Friday, July 20, 2012

Exclusive interview with Don Winslow

Don Winslow is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including the newly released The Kings of Cool: A Prequel to Savages. Winslow's new novel was published to coincide with the release of the film adaption of Savages, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone. Ahead of his presentation as the keynote speaker at the 2012 Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, Don Winslow took a moment to speak with Book Passages Zack Ruskin.

Don Winslow, author of The Kings of Cool: A Prequel to
and keynote speaker at the 2012 Book
Passage Mystery Writers Conference.

Zack Ruskin: Did you always envision Savages as a multi-book saga?

Don Winslow: No. The idea came much later.

Zack Ruskin: What inspired your choice to go back in time rather than forward with your characters in The Kings of Cool?

Don Winslow: I wanted to write an origin story.  To peel back the layers on those three characters ‘before they were savages’. I also wanted to write a story about generations, something that spoke to the beginnings of the drug trade in southern California, and maybe even about America itself over the course of those years.

Zack Ruskin: You co-wrote the screenplay for Savages with Shane Salerno and Oliver Stone. Was it difficult to give your work over to other writers? Did you bring any expectations into the screenwriting process?

Don Winslow:
Well, Shane was ‘present at creation’, as it were, when I was first writing the novel of Savages, so he knew the book from day one.  That made it easier, as I felt that he really understood the book.  As for my expectations, I knew that screenwriting was going to be challenging – and it was.

Zack Ruskin: The book’s three protagonists are Ben, Chon and O. Which of the three is the most removed from you? Did you enjoy writing all three of them equally?

Don Winslow: I think there are parts of me in all three characters, and parts in all three from which I feel very removed. But not one more than another.  I did enjoy writing all three equally, although O is probably the funniest.

Zack Ruskin: Before your novel and shows like Weeds, I never thought of marijuana in terms of cartels and intricate, highly lucrative productions. What first drew you to write a book on the subject?

Don Winslow: Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Power of the Dog, about the evolution of the drug cartels in Mexico, so I’ve long been drawn to the subject.  The situation has gotten horrifically worse since I wrote Dog and I thought it needed an updating in Savages.

Zack Ruskin: Should anyone expect any future books in the Savages line, or has that story now run its course with The Kings of Cool?

Don Winslow: I don’t have any immediate plans to another one – but never say never.

Zack Ruskin: Has the experience of working on the film for Savages given rise to any further screenwriting ventures?

Don Winslow: In fact, Shane and I just finished a screenplay of my book Satori which has Leonardo DiCaprio attached that Warner Brothers is planning for 2013.  Shane was responsible for bringing Satori and Savages coming together as films.  He has a company called The Story Factory that is the bridge between authors and Hollywood.  Shane has set up several of my other books as film properties and produces all of my work.  He has done a terrific job for me, protected my rights and made certain I had a real seat at the creative table.

Zack Ruskin: I quite enjoy the opening chapter of Savages. Was that a choice made to rapidly establish character, or is something more expansive? Did your editors have any problems with it?

Don Winslow: It was a choice to establish an attitude, which then had to be carried out through the book.  Once you jump on the deep end, you have to swim. Surprisingly, the editors didn’t have a problem with it.  Who’d have thought, huh?

Zack Ruskin: You’re giving the keynote address at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference later this month. What importance do you place on interacting with fellow writers in the genre and fostering a community for ideas and support?

Don Winslow: Crime writers are a pretty close-knit group, and I don’t get to hang out with my colleagues as much as I’d like to.  So this is always a fun event.  I look forward to seeing people, kicking things around, and having some laughs with some of the most entertaining people I know. It’s very important. 


More on Don Winslow can be found on his website at Zack Ruskin has interviewed a number of authors that have visited Book Passage, including Ann Patchett, Khaled Hosseini, Erik Larson and Gregory Maguire.

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