His new book ‘The Serial Killer’s Daughter’ was released May 1st and is about a fantasist who gets caught up in the underworld.
He is a highly accomplished author who is also a film director and screenwriter.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about detectives and killers.
To what extent do you think revenge is lawless justice?
Revenge is a prehistoric impulse.
Revenge on a large scale is war.
As the human population grew into ever larger groups something had to be done about the chaos of retribution.
Religion was invented.
“Vengeance is mine saith the Lord,” meaning, let God get even for you.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” meaning if someone steals your ox don’t throw his children into the campfire.
“Love thy enemy” and “turn the other cheek.”
That never caught on.
Laws anointed the monarch as the official avenger.
Trials, prison, even execution.
Doesn’t satisfy the impulse.
People who call themselves God-fearing and law-abiding take blood-thirsty vengeance when they can.
Culture celebrates the avengers, from Hamlet to Charles Bronson.
Revenge has a nice mathematical symmetry. You do it to me plus I do it back to you=justice.
But justice can mean many things.
Divine justice: Hitler killed forty million. God sees the truth but waits. Hitler was defeated.
Not good enough.
Legal justice: Two evil men invade a Connecticut home rape, strangle and burn a mother and her two daughters.
They are condemned to death.
Big deal. They’ll be on Death Row for years pending appeals.
They won’t suffer the terror and torture they inflicted on their victims.
There is no justice.
Tell us about ‘The Serial Killer’s Daughter’.
I’ll let Peter Vogel the protagonist tell you.
This is so typical of me. I’m not a jock or a stud or a campus player. I’m an English major at a mega UC whose only interests are old movies and dead authors. I haven’t had a fight since I was nine. I’ve never had sex with a really hot woman. In other words I’m an intellectual. I am secretly obsessed with Hannah, a whacko chick in my American Lit. class, fantasizing epic encounters, but barely daring to say “hello.” Then one day she offers me a proposition: she’ll have sex with me if I ghost write term papers for her. I accept and she complies. She sticks around just long enough to make me fall crazy in love then disappears. Six months later she’s back like nothing happened. But then the weirdness starts. My apartment is invaded. Bodies are found in a dumpster. Thugs try to run me off the road. One night she confesses: she’s the daughter of a notorious serial killer, doing life in a super max for eleven murders. Somebody is trying to kill her and I’m the only one who can protect her. But now they’re stalking me, too. On the road, in hotels, everywhere. The cops don’t believe us. They think we’re renegade drug mules being hunted by the cartel. I get so freaked out I kill a dude who’s been tailing us. Now the cops are after us, too. Our only chance is to figure out who’s after us and get them first. And the only person who can help us is this insane, vindictive mass murderer– her dad. I’m running for my life, trying to figure who is trying to kill me before they succeed. But there’s one plus: the sex is getting better all the time.
Do you think the film industry despises writers and if so why?
Writers are outliers in the film business. They don’t fit socially. They don’t know how to act in public. They’re not photogenic and not particularly sexy. Not for nothing the old joke.
Question: What did the blonde actress do when she went to Hollywood?
Answer: She screwed the writer.
Yet a movie needs a script. Can’t get a director, a cast, a studio, a budget without a script. Which means a writer. Which used to mean a neurotic, unattractive, obstinate individual who refuses to give you the feel-good ending you need for big box office. Who haggles over obscure character traits. Who has a tantrum when someone changes a word and if he/she hasn’t been fired by the time picture shoots has to be banished from the set because he/she is annoying the director and eating all the croissants.
Hollywood has finally solved the problem of the despicable writer by doing sequels and remakes which don’t require an original story. And by allowing actors to make up their own dialogue, which leads to a harmonious set and a long winded movie.
There are exceptions, of course—King’s Speech, Social Network and True Grit this year. They did pretty well, didn’t they? But notice: two producers of King’s Speech did not thank the writer when receiving their Oscar.
Do you think it is possible to write a made for film novel and if so what components does it need to have?
If you write a novel with an eye to making it a film you will leave out the elements that make a novel great—character, complexity, multiple points of view–and, paradoxically, draw the attention of film makers. A good novel can be put down and picked up again, a movie can’t. A novel can go off the path of its narrative (a little bit) to tell a side story or feature subordinate characters; a movie has to speed like a bullet train toward its conclusion. The same audience that will read a novel full of side steps and digressions over a period of days or weeks without losing interest will get bored and downright hostile if a movie meanders.
The best way to get a movie made out of your novel is to establish yourself as a novelist. Pick up any well-written thriller and you can see the film possibilities. But only the books of the popular writers get picked up by Hollywood. A thriller is an expensive proposition so the studios are looking for the “marquee value” that the prominent writers provide.
There are exceptions, but the general rule is: Write a best seller and you’ll get a movie deal.
Do you think the best detectives have strong criminal shadows?
Criminals can hold two different ideas in their minds at the same time.
1. I want to be caught.
2. I’m going to get away with this.
Detectives don’t want to be caught.
Criminals are in rebellion against a social order that is denying them the wealth, fame and unlimited gratification they think they deserve.
Cops are fervent believers in that order, even though they know that it is corrupt, immoral and unfair.
