THE Anthony Schiavino Interview
Dan Malmon: Congratulations on the release of your novel SHOTGLASS MEMORIES! Currently available in print and digital download, SHOTGLASS MEMORIES is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of post-war New Jersey. Tell us more!
Anthony Schiavino: Thanks, Dan, and thank you for having me.
If Fincher directed Bogie and Bacall in a Hitchcock romance you’d have SHOTGLASS MEMORIES boiled down. It’s 1956 and America has gone through two wars and an economic downturn. Sound familiar at all? Joe Sinclair is a WWII vet with PTSD just trying to get by. He’s also showing symptoms of bipolar and schizophrenia while leaning on his vices. He smokes. He drinks. It’s just how men dealt with it and not just a trope. He’s up at all hours trying to keep the wolves at bay. Then a body washes up and he’s on the short-list of suspects.
The story is lined with tobacco, shore towns, spinning tires, and swaying hips. It’s set the early days of the Cold War and there’s a heightened sense of paranoia. Joe doesn’t even trust himself. But he’s not the only one suffering from the War.
1956 was the birth of rock but most didn’t listen to it endlessly. Joe rides a bike but he’s not a greaser. He’s not a teenager talkin’ slang with angst. I wanted to give a plausible take on the period. Not the romanticized one. Joe is a left over from the 40s, out of place in the world.
It’s a mystery but it’s also a spy romance and I’m open with calling it that. Go back to those old Bogie and Bacall films and they’re essentially love stories. There’s sex, violence, and a hope for redemption. But it doesn’t mean they get it.
While doing my own bit of research for this interview, I came across your creator-owned comic book work with SERGEANT ZERO, which I was unaware of and, by the way, looks amazing. SERGEANT ZERO appears to be the literary predecessor to SHOTGLASS since both deal with similar times in history and PTSD. What is it about the themes of war, and the effects that it has on the soldier, that appeals to you as a writer?
I’ve always been a fan of the patriotic war hero. It could be my sense of justice, or my love for the time period. I’ve got “Old Soul” tattooed on my arm. SERGEANT ZERO came out of some of that.
I’m glad you liked it. Others seemed to and I got a few nice blurbs because of it. Simone [Guglielmini] did a bang up job. He’s drawing crime comics now but Sarge was his first U.S. work. The issue is on my site for free, as well as the script for educational purposes. I had a good number of them in the can and the book got picked up by an agent but ultimately never went anywhere. But that’s not a bad thing because from the ashes came a novel that only grew in scope. Sarge shows up in Shotglass but not in the way you’d think. Maybe one day we’ll do a tie-in comic for the hell of it. People love comics. They just don’t know it.
When I started to dig past face value, what we all think we know about the era and what happened to our soldiers, I hit a vein. Since before WWII up through modern times we’ve been on this endless cycle of war and sporadic recovery far past political leanings. According to the history books we really haven’t learned a damn thing. A soldier’s war, doesn’t matter which one they fought in, is never over and it’s never over for their families. PTSD goes far past the front lines and the headlines of the 24-hour news cycle.
At a local level, the more I started to dig the more I found a cycle of history as well. New Jersey dealt with Hurricane Sandy a few years ago and it decimated our coastline. We’re still recovering. The same thing happened in 1944.
A significant part of the appeal as a writer was how we endure, or not, in the face of all of it. How much we lose because of conditions outside our control or how much we screw up out of choice. Call it the human condition. But I wanted to take the middle ground. It’s not pro-war or anti-war and up to the reader to decide how they feel about what happens in the story.
You’ve been immersed in books and comics for a large chunk of your professional life. In fact, my fanboy heart burns with jealousy over your internship. Please, PLEASE tell us tales of the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics.
(Sorry about the unprofessional fanboy-ness of the last question.)
I lived it and it still seems like a fanboy fever dream. So I get it, Dan!
So one day I’m on AOL (For the kids out there, that’s America Online and we used 14.4K modems to connect, when we could connect.) and started talking to somebody about Marvel Comics and internships. Might have been an editor at the time. They gave me contact info and I went in for an interview in Midtown (New York City). I ended up with an editorial internship in the X-Men office. Unpaid. Lasted one summer. It was right around the time they killed off Cyclops and in the Harris era. I made photocopies, erased pencils off of inked pages, sent out comps to the creative teams, read scripts, and things like that. Took the train in from New Jersey into Penn Station, and walked up to old offices on 5th Avenue.
Stan Lee was close enough to touch but he never said, “Hey, True Believer!” Chris Claremont walked the halls regularly. Creative locals would come and go, dropping off scripts or art. The Bullpen was constantly on the move. The Heroes returned. Quesada was on Daredevil with Kevin Smith. Black Widow was in her reboot prime. Fonzie Skull (that’s what they called it) with a turtleneck turned up on a cover of Cap. Back then they still gave out comp copies and when the editors were done, the interns traded the scraps.
I can’t talk about anything juicy that happened within those Hallowed Halls. (There isn’t much if at all.) Even the after-parties were tame. But outside, on that commute in, there are things to this day I can’t unsee. Gotta love New York. It’s probably why I eventually went back, working in the Flatiron, designing book covers for Tor.
The most important thing I learned was that you start outside the office and earn your way in. You have to earn that trust.
It’s clear to anyone who’s read your work, or follows you on the various social media sites, that you wear your New Jersey roots on your sleeve. For those of us born and bred in the wilds of Minnesota, Jersey means the Devils, that turnpike, and Kevin Smith movies. Tell me something I don’t know about the Garden State.
Taxes are high, but that’s because New Jersey is in the middle of everywhere. We’re in the tri-state between Philly and New York with side orders of New Brunswick, Princeton, Red Bank and Asbury Park spinning off the Turnpike. We’ve got all four seasons. The ocean and the shore town life are less than an hour away. We’ve got skee ball and mini-golf. We’re known for our diners, farmland, and Bruce Springsteen. If you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon you’ll find out that the vast majority of celebrities may in fact be from New Jersey. Tom Cruise? New Jersey. Danny DeVito? The same. Jack Nicholson is from the same town as well. Every so often a new one will pop up that I didn’t know about.
New Jersey has concrete and the pine barrens along with the grit of sand and the streets of Trenton. Where, I might add, was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Had Washington not crossed the Delaware and walked his troops, in some cases barefoot, in the middle of winter down Route 29 into Trenton we might not be here.
New Jersey is ripe for storytelling or just tweeting about what you saw on the ride into work. And yes, Dan, I’ve visited the Quick Stop. Devils as in hockey or the Jersey Devil itself?
(Devils hockey, of course. I said this was from a Minnesotan’s perspective!)
It’s glorious is what it is, with roots in New Jersey. Pork roll is a tangy, mostly breakfast based meat whose origin story goes back over a century. It comes as an actual roll you can cut or in pre-cut slices. You can eat it by itself, on a sandwich with egg and cheese, or with a hamburger. Depending on what part of the state you’re from it’s sometimes called Taylor ham (Taylor is a company that produces it) but most of us call it pork roll.
What is the one comic book, storyline, title, or hero you’ll always come back to?
That’s like asking to choose which is the best Indiana Jones (Raiders) or Star Wars movie (Empire). I always come back to the Brian Michael Bendis run of Daredevil but I’d push it into Brubaker’s run as well. I could sell off the entire collection but the whole run is a mainstay. It’s quintessential comics. It had everything.
An alien falls to Earth in your backyard. You explain to him that you are a mystery writer. Being from another world, he doesn’t know what that means. What book do you make him read (because aliens can read English) and what movie do you make him watch (because aliens can understand English)?
I’d give them THE THIN MAN and make them watch THE BIG SLEEP. Humanity has a dark underbelly but it endures. It’s probably why they haven’t contacted us yet.
Just to say thanks again for having me here and thank you to the Crimespree family for the opportunity. I hope readers will consider giving SHOTGLASS MEMORIES a chance. I’ve been around but this is my first novel and I want to earn your trust. Then I’ll eviscerate your soul.
Can you take the cuffs off now? I said what you wanted. Did you call my wife? She’ll be worried.
That depends. You better make with the pork rolls, Schiavino.