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An Interview with Duane Swierczynski

Tuesday, Jun 03, 2008 at 9:33am

Duane Swierczynski is a rising force in both crime fiction and comic book writing. His latest novel, Severance Package, has just hit the shelves, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions through e-mail.

CG: First off, thanks for several sleepless nights. Each time I started one of your novels I wasn't able to put it down until it was finished. Was it a conscious decision to compress the time frames of your narratives to a matter of days -- or in the case of Severance Package, hours -- in order to create that sense of urgency?

DS: Thatís awesome for any writer to hear -- thank you. I have a lot of fun playing with constraints; time and otherwise. In every novel so far, Iíve given myself one or two little rules, just to see if I could stick to them. In The Blonde, I decided that I didnít want anyone using guns. In The Wheelman, I wanted a character who couldnít speak. (Which, granted, makes dialogue a little tough.) Thereís a similar limitation in Severance Package -- did you notice it?

You didnít?

(Oh well. #[email protected] it.)

CG: Recently you left your position as Editor-in-Chief at the Philadelphia City Paper. Was it a hard decision to give up the day job?

DS: I miss my colleagues, and the crazy stuff that comes out of locking a bunch of creative minds in a room for extended periods of time. But Iím really happy to finally be able to tackle my true love full-time: writing fiction, be it novels or comics. Plus, I donít have to wear pants as often.

CG: Your last three novels have all been set in Philadelphia. What makes your home town such a great city for crime fiction?

DS: I have a complicated love/hate thing going on with my city. My main characters tend to be outsiders -- people who end up here by mistake, or who are forced to be here because of a job. Itís fun to look at the city through their eyes.

CG: You've got a very eclectic body of work behind you, from your non-fiction (The Big Book O' Beer, This Hereís a Stick Up), your crime novels, and now your work at Marvel Comics. How did you get your start as a writer?

DS: By being bad at math and science. Instead of paying attention in high school, I would write these little horror stories to make my friends laugh. In the middle of my junior year of high school, I wrote a horror novella as a gift for my best friend, and his reaction to my shock ending convinced me that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

CG: How did you come to work for Marvel Comics? Did you approach them as a fan, or did they come after you?

DS: Neither, actually. I was emailing a bit with Ed Brubaker -- one of my favorite writers ever since I read his brilliant graphic novel Scene of the Crime -- and at one point he asked me, "Hey, you ever think about writing for comics?" Ed introduced me to his editors at Marvel, Axel Alonso and Warren Simons, and we started kicking around ideas. Now Iíve been dying to break into comics since I was a kid, and the whole time I was thinking: Lower your expectations, Swierczy. This is never going to happen. Much to my shock, it did.

CG: You've worked on Moon Knight, Cable, Iron Fist, and now at New York Comic Con, it was announced you're doing a story arc on The Punisher. Is there still a character you're dying for a crack at?

DS: Well, my son is named Parker, after both the Amazing Spider-Man and the Richard Stark anti-hero. SoÖ

CG: DC does lots of cross promotion with authors like Brad Meltzer when they venture into comics work. Will we see any sample chapters of Severance Package in issues of Cable or Iron Fist?

DS: No sample chapters, but there will be a cool Severance Package ad in Cable #4, and thereís a cool Cable ad in Severance. (Marvel and St. Martinís work together like a dream -- I feel like Iím a kid in a family where both parents genuinely like and talk to each other.) I think itís cool that 40 years from now, somebody might pick up a battered copy of Severance and smile over the ad, much like I smile when I see cigarette ad inserts in paperbacks from the 1960s and 70s.

CG: Greg Rucka 's Queen and Country comic has spawned novels; any chance of you doing the reverse and bringing CI-6 to comics yourself?

DS: Iíd love to pull a reverse Rucka someday. But I feel like my plate is full right now with Cable and Iron Fist. Then again, whenever I finish a novel, I usually have two or three sequel ideas pop into my head. Maybe graphicís the way to go with thoseÖ

CG: What do you feel has been the biggest difference in your writing approach between your prose and comics work? Or between your crime fiction and interactive mysteries?

DS: Everything comes from the strange little story machine in my head; with comics, though, Iíve had to learn how to focus on the visuals a lot more. In novels, Iím kind of in the Elmore Leonard school -- less is more, when it comes to description. You canít do that in comics, of course; an artist has to know what you have in mind.

CG: You've got a love of the old crime pulps; which author do you think it is a crime more people aren't reading today?

DS: Oh, there are a bunch of Ďem: Wade Miller, David Goodis, William McGivern, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Dan J. Marlowe. Even guys like Donald Hamilton, who were huge back in the day, are sadly forgotten by most thriller lovers. I am glad that publishers such as Hard Case Crime and Stark House and bringing so many of these guys back -- but there are so many more, waiting to be reprinted.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions Duane. Best of luck with Severance Package.