A criminal has an idee fixe. Something inside of him/her finds a crime that fulfills some obscure need. He/she fetishizes this crime, doing it ritualistically the same way every time. Establishing a pattern that eventually leads to his/her apprehension. But not before he/she has destroyed innocent lives.
You can’t know what Detectives have repressed because you never see it. On the surface they operate like reverse statisticians, compiling and ordering information until it leads them to the culprit. They have erased emotion because it doesn’t help them do their jobs. Conventional morality is a given, although they like to bend the rules. They are occasionally repelled by the repellent creatures they deal with and will work long hours to make a case against them.
Criminals are romantic narcissists and only like to talk about themselves.
Cops are cynical opportunists, who have a dark view of humanity. But they tell great stories and are more fun to hang out with.
Who are your literary influences?
1. The Bible, which I read every day before I start writing for its engrossing narrative told in simple, vivid language.
2. Shakespeare to remind me that you don’t have to be a Jew, a Moor, a woman, young, old, a king, a murderer, a cripple, a thankless child, a woman scorned etc. to understand and empathize. That the trappings may change, but people remain essentially the same and if you get them right your work can last for centuries
3.Georges Simenon to learn how to turn the environment of your story into an important character. Simenon makes the arena come alive, whether it be Paris, New York, Connecticut, Africa, small towns in Holland and Belgium. With repertorial economy he makes you feel the place.
4. S.J. Perelman to see how laugh out loud funny prose can be.
5. James Joyce because all modern literature is a commentary on Ulysses.
6. The 19th. Century novelists–Balzac, Dickens, Thackeray, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Flaubert, etc. to steal from.
7. Hemingway’s “The Old Man And the Sea” because it’s the best portrayal of the ordeal every writer endures.
8. Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby stories to remind me of what happens when you’re not welcome in Tinsel Town anymore.
Has any one event influenced your writing and if so why?
When I was fourteen I was fired for stealing money from a legal service where I worked as a messenger. I knew the culprit was the dispatcher, an eighteen year old zit picking degenerate horse player. He looked me right in the eye in front of the bosses and lied. I went home in tears. Everything I had been told by my mother and my teachers was wrong: the world was unfair and unjust. People could not be trusted. You could never know what someone was really thinking. The helpless indignation of outraged innocence has haunted me ever since.
Do you think the media are involved in the mainstream manipulation of what we perceive and if so to what extent does fiction differ from so called factual writing?
The media are totally politicized. You can’t get a straight who what when where story anymore. Fiction is actually a better guide to the zeitgeist. It doesn’t attempt to manipulate behind a guise of objectivity. Fiction is a lie that lets you see the truth, as Picasso said about art. Journalism these days is the lie pretending to be the truth.
Do you think women killers are motivated by different drives than men?
Some women kill abusive males. Some kill their children and themselves as the supreme gesture of spite. Some kill a pregnant woman for her child. Freud said women didn’t feel guilt because they never had an Oedipal fixation on their mothers. But he had his own problems, wondering: “Women, what do they want?” And, by some accounts, stopping all sexual relations with his wife at the age of 37. Aside from a few gender-specific instances women seem to kill for the same reasons of greed, jealousy, hatred and fear as men.
We have seen many examples of authoritarianism since the Second World War which you in wrote about in your excellent screenplay ‘The Boys From Brazil’. Wilhelm Reich wrote in ‘The Mass Psychology Of Fascism’ ‘Always ready to accommodate himself to authority, the lower middle-class man develops a cleavage between his economic situation and his ideology.’ Do you think he was right? And if so to what extent do you think that the deferral by the insecure of their authority to those they see as powerful and the sacrifice of or the submission to ideology is behind many of the problems we face today?
Wilhelm Reich was so right so often that they finally threw him in jail. (Anybody got a used orgone box they don’t need.)
The “Tea Party” movement is a perfect illustration of Reich’s thesis. Workers and small business people are clamoring to kiss the boots of the oppressor who is grinding them into the mud– the oligarchical Capitalist. This is cognitive dissonance in its purest form. Every plank of the Tea Party platform is inimical to the economical interests of its drafters. People who cannot survive without Social Security and Medicare want to destroy them. They want to lower the taxes of billionaires while seeing theirs creep up in the form of fees, property assessments, new charges for government provided services, etc. They want to protect the corporations that are gutting their pensions, manipulating prices and wages and slowly driving the small entrepreneur out of business. They can’t afford private sanitation, security and education, but have embarked on a Holy War against the public employees who provide them–many of whom count themselves Tea Party members. Talk about lemmings, about Kool-Aid, about running dogs, about millions jumping on the funeral pyre of their own class.
The wealthy liberal left is the most cynical class in history. It lives with an unbridgeable gap between its ideology and its interests. George Soros and David Koch provide a false dialectic. The only real difference between them is their taste in ballet. Wealthy liberals claim to support ideologies of environmentalism, equality, diversity while secretly undermining them. In Obama they have found a better front man than Clinton. So good, in fact, that they will make sure he has no serious opposition.
Thank you Heywood for giving a real and insightful interview.
Heywood Gould links: