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Interview with Shane Kuhn

Shane Kuhn promo image

Shane Kuhn may be new to the world of novel writing but, judging by his debut novel Kill Your Boss (Little Brown), which is published as The Interns Handbook in the USA, his is a career that will doubtlessly soar. Here Chris High asks the author about the thinking behind the novel, what caused his change of career direction and about his involvement in the Slamdance Film Festival.

Kill Your Boss is a brilliantly conceived and meticulously researched debut.

Thank you for such kind words.

How long has Kill Your Boss taken to write from the initial idea to final publication?

I had been conceptualising this idea for nearly a year, but I initially thought it would be a screenplay. Then I came to my senses and realized that screenwriting sucks and even if I sold it, I would run the risk of having it sit on a shelf and collect dust like all of those relics in the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, in May of 2012, I wrote a one-page concept document for a book agent I was hoping would work with me, Hannah Gordon at Foundry in New York. She loved the concept and asked for an outline. I delivered a 45-page outline two weeks later. She loved that too and told me to write the book. I handed her the first draft of manuscript at the end of June! I was writing like a mad fiend every night from 10pm to around 1 or 2am. We worked on the manuscript over the summer and shopped it to publishers in September. I sold it to Simon & Schuster in October 2013. I wrote the book in a short amount of time, but spent an enormous amount of time on it. In addition, I was having so much fun I couldn’t stop. I am a fast writer but that was a world record even for me.

What was it that inspired you to write a novel, generally, and this one in particular?

It was less about inspiration and more about desperation. Creatively, I had hit a dead end. I had been working in the film business for several years but with very marginal success and even less creative satisfaction. I am not the kind of person that can spin his wheels. So, I was getting depressed and angry and very difficult to live with! They say true change comes when a situation becomes intolerable and mine had. I was ready to quit the film business but I needed an outlet. I’m like a shark, I can never stop moving or I’ll die. In this time I remembered the time when I was a boy and wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to be Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Vonnegut, Stephen King, etc. So, I decided to get back to my roots and write a book. I had several novel ideas which I pitched to my agent but she actually recommended I write Intern’s first. She thought it would be a great way for me to get my feet wet and just feel free to unleash the crazy. She was right. It was the perfect first novel because it was so visceral to write this character that I didn’t have to think, just feel. THEN I felt inspired as the pages poured out of me.

What made you decide to write Kill Your Boss as a guidebook on assassination for other “Interns”?

I love the first person narrative and it’s rare that an expert in a field shares his or her expertise – in this case assassination – with the outside world in an honest way.  So many assassination films show you the craft at its finest but never pull back the curtain to reveal how someone was trained to be a contract killer or, more importantly, why. I love films and books with a more instructional nature because you feel like a student yourself and it’s fun to learn the tricks of the trade. Great examples of this are the new book The Martian and the relatively new movie Zombieland. Both immerse you in a world you normally would know nothing about in an amazing “crash course” kind of way that makes it more fun and memorable. Both also give you amazing insights into the main character because when someone becomes a teacher, they reveal many things about their psyche, thought processes, and priorities in life. 

The pace is pretty much relentless. Did you find it difficult to maintain?

It’s not difficult because I think like I am writing a film. When you’re structuring a story for film, you have very little real estate in which to tell your story. So, each moment must prove itself as critical to the story or it’s cut out – because if you don’t do it, the director will! So, I have an inner guide that tells me if things are dragging along or if something dramatic needs to happen to keep people engaged.

What is it about Crime Fiction that made you want to enter the genre and which current authors do you particularly enjoy?

I am more of a crime cinema lover so I won’t bullshit you and say I’ve read a lot of crime novelists. There are a few crime novels that had a huge impact on me over the past several years. One of them is The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson. I read Silence of the Lambs as well, but Hannibal Lector does not hold a candle to Lou Ford. I have never been truly terrified by a character in a book as I have by him and, after I finished reading it, I was fully convinced that Jim Thompson was a serial killer and that book was his literary “self portrait.” It’s that deep and immersive and the pathology of Lou’s mind feels so authentic it sends chills down your spine and makes you want to send your daughter to a convent. Another crime novel I love is Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins. I read that book when I saw the ad for the film and it blew me away. Again, the world felt very authentic and Higgins simply drops you in the middle of it with no explanation, like a fish out of water. I like to call it a “fly on the wall” book because you feel like a passive observer, watching all of the insanity unfold in the typically chaotic and fucked up world of real, extremely flawed criminals. I will NEVER understand the movie title. There is absolutely nothing soft about that story and Brad Pitt even has a line (which is not in the book) about how he “kills them softly” but the proceeds to blast guys through their car windshield, blowing lead and shards of glass into their faces. The movie was not bad, actually pretty close to the book, but the title and that line make you scratch your head so hard it bleeds.

Can you tell me a little about the Slamdance Film Festival?

I am so proud of my contribution to the creation of what I believe may be the most pure independent film festival in the world. There is nothing commercial about Slamdance and you can absolutely rest assured that we have a completely socialist programming process that is in no way influenced by myself, my partners, or anyone else in the movie business. We’ve been offered money to accept films – often times a lot of money – and never took it. It’s a showcase for first time directors and it’s all about discovery. Christopher Nolan is a name you may recognize. His first film, Following, debuted at Slamdance and now he is one of the top directors in the world. We just celebrated our 20-year anniversary and I sponsored a party. The festival was my idea because I am a shameless, self-promoting whore, but Peter Baxter, a Brit to make you proud, is the reason the festival has lasted this long. His chin is always up. His upper lip is stiff as a board. And Slamdance, like Peter, carries on.

How did the practice of writing the novel differ from writing a screenplay?

The process was the same in the outlining and planning. I structured it exactly like I would structure a screenplay, using 3 acts and various sub-acts to keep the action popping. Where it was profoundly different was in story composition. Screenplays are technical and the only real creativity comes from dialogue. But with the novel, I could really dig into prose and inner dialogue and foreshadowing, and all the great things the craft has to offer. Most importantly, I was able to use my own voice and make that the best part of the story. The author of a screenplay has no voice beyond his or her name on the cover and their industry quote.

If you had to save three books from being destroyed, what would they be and why?

Catcher in the Rye – because it saved my sinking youth and does the same for others.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – because it proves that life is one big rock n roll song and you’re damned if you don’t get in on the act.
Gravity’s Rainbow – because it shows us the terror and beauty of the gravity of knowing that we are all tiny and utterly insignificant.

When can we expect KYB to be on the big screen and who would you like to see play John Lago?

Sony Pictures has optioned the movie rights with Neal Moritz of Original Film (Fast & Furious franchise) and Circle of Confusion (Walking Dead) producing. Dave Franco is attached to play John Lago so that’s who I want to see play the part.

And, as always, what’s next?

I have just closed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster. I am under contract to write Hostile Takeover, the sequel to The Intern’s Handbook, and an entirely new espionage thriller that takes place in the world of frequent air travel called Business Class. I am also going to begin shooting a documentary in the US and Europe called The Search for Rock n Roll.

More Information:

Review of Kill Your Boss



If you would like to comment on this interview with Shane Kuhn in 2014, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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