Chances are, you hadn't heard of Don Winslow until 2010, when Simon & Schuster published his 13th novel, "Savages."
Hell, the truth is you probably hadn't heard of him until Janet Maslin reviewed "Savages" in The New York Times. No one had. And then there was Maslin, heralding a "Winslow effect" that can "fuse the grave and the playful, the body blow and the joke, the nightmare and the pipe dream." So yeah, she liked it.
Oliver Stone liked it, too, and adapted the book into a movie starring Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro. That didn't do too badly either -- the film's $16 million debut last weekend was the third-best of Stone's career, after "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and "World Trade Center."
Winslow writes a lot, so "Kings of Cool," the new prequel to "Savages," isn't the only book he's published since his big breakthrough just two years ago. But it's the one everybody was waiting for. It gives readers the backstory of Ben, Chon and O, the heroes of "Savages," but it also tells a bigger story.
"What I was trying to do," Winslow told The Huffington Post in a phone interview this week, "was describe the evolution of the counterculture in Southern California over the course of several decades, from this sort of naive idealism to the cynicism that we have here."
You should read the book. Janet Maslin liked it. I like it. It's good. But before you do, check out this excerpt from our conversation, in which Winslow describes the frustration with crime-novel conventions that inspired him to write "Savages" in the first place, and remembers where he was when a single review changed his life.
Mike: I read an interview where you said that with “Savages” you got fed up with people telling you what to write or this sells and that doesn’t sell. What were some of those messages you were getting and how did you kind of rebel against that in “Savages”?
Don: Well, you know, the messages are that you have to have this certain kind of definition. First, we are in the crime genre, right? And that has its own definitions. But then it seems that people were chopping it up now into sub-genres. First there was hard-boiled and soft-boiled -- so now you’re an egg -- and then that wasn’t enough.
Mike: Kind of like an R or PG in film?
Don: Exactly. So then they go, OK, if you’re hard-boiled now, are you a thriller? Are you a procedural? Are you noir? Are you a P.I. novel? Are you a serial-killer novel? And then each one of those subgenres started developing its rules and its definitions. Well, if you’re writing a thriller, you have to have your character in mortal jeopardy on page 1 or it’s not a thriller.
Mike: This is amazing to me.
Don: So, you know, you just begin to feel more and more constrained about what you can do. And it seemed limiting to me. So with “Savages,” I wanted to write a savage novel. I wanted to write a book that kind of tore the cage a little, you know, and maybe broke out.
Mike: Well, you did. I remember reading the Janet Maslin review and thinking, “I’m going out and buying that damn book!”
Don: I remember it too.
Mike: What did you think when you read that review?
Don: Well I was in Heathrow Airport at 6am flying from England to Italy, and my son called me on his cell phone and said, “Did you read the New York Times?” I said, “No, Thomas, I’m at Heathrow Airport, It’s 6 o’clock in the morning.” But I think he heard the tension in my voice, so he said, “No, no. It’s a rave!” And so I’m trying to manipulate my little Blackberry to read the Times, and I read it and it was almost redemption, you know. Because you had taken this huge risk and sort of flown in the face of all the rules, and then the New York Times and Janet Maslin comes out and says what she said.
Mike: I’ve read that you’re working on three books right now. Is there anything that you can tell us about them?
Don: I don’t want to tell you too much about them. You know, they’re all crime books ... Each one very different from the other, you know, and I’m excited about it. I don’t think i’ve written my best book yet. You know, I mean this sincerely, you know, I’m so grateful that I get to get up in the morning and do this, you know, and write books. That’s a dream come true, you know, and I feel blessed and grateful that I get to do it.