10 Questions with Stephen Romano
Who is Stephen Romano?
Stephen Romano is an acclaimed multi-media artist, whose unique jack-of-all-trades approach to the genres of horror, crime fiction, sci-fi and exploitation has produced innovative, award-winning work. He is an accomplished author, screenwriter and illustrator. His short stories, novels and comic books have garnered critical acclaim from some of the most respected authors and media sources in the world.
He is the author of Resurrection Express, a high octane thriller novel from Gallery Books at Simon and Schuster. He is also the co-author of Black Light, a supernatural suspense novel from Mulholland Books at Little Brown and Company, on which he collaborated with top Hollywood screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan.
10 Questions with Stephen Romano
Mr. Romano, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your debut thriller, Resurrection Express, comes out on September 18, 2012. Tell us a bit more about this work.
RESX is a real thrill ride, man. My résumé is heavy with film and comic book stuff, so I wanted to make the ultimate literary equivalent to a cinematic rollercoaster. It’s also kind of my answer to the male-oriented thriller genre, combining the visceral nature of things I enjoy in action films with a more post-modern style in the personal vein of guys like Palahniuk and Charlie Huston. I’m coming at the genre in a way that goes full throttle, but hopefully re-invents a few of these old chestnuts. The novel has a very tight, claustrophobic noir setup, with a high-tech safe cracker doing that “one last job,” and of course the job goes wrong and everything gets really complicated . . . but then the tune starts to change and you can’t be sure where you’ll end up. It’s a wild, wild book. And definitely not for the faint hearted, either. There’s a sort of horrific nature to the action that challenges readers, though this isn’t a horror story. I’ve been describing it as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE meets THE GETAWAY by way of Jason Bourne, directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Who is Elroy Coffin and how did you go about creating his character?
Elroy is a unique fella in this type of book. He’s a tough guy but he’s also really, really smart—and by really, really smart, I mean he knows his way around computers and has a photographic memory. He’s not the guy you want on your bad side when the shit comes down. (Laughs.) But what really makes him special is also what makes the book special—Elroy is a hopeless romantic and he’s obsessed with reclaiming his life. Yet he also knows that the good things in life are probably very fleeting. When we catch up with him, he’s already lost the memory of the great love of his life. He’s got an acute form of face blindness that prevents him from seeing what she looks like in his mind’s eye. And that’s driven him slightly crazy. So when he gets a chance to right the scales and go for payback, he does indeed go for it—but these things never work out the way you think they will. Poor Elroy. He takes a lot of punishment for love in this story! But that’s the kind of character that fascinates me. That personal edge, that deep point of view is something I really wanted to attack in this book—but in a dark, minimalist style, where the punches come fast and visceral. So that you almost feel it instead of reading it. Like a movie.
How did you turn Resurrection Express from an idea in your mind to a book published by Simon and Schuster?
It was a long, long road. This goes all the way back to 2009, man. I wanted to get back into writing pure fiction after MASTERS OF HORROR and SHOCK FESTIVAL and there was an editor Little Brown and Company who said he wanted to work with me. I basically stated pitching him loglines until I threw out one he liked. That was Resurrection Express. I spent a few weeks spitballing with my dad, just kind of pacing around and playing jazz until I had the big milestones of the story worked out. Then I created Elroy to service those milestones. I actually ended up writing the whole book in two big bursts at the end of 2010, in just over a few weeks. I ended up throwing away the outline, because what usually happens with these things is that the story comes in and takes over and it starts forcing me in all sorts of wild new directions, which is very good, because the book develops twists and turns that the reader just won’t see coming . . . and, unfortunately, a few of those directions didn’t sit well with the editor I was working with at the time. I think he wanted a more traditional ops thriller. I wanted something tough and unique—something never really done before. So he and I decided to do a different project and I gave Resurrection Express to my agent and told him to shop it elsewhere. I published BLACK LIGHT at Little Brown while RESX sold to Gallery Books Simon and Schuster. It all worked out for the best, though it was kind of scary to jump ship from Little Brown at the time. But you gotta go with your gut, right? My new editor at Gallery was awesome, and the experience has been amazing. They paid me well, respected the novel, and they worked with me tirelessly to make it the best book it could possibly be. It’s just been a great, great experience all around. I’m a lucky guy.
