Please welcome Theresa Schwegel, our August featured author!
Interview with Theresa Schwegel:
NMR: Thanks for joining us Theresa! Before we start on your writing career, tell us a bit about your background. Your bio mentions you were initially drawn to Hollywood and were interested in producing, directing, and acting. How did you get from there to here, winding up as a bestselling author?
TS: I wanted to make movies. I went to film school on the screenwriting (cheapest) track. Learning the business wrecked me in terms of creativity—I just don’t have a brain that considers story by way of budget or blockbuster or star attachment. Most classmates were rewriting Quentin Tarantino; I was trying to find my voice. It took me a long time—and a number of failures—to figure that out.
NMR: How easy, or difficult, was it to turn that source of creativity, a much more vocal and active one, into the quieter and more isolated one of novel writing?
TS: All writing is isolated. Producing, directing and acting were all valuable experiences because they helped me understand how to write. It’s hard to develop conflicted, action-driven characters and it’s exponentially more difficult to interpret words on the page into living, breathing, believable people. Experiencing the entire chaotic production process was integral to understanding that.
NMR: What are the major differences between writing for the big screen and writing for the smaller pages of a novel?
TS: Actually, the pages of a novel are much, much bigger. In screenwriting, you don’t write about the couch unless the hero has a gun tucked between the cushions and his nemesis has just taken a seat. If it’s on the page, it has to be in the plot; otherwise it’s just furniture. In a novel, I can describe the couch. I can tell you that the hero thinks it’s comfortable. I can tell you the hero’s ex-wife insisted on buying the too-expensive couch and now the bad guy is sitting on it, he thinks of her—the woman who got him into this mess… and on and on. In other words, writing for the screen is an action blueprint; writing a novel is custom-building from the action.
NMR: Your bio intimates that your first novel, OFFICER DOWN, actually did in fact start as a screenplay; what made you change direction?
TS: My professor, Academy-Award winner Leonard Schrader, was the person who changed direction. The screenplay was my thesis and he told me he loved the character, but there was no action, and he couldn’t pass me without a plot. He suggested I use my strength—the character’s voice—and attack plot from there. Once I was able to tell the story subjectively, we both knew it was clear I didn’t have a screenplay on my hands. Len encouraged me to write it as a novel. He’d never been wrong before, so…
NMR: Personally, I think what makes your books stand out is the gritty dialogue and realistic characters. When you’re writing, do you envision them on the big screen acting out their roles; and is this possibly what helps make them shine so realistically, or do you have another method?
TS: I think I’m a method writer. I don’t picture characters on screen, but I need know them—where they come from, what they think of themselves, and of each other. Method actors do this—and much of it is internal and never fully expressed. That’s true for my writing—I don’t “show” everything I know unless it fits contextually. In terms of scene, I need to see—to visualize the places: the streets, the surroundings, the details. When I lived in California I’d return to Chicago and take photos so I could keep the images fresh. It’s easier now that I’m in the city—all I have to do is look out the window.
NMR: Your characters are darker and more volatile than most in mystery fiction. Why did you choose such an edgier voice for your characters when it seems these days the lighter side might be more "mainstream", and so possibly an easier sell? (Many thanks for that choice, by the way!)
TS: Life isn’t cozy and it sure isn’t easy. I want to write about life.
NMR: While most authors dislike being typified as belonging to any one genre, it seems you could easily fit into the noir style of fiction - one which seems to have been more or less a “man’s” world up until now. Was it a difficult sell to publishers when writing your most recent novel with such a strong female protagonist who could easily kick most noir detectives’ asses?
TS: I think all my protagonists, male and female, have been strong—if only for coming to terms with their weaknesses. To me, that’s noir. The genre tag? As I said, I have trouble writing with business in mind— I’m more interested in telling the truth as I know it. I’m writing in my world, not anybody else’s.
NMR: Your latest book does in fact feature one of the strongest female detectives around. Where did she come from? Where is she going? Will we see her again?
TS: Sloane came from a stint she had in PROBABLE CAUSE. I liked her: she was the only woman who challenged the protagonist, and yet she was vulnerable and she was lost. I kept thinking about her after I finished the book, and decided she had the right strengths and weaknesses to go after the men in LAST KNOWN ADDRESS.
NMR: While your books take on a similar tone, place, and pace, the main characters change; why not stick with a familiar face throughout?
TS: Every protagonist I write is fit for their job; each book is meant to examine the ways a certain kind of person handles the pressures of a case with the complications of personal life. Also, writing in present tense keeps characters in the moment—they don’t have the benefit of reflection. They learn as they go, and they screw up a lot. Just like I do.
NMR: You’ve created many characters….is there any one that remains your favorite and who you would like to bring back? If not, can you give us a hint of what’s next?
TS: Next I’m planning to bring back Vince Marchetti, who plays a small role in LAST KNOWN ADDRESS. He’ll have suffered injuries from a case he worked in LKA, and will be working an off-the-books missing person case. The victim will be closer than he knows, and telling her side of the story.
NMR: Okay, and let’s end this on a light note. As a once-upon-time bartender, how much head should a beer really have??
TS: A finger. Unless you have fat fingers.
And for more about Theresa Schwegel, please visit her website at: