The Duane Swierczynski Interview

Kate, Duane, and Dan at Bouchercon 2011

Called “… the hottest thing in crime fiction” by no less than Joe R. Lansdale, Duane Swierczynski has been a force in crime fiction since his debut novel SECRET DEAD MEN hit shelves in 2005. Since then nine other novels have followed, as well as comic book work for both Marvel, DC Comics and IDW. Following a trend of using strong female leads in his work, Swierczynski has just wrapped up a well-received run on DC’s BIRDS OF PREY. The BOP being a group of take-no-guff ladies who make their home in Batman’s Gotham City. It’s advised to not make them angry.

With the release of POINT & SHOOT, the long-awaited conclusion of the Charlie Hardie trilogy, Mr. S has agreed to (via the magic of the email) sit down with Dan and talk a little Charlie Hardie, his knack for pop culture referencing, and the joy he takes in being Philadelphia’s favorite son.

Best to start at the beginning! After a bit of a delay, April 30 will see the release of POINT & SHOOT. Readers will finally see the conclusion of the adventures of “Unkillable Chuck.” What can you tell us about P&S, and can you shed some light on why the long delay?

Sometimes your brain just needs a break. P&S took so long because I’d written five novels pretty much back-to-back (the first two Hardies, and the three Level 26 novels with Anthony Zuiker) and I think my brain was telling me, “Hold on there, hoss. Slow down or I’m gonna be forced to give you one of those amusing little aneurysms. That’ll slow you down right quick.” My mistake wasn’t so much taking the time I needed to write the book—it was promising it by a certain date. I won’t do that again.

That said… I’m praying (fingers crossed) Hardie fans will think it was worth the wait. Because it’s the reason I agreed to write a trilogy in the first place—to tell this specific story. I can’t even tell you this one’s subgenre without ruining some of the fun.

Your novels have dealt with themes of secret shadow agencies, time travel, and my favorite, the Brain Hotel. Where do you draw your inspiration? Where did Charlie Hardie come from?

I think writers take inspiration from everything—there’s no one direct source. (Harlan Ellison was only kidding about that shop in Schenectady that sells ideas by the six pack!) I’ve been feeding my brain with weird shit for 41 plus years now—everything from cheap paperbacks about UFOs and ancient astronauts to Saturday Afternoon “Creature Double Features” to comics to horror novels to SF sagas to crime magazines and so on—so no wonder my brain is spitting this cross-genre stuff back out at me.

Hardie was originally supposed to be the continuing adventures of a security guard we last saw in Severance Package—I thought he’d go off and get mixed up in some trouble on the West Coast. (Which was inspired by visits to Michael Connelly’s apartment, and David J. Schow’s house, both in L.A.) But when I started plotting, I knew Hardie had to be his own man.

Your style of writing is incredibly fast paced. But while the reader is turning the pages at light-speed (or tapping the Kindle screen until it cracks) keeping up with mind-bending ideas, or insane acts of violence, you can see that there are tons of character beats sprinkled throughout. Not to mention pop-culture references, in-jokes, or just out-and-out black humor. What’s your secret formula for drawing a reader in with a fast paced read, but making sure we care about the hero?

There’s really no secret formula; I’m just trying to keep myself entertained. I bore easily, so that’s why things are usually on hyperdrive mode. I’m trying to slow down a little, I swear.

(See how long it took me to send you answers to this interview? That’s me, takin’ ‘er slowwwwwwwww.)

*kicks back, contemplates the sky*

Philly. You’re its native son. Your lead character drinks the local brew. You even listen to the ROCKY soundtrack while writing. Would it kill you to set a story in the Twin Cities once in a while?

Twin what now?

Let’s shift gears a bit. In the last few years you’ve made a nice name for yourself in comics. From the early days on Marvel’s IMMORTAL IRON FIST, to recently helming the re-launch of DC’s BIRDS OF PREY during the mega-hyped “New52” initiative. Now I see you’re working with IDW on GODZILLA and JUDGE DREDD. Good god, man! When do you sleep?

Sleep what now?

I like keeping busy with a bunch of different projects—and especially nice to balance out the long haul of a novel with the short sprints of a comic book script. Though I do have to shift my priorities from time to time: right now, the new novel is taking center stage, and I’m actually cutting down on my comics work to give it the time it needs.

Our readers (ok, me) must know – what was your first comic book? What comic hooked you on the medium? And do you hit a local shop, or do you prefer an electronic format?

Marvel’s Werewolf By Night – but not a standard floppy issue. It was a book-and-record set, which made it all the more terrifying. I can see hear the gunshots and practically smell the singed werewolf fur.

As for buying funny books, I hit local comic shops as well as do some iPad app purchases—the former for established favorites, the latter for stuff I want to sample. But I’m not buying many single issues anymore. I prefer the experience of gorging on a storyline four or five (or 20) issues at a time. This may piss some purists off, but hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.

One of the standard interview questions has always been “Hammett or Chandler” or even “Superman or Batman.” But you preach the works of David Goodis. When did you first discover Goodis, and what would you tell our readers (er, me again) who have yet to read him?

Hammett and Batman. (Not that you asked!)

I first discovered Goodis in the early 1990s and was happily stunned to see a crime novel set in neighborhoods I knew very well. (Down There, a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player, is set one neighborhood away from where I grew up.) Aside from the Philly settings, however, it’s Goodis’s voice that draws you in. People say he wrote novels in the form of suicide notes, but I think they’re brilliant black comedies.

What’s the last good movie you saw?

Evil Dead, the 2013 remake. I’m a big fan of inventive violence and going too far.

Many of the interview guests have taken to social media, like Twitter and/or Facebook. You yourself have used the platform for postcard contests. What are your thoughts on social media?

I love being in touch with thousands of like-minded weirdos – that is to say, my kind of people. For a guy who’s an introvert at heart (seriously) it’s great way to still feel plugged into the human race. I love hearing from people who’ve dug my books or comics, and like stalking… I mean, reaching out to writers, artists, musicians, etc. I admire. To borrow a phrase from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, social media makes it a lot easier to find your ka-tet.

Parting thoughts?

You didn’t ask me about music, Dan, which makes me think your soul is dying and withered inside. A few songs that I’ve been obsessing over lately…

“Plastic Cup” – Low

“Evil Things” – The Black Angels

“California” – Delta Spirit

“Demon Dance” – Surfer Blood

“Pink Ruff” – Bleeding Rainbow

“We Do Parties” – Deerhoof

“Baby Goes Bad” – Gemma Ray

And I’m foaming at the mouth for the next Queens of the Stone Age album.

Closing: Thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Please don’t send the Accident People to our house. ::wipes sweat from brow, grins uncomfortably::

Pssst. Dan. They’re already inside the house…