MysteryPeople Q&A with Screenwriter and Author Scott Frank

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Scott Frank is a screenwriter and director of exquisite talent. He has adapted Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and Minority Report. As both writer and director, he has given us two of the best crime films in past decade, A Walk Among The Tombstones (from the Lawrence Block novel) and The Lookout.

Frank has now added “novelist” to his already impressive resume with his debut, Shaker, a crime satire that takes a New York hitman to L.A. just in time for one of California’s worst earthquakes. The book looks at gangs, the media culture, and politics, all in a style that allows for human depth and darkness as well as laughs. Mr. Frank took a few questions about the book and the switch from screen to prose. He joins us Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM, appearing alongside authors Terry Shames and Josh Stallings. 

MysteryPeople Scott: You mainly are known for your work in film. What made Shaker more suitable to tell as a novel?

Scott Frank: It was a story that depended so much on understanding the history of several characters. You couldn’t really go forward without knowing what had come before. So it just seemed more of a novel to me for that reason.

MPS: What did you enjoy doing in prose that you couldn’t do in a screenplay?

SF: When you write a film, “show not tell” is always your mantra. You don’t ever get a chance to go deep. You want to define scene and character as quickly as you can. And if you do go backwards, it can’t play as digression. It will feel like a mistake. We just don’t watch movies in the same way we read books. In a book, a digression can be the most satisfying part. It was so much fun writing about what happened before the book began, and then making it pay off.

MPS: The book has an interesting interplay between plot and backstory. On the surface, it plays like a Carl Hiassen crime satire, yet you slowly get introduced to everybody’s dark history. Was this planned going in or just happen since you were dealing with some pretty unsavory characters?

SF: It just sort of evolved. I realized that if I wanted a reader to actually care about these people, I couldn’t always write them as jokes. I thought it might be interesting for introduce someone, make an impression, then subvert that with their backstory, so that you cared about them, no matter how unsavory they turned out to be. The tone in those past sections, then, had to be more serious, but still had to somehow dovetail with the rest of the book. Was the hardest part for me. But I just heard those parts differently in my head.

MPS: You did a great job with the gang kids, making them funny, human, and highly dangerous. I know you did your research on gang life. What did you want the reader to know about these young men?

SF: That they’re kids. Children who grew up in a world where their fathers were whoever their mother happened to be dating at the time. Or their mothers were their aunts or the grandmothers. Their families were these other people, children like them, who were armed and on their own way too early. Many of them are scary smart and/or talented. But the only world they really see is either on TV, Youtube, or their neighborhood. Leon Bing’s great book, Do or Die, was a huge help to me. Just reading those interviews knocked me out. Was great to “hear” these kids speak for themselves. I learned a lot from that book as well as Monster, by Sanyika Shakur.

MPS: Did adapting authors like Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block help you in writing a novel?

SF: Certainly, but they’re both very different authors. And both have very specific voices. So was hard, having adapted them, to NOT take on too much of those voices. Particularly with Elmore Leonard. I see a lot of him in the book.

MPS: Will there be another novel from you in the near future?

SF: I hope so. I owe Knopf another one. And I loved writing this one, so I have to think that at some point, I’ll try again.

You can find copies of Shaker on our shelves and via Scott Frank, known for his screenwriting and directing acumen, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his debut novel, Shaker, on February 1st at 7 PM. He will be joined by authors Terry Shames and Josh Stallings.


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