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July 2015

Interview with Shane Kuhn

A few days ago, I ran a review of Shane Kuhn’s Hostile Takeover. Now meet the author in the following interview I did with him, which also appeared originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

Shane Kuhn: Word Warrior

Photo: Ted Frericks

Photo: Ted Frericks

Shane Kuhn has 20 years of experience in entertainment and advertising as a writer and filmmaker, and has paid his dues as an intern. His debut thriller, The Intern’s Handbook, was published in 2014, and a movie adaptation is in the works with Dave Franco attached to star as assassin John Lago.

Here, Kuhn discusses the sequel, Hostile Takeover; the childhood incident that led him to writing; and his encounter with a victim of gun violence.

John Lago was eight when he made his first kill. You were eight when you were grounded and started to keep a journal to vent your anger—which set you on the path to writing. Why were you grounded?

I was grounded for two weeks for (a) starting a fire in the ditch behind our house and (b) lying about it. I used to build World War II models of aircraft carriers, battleships, bombers, fighter planes, etc. And since I had an active imagination, I staged fierce and deadly battles.

On that day, I believe I was reenacting the kamikaze attack that sank an American escort carrier at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The aircraft carrier was badly damaged but I needed more dramatic effect for the grand finale.

So, I “played with matches” and set the aircraft carrier on fire. It was spectacular and really completed the scene. The only problem was the model glue in those days was highly flammable, so a small fire on the aft deck became a raging inferno and the plastic started melting in the water–still burning!

I panicked and threw water and mud all over it, but eventually fled the scene. Our neighbor had seen it and put out the fire with his extinguisher. He also called my dad to dime on me. I lied right to my dad’s face, telling him I hadn’t been in the ditch for weeks while I attempted to hide my muddy Chuck Taylors under the kitchen table.

He was furious about the fire but despised lying more than any childhood transgression, so I got two weeks in solitary. I was allowed to read, do yard work and chores around the house, and that’s it. So, I started journaling to keep from going insane and found it to be incredibly fun and immersive. I guess I have my father’s strict German discipline to thank for helping me become a writer.

You’ve said you become your characters when writing. Considering they’re assassins, have you ever scared family and friends?

When I say I become my characters, I mean I like to immerse myself into their world. It’s kind of like doing shamanic journeying. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed, allowing their imaginary world to unfold and allowing them to speak to me. And they often do. I know a good character by the fact he or she won’t shut the hell up.

I think what is scary to people is that I want to go to those places in my mind. In person, I’m wicked laid back, like a surfer (which I used to be) or rocker (which I am). Often times, people will tell me how shocked they were when they read my work. They say if they didn’t know me, they would think I was the prince of darkness.

You’re lead singer in a U2 cover band. If the powers that be allowed you to sing a song for the movie’s soundtrack, which song would you choose?

I love this question so much because what I really want to be when I grow up is a rock star! If I could sing a cover song for the film–which I may have to try to negotiate with the studio (he says, rubbing his hands together fiendishly)–I would probably sing the U2 song “Until the End of the World” for a couple of reasons.

First, that’s where John is willing to go with Alice, and second, that song is actually about Judas betraying Jesus (U2 is a very religious band), and betrayal is a major theme in both The Intern’s Handbook and Hostile Takeover.

hostile takeoverYour books’ cover designs are really clever. You tattooed the Intern’s Handbook design on your arm. Will you be doing the same with the Hostile Takeover cover?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my book cover art. Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich is an incredibly talented and clever designer, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had him produce those images. Obviously, or I wouldn’t have gotten a tattoo of the Intern’s Handbookart! That was done by Megan Massacre of New York Ink fame, by the way. She’s rad, too.

Both covers really nail the spirit of the work and they make you think. I am strongly considering getting a tattoo of the office supply handgun on the cover of Hostile Takeover, but there’s the small matter of deciding where to get it. It’s one thing to have a visible skull and bones on your body, but it’s quite another to have a visible gun.

Especially nowadays.

