Scott Butki Interviews Shane Kuhn

Post by Scott Butki
Shane Kuhn is a new force to be reckoned with. His new mystery/thriller, Hostile Takeover, is a roller coaster of energy, adrenaline and plot twists. This is his second book in his series. In his first book, The Intern’s Handbook, protagonist John Lago explains how his company trained people to be hired by companies as interns… So they could go on to assassinate whoever they were instructed to take out. In The Intern’s Handbook, Lago kills his boss, Bob, previously in charge of teaching interns physical and survival skills.

Kuhn explains all this on page 9 of Hostile Takeover: “It was actually a genius concept and the perfect cover for wet work, if you’re into that kind of thing. To quote Bob, my former and thoroughly dead boss, ‘Interns are invisible. You can tell executives your name a hundred times and they will never remember it because they have no respect for anyone at the bottom of the barrel, working for free. The irony is that they will heap important duties on you with total abandon. The more of these duties you voluntarily accept, the more you will get, simultaneously acquiring trust and access. Ultimately, your target will trust you with is life and that is when you will take it.”

Wild but brilliant concept, right? Things get even crazier for John when he falls for Alice, a fellow “intern.” This results in situations that go from affection to trying to kill each other in a matter of seconds. And of course they do what assassin couples do, namely marry but still try to kill each other. Kuhn writes tightly, meaning no wasted words and little time spent on descriptions, opting instead for action scene after action scene.You feel like you’re along this quick reckless ride yourself. Just hold on and enjoy the ride.

I interviewed Kuhn by email about his first two books, as well as his full time work in the entertainment field, including writing and directing credits.

Scott Butki: How did you come up with the stories for these two books, the idea that interns would actually be hit men?

Shane Kuhn: First, I have been obsessed with creating an original assassin story ever since I started film school in the 90’s. The problem was, there were so many great movies and books, that coming up with something unique was difficult. Then, in 2009, I was working on a TV show pitch that dealt with corporate crime – portraying the world of corporate criminals as far more powerful and sinister than even the mafia or drug cartels. Who else pillages billions in retirement funds and still gets multi-million dollar severance packages? In this process, I thought about the strata of players, from bosses (execs) to minions (admins and interns). Then I focused on interns because there is an inherent humor associated with interns, and I like black comedy. Also, I wanted to subvert the idea of interns as minions and actually empower them. That’s when it clicked. That’s the perfect cover for an assassin.

SB: Was the plan always to have the first book turned into a series? If so how many books are planned for the series and how many of them are written?

SK: In the beginning, the plan was simply to successfully complete and publish a novel. I had written one before, back in film school, so I had very limited experience. Thus, in the beginning, all I wanted to do was see if I could finish the damn thing. As I got into writing it, I fell in love with the process. I have always hated screenwriting because it feels like thankless grunt work. But writing a novel, where I could fully express my inner darkness and insanity, was a joy I couldn’t wait to return to every night. After completing and selling The Intern’s Handbook, I immediately wanted to do a second book, which is how Hostile Takeover came to be. Now I have an idea for a third Lago book; I don’t know how many books might be in a series, but I hope a great many! I might even throw in an Alice book for good measure.

SB: The writing is very tight and concise with nary an extra word. Is that how you usually write or did you use that style since the books are about a guy who himself sticks to the action?

SK: This is a function of me as a writer and John as a character. I am a trained screenwriter and copywriter, so brevity is in my DNA. Also, as a reader (with ADD), long descriptions have always been vexing to me…unless Nabokov wrote them. I could read his prose for days on end. As a writer, I like to try to take many elements and distill them down into the least amount of language. So, even though my books are shorter than some, they are also dense with action and I want the prose to really pack a punch. Additionally, John is a man who would not have the time or inclination to be too literary. He’s a killer with a gun to his head and he needs to get this out before someone pulls the trigger.

