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Oct/Nov 2010 Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with Susan DiPlacido

by Don Capone


Buy now from Amazon! Susan DiPlacido is the author of six novels and one collection of short stories: 24/7, (2005), Trattoria, (2005), Mutual Holdings, (2005), House Money, (2010), Lady Luck (2010), Shuffle Up and Deal ,(2010), and American Cool, (2007). Trattoria was nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Small Press Romance 2005, and her short story, "I, Candy," won the Spirit Award at the 2005 Moondance International Film Festival. American Cool won the bronze medal in the 2008 IPPY awards and was a finalist in the 2008 Indie Book Awards. Her fiction has appeared in Susie Bright's Best American Erotica 2007, Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica vol. 6 (2007) and 7 (2008), Zane's Caramel Flava (2006), and Rebellion: New Voices of Fiction (2006).

I first "met" Susan DiPlacido on Francis Ford Coppola's online workshop, Zoetrope.com, back in 2003. Since then we've become good virtual friends, not to mention fans and supporters of each other's work. Her writing is funny, edgy, sexy, and definitely exciting. She doesn't hold back. A novelist as well as a short story writer, her work has been racking up the awards in recent years. With the release of three new novels, she has a lot going on this year and, I suspect, a few more awards in her future.

 

DC     Your new novel, House Money (Mundania Press, 2010), is a Vegas caper/murder story, but also—to me—a character study. The individual personalities are unique, with each character having a history that has built on itself, since you have reused characters from previous novels. Either you have a great memory, or you keep excellent notes. Do you have character bios that you refer to? Do you just wing it and hope for the best? Or are these characters betraying your multiple personalities?

SD     Thanks, Don. As one of probably three people who've read all my books, you would be the one to notice the stock characters that I use and how they change. Somehow, despite drinking a lot, I have a pretty good memory. I don't have typed up character bios because that'd just be like a make-work exercise for me. And I don't approach writing as a job; I enjoy it and don't stress out over it. So I wing it, because that's a lot more fun, though I do try to keep in mind how events have unfolded and changed the characters while balancing that with their core personalities that I don't think would change. I do not personally have multiple personalities, though I can be a bit volatile due to the liquor.

DC     House Money begins almost at the end, with a climactic scene, then flashes back to how we got there. Did you create this structure later on, after the novel was written? Or was it this way right from the get-go, instinctive? Do writers even have instincts, like cats?

SD     It was planned from the start because that's an homage to the very greatest gangster film ever, Goodfellas, which had the opening scene taken from the chronological middle of the film. So it wasn't so much instinct as, well... stolen. All my books are essentially variations/take-offs of my favorite inspirations, and with House Money, I didn't try to hide what the inspirations were. In fact, I wanted to make it blatantly obvious that it was my version of these other works. So it makes me particularly happy to hear you categorize it as a caper/murder story. As for writers having instincts, I can't speak on behalf of an entire group. I don't have catlike instincts at all. I have no idea when an earthquake is coming—in fact, I was in an earthquake a couple years ago and didn't have a freaking clue what was going on. And just last week, there was a mouse in my house, and instead of pouncing with joy, I shrieked like a little girl. As for knowing where to go with a plot or how to develop a character, I guess that's up to readers to decide if I do it pleasingly or not.

DC     What novel of yours do you think would translate best into film and why?

SD     Well, clearly, considered together, they would make a smashingly successful series, Don. So how about we start with the first one, 24/7, and then just keep on filming and sending me the checks. Since that's not gonna happen, though, if I had to pick one, I'm not sure. It'd be between House Money and Lady Luck, probably. Lady Luck has the best concept and backbone for the plot because I stole it from Shakespeare. Also, the costumes would be funny. And House Money would be improved in film form because there are some scenes where characters are talking about past actions/events and it'd be better served by visual flashbacks instead of the dialogue being the sole means to relay the information.

DC     Follow-up questions: Would you be one of those annoying authors who tries to get on set during filming? Would you publicly trash the choice of lead actor? Would you demand a cameo?

