Philly, Then & Now: MysteryPeople Q&A with Duane Swierczynski

 

 

Duane Swierczynski’s latest novel, Revolver, looks at the 1964 shooting of two policemen and its legacy through the generations, as the son of one of the dead officers plots revenge in 1995, and his daughter Audrey looks into the murder in 2015. Swierczynski is known both for his crime fiction and his contributions to the comics world. We talked to Duane about the book and how he explores family, place, and time.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did Revolver come about?

Duane Swierczynski: This idea was one of those rare gifts from the gods – it was like I had an idea aneurysm one morning (March 23, 2014, to be exact). I’d read a Philadelphia Inquirer piece about the 1963 murder of two police officers in New Jersey, and the impact it had on the family in the present. And then boom – I knew exactly the kind of story I wanted to write, and how it even connected with some characters in my previous novel, Canary. I also knew that it would take place in three different time periods. What I didn’t know? How the hell I was going to pull that off.

“If Revolver has a hero, it’s Audrey Kornbluth, and at first, we think she’s nothing more than a bitter, hot mess who drinks way too much. But by the novel’s end, you kind of fall in love with her. I know I did.”

 

MPS: I saw it as a sister novel to your time travel thriller Expiration Date? What did you like to explore about the how the the pasts effects us?

DS: One of my favorite books is Philadelphia Then and Now, by Ken Finkel and Susan Oyama, which is a collection that juxtaposes old photos of the city with contemporary (1988) photos of the same location. This book fascinated me – I would stare at those photos for hours, imagining what might have happened in the 50, 70 or even 100 years between them. (Much like the real action in a comic book takes place between the panels, you know?) So I guess I’ve always wanted to write a novel that had the same effect.

Funny you mention that it read like a sister novel to Expiration Date. I’m definitely playing around with similar themes (family secrets, the immediate impact of the past on the present). I suppose that’s something I hadn’t fully worked out of my system.

MPS: I also realized family plays an important part in a lot of your work, especially your later books. What does a writer need to keep in mind when dealing with family?

DS: The one thing I tried to keep in mind while writing Revolver is that family members are always more complex than the roles they’re assigned. You know how in every family there’s the goody two-shoes, the screw-up, the quiet one, etc.? Well, no human being is as simple as a stereotype. And it was fun playing with certain perceptions of the characters and subverting them as the novel progresses. If Revolver has a hero, it’s Audrey Kornbluth, and at first, we think she’s nothing more than a bitter, hot mess who drinks way too much. But by the novel’s end, you kind of fall in love with her. I know I did.

MPS: Of the three time frames which was the most challenging to write in?

DS: I thought it would be the 1964-65 timeline, since I wasn’t around for that. (Or maybe I was, in a past life – but if so, the memory-blanking process between lives was a complete success.)

Surprisingly, it was the 1995 timeline that gave me the most grief. Not because I didn’t remember Philadelphia back in ’95 (at the time I was a staff writer at Philadelphia Magazine, and kept a fairly detailed journal). But because it was the story bridge between the past and the present time lines, these great tidal forces that kept pulling on the plot in both directions. I ended up rewriting quite a bit of the 1995 timeline after turning in the first draft.

“And then boom – I knew exactly the kind of story I wanted to write, and how it even connected with some characters in my previous novel, Canary. I also knew that it would take place in three different time periods. What I didn’t know? How the hell I was going to pull that off.”

MPS: The book deals partly with race in the inner city. What did you want to convey about it?

DS: I’ve always felt vaguely guilty that I write these Philly-based novels, yet never quite dealt with the issue of race. So I consciously tried to change that with Canary, and decided to show the city in a much more realistic way (rather than a pulp playground of violence and mayhem). And I think I was taking that a step further with Revolver, grafting a fictional story onto real civil rights history.

When I started writing this in the summer of 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown happened, and I was struck by how much it felt like we were transported back in time to August 1964 (when the Columbia Avenue Riots happened in Philly). Little did I know that by the summer of 2016, when the book would finally be published, it would feel like we were living through the 1960s all over again.

MPS: You just moved to L.A. How do you hope that effects your writing?

DS: I’ve always loved it out here – L.A. energizes me in a way that’s almost supernatural. I’ve set novels here before – Fun & Games, as well as parts of the Level 26 series I wrote with Anthony Zuiker. And the current novel-in-progress, Can’t Stop Killing You, is largely set in Venice Beach. But I’m not through writing about Philly, either. I’m just going to be doing it from a place with palm trees.

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

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