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Monday, May 12, 2014

Interview with D. W. Smith

Interview with 
David Smith,
author of
Whiskey Tango: 
A Whole Nuther Kind of Spy Novel

A big welcome to D. W. Smith! Smith started as a screenwriter for the movies REPLICANT and ASSASSIN'S CODE. His first novel is just out, the adventure/thriller/comedy Whiskey Tango: A Whole Nuther Kind of Spy Novel.

I had the honor of doing a beta read of Whiskey Tango. It made think of a Blue Collar Comedy Tour guy meets James Bond meets Superman. Wesley Trueblood is a good-hearted, albeit underachieving, country-boy who finds himself with super-human strength after a mysterious incident. It’s not long before Uncle Sam comes knocking, asking for his help. Wes has to decide if he'll get off the couch and burn a few calories for God and country.

Wesley Trueblood is a complete good ol' boy from the South, and you're a Southern California native. How did you get in the mindset of someone who grew up in such a different part of the country? 

Smith: Fortunately my family originated in Texas and Oklahoma (some actually coming from England before the 1800s) so I grew up hearing southern accents and can readily slip into one myself. So I think that helped me to think with his voice even though I put the character in Tennessee. 

Was it difficult to find a balance between being authentic and not stereotyping?

Smith: I hope I succeeded there. That is always the aim. I think dialog is one of my stronger skills. 

I guess that makes sense, since screenwriting is so dependent on being able to write dialogue. Any trick to it?

Smith: It's a combination of trying to inhabit a character (something I learned while doing some sketch comedy at the LA Connection) and listening in on real conversations you might overhear, and remembering them. Good dialog writers have that ability. Quentin Tarantino said that he picked up his style from that (he picked up a lot while spending a night in jail) and also just aping Elmore Leonard, who probably did the same thing. When I write dialog I try to "act" with the other characters and acting is mostly RE-acting. I found that simply listening to that the other person said, and reacting to it, is crucial on stage and while writing dialog.

What was the most difficult thing about writing Whiskey Tango?

Smith: I'm much more in love with the idea of "having written" than "writing" so for me getting my butt in the chair to do the work is the toughest part. I started when my first daughter was very young, so that hindered my ability to find time, but I think it also enriched the scenes between Wesley and his little girl which I think come off rather nicely.

Absolutely! I think that was one of my first impressions: that the father-daughter relationship was very real. Oh, and also that Whiskey Tango is full of gorgeous women, to rival any James Bond novel. Was writing up all those beautiful women the most fun part of writing the book?

Smith: Actually, yeah. I think that was the most fun. James Bond does sort of live the ultimate male fantasy and I wanted to explore that, but I wanted my character to be a good and likable family guy at the same time. So to avoid a Don Draper situation I had him separate from his wife at the onset of the story. Women are the most beautiful thing in the universe (at least that I know of) so I tried to depict those thoughts on the page. 

I'm not saying if Wes survives the ordeal, or if he saves the world, or anything like that but... will there be a sequel?

Smith: I am working on a follow-up. What I'm aiming for is something like a movie that is followed up by a serial TV show. So a full-length book initially followed by shorter adventures a la "episodes." I started as a screenwriter so that is the way I think, and I wanted Whiskey Tango to read like a movie. The ultimate goal would be to see these stories realized on screens both big and small.

Is that what are you currently working on, or are you focusing on more screenwriting?

Smith: I'm juggling the new Whiskey Tango story with a polish draft of a screenplay that I wrote with Matt Orlando (writer-director of A Resurrection). And probably will write another screenplay that is a revenge tale that will take place mostly in Mexico. I got away from screenwriting for a while because it's so disappointing to spend such a long time working on something and then look for one buyer. With novels there are billions of potential buyers. And a good-selling book has a much better chance of becoming a movie. Screenwriter Michael Tolkin wrote The Player as a screenplay and it did not sell, so he adapted it into a novel, which did sell, and then he sold the screenplay afterward. I'm sort of taking a page from his book as it were.

I know you're big into reading books on your smartphone, which is why you chose to publish this as an e-book. So tell me, is there a book you've read that that you wish you had written (for the value of the book, not just because it made a billion dollars)?

Smith: I was recently completely blown away by Jack Finney's Time and Again which is the favorite time-travel novel of many big authors including Stephen King. I have written time travel before in screenplay format and know about its trappings. Time and Again is a master work in any genre. The ending does get nauseatingly preachy but it's not enough to put a dent in the overall experience. Stephen King was obviously using Finney's book as a template on how to put the reader into the period he travels to. The detail is impeccable and I've never seen a more clever use of illustrations and old photographs as appear in Finney's book.

If you could be magically sucked into any novel, which would it be? 

Smith: This will sound weird, but it's the same struggle that Wesley grapples with in Whiskey Tango. My lazy half wants to be in A Brave New World. 

Well, it isn't 1984, but... REALLY?!

Smith: I said it would sound weird! But the world created by Huxley in that story actually sounds pretty good. Constant entertainment, no hard work, and casual sex with beautiful women. But that is a world where no one really grows up. So I'd probably be hard on myself and jump into Atlas Shrugged. That is an all-too-often misunderstood story about living up to one's potential and being free to succeed and fail on one's own merit. Liberty vs. Security. I think it's Liberty that makes humans grow up, prolonged security means you never grow up. I wanted to grow up, it's why I became a dad. So... Atlas Shrugged.

And if you were sucked into Whiskey Tango, and you drank the mysterious water, how would you fare? Would you stick with the government, or stay on the couch?

Smith: I think my last speech sums that up. Wesley ultimately does take the harder road. And it's what I hope I would do. He wants his daughter to be proud of who he is. I do too. So you gotta get up off that couch, you can always stop in to visit it on Sunday.

Thank you so much for taking the time for an interview! 

Fans of adventure, beautiful women, good dialogue, and/or zombies... and can find Whiskey Tango: A Whole Nuther Kind of Spy Novel here.
You may also follow D.W. Smith's website here.

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