throughout the book, we kind of track the progress of those ideas as they are written out, so to speak.

Continue reading “Blow It Up Better: Thomas Mullen interviews Paul Malmont on Pulp Fiction, Imagination, History, and Comics”

No Rest for the Dead

Four years ago, I was having drinks with my friends Les Pockell and Susan Richman in a Greek restaurant, chosen more for its proximity to Grand Central station than for the food. I told Les and Susan about a project I had started working on, an anthology with several best-selling writers, and how my share of the royalties would go to cancer research since both my parents had died of that disease.

Les finished paying and slid his credit card back into his wallet. I could almost hear the gears turning. “If you want sales, Andrew,” he said, “turn this into a novel in chapters. I read one when I was a kid and it had a huge impact on me.” Then he walked off, raincoat in hand, to take the train home to Brooklyn.

Two years later, Les’s life was taken by cancer, which strengthened my resolve to make sure the serial novel was a best-seller. I must admit, however, that while working on this project, my sister and I have at times both shaken our fists at the heavens in frustration.

The first three writers I contacted were Tess Gerritsen, Jonathan Santlofer, and John Lescroart. Touched by the inspiration for the book, and without even asking if money were involved, they all signed on to contribute.

You’ll see my name listed as the author of the prologue, but I never wanted to contribute to the book. I suspected my rather unknown name would look odd alongside the likes of Alexander McCall Smith, Sandra Brown, and Jeffery Deaver. But when it came time for John Lescroart to write the first chapter, he very forthrightly suggested I come up with something. I’d had an idea to write a novel about a woman convicted of—and executed for—murdering her husband and tossing his body in an iron maiden. All sorts of themes were in my mind for that novel: capital punishment, revenge, alcoholism, and how past sins never seem to die. So I wrote a prologue and handed it off. My ego received a huge boost when John and the other writers were happy with my work. Best of all, John began taking my characters and giving them lives of their own. Who could ask for more?

Continue reading “No Rest for the Dead”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part II

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Fun & Games we matched Duane Swierczynski up with Josh Bazell, author of the acclaimed novel Beat the Reaper. When we last saw our heroes (see Part I), Duane had asked Josh how far he had gotten with his plan to become a comic book artist.

JB: Not far. When I was about ten I realized I didn’t have the talent.  All I had was How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which in retrospect was useless.  But until them my goal in life was to go to the Joe Kubert School, because it ran advertisements in comic books. It may be the saddest story ever told that’s not about a Boston terrier. What was your first idea of yourself as a writer?

DS: As a kid, I was inspired by comic books. I’d try to draw comic strips, but I realized at a young age that I wasn’t good at drawing. So instead, I remember cutting up an old Iron Man comic and using the art to make my own story. New captions, new dialogue. I knew I couldn’t draw for shit, but I could use someone else’s art to make my own story. I guess I was that kind of kid, who grew that interest in writing. Since I couldn’t draw, I decided that maybe a short story would be fun. I’m very inspired by comics, but also by movies, I caught the storytelling bug early. I’m not even sure I was aware of it, but it’s what I was doing.

JB: Was this your first job?

DS: Well, my VERY first job was, I was a keyboard player in a bar band when I was ten. My dad’s bar band, a wedding band. So my first paying job was playing Doors cover songs in dive bars in Philadelphia.

JB: Can you play the keyboard intro to “Light my Fire?”

DS: I can still do that! It took hours to learn, but it was worth it. It impresses the chicks.

JB: That’s badass!

DS: My dad actually made me spend a whole afternoon learning the organ solo for “In-A-GaddaDa-Vida”. Playing it over and over again. So, actually, I’m a frustrated musician too. You talk about wanting to do one art and sliding back into something else. I wanted to be a famous musician or a rockstar and I don’t have a good singing voice and I’m not very good at playing. So, I knew I couldn’t do it professionally. So, I fell back on writing.

JB: Do you still do it for fun?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part II”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II

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.

Missed Part I? Start reading it here.

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?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II”

Ray Bradbury is my ‘Father’

Growing up in a small country town in Australia, my only experience of the wider world came through grainy black and white TV images and the magic of the books that I borrowed from the local library.

I remember being eight-years-old, in July 1969, when teachers assembled the entire school – barely a hundred students – into one classroom. They wheeled in a television and we watched Neil Armstrong emerge from the landing module of Apollo 11. We held our breath. One small step…one giant leap…

Everyone applauded except me. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the enormity of the achievement, but I had already been to the moon and walked on the surface of Mars and smelt the pungent odor of Jupiter. I had traveled the universe with a writer called Ray Bradbury, who is perhaps the reason that I’m a novelist today.

Bradbury was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, the son of a lineman for the local power company, who moved often for work between Illinois and Arizona. When very young he developed a passion for the books of Edgar Allan Poe and L. Frank Baum, while immersing himself in popular culture such as cinema, comic strips and traveling circuses.

There were tragedies in his early life. His beloved grandfather and his baby sister died of pneumonia – which could explain why a sense of loss haunts so many of Bradbury’s stories and novels.

At the age of fourteen he moved to California and has lived there ever since. After he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938, he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, befriending writers Robert Heinlein and Leigh Brackett. In 1940 he sold his first story to a literary magazine – and a career began that would span more than seventy years.