SB: You’ve received some great book blurbs including one from Lisa Lutz, one of my favorite writers. Her blurb said, “Shane Kuhn’s debut thriller crackles with dark humor, pyrotechnic action scenes and twists you’ll never see coming.  Just like the intern who’s getting ready to snuff you out.”  Do you have a favorite of the blurbs?

SK: I LOVE Lisa’s blurb too. Another favorite blurb came from fellow Simon & Schuster author Andrew Pyper: “The Intern’s Handbook is Tarantino funny and as tense as a Mexican standoff. Shane Kuhn has written a movie lover’s thriller that’s as entertaining as it is smart.”

SB: What was the inspiration behind John Lago’s intern disguise?

SK: Perfect cover. Pure and simple. In The Professional, Léon talks abouthow the best assassins kill with a knife because that’s how good they are at making sure you don’t see them coming. No one sees an intern coming. Most people can’t remember their names, even after working with them for a full year!

SB: Can you tell me about your work with Universal, Paramount, Sony, Fox and Lionsgate? How did doing writing for them compare to writing the books? What projects have you written and/or directed?

SK: For Universal and Paramount, I co-wrote scripts. For Uni it was “Scorpion King 3” (woo-hoo!) and for Par we sold a pitch and wrote a script for a found footage time travel movie called “Time.” For Sony, we sold a pitch and wrote a script called “Twitch.” Actually Neal Moritz from Original Film, same producer working on The Intern’s Handbook, was producer on the Twitch deal. Of those, only SK3 was produced. Sucky thing number one about Hollywood: much of what you do sits on a shelf forever collecting dust. For Lionsgate, we sold a script and co-directed a horror movie called “Drive-Thru.” And I directed a feature on my own when I was in film school called “Redneck.” That film helped to start the Slamdance Film Festival and it was distributed by a small distributor in the 90s.

For me, writing books is a far superior experience. There is so much more creative control and when you’re done, you don’t need to rely on someone raising millions of dollars to see your work come to life. I could have written the script for The Intern’s Handbook but chose not to because I am a novelist with deadlines now and nothing is going to stand in the way of that.

SB: Would you prefer readers start with the first book?

SK: Definitely! The Handbook is a great intro to John and HR, Inc. and the entire concept. It really sets the table for a series and creates a ton of dramatic tension around John’s relationship with Alice, which is paid off on Hostile Takeover. Having said that, HT can very much be enjoyed as a standalone, and Intern’s could serve as a prequel – for those lovers of nonlinear narratives.

SB: What other new writers do you suggest?

SK: I don’t know if you could consider these people “new” per se, but I’ll just tell you what I have recently read and thought was amazing. First, The Martian by Andy Weir. Incredible. I loved this book for the same reasons I loved 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. Both authors take you to a completely foreign world and immerse you in it so perfectly that you become the protagonist. I devoured The Martian in two days. Second, I was completely bewitched by Sara Gran’s book Come Closer. I love horror and paranormal books and movies but this is the most elevated story of demonic possession I’ve ever experienced. Like Andy Weir, Sara makes this feel so real and grounded that you are convinced it could happen.

SB: Do any of the characters resemble anyone you know?

SK: Characters for me are amalgamations of several people. Of course, there is a lot of me in every character I write. I just need to walk in their shoes for them to feel authentic to me and to the reader. So, I will do that and then start layering in traits from either people I know or public figures. It’s a little like how Johnny Depp makes character choices based on recognizable personalities, like the way he brings Keith Richards into Jack Sparrow.

SB: What are you working on next?

SK: Currently, I’m editing my third novel, Business Class. It is not a John Lago thriller. It’s a standalone concept, which I’m calling an espionage thriller set in the world of frequent air travelers. I have been one of those poor bastards for six years now and this concept was really born out of my experience as a road warrior. It will be more of a “mainstream” thriller and I am excited to show readers another side of me. I love John Lago and he will live on, but I have a quite a few more creative arrows in the quiver.

You can find copies of Hostile Takeover on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

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