Interview with Duane Swierczynski

Duane Swierczynski, author of the recently released Expiration Date, was kind enough to do a short Q&A for Pulp Serenade.

Pulp Serenade: Let’s say you go to your medicine cabinet tonight and find an expired bottle of Tylenol…where in the past would you want to visit? Or would you stay away from them altogether?

Duane Swierczynski: My luck, the bottle wouldn't contain Tylenol. It'd be expired malaria pills or something, and I'd spend the next nine to 13 days avoiding solid food.

PS: All the albums you mention in the book—Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard, Styx—are these from your own collection?

DS: I wish. My dad owned a few of the albums I mention, but most of them are things I've picked up on iTunes. I can't remember the last CD I bought, let alone vinyl album. I do miss the covers. Thumbnails don't quite cut it.

PS: Mickey Wade is, much to his dismay, an ex-journalist. Your background is also in journalism—is it something you miss? Might you return to it in the future?

DS: I really don't miss it at all. I know I should pretend that I do, but I have my dream job right now. I could see myself doing a nonfiction project at some point, if the right idea presented itself.

PS: A day in the life of Duane Swierczynski: where and when do you do your writing?

DS: In my basement, during the day. I used to write late into the night, but since quitting my day job I've been able to devote the waking hours to writing, and spend evenings with my family. (Of course, sometimes a deadline means I bring my laptop to the living room couch...)

PS: Social networking–blogs, Twitter, Facebook–is something previous generations of writers never had to navigate. Is this just a phase, or are writers going to have to get used to this as a permanent part of their job?

DS: I don't see social networking as a job, honestly -- it's just fun, and a good way to stay in touch with like-minded people. If it felt like work, I'd probably stop doing it.

I don't think it's a phase; an increasing number of readers expect to be able to fire up Google and find their favorite writers within a few keystrokes. Meanwhile, I remember being 17 years old, and wanting to send a fan letter to Clive Barker. I spend days tracking down an address (for his UK publisher), then spend hours crafting the letter, and then waited (I think) months before a received a reply. But it was a personal reply, and my God did that make my year. It's a much different experience than just clicking the "like" button on someone's Twitter page.

Okay. I'd better stop before I start sounding like Old Man Swierczy...

PS: One of the first thing Mickey Wade tries to do in the past is bring back pulp novels. Where did you first discover vintage pulp novels, and what is your collection like today? Any prized pulps?

DS: Whodunit was my first supplier -- I wandered in there one day in my early 20s, ten bucks in my pocket. Owner Art Bourgeau sent me out with a handful of pulp novels that were a huge influence on me: Dan J. Marlowe's The Name of the Game is Death, an early Goodis novel, and some James M. Cain, among other picks. I don't stop in as often as I like, but Art's the best when it comes to steering you down some delightfully dark alleys.

I go through phases of paperback purchases; when the mood strikes me, my credit card trembles with fear. I think my prize paperbacks are my Fredric Browns, James M. Cains, David Goodises and Jim Thompsons. Nothing super-rare, but I've always bought them to read, not collect.

PS: How does preparing and writing a novel like Expiration Date differ from plotting and writing comics like Punisher and Cable?

DS: It's like writing songs for a solo act vs. an entire band. With my novels, it's just me and a beat-up guitar. With comics, I have to consider the needs of the label, balancing my song with the other songs on the album, remembering to let the drummer and bass player have fun, too. Both experiences are a blast, but they scratch different itches.

PS: Mickey Wade has a love/hate relationship to Philadelphia—as much as it frustrates him sometimes, it is such a part of his identity I can’t picture him ever leaving. Is your own relationship to the city similar?

DS: Yes... but I could imagine myself leaving. Just the other day, I likened Philly to a psycho ex-girlfriend. She used to be hot but now she does crazy things, and she's really let herself go, but something pulls you back, time and time again, against your better judgement...

PS: The story of Expiration Date is quite unlike anything else I’ve read—like a noir version of Alice in Wonderland. Were there any specific influences you had in mind while writing the book?

DS: Fredric Brown would routinely mash-up science fiction and mystery without blinking, as would another favorite oddball writer of mine: Robert Sheckley. I wish someone would start reprinting these guys again.

PS: Any updates on the Swierczynski takeover of Hollywood? Your bio in the back of Expiration Date mentions that several of your novels have been optioned for movies…

DS: The novels are still under option, but nothing new to report yet...


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