See Also:

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Duane Swierczynski is Immortal (Iron Fist That Is)

Duane Swierczynski Gets Cable

Duane's Blog

Categories: Interview, Mystery & Crime, Graphic Novels

More articles from books


Severance Package

- Duane Swierczynski

Trade paperback $29.50 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $26.55

Jamie DeBroux's boss has called a special meeting for all "key personnel" at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday in August.

When Jamie arrives, the conference room is stocked with cookies and champagne. His boss smiles and tells his employees, "We're a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. And we're being shut down." Jamie's boss then tells everyone to drink some champagne, and in a few seconds they'll fall asleep---for good. If they refuse, they'll be shot in the head.

Escape is not an option. Jamie's boss has shut down the elevators and rigged the fire towers with chemical bombs. Panic sets in, chaos erupts, and no one is sure whom to trust. Jamie quickly realizes that there's only one way he's ever going to see his family again: the hard way.

Severance Package shows author Duane Swierczynski at his thrilling best.

The Wheelman

- Duane Swierczynski

Trade paperback $26.99 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $24.29

Meet Lennon, a mute Irish getaway driver who has fallen in with the wrong heist team on the wrong day at the wrong bank. Betrayed, his money stolen and his battered carcass left for dead, Lennon is on a one-way mission to find out who is responsible--and to get back his loot. But the robbery has sent a violent ripple effect through the streets of Philadelphia. And now a dirty cop, the Russian and Italian mobs, the mayor's hired gun, and a keyboard player in a college rock band maneuver for position as this adrenaline-fueled novel twists and turns its way toward its explosive conclusion.

One thing's for sure: This cast of characters wakes up in a much different world by novel's end--if they wake up at all, in Duane Swierczynski's The Wheelman.

The Blonde

- Duane Swierczynski

Trade paperback $29.50 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $26.55

The night before a big meeting, Jack Eisley is sitting in an airport bar in Philadelphia, chatting up a pretty young blonde. Sure, Jack has a wife and daughter at home, but this is just a little harmless flirting. Harmless, that is, until the blonde leans forward and says, "I poisoned your drink."

She tells Jack that unless she can keep someone within ten feet of her at all times, she'll die. And if he wants the antidote, he'll have to take her back to his hotel room and promise to stay by her side.

Jack thinks: psycho. But as the violent night wears on, and he encounters a relentless government assassin, a threatening voice on a cell phone, a deadly waitress, dirty cops, and shady cab drivers . . .

He begins to believe her... in Duane Swierczynski's thrilling The Blonde.

The Crimes of Dr. Watson

- John H Watson, Duane Swierczynski

Hardcover $24.95 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $22.46

Every year brings another book about the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Now Quirk is unveiling The Crimes of Dr. Watson, the first completely interactive Sherlock Holmes mystery. This illustrated hardcover book, complete with Victorian-era illustrations, contains an original novel in the form of a letter from Dr. John H. Watson. As the story opens, we discover that the legendary Sherlock Holmes has vanished-and to make matters worse, his friend Dr. Watson has been framed for a grisly and terrifying murder! From a damp cell in Coldbath Fields prison, Watson recounts the tragic events leading up to his arrest-and offers a number of clues that can be used to identify the true culprit. These include an article torn from a California newspaper, a mysterious manuscript page, a cryptic postcard, a telegram, an empty matchbook and much, much more. Watson is convinced that they may be messages of great importance, perhaps from Mr. Holmes himself. Once you've finished reading Dr. Watson's letter, it's up to you to sift through the clues and solve the mystery. And when you think you've identified the culprit, you can slice open the final signature of the book (sealed at the printer's) to read the remainder of the story. The game is afoot. Do you accept the challenge?


- Duane Swierczynski, David Lapham

Hardcover $27.95 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $25.16

Hot on the heels of The Crimes of Dr. Watson comes an all-new interactive mystery featuring one of the most famous detectives in popular culture: Batman. Murder at Wayne Manor releases just ahead of The Dark Knight (the sequel to Batman Begins), which arrives in theatres July 2008. With state-of-the-art design and production values, this terrific mystery from a popular crime-fiction author has a cool Batman/1940s crime noir aesthetic. The Dark Knight is one of literature's most enduring private investigators--he made his debut more than 75 years ago, in DC Comics' Private Detectives #29. In this new interactive mystery, the reader plays the role of Batman, sifting through the musty clues from an era long past (circa 1940s) in the hopes of clearing the Wayne name. As with The Crimes of Dr. Watson, the book contains an original novella and 10 to 12 interactive clues to remove, study and ponder in order to solve the case. Opening the last signature will reveal whether the reader's P.I. skills are up to par. Murder at Wayne Manor begins with an astonishing discovery: the body of a young woman wrapped in a plastic tarp is found on the grounds of Wayne Manor. Forensic scientists determine that the body has been decomposing for 60 years. Along with the body is what appears to be a hand-written diary, which includes a spidery scrawl on the front: "See what the doctor is capable of?" For Batman, it's never been more personal than this! All ages