I’m very sensitive to the horrific gun violence that’s plaguing our country and would never want to make light of that in any way. I actually sat on an airplane next to one of the young women killed in the [Aurora, Colo.] movie theater shooting. She had survived another shooting incident in Canada and we talked about how terrified she was to go out in public. When I saw her picture on the cover of USA Today as a victim, it broke my heart.

I remember. Her name was Jessica Ghawi.

I don’t mean to get too political here, but the point is, this is part of what I’m considering when thinking about getting that tattoo. Megan Massacre told me that once you get a tattoo, you can’t stop at one, like Pringles or hash brownies. I said I was definitely going to stop at one, but it turns out she was right. I would like more, and I like that they will have real meaning for me. Being a novelist is a dream come true and part of my story as a warrior on this earth, so I’m proud to wear my ink!

One of the characters in Hostile Takeover, Kiana Nguyen, is based on a real person. Tell us about that.

This came about because of a contest Simon & Schuster ran, asking fans of The Intern’s Handbook to enter to win a chance at being named a character in the sequel. Kiana won, and her namesake in the book is a Wall Street suit by day, drug lord by night, a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of person featured in one of John’s more violent and fun flashbacks.

Kiana is not a drug lord or a Wall Street suit. She just graduated college and is an aspiring author! Wunderkind, my independent PR firm, ended up liking her so much they gave her–wait for it–AN INTERNSHIP! She’s working there this summer, learning the PR ropes, and evidently working on her first novel, which, based on her interesting and funny personality, will probably be great!


Book Review: HOSTILE TAKEOVER by Shane Kuhn

hostile takeoverShane Kuhn shot onto the crime fiction scene last year with The Intern’s Handbook (movie rights were snapped up), and now his assassin John Lago is back in Hostile Takeover with more explosive action.

At the end of Handbook, Lago had lost track of Alice, the person assigned to “exterminate” him. He not only finds her at the start of Takeover but, after a wee bit of gunfire, proposes to her. The two then stage a coup to take over HR, Inc., the company that places fake interns who are really assassins into the corporate world to kill their targets. As with many relationships, their partnership is heady at first, until they start fighting and turn on each other. As Lago says, “With normal couples, someone might get thrown out of the house after a fight. With us, someone is liable to get thrown out a window.” Or worse.

The violence in Takeover is even more over the top than in Handbook, but done in the same satirical way. A boy named Sue is a fun new character who gives Lago tech support–make that hack support. The identity of the big baddie is predictable, and some of the scenes seem more like set pieces rather than action that helps move the story forward, but Kuhn’s sharp-as-a-blade humor keeps readers, like the bullets, flying through pages. And despite the deadly doings, Hostile is quite romantic, for Lago is hopelessly smitten with Alice, just a boy standing in front of a girl, asking her not to kill him.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is republished here with permission.


Nerdy Special List July 2015

We have a long weekend ahead! Hope you have fun plans for the Fourth of July, if you celebrate it. After a rough week, I hope to commence Operation Couch Potato.

This month, I’m very excited to welcome Shannon of River City Reading to the NSL. If you’re not already reading her blog, definitely check it out. It’s a fantastic site with smart, insightful reviews and lively bookish discussions. Shannon is also one of the bloggers heading up The Socratic Salon, which hosts in-depth conversations about books, spoilers and all.

Here are the July releases my fellow bloggers and I recommend. One of these is up for grabs.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe (Grand Central, July 7)

busy coverI don’t know a single person in my life who couldn’t benefit from the ideas expressed in business psychologist Tony Crabbe’s nonfiction book, Busy. The Information Age has brought more opportunities, more demands, more of just about everything, including stress and feelings of inundation. But strategies for coping and succeeding have not changed.

Crabbe, who’s worked with leaders of some of the most successful companies in the world, argues that concepts such as multitasking and time management are ineffectual. What people need to do is consciously choose to have a greater focus on fewer things. Crabbe offers research and anecdotes to support his ideas, but the greatest value of Busy lies in the activities and experiments that correlate with each of the book’s chapters.