Apart from numerous books and short stories, Bradbury wrote for years for both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. He has penned the screenplay for the classic 1956 version of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck and directed by John Huston.

I wasn’t born until 1960, but I discovered Bradbury when I graduated from picture books to short stories. From memory, the first I ever picked up was The Illustrated Man a collection of eighteen short stories that opens in Wisconsin where two men sit down to share a meal around a campfire and one unbuttons his shirt to reveal a canvas of ink-decorated skin. In the flickering firelight, the images begin to breathe and move. Each of the tattoos tells a story and gives a vision of humankind’s destiny. There were tales of star-travel, Martian invasions, junkyard rockets and technology awakening our worst instincts.

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Noir Seal of Approval

As a contributor to LA Noire: The Collected Stories, we asked Andrew Vachss to give us his thoughts on noir. Read Andrew Vachss’s story “Postwar Boom” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

Available free (for a limited time) from your eTailer of choice. Amazon.com | BN.com | iTunes | Sony

I learned, a long time ago, that people can read for entertainment and come away with enlightenment, so long as the vein of truth runs throughout and doesn’t detract from the narrative force. I understand there are those who believe “noir”—or “hardboiled,” or whatever term they prefer to lavish upon themselves—writing shouldn’t be cluttered up with “that other stuff.” As if littérature engageé is only acceptable in “magical realism” novels translated from original Incan scrolls. All these “outlaws” who want me to live by their rigid little rules … good luck to them. I understand I am too “pulp” for the literati, and too “literate” for the pulpsters. Lost a lot of sleep over that. I’d rather burn a bridge than crawl over it, and genre- worship isn’t one of my disabilities. Apparently, as with all religions, some people believe they can dictate definitions. I don’t ask these self-appointed high priests for the “Noir Seal of Approval” that only they (think they) can grant.

Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and a labor organizer, and has directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent” youth. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively. He is the author of two dozen novels, including The Weight, his latest. To read an excerpt from this crime-fiction novel about Sugar, an old-school professional thief, visit http://vachss.com/weight.

The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan

shadowy figuresI’m just beginning to realize the flickering presence Lois Duncan’s books still play in my imagination, decades after discovering them.

Most of my reading life, age nine to twelve especially, seemed to be in search of books that somehow conveyed for me, as movies did, a world as dark and tangled and mysterious as the one I glimpsed in my fevered girl head. These were books of shadows, books where the every day—banging school lockers, fights with siblings, sprawling out on the carpet and watching TV—could, at any moment, give way to darkness, beauty, terror, a Grimm’s fairy tale of precipice-peering and descent. The same things I found, and clung to, in true crime and noir.

It was not until a few years ago that I discovered her non-fiction recounting of her daughter’s (still officially unsolved) murder and its aftermath, Who Killed My Daughter?, which is wrenching, unforgettable book. It’s hard to talk about such a personal book, written by a grieving mother, in objective terms, but, to try, it’s also a fascinating book as Duncan undertakes her own investigations, both traditional and untraditional, including working with a psychic.

Now, with the reissuing and updating of ten of Duncan’s YA books, including my favorites, I was fortunate enough to interview the author herself. On a personal level, there’s something deeply satisfying and more than a little uncanny about it because, as with so many interviews, I came to feel I was revealing (or at least realizing) as much about myself (maybe more) as the author herself was. Most of all, though, I came away feeling deeply inspired by her path as a female author with such a long career in a famously punishing business. The author of 50 books, she has endured countless “revolutions” in publishing and never let any of it stop her from creating, from experimenting, from, well, telling the stories she wanted to tell.

Speaking via a series of emails, we began by talking about the new editions. She told me how exciting it was for her to update the new editions, adding, “I’ve been astonished to realize how well the characters and plots have transcended the years. All I really had to do was tweak the stories in order to change hair styles and dress and give my protagonists access to the technical toys of today—cell phones, computers, digital cameras, etc. That gave me a sense of power. It was like rebirthing my children and being able to provide them with wings.”

Megan: I am a tremendous fan, and have been since I first found your books in the early 1980s, as a young girl in suburban Michigan. It’s a big thrill to see these reissues and to get to revisit these wonderful books and also, somehow, the 10-year-old me who so savored them.

One of the things that strike me now, re-reading them, is how they managed to mingle the everyday (family chores, pesky siblings) and identifiable with the strange, the paranormal, darkness itself. I think it can speak to young girls’ sense that they want to be invited into a book (e.g., a heroine they feel is like them), but they also want to visit murky places. Explore, uncover the unknown. Was that “mix” one of your aims when you wrote them? How could you be sure the darker themes would be speak to readers?

Lois Duncan: I wasn’t sure. And, at first, my editors weren’t either. A Gift of Magic (my first novel that involved ESP) was rejected seven times before Little, Brown daringly published it. The other publishers were certain that young readers would not be interested. I get great satisfaction from the fact that the book, originally published in 1971, has never gone out of print and becomes more and more popular.

As far as my style goes—I think the fact that the books involve “normal” kids in “normal” life situations creates a realistic format that the average reader easily relates to. As paranormal events begin to occur, the viewpoint character finds them just as bewildering as the reader. Then, as that character begins to accept them, the reader does so also, because he or she is following the same thought process.

Continue reading “The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan”

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