SD     I would absolutely be a nightmare! If given that outrageous opportunity, I would milk it for everything. Not only would I barge onset, I'd probably have the audacity to tell the director she's blocking a shot wrong or that she should do a dolly shot or something else I know nothing about. However, I would absolutely never trash the lead actor, because I'd want the movie to make money, and we all know how well it worked out when Anne Rice threw her Tom Cruise shitfit. That comes with a major exception that we'll call The Ben Affleck Caveat, of course. I would ride his ass the whole time! I would vomit at the thought of a cameo, though. I'm a writer for a reason, in large part because I like to entertain but don't really care for attention on myself. Of course I would demand full access to the craft services table, and if there was access to free liquor, then all bets would be off. I'd possibly demand not only a cameo but start throwing myself at Ben Affleck, if only for a chance to get to Matt Damon. God, this all sounds like fun. The only thing that sounds better is if it would all happen for you and I'd just tag along as part of your entourage. I could be your Turtle, driving you around and sucking up the overflow of admiration and alcohol.

DC     Another novel you released this year, Lady Luck, pays homage to Shakespeare's Hamlet. It's a comedy, but also deals with murder. I know you have a great sense of humor (it comes through in your writing and dialogue), but what is it with you and murder? Should I watch my back?

SD     Thanks, Don. I take that as a supreme compliment because I think you're funny. In fiction, murder can be fun and can be funny. I'm a terrible writer in the sense that I absolutely despise conflict in my life, and I'm afraid that conflict aversion seeps into my fiction. Part of me wishes I could be a truly brave and reckless writer who kills unexpectedly and with great panache, but I'm just not. So to set up books where there's a murder central to the plot is a good way around that to still create tension. I'm not sure if my reluctance to whack my own darlings is based on emotion or laziness, though. To give up some of my stock characters would make some future projects seem not only less bright, but also so much more work. But I'm also a light and frothy kind of writer, and murder could be a drag if I'd kill the wrong person. But knocking off an asshole or two is pretty satisfying. But although I'm a bit volatile and compulsive, I'm also lazy, often drunk, and I dislike drama, so you can consider yourself perfectly safe around me because I'd never be able to get my shit together enough to plan anything and I certainly couldn't deal with the repercussions. Excessive eye-rolling and heavy sighing is the most violence I can personally muster.

DC     Las Vegas seems to be the default setting for all your novels. Yet, you don't live there. Why not? Is this so you can take numerous "business trips" there during the year, and write them off on your taxes as "research"? I'm on to you!

SD     You have got me, my friend. I was an accountant, so I know all those business trip expense tricks.

DC     Some young wannabe writer is sitting down right now to attempt his/her very first story. What advice would you give (besides "Don't do it!)?

SD     I wouldn't give advice about writing. I'm uncomfortable even giving interviews, because, for me, there's a level of implied knowledge or assumed expertise when speaking about a subject at length, and I don't believe I have that knowledge. I know I don't know anything about writing. So I would never give out advice on a subject in which I don't feel I have the adequate skill set. Very often when someone finds out that I write they will start speaking about their own writing ambitions and I will just encourage them, unless I'm drunk and irate and then I just sigh and roll my eyes. If they start asking for advice the only thing I can tell them is to put their ass in a chair and do it. Or take classes if that's something that interests them. But thinking about doing something won't get it done.

DC     Let's talk a little about your writing routine. Morning person? Evening? Late night? Naked?

SD     Not naked, because my chair is leather and with this incredible heat this summer, that could just get icky. But with writing, as with most things, I'm compulsive. I don't set aside time or compartmentalize very well. When I'm working on a project, that's all I want to do and anything else, including sleeping and eating, is an intrusion. So it's morning, evening and late night.

DC     This may be a weird question. Do you do your best writing at your computer or when you step away? (Obviously, I don't mean the actual physical act of typing.)

SD     That's actually a great question, and an unusual one—the kind that only another writer would ask. I definitely do my best writing away from the computer. I swim, and that's when I do dialogue running and get it all worked out as I'm doing laps. I don't generally sit down at the computer until I am ready to just type because the writing has all been worked out. So it's long stretches of being self-absorbed thinking about it and working it out and then long, long hours just typing it all up.

DC     Tell me about that dream novel you have kicking around in the back of your head. A subject you know you'll get to as soon as inspiration strikes. (For instance, mine would be a baseball novel.)