The activities encourage examinations of core values, personal brands, and more, while the experiments help readers  see the feasibility of the book’s concepts. Busy is insightful, motivational, practical, and accessible. It’s the starter kit to having a more fulfilling life with less.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Brush Back by Sara Paretsky (Putnam, July 28)

brush backBrush Back is the seventeenth entry in Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series. Seven. Teen. That’s an accomplishment in itself. That Sara Paretsky keeps telling stories that invite readers in and keep us flipping pages is a triumph.

When a high school sweetheart—after a fashion—shows up at V.I.’s office, she doesn’t want to hear his plea. But hear it she does, and it sends her back to the neighborhood where she grew up, where she tangles first with a nasty old woman who hates her and might be a murderer. Before long, V.I.’s managed to piss off a bunch of powerful folks, but she can’t stop looking for answers to the questions she’s brought to light.

V.I. makes no excuses, but she  knows when she’s pushed too far and she is not without humility. When her actions affect those she loves, she strives to put things right. But the forces she’s battling are powerful, and the danger in Brush Back feels altogether too real.

On July 16, a couple of weeks before Brush Back is released, Sara Paretsky will receive the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England. There can be nobody more deserving, as this latest novel demonstrates.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Swerve by Vicki Pettersson (Gallery Books, July 7)

swerveKristine and her fiancé are on their way across the Nevada desert to his well-to-do family’s Fourth of July celebration when Kristine is attacked in a rest-area bathroom. After returning to the car to find Daniel and most of their possessions missing, Kristine receives a text: Say good-bye. Now. Or he dies.

Thus begins a thrilling and gruesome 24-hour road trip scavenger hunt that means life or death for Daniel. Kristine is faced with horrific choices at each turn, knowing failure will mean the death of the man she loves. When the demands and clues from the madman who has Daniel become increasingly grotesque and personal, Kristine begins to realize the abduction may not be about Daniel’s money at all, but about her.

Swerve is not for the fainthearted. A first-class thriller with the soul of a scary movie, you’ll love it if you have a soft, grisly spot for movies like Joy Ride, Breakdown, and Duel. This was my first experience with the work of Vicki Pettersson, who’s a well-known fantasy/romance writer. If she continues to write edge-of-your-seat white-knucklers like this one, I will continue to peek through my fingers to read them.

From Shannon at River City Reading:

Secessia by Kent Wascom (Grove Atlantic, July 7)

secessiaWhen New Orleans falls to the Union in the middle of 1862, twelve-year-old Joseph Woolsack’s life is suddenly changed. His city is under the tightening grip of Union commander General Benjamin “the Beast” Butler while his father dies of mysterious circumstances, which leaves his mother, Elise, both questioning and questioned. A mixed-race woman passing as white, Elise’s situation grows intense after the death of her husband, as she attempts to hold on to her son and her position in a rapidly evolving, violent city.

As in Kent Wascom’s debut novel, The Blood of Heaven, which I loved, most everything in Secessia is grand. The novel’s key characters are all larger than life, with big personalities that are just as easy to fall into as the grimy, dangerous streets of New Orleans.

But it’s the way Wascom writes those characters and streets that sets his books apart. Though his words are as grandiose as the images they convey, each one is delicately placed to create a cadence that begs the reader to slow down and enjoy the ride.

From PCN:

Signal by Patrick Lee (Minotaur Books, July 7)

signalLast year Patrick Lee introduced us to his retired-special-forces hero, Sam Dryden, in the adrenaline-charged Runner. Dryden is back in another thriller that demands to be read in one sitting (I did just that—stayed up until 4:30 a.m. to finish.)

Dryden is again on the run, this time to protect a mysterious device that could destroy the world as we know it. Seriously, if it falls into bad guys’ hands, things would get messed UP. Lee combines action with scientific elements and what-if scenarios to create a book that has muscles and brains.

My full review will run in Shelf Awareness for Readers later this month.

Here’s the exciting part: I have one signed copy of Signal to give away. To enter, leave a comment telling me who would be chasing you if you were on the run. As usual, fanciful lies are accepted.

Giveaway ends Thursday, July 9, midnight PST. US addresses only. The winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim the prize before an alternate winner is chosen.