Author Interview: Stephen Jay Schwartz

The second installment in dark, personal journey of Hayden Glass, LAPD Robbery and Homicide detective . . . and sex addict

LAPD Robbery-and-Homicide Detective Hayden Glass has always had trouble controlling his urges. Though he's no longer trolling the streets looking for the girls who work them, he's found himself a new obsession--the Internet. Infatuated with a woman he finds on a website, Hayden Glass's addiction drags him to San Francisco and into a web of corruption and crime.

His search for this woman leads him to a massive sex slave trade, run by the Russian mafia, and protected by a group of powerful and corrupt San Francisco cops. Glass gets co-opted by the FBI to aid in their investigation...but his presence is doing much more harm than good.

Author Info:

Before publishing his first novel, the highly acclaimed, Boulevard, Stephen Jay Schwartz spent a number of years as the Director of Development for film director Wolfgang Petersen (whose credits include Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, Troy) where he worked with writers, producers and studio executives to develop screenplays for production.† Among the film projects he helped developed are Air Force One, Outbreak, Red Corner, Bicentennial Man and Mighty Joe Young.†

Robert Crais calls Boulevard “raw, twisted, and so hard-boiled it simmers from beginning to end . . . and Michael Connelly says of Beat, Schwartz’s second novel, “Just as I thought there wasn’t an original take left on the detective novel, along comes Stephen Jay Schwartz and Beat. Fast and slick, this book is a great ride.”

†A filmmaker himself, Stephen has had his work exhibited at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, the Directors Guild of America, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.

He also worked as a screenwriter and freelance “script doctor,” developing concepts, treatments and feature films for independent film producers.† His writing credits include Inside the Space Station, narrated by Liam Neeson and produced as a “Watch with the World” special for The Discovery Channel.†

Now a Los Angeles Times Bestselling author, Stephen Jay Schwartz currently lives in Southern California with his wife, two young boys, and one very frumpy-looking labradoodle.


1. When did you decide to start writing?

First of all, thank you for having me on your blogspot, Kate. I do appreciate the opportunity to connect with readers and fellow writers.

I think it all started with “Sammy the Dinosaur,” the short story I wrote when I was eight years old. I actually pecked it out on an old IBM Selectric typewriter and drew crude drawings of Sammy, depicting his emergence from the egg to his friendship with a young boy to his eventual journey back to the sea. My mom crossed out misspelled words, wrote the correct spellings in red ink, and sent the story to Readers Digest. It returned weeks later with my first rejection letter.

2. Why thrillers? What drew you to this genre?

I hadn’t intended to write a thriller. I wanted to draw a uniquely flawed character and put him in an impossible situation. A sex-addicted vice cop (now homicide detective) chasing a sexual predator seemed like the right dynamic. And the predicament comes when the detective realizes the murders he’s investigating circle right back to him, to the admissions he’s made at his Twelve Step meetings. He’s stuck – should he reveal to his captain that he’s the connection to the murders, an admission that would surely take him off the case, or should he keep quiet and pursue the killer with even greater vengeance, despite the fact that the lives of innocent people are at stake? I like putting a character in a tight box, where his mettle is tested. The quality of his humanity is examined before our eyes – his flaws will either destroy him or save him.

I also spent a number of years as the Director of Development for filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen, so I read thousands of thriller screenplays. The template for a tight, fast-paced thriller has been stamped into my psyche. When I sat down to write my first novel (Boulevard), the thriller genre just naturally spilled out.

3. Were you worried about the word count of your work?

I don’t really consider word count. I think more about tempo. Both of my novels have come in around the 88,000-word mark. I wrote them up to about 110,000, and then tightened back.

4. Do you have any writing quirks and what are they?

Yeah….yeah. I got quirks. First of all, I can’t write if it’s too quiet. So I spend all my time writing in cafes across Los Angeles. I have my favorites. I’ve been writing at the Novel CafĂ© (now called 212 Pier) for over twenty years. It’s a great space, filled with scores of serious writers. It’s a community.
I’m always fiddling with things when I write. I’ll go through a large bag of sunflower seeds and two packets of gum in one sitting. I’ll nibble on whatever is around – carrots, cookies, licorice, pencils. My hands are always moving and my legs are always twitching. What a mess. I’m exhausted by the end of each writing session. I used to write 12-hour days, with three groups of four-hour sessions. I’m getting too old for that.

5. If you can describe your novel in one word, what would it be and why?

The word is BEAT.

The book opens with the following quote from Oscar Wilde: “A man’s very highest moment is, I have no doubt at all, when he kneels in the dust, and beats his breast, and tells all the sins of his life.”
Hayden is beat. He’s a beaten man. He continues to be beaten, physically, through the course of the story. And he’s working the beat, with a beat cop, in the city of Beats, San Francisco. And what’s more, he’s a sex-addict, and he spends a considerable amount of time beating off.

6. How did you decide on the title and what does it mean?

The title seems appropriate. I’ll be doing my San Francisco launch of the book on October 13, the night before the Bouchercon writers’ conference, from the Beat Museum in North Beach, 7:00 pm. Everyone in the vicinity is welcome to join me. It’ll be a lot of fun, and there will be a ton of talented authors attending.
Interestingly, BEAT was not the working title for the book. It was originally called “The House of Whispers,” which is what the older cops in the SFPD call their Central Police Station. In the 1970s, there was so much corruption going on in the city that the FBI bugged the Central Police Station and various restaurants around it. It was said that you had to speak in whispers when you worked Central Station. I thought it was a great title, considering my story involves police corruption in present-day San Francisco. But ultimately I felt the title sounded like something from the horror genre. It didn’t sound like a thriller. It took a few weeks for me to settle on BEAT, but now I can’t imagine a better title.

7. What do you hope your readers will get out of reading your novel?

A racing pulse. An intense ride. It’s a very fast-paced book and, in many ways, unrelenting. I don’t pull any punches. But it’s also a psychological journey and the reader should come away shocked by Hayden’s actions, by what he’s gained and what he’s lost. By the end we see there’s hope, which is something missing in Boulevard, because Boulevard is really Act One of his journey, and it ends at a crisis point. Beat takes him into Act Two, and it offers him the chance to change and grow, and evolve. He gets a shot at redemption.

8. Tell us a little about your road to publication.

I was blessed, I have to say that. Very fortunate. It took three and a half years to write Boulevard, in evenings and weekends, balancing my day job and family. When I felt it was ready I spent a few weeks researching agents. I identified the agents who represented the NY Times bestselling authors for the past fifteen years and put them at the top of my list. Then I researched the agents for all the authors I love, or authors who wrote books similar to Boulevard. Then I started submitting. Three weeks later I had my top choice agent, Scott Miller, of Trident Media Group. Three weeks after that I had a two-book deal with Tor-Forge, a Macmillan imprint. And my editor, Eric Raab, is great – he totally got my vision. His notes were awesome from the start, and I loved working with him.

While this sounds like a Cinderella story, Boulevard being the first novel I’ve written, what you don’t see are the ten feature screenplays currently being used to prop up my bookcase. That’s where all my rejection occurred. In Hollywood they have a saying – You’re an overnight success twenty years in the making.

9. What advice can you give other aspiring authors out there?

Write for yourself. Don’t write to try and please an audience or to fit an established genre. Write what moves and inspires you. If you can express your passion through words, you will find others who will share your excitement, and they will want to read your work. Remember that writing is rewriting, and don’t ever think your first draft is ready for print. Don’t even ask someone to read your work until you’ve written your third draft. Hone and tighten and search for new ways to write a sentence. Every sentence should be original, without clichĂ©. Read your work aloud and listen to the tempo, the rhythm, the percussion of the words together, forming the phrase of a sentence, the crescendo of a paragraph. Fall in love with your writing. It is an art and a craft before it is a business. Don’t get lost in the machinations of the publishing world. And, above all, finish the book. Don’t let your life’s work become your lifelong work-in-progress.

Blogger Remarks:

First of all, I would like to thank Babs Chandrasoma from PR by the Book for the blog tour email. Also, thank you for providing the basic info on Beat and Stephen, and for getting the questions to him for this interview. Thank you very much Stephen for answering my questions. My readers certainly appreciate it. For more information on Stephen and his books, you can visit his website by clicking HERE.

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