Monday, July 19, 2010

Grandmaster Stephen Jay Schwartz

This week 7 Criminal Minds is honored to host author Stephen Jay Schwartz as Grand Master. Formerly Director of Development for noted director Wolfgang Peterson (Stephen worked on Air Force Once, Outbreak, Red Corner, Bicentennial Man, and Mighty Joe Young), Stephen currently writes the LA Times bestselling Hayden Glass mystery series. The first in the series, BOULEVARD, follows Hayden through the sordid streets of Los Angeles as he battles crime and his sex addiction. The writing is dark and poetic, and I don't think I'll ever view the streets of Los Angeles in quite the same way since reading his books. BOULEVARD will be released in paperback this week (hooray!) and BEAT will be out at the end of September.

But instead of writing darkly lyrical works, he'll be answering our questions this week. First up: CJ Lyons!

From CJ: Do you consider your main character in Boulevard to be an anti-hero? If so, what challenges did that pose in writing him and finding a way for the audience to engage with him?

Stephen: First of all, I want to thank everyone at 7 Criminal Minds for invitingme in to blog this week. I know a lot of you personally and I think youguys are just the cat's meow. It's going to be a fun week.

Now, on to CJ's question! I didn’t think of Hayden in terms of hero or anti-hero, but instead focused on depicting a deeply flawed, recognizably human protagonist. I’ve always been impressed with how much counterpoint exists in the real people I know, and, before Hayden, I noticed my heroes didn’t even exhibit the same complexity as the elementary school kids in my neighborhood. Real people are brimming with contradictory behavior. As writers we want to make sense of the characters we create. We search for a cause and effect. But, when I pull back the layers of character on the people I know, I discover vast universes of persona I’d be hard-pressed to invent. It just so happens that I like “dark,” and so my protagonist’s journey takes him to the dark side of things. And, because he is sometimes cruel, he might be labeled an anti-hero.

I had one journalist ask me why there was so much violence towards women in BEAT, my second book, and I had to think about that for a moment. I answered that violence to women exists in this world, and Hayden, my character, spends the entire novel fighting against the men who are perpetrating this violence. In fact, Hayden never hurts women. He uses women to hurt himself. He is a sex addict and, like any other addict, he is down on himself and wallowing in shame. He is hurting. But he’s in recovery—he’s trying. He goes to the Twelve Step meetings and he has a sponsor. He is good and bad, right and wrong. And yet, because he is a police officer, he is held to a higher standard. He really shouldn’t be picking up prostitutes off the street. He’s fighting his inclination to do this. Sometimes he wins the battle, sometimes he loses.

I think the character is engaging because he’s broken, like many of us are. Like many of our readers. Hayden doesn’t pretend to be heroic—he doesn’t strive for it. And yet, he is heroic. This becomes much more evident in BEAT. In many ways, BOULEVARD ends in the middle of his journey. It’s the second act crisis. BEAT challenges Hayden to step up his game. To find a way to make up for the mistakes he made in BOULEVARD. I think Hayden is engaging because he knows he’s a piece of shit and he’s asking for help. I think the reader wants to help him.

17 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

I'm so glad you're here this week! :) Seeing as the last time I saw you it was across a murky midtown bar at three in the morning, we have some catching up to do!

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for being our guest this week on criminal minds! And congrats on your paperback launch. Your books sound complex and interesting, and I look forward to reading them.

Kelli Stanley said...

Hey, Stephen! :) Didn't get to spend nearly enough time with you in NY, so am hoping we can catch up at B'Con--and in the meantime, thanks for hanging out with us this week!! :)

BOULEVARD is so intense and suspenseful--and I can't wait to read BEAT (and come to your super cool launch at the Beat Museum in SF!) :)

xoxo

Shane Gericke said...

The honor is ours having you hang around with us this week. BEAT's cover looks great, and I can't wait to dive in.

Shane Gericke said...

The honor is ours having you hang around with us this week. BEAT's cover looks great, and I can't wait to dive in.

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Thanks, guys! I'm just happy to be here!

Gabi said...

Stephen,
Thanks for spending the week with us. I agree with your assessment of elementary school kids -- complicated and smarter than I am. Yikes.

I have a follow up question on sex as an addiction. I buy it as a compulsion but an addiction requires certain medical and physiological influences that don't exist. Why did you choose that flaw? How does that illuminate the character more than say cocaine or alcohol?

Terry Stonecrop said...

Like Gabi, I don't understand sex addiction, but I like the complex character and that he's a hero without striving for it.

The stories sound really good.

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Gaby and Terry:

I'm actually going to be addressing the sex-addiction issue later this week when I answer Kelli's question. So, let's hold that thought until later this week.
However, there's a lot of research that shows an actual physical addiction, a release of dopamine in the brain for instance, when an addict in the "bubble" of his or her sexual addiction. The body becomes addicted to that release. There's a relationship between the addiction and the compulsion.
There's a great book on the topic called "Out of the Shadows" by Patrick Cairns, who is the preeminent researcher in this field.

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Sorry - I meant to spell that Gabi, not Gaby!

Michael Wiley said...

Great to have you with us, Stephen. We first (and last) talked at the gathering for "Indiana Writers" at the Indianapolis Bouchercon -- you and I both sharing extremely brief early-life experiences there -- and, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't everyone from Indiana preoccupied by sex addiction? It's something in the chemistry of corn . . . or the Midwestern ethos . . . or the fact that we're supposed to call ourselves "Hoosiers" and proudly at that. Sorry: I know that this discussion is supposed to happen later in the week.

Can't wait to read Beat --

Michael

Terry Stonecrop said...

Dopamine is a good thing. I like my sexual "bubble." But OK, I'll wait until later in the week for more info:)

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

Thanks for chiming in, Michael. Yes, I remember our little gathering at the Indianapolis Library. Just so everyone knows- I was born in Indianapolis and lived there for one year at best. Which qualified me to do a "Native Writers" panel at last year's Bouchercon.
And, maybe it is a midwest thing. Isn't David Letterman from Omaha?
It'll be a bit more difficult for me to respond on Thursday and Friday, since I'll be traveling and I'll have very limited internet access. But, I'll definitely join the discussion, even if it happens late in the evenings.

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

By the way, Terry, that profile photo of yours is KILLING ME.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Lol. Sorry! It's a bubble thing, no doubt;)

Stephen Jay Schwartz said...

By the way - everyone here is invited to my Northern California launch of BEAT at the Beat Museum in North Beach, just minutes away from the Hyatt Regency, where Bouchercon will be held. I'm launching on Wednesday, October 13 at 7:00 pm - that's the night before Bouchercon. We'll all hit the great bars, restaurants and jazz clubs afterward!

Joshua Corin said...

Welcome to the neighborhood, Steve!