Friday, March 17, 2006

Pro-File: Duane Swierczynski

Pro-File: Duane Swierczynski

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.”

1. What is your most recent book?

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?)

2. What are you working on now?

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.

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

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.

4. What is the greatest displeasure?

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.

5. Any advice for the publishing world?

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.

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

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.

7. Do you remember selling your first novel?

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.


Blogger Tribe said...

Swierczynski? Who's he? I know a guy who's a mechanic in Hamtramck named Alf Swierczynski. Wonder if they're related...

5:49 PM  
Blogger Gormania said...

Duane said that one of the things he'd like to see back in print is the non-McGee John D. MacDonald. Marty Greenberg and I have been trying to for at least five years to get the estate to do let us do just that two-per-trade-paperback. Same with his hundreds of uncollected stories. We had an offer on of $25,000 on the table for one volume, the publisher calling us at least once a week he was so eager, and the estate said no. Bill Pronzini and I recently had a talk about that. After we die, we've asked our wives to take just about any kind of offer for books that have been OP for years. Better to be in print thatrotting in the basement. There are JDMs that haven't been available for a long, long time. Maggie Millar did all she could to get Ken Millar's (Ross Macdonald) works back in print. And before she passed she saw them reissued in nice trade pbs. (Stark House is doing two of hers this year.) When I was working a bit with Barry Gifford at the original Black Lizard (I had a list of ten noirs that I was working on bringing back) we tried to get a Geofrrey Holmes (not Build My Gallows) that had been out of print 49 years and his very sweet and very nice wife said "Well, he used to make $10,000 a week at the studios" and wouldn't take the $1000 we offered. I've spent three months trying to sledgehammer a deal to bring back a Leigh Brackett mystery called Stranger At Home which she ghosted for actor George Sanders. (She didn't write the first Sanders despite him thanking her. She got a studio gig and farmed it out.) For me it is the most elegantly written, atmospheric book of any kind she ever wrote--and a fascinating look at HWood during the war years. Greg Shepard at Stark House is standing by to publish it if I can ever get a deal made. Ed Gorman

9:15 AM  
Blogger Duane Swierczynski said...

This is such a shame. Luckily, it's not too hard to find most of the non-McGees if you're a fan, but I doubt this will be the case for too much longer. Some of these paperbacks have been out of print for over 40 years, if not longer.

And I forgot about the uncollected stories... Oy.

Here's hoping the Estate sees the wisdom in bring more of MacDonald's work to new generations of fans.

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