A word of advice for new writers?
The standard common sense stuff: When it feels good, don’t get cocky. When it feels bad, just do it anyway. When you are done with one thing, go right to another. If something doesn’t work, fix it later. If something doesn’t sell, put it away and move on quickly. Blah, blah, blah. But seriously . . . the best artisans of any kind are the people who practice their craft constantly, and challenge themselves with new ideas, new directions. And you should read a lot, too, obviously. And watch movies, if that’s your thing. It all pushes you towards an understanding of storytelling, and you’re never too old to pick up a new trick. You’ll even learn something from all the crap you look at, too. (Laughs.) That’s what I think anyway. I could be wrong, but it’s worked for me really well. Also, never be afraid to get out there and pimp your work. Seek out writers you admire and make friends with them and ask them how they did it—and get them to endorse you, if you can. With the advent of social media and message boards and stuff, that sort of networking has become a lot less difficult. Work the system, write a great book and don’t be afraid to wait until you really have something special on your hands before you make your first big move. A mistake some guys make is feeling the need to publish every damn thing they write—but, in my experience, this is a tactile error. The rest of those opportunities and the bigger money will come as a result of your first big sale, and you only get one shot at being a rookie. It’s a lot of hard work to get there, and you have to really be patient and persistent, but the rewards are well worth it in the end.
What is your typical writing day?
Funny you should ask that because I’m currently working on no less than three novels at the same time—a RESURRECTION sequel and a stand-alone thriller. There’s also a super secret third project I’m not allowed to talk about yet. I’m the guy who gets really caught up in his work, sometimes cranking out up to ten thousand words in a single siting if the muse is really screaming at me that day. It just comes in and takes over my life for weeks at a time and I get massive amounts of writing done, then I just have to recover for six months while the book is in editing or whatever. When I’m in a groove, I wake up at about 9:30 in the morning, turn on all the lights, get some loud music going—currently the score for INCEPTION is on rotation as I work on RESX2—and, after checking emails and getting about two-thirds awake, I plug right into the word machine and start running. My normal average is about three to five thousand words in a day. I work until around two or three in the afternoon, then realize I’m starving because I always skip breakfast when I’m working. So I eat something, then go back over what I’ve written, do a spellcheck, put some “stink” on a few things, change stuff around, make notes for things I want to mess with later . . . and then I go play. This is routine I keep to very strictly, seven days a week, until a first draft is done. It’s important to have a routine, I think.
Minor characters. How do you see their role in the development of a storyline?
I’m not sure there’s any such thing as a minor character—at least not in one of my books. I mean, there’s always those tiny, tiny walk-on parts you know are never gonna get much lip service, but in a thriller context, every little detail tends to be pretty important. I always try to make everybody as interesting as possible, and very often I’ll get obsessed with these small details, until a relatively minor character eventually becomes something very big in the scheme of things. A character I really liked in Resurrection Express was Alex Bennett, a very appealing sort of female sidekick to Elroy, who was originally a man in my first draft, and not nearly as well integrated into the story. What happened was my brilliant editor at Gallery Books, Ed Schlesinger, suggested that the whole novel overall could stand to be more appealing to women in general, so I switched Bennett’s sex over . . . and then we started having all these interesting back and forth dialogues about her, and how we could really make the reader love her, so that when her ultimate moment of resolution comes, it would be all the more challenging. Stuff like that, when you are in re-write, helps to expand and improve your vision until you have something with a lot more depth and layering than you originally began with. All my books have gone through massive reconfigurations in some form or another. SHOCK FESTIVAL, for example, is an epic story loaded with tons of characters. As a screenwriter, which is a very essence-oriented medium, I can appreciate having all that extra room to move. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been making the transition back to “pure fiction,” after my time in Hollywood. You’re pretty much your own master and commander in fiction, and the palate is much larger.