SD     I would love to read your baseball novel, Don. I remember hearing an interview with Clint Eastwood once, talking about Unforgiven and how long he'd had that kicking around. He said he just kept it in his pocket like a lucky talisman for, I think, over a decade, until he knew it was finally time. I have those impulse control issues, though. I can't wait on something because I get bothered by it and I also have this irrational insecurity that borders on fear that if I don't get it done then someone else is going to do something very similar and it'll be better. And, in fact, Lady Luck was the idea I pushed back for a while as I was finishing another project, and just as I was then finished writing Lady Luck, Christopher Moore released Fool (which is a comic retelling of King Lear) and it was both great and awful. It was great because Fool was so wonderfully entertaining to read, but awful because he, of course, did it so much better than I did. Though I took comfort in that his was quite different from mine because he took the Tom Stoppard approach and I put mine in modern day. But that did absolutely nothing to dissuade my inclinations to grind something out as soon as I have a clear idea.

DC     If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently, writing-wise?

SD     That's a very tricky question. If this didn't have potential to be read by someone other than you, I'd tell you straight up the flaws with all the different books. But I don't really want to point out problems to potential readers. Speaking vaguely, I can say that my compulsive style of just typing it all up in a flurry can create some quality issues. For most people, that wouldn't be a big problem, because they'd have the discipline to step back and then go rework or rewrite the areas that were erratic, but I can't force myself to do that. Che sara sara, it is what it is, and all that baloney that lazy people will use to excuse a crappy work ethic. And since that's such a fundamental part of me and how I write, I wouldn't bother trying to change it even if I could have a mulligan, because it would be a lot of work and wouldn't be fun anymore. The one thing I could easily change and would change would be a couple of titles of my books. For some reason, I'm generally pleased with the titles I've used for most of my short stories, but not my books, particularly my first one. I don't like the title 24/7 at all and I really wish I'd had the guts to call it what I wanted, which was Neon Fiction. And I would, if given the opportunity, take the time to go back in and drop a few nods in the first couple books to set up the future ones, because I think I could make it a little more funny.

DC     It's excerpt time! There is a particularly funny scene in House Money that actually had me laughing out loud. This is when the bad guy, Dave "The Sheik" DeSantis, meets with the New York crime boss, Cosimo. Not only did Dave give himself the nickname (and he may be the only person who actually uses the nickname), but he also refers to himself in the third person:

"It'll be fine. Don't you worry about a thing. The Sheik's got everything under control."

Cosimo stared at him. Finally asking, "Who the fuck is The Sheik and why is he running my casino?"

"Relax. Relax, Cosimo. That's me. I'm The Sheik."

"You're The Sheik?"

"Yeah. Dave The Sheik DeSantis."

"Since when?"

"Since...for a while now."

Cosimo looked to one of his men, asking him, "The fuck is he talking about? What's all this Sheik business?"

"It's what they call me out there, Cosimo."

"Who calls you that?"

"People."

"What people?"

"You know, fucking people. I got cards, you know."

"You've got cards that say The Sheik? Lemme see."

Not only could I perfectly picture these two gangsters having this conversation, and not only is the scene funny, but it really gives an insight into Dave's ego, and need to be somebody. So my question is, what do you call yourself? What do your business cards say?

SD     Thanks, Don. Gangsters are funny, aren't they? I think it's the grouchiness. I generally refer to myself as Susan, and rarely in the third person, unless I'm trying to affect a douchebag 'tude. The only time I say my own name is when I'm calling someone and stating who I am. But different people have given me different nicknames over the years, so I refer to myself by the name they use for me. A few years back, at an impromptu mini-reunion at a bar, an old high school friend was telling a story and he mentioned using his alias and then he looked directly at me and said, "You know what I'm talking about, you have an alias, right?" And I just laughed, because I do have an alias that I mostly use for giggles but sometimes for other things, and it was a rare and comic moment of instant understanding between us. I am also proud to say that I've never had business cards. Even when I worked as an accountant I didn't have any. I didn't have much use for them, and then when networking became vogue, it just became a really douchebaggy thing to me, kind of like obnoxious cell phone use, and I refused to ever get them and be one of those people. If someone ever really wants my contact information, I'll write it down for them. Or, if I'm drunk and in a mood, I'll sigh and roll my eyes and then give them the alias.

DC     Tell us how your new (and loyal) fans can find out more about you, and where we can buy your books. Can we get autographed copies?

SD     I'm a dummy when it comes to the hip social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. But I do have a blog at susandiplacido.blogspot.com. And I have a website at susandiplacido.com. Most of my books are available at Amazon and B&N online, or you can order them through your local bookseller. And I do have a stock of autographed copies. You can find links from my website to order, or people can always drop me an e-mail at susandiplacido at aol.com and I'm very pleased to help them out. Thanks so much, Don!

 

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