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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

TAKE TEN with Author Stephen Jay Schwartz

by Cyrus Webb for Conversations Magazine

(Note: This profile appears in the January 2011 issue of Conversations Magazine.)

Stephen, when would you say you realized that writing was something you were not only good at but wanted to pursue?
I intended to be a filmmaker, and I made Super 8 films with friends growing up in Albuquerque – crazy James Bond stuff, where I learned to ski backwards, without poles, so I could hold the camera and cover the action. I was always the villain because I loved to ski down enormous moguls with a plastic machine gun in my hands and, after getting “shot,” take a two-story, slow motion wipe-out into a tree. Fun stuff. But when I was in college I wrote a short story that was heavily influenced by my father’s suicide and it won two national contests. That was the moment I realized I had something unique to say as a writer.

Having interviewed you on Conversations LIVE after the release of your second book BEAT, it seems obvious that you put a great deal of yourself in your work. Has than been an easy decision for you to do, and do you feel as though this adds to the realness readers get from your books?
I’ve always put my personal life into my writing and my films. The first short film I made was called Meditations on a Suicide, and I opened up entirely about the relationship I had with my father before his death. For me, art is about exploring the meaning of life, my life in particular, since I’ve got a front-row seat in the theater of my own mind. I like to explore what it means to struggle, to sometimes fail. Failure and success are part of the same cycle, but sometimes people fall deep into the failure hole, they take a long time to hit bottom before starting that long climb towards the top. I had my own struggle with sex-addiction and it nearly ended my marriage, which would’ve had a profound effect on my children. My wife and I worked hard together through therapy and Twelve Step meetings to overcome my addiction and my novels became the catharsis borne from our efforts. The whole reason to write the books was to be open about my experiences, so that people who might be caught in a similar cycle of sex addiction, people like Hayden Glass, might recognize themselves within the pages and seek help. I think my personal experience gives the character a three-dimensional realness that might not have existed if I’d only done traditional research.

You have been praised not just by avid readers and critics but fellow authors as well. What has that been like to see those you respect in the industry enjoy your work as well?
It’s been heavenly. It’s hard for me to express the gratitude I feel when authors—who I consider mentors and heroes—have chosen to address me as a peer. The praise has given me the confidence necessary to “stick to it,” to keep writing no matter what obstacles I might face along the way.


In BEAT we are taken into the life of Hayden Glass who is a hero to so many but a complex individual even to himself. If you don't mind, take us into the creation of Glass and what you hope we the reader learn from him and the way he handles his weaknesses.
Hayden is complex in that he wants to be good, he wants to be normal, but his actions defy his intentions. He has a sponsor, he goes to the Twelve Step meetings. He’ll get 30, 60 or 90 days of sobriety and then he’ll slip. He has so much potential, if only he could pull himself together. And his addiction seems so ambiguous—what does it mean to be addicted to sex? Most people don’t believe his addiction even exists. And yet he’s ruled by it. In BEAT he meets his “counterpart,” San Francisco Homicide Inspector Anthony Locatelli, who is what Hayden would be if Hayden had his act together. And yet we learn that Hayden has a talent, a “gift,” that others like Locatelli don’t. Maybe Hayden’s weakness, his addiction, is behind it. Maybe he knows a little more than the rest of us through his struggles.

Stephen, you write your books in a way that we can picture the words coming alive in front of us. I think it's important for our readers to remember that you do have a history in film. How do you feel as though that background enhances your storytelling abilities?
I do love film. I love the visual language. I try to tap into visual imagery when I write. And I love great cinematography, the kind you see in films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Schindler’s List, Searching for Bobby Fischer, The Seven Samurai, Taxi Driver…the list goes on. I spent a number of years as the Director of Development for filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen and I watched a lot of great films and read a lot of thriller scripts. A good screenplay is tight, like a poem, with well-defined acts and escalating action. Screenplays are plot-driven—there’s not a lot of room for much else. So, having written screenplays, I understand that my novels must have a well-defined three-act structure and the kind of pacing that makes the reader want to turn pages.

With that being said, what can we expect from Hayden Glass and you this year?
2011 is going to be a quiet year for me. I won’t have anything on the shelves, since I’ve just started writing my next novel. I’m putting Hayden aside for a while and concentrating on a dark, international thriller set in the U.S. and Europe. I’ve done most of my research and I’m having fun writing the book. I’m also juggling this with a screenwriting assignment—a big, 3-D zombie-type thriller. Pretty fun stuff, and it’ll get me back into the film biz a bit. I still have plans for another Hayden novel—I think I’ll place him in the San Fernando Valley next; the heart of the porn industry. That ought to tickle his addiction. Poor Hayden, I don’t give the guy a break.

Any words of encouragement you want to give to aspiring writers that want to make the new year their time to get published or at least move in that direction?
My standard advice, the advice that was given to me: Finish the Book. Just get it done. Write “The End,” take some time off, then go back and read it from the beginning, and do the rewrite. Repeat. And then, when you have something that looks pretty good, have four or five people with a little experience give you feedback. Listen to the feedback. Find the common denominator—what is everyone saying? Do they agree on certain criticisms? If so, you probably have a problem with that. Go back in for another couple rewrites. You’ve got to learn the craft. It’s about the writing, not the selling, not the “fame.” You’ve got to love the process.

I would be remiss in not asking about your use of social networking sites when it comes to not just promoting your brand but keeping in touch with your fans. What do you enjoy the most about sites like Facebook when promoting a new book?
Facebook is perfect for promoting my books and upcoming events. I love being able to send a sharp-looking invitation to dozens of readers at once. I love being able to quickly update my activities. But you can get lost in it, addicted to it even, and then the writing day (or night) is gone. Facebook has definitely slowed my writing schedule. It’s a necessary balancing act.

I'm always interested in how people who are living their dreams personally see success. How do you define what success is for you today and has it changed any from when you first began your career as an author?
I said once that a writer is successful if he is writing. Everyone has excuses for not writing, and all the excuses are valid. Still, you have to write, despite all the obstacles. It must be done. And, if you manage to slip in an hour or two every day…you’ve succeeded.
Now that I have two published novels, I’m defining success a bit differently. If I can support myself as a writer, I’m successful. If I can just do this full-time. Juggling my writing career with a day job has become counter-productive. But I have overhead and I’m responsible for the lives of my wife and kids. I don’t want to drag them through the trenches just so I can feel like a “real” writer. Again, it’s the balancing act. I’m about to jump into it full-time, for the first time in ten years. I hope this time it’s permanent.

We appreciate your time, Stephen. Happy New Years to you. How can our readers stay in contact with you and find out more about your books?
You can find me at www.stephenjayschwartz.com or friend me on Facebook. If you come to my website you can get a free download of my short story prequel to Boulevard, called CROSSING THE LINE.

1 comment:

  1. Whats the movie you're working on ?

    ReplyDelete