What are your favorite pastimes?
You want me to say I collect guns, party at strip clubs and date washed-up B-movie harlots with lots of tattoos, don’t you? (Laughs) Um. Well . . . no comment on all that, but I will say that I come from a wild, unconventional upbringing, and I have a very musical background—I’m actually a professional musician and studio producer—so there’s always some whacky tunes going in my house. I’m currently obsessed with the soundtracks of MOON and INCEPTION. Very dark, very beautiful music. And I like 80s hair metal a lot, too. Nobody likes to admit they’re really into Warrant or Motley Crue . . . but those albums still sell, and somebody has to be buying them, right? I get into death metal just like any other sane loud music freak, because there’s a lot you can take away from that stuff, but I think much of it gets way too haughty and overcompensating for it’s own good. The older I get, the less I can take stuff like that seriously. My favorite music tends to come from guys like Tom Waits, The Beatles, Van Halen, Neko Case, Jack White, The Police, Goblin, Arcade Fire, Pink Floyd, Tupac Shakur . . . and I love the hell out of all that awesome bubble gum pop from the sixties, by bands like The Zombies. My dad was actually in one of those groups, you know. They had an amazing album called ELEPHANT CANDY. Do a Goggle on that. Blows my mind when I hear it sometimes. They had some really fine vocal arrangements. My dad wrote and sang a tune on there called The Way She Smiles that’s just magical.
What other books are you working on at the moment?
In addition to the Resurrection sequel, there’s an original thriller in the works, which is more of a Hitchockian “what if?” thing. One of those paranoid they-really-are-out-to-get-you stories. That’s coming along well. I’m writing it in third person, which is something I haven’t done in a while. Creates challenges, which I like a lot. Also there’s a film version of my last book BLACK LIGHT currently in development with Michael De Luca, the producer of THE SOCIAL NETWORK and MONEYBALL and about a billion other fine motion pictures. I’m writing that with my co-authors on the novel, who are Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, a couple of swell dudes who make a lot of films in Hollywood, like the SAW stuff. They’re always a gas to work with. We think along similar lines.
What do you like to read and what are you reading now?
I like to read everything from Snoopy comics and Calvin and Hobbes—which I took to lunch with me today—to guys like Don Winslow and Andrew Vachss. I think a writer should look past his own genre as often as possible. A ladyfriend of mine turned me on to a wonderful YA writer recently named Francesca Lia Block, who wrote this amazing short story collection celled Girl Goddess #9. It’s probably the second or third best short story book I’ve ever read, behind BORN BAD by Andrew Vachss and NIGHTBOOK by William Kotzwinkle. Francesca is one of these writers who transcends her genre and becomes something very important and lasting. Work that stays with you long after you read it. I was so floored by Francesca that I named a young lady in the new Elroy Coffin book after her! Other books I’ve been working on lately are THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE by Adam Kennedy, SLEAZOID EXPRESS by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford, PATTERN RECOGNITION by William Gibson . . . oh, and I have the most amazing collection of tacky paperbacks you’ve ever seen in your life, man. It takes up one entire wall in my living room. I have over two thousand movie tie in novelizations that date as far back as the fifties! I love that sleazy crap so much. The novel of SQUIRM actually begins with the line: “The Night Was Sultry.” My favorite writer of all time is the aforementioned William Kotzwinkle. He wrote my all-time touchstone book, which is something called THE FAN MAN. Seek it out. It is radiation ruling the nation.
What can readers expect to find in Resurrection Express?
Think we probably covered this pretty well already, man. But as a parting shot, I’d like to say that if you like fast-action thrillers in the style of Quentin Tarantino by way of Christopher Nolan, you could do a lot worse than seek out our humble endeavor. A lot of blood, sweat and other bodily fluids went into creating the mean little bastard, and he’s waiting for a home on your tacky bookshelf. Cheers!