Daniel Sweren-Becker is an author, television writer, and playwright living in Los Angeles. His play Stress Positions premiered in New York City at the SoHo Playhouse. He grew up in Manhattan. He is the author of the novels The Ones and The Equals. His latest novel is Kill Show: A True Crime Novel and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Kill Show?
I was watching and enjoying so much true crime content that I became curious about the people making it. I wondered what their lives were like behind the scenes and, even more, the emotional and psychological repercussions of doing these jobs.
Are Casey, Felix, Dave, Jeanette, or any of the other many characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
They are composites of a modern archetype that fascinates me: someone savvy enough to manipulate our modern world to make a buck, smart enough to know better, and sensitive enough to feel a pang of remorse as they cash the check.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
Yes, at the urging of my editor, I rewrote the ending so that Casey was much more involved. My editor was right to point out that audiences expect more than one twist nowadays!
And although I am pleased with all the social commentary I snuck in here, I definitely had a few other rants that hit the cutting room floor. Probably for good reason, better not to be too preachy!
What inspired you to tell the story of Sara's disappearance through multiple oral histories/interviews rather than a traditional narrative novel?
I thought it would be a really effective and unique way to create tension and suspense. It was so fun to write all the characters as if they were interrupting each other. And by setting it ten years after the events in question, they have a lot of scores to settle, of course.
You include perspectives from a professor of sociology and a pop-culture critic/expert in the novel. Did you have to do a bit of research for their entries? If so, what was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned during your research?
These sections came out of my own interest in those particular social phenomena. But when I sat down to write them, I realized I only had a cursory understanding. There are plenty of experts and research about things like missing white woman syndrome, social media addiction, and conspiracy cults. I had to dive in and educate myself further, then come back to write those sections in plain English.
Interest in true crime stories has seemingly always been there (people are still fascinated with Jack the Ripper!). But it seems to have intensified in recent years. Do you have an idea or theory regarding our culture's interest and possible obsession with true crime stories?
I think being a voyeur is hard-wired into our species. When we know we are totally safe from the consequences, we can lean in more freely. I guess there is something exciting in the sheer paradox of feeling scared and safe at the same time.
What's currently on your nightstand?
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
Do you ever see a point where we won't be interested in these stories?
Hmm, I don't think so. I hope not; that might mean our world has fallen apart so thoroughly that the rare nature of these stories ceases to shock. I certainly can't picture anyone enjoying a nice serial killer yarn as they fight for water in a nuclear winter wasteland!
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
Maybe some of the John Grisham books I read when I was twelve, which were pretty violent.
Is there a book you've faked reading?
To the Lighthouse, maybe? Sorry, Mrs. Stoller!
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Is there a book that changed your life?
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
I find myself constantly recommending Our Country Friends, by Gary Shteyngart. Now that we all have a little distance from the darkest days of the pandemic, it is a hilarious and sobering depiction of that moment.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
Beach day with family and friends, a great sandwich, and a tough crossword puzzle for when I'm sick of talking.
What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?
Wow, good question! I guess I'm surprised that readers aren't more curious about which events and characters in my books are taken directly from my life. Many of them are, of course, even though I try to disguise it. I am a nosy person, so I would want to know. But I'm also a private person, so I'm glad it never gets asked!
What are you working on now?
An epic, tragic love story. And a romantic comedy. I think I am done with dead bodies for a bit!