Duane S.

Duane Swierczynski is one of the hardest working men in the writing business. He runs a fairly decent sized newspaper and has a wife and two very young children. He treats his writing career as a full-time job and is the author of three critically acclaimed novels. I received a signed advance copy of The Blonde, but I went out and bought the hardcover as soon as it hit the shelves.

I got a chance to talk with Duane over instant messager and it was a great talk. We talked about his city, the change in crime fiction that’s been taking place these days as writers get more experimental, comic books, and a whole lot more. Check out his great blog at: Duane Swierczynski: The Wheelman.

Forth, transcript. This is a long one, but it’s a goody, and ought to at least convince you to get in line for his upcoming novel Severence Package. Now, prepare for voyeurism! It’s like you’re really there!

Cameron: Get this party started now?

Swierczynski: It’s on.

Swierczynski: Or, as they say in Philly:

Swierczynski: "It’s on, motherfuckas!"

Cameron: So you’re a native?

Swierczynski: Yes, born in a neighborhood called Frankford.

Swierczynski: Now a really bad drug corridor.

Swierczynski: In fact, my parents unwittingly sold my childhood home to some heroin dealers. True story, There was a statewide bust called "Operation Macho." My old address was named in the press release.

Cameron: Of course. Must live the experience to write about it

Swierczynski: Personally, I’d rather read about the experience than actually have it… but I guess it does make for some nice first-hand research.

Cameron: What was Frankford like?

Swierczynski: Well, it used to be a quiet little country village.

Swierczynski: Then they ran an elevated train through it.

Swierczynski: When I was a kid, growing up in the 1970s, the avenue under the El was still a thriving place. You could buy suits, candy, records.

Swierczynski: But it really hit hard times in the 1980s. Now it’s tough to make anything work in the neighborhood, though people are trying hard.

Cameron: So you could buy anything growing up?

Swierczynski: More or less. Frankford Avenue was my universe.

Swierczynski: Just up the avenue was the newsstand where I’d buy comic books. And two doors up from that, a used book store where I’d buy paperbacks with the covers torn off for a quarter each.

Swierczynski: Now I know how despicable that practice is… (Says the author)

Cameron: Right, it usually means the books are stolen?

Swierczynski: Or, remaindered, and meant to be pulped.

Cameron: Did you write as a kid?

Cameron: Old books and comics would have an impact on any kid, at least as an escape

Swierczynski: I did. I was always putting together little comic books and fake newspapers–first with markers and loose leaf, later with a typewriter.

Swierczynski: Oh yeah.

Swierczynski: I also read my dad’s copies of Omni magazine, which contained some pretty weird stuff.

Swierczynski: I didn’t understand half of it (I was eight), but what I understood blew my mind.

Swierczynski: Like you said, it was an escape. Not that I had a Dickens-like childhood, but it was nice to sneak out into other worlds.

Swierczynski: There’s no movie quite like the movie you create in your mind.

Cameron: So writing was a natural thing that came to you, nothing where you said "I can do this!"

Swierczynski: I think it’s natural that, if you enjoy something, eventually you’ll want to give it a try. That’s how it was with writing.

Swierczynski: I knew I wasn’t any good, but I had fun doing it. And that feeling has honestly never gone away.

Swierczynski: Er… the last part of that, I mean.

Swierczynski: The fun.

Cameron: You have a degree in Journalism. Was that just at first a way to learn how to write better?

Swierczynski: Yep. Actually, I have a B.A. in English Lit and Communications–my college didn’t have a journalism track.

Swierczynski: But the idea was to get a lot of bad writing out of my system by writing for newspapers.

Swierczynski: I used to always obsess over my stuff, wondering if it was "professional" enough.

Swierczynski: As if there was a code to be unlocked.

Cameron: I think that stops a lot of would-be writers, lack of confidence, always one little thing that they don’t like that stop them from trying

Swierczynski: I agree.

Swierczynski: The trick is keep writing anyway. Because you eventually find a way around those hurdles.

Cameron: You had a long period between your first, Secret Dead Men, and The Wheelman. Was it your journalism career that interrupted it?

Swierczynski: Actually, no.

Swierczynski: I wrote Secret Dead Men while I was an editor at Details magazine. The reason for the delay: it didn’t sell, and I was a bit discouraged.

Swierczynski: So I focused on writing nonfiction books for a while, as well as oddball short stories that popped up here and there.

Cameron: I’ve noticed it mentioned a lot more these days

Swierczynski: Yeah?

Swierczynski: I’m proud of the book. It’s not the kind of book I’d write today, nine years down the road.

Swierczynski: But I think it has its goofy charms.

Cameron: Its fun, very much a first novel, but there are themes in it carried on in The Wheelman and The Blonde

Swierczynski: That said, I’m tempted to go back and write a stand-alone sequel (figure that one out) that plays with the mythology a bit.

Swierczynski: Hmmm. What theme would that be?

Swierczynski: "No matter what, you’re fucked?"

Cameron: The old Rocky wisdom. Go the distance, even if they’re trying to fuck you up, especially if they’re trying to fuck you up

Swierczynski: Exactly. Sometimes, you win. Sometimes, you don’t.

Cameron: You play with genre a lot. Going back, is that just writing down the movies in your head?

Swierczynsky: It used to be, but now I put a lot more effort into feeding my head raw materials.

Swierczynski: When I was younger, it was just daydreaming, and I’d write down the more interesting daydreams.

Cameron: The Wheelman is probably your most straight-forward novel

Swierczynski: I think so–it’s probably the most traditional crime story I’ve ever written

Swierczynski: Which was on purpose. A lot of the rejections for Secret Dead Men said stuff like, "Nice, but where would we sell it? Mystery? Sci-Fi?"

Swierczynski: So I thought, "Okay. I’ll give you the most stripped-down, hardboiled story I can think of."

Cameron: In today’s market, it would sit comfortably by writers like Jim Butcher

Swierczynski: I know!

Swierczynski: Not to compare myself with these writers, but guys like Jim Butcher and Charlie Huston have done a great job blending these genres

Swierczynski: and have had a lot of success at it.

Swierczynski: I just tell myself I was nine years ahead of my own time.

Cameron: So you run a newspaper now? Does it get in the way of your writing?

Swierczynski: You know, I’m not sure.

Swierczynski: I’ve always had a full-time gig, be it school or work. And I’ve always written at night and weekends.

Swierczynski: It’s always been something I’ve squeezed in, for fun. Now that’s it’s becoming more of a second career, I do find myself spending more time with it.

Cameron: I put a gun to your head, and made you choose, would it be the newspaper business or novels?

Swierczynski: I would slap the gun out of your hand.

Swierczynski: Then I would press the gun to your head and say

Swierczynski: "No comment, punk."

Swierczynski: Okay seriously, I would love to write novels full time.