Yesterday a collaboration with Luzifer Verlag marked two new milestones for me, in the form of the release of the German version of One-Night Stan’s. As of yesterday, I’m now a published novelist in multiple languages. And since I’ve self-published all of my English releases, this also marks the first time I’ve had a novel “traditionally” published.
One-Night Stan’s is my unabashed favorite of my novels to date, and I’m glad it happened with that one first. So in honor of Stan’s, and in honor of this moment, I thought I’d revisit exactly how I came to write the book.
The way my mind works, a story rarely comes from one place. There are characters, tones, conflicts, plots, scenes, lines of dialogue, and images all bouncing around in my head, and now and then they converge in ways that I think might create something interesting. I call this my rock tumbler. When I get an idea it goes in the rock tumbler, and if it connects well with other ideas, hopefully it eventually comes out one day. In order to say where One-Night Stan’s came from, I have to tell several stories of several projects and ideas that all eventually converge.
STORY #1: It was 2007. I was nineteen years old, ambitious, self-assured. I’d read Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez, and it had convinced me I could make a movie with pure passion and zero resources and still have a chance at making it big. I was making my first movie, Gunslinger, P.I., pouring everything I had into it and trying to learn everything I could on my feet, spending days working in a movie theater and nights shooting scenes with whatever costars could spare the time. The cast I filled mostly with friends from work, including one girl I had more than a little bit of a crush on. As production went on, she told me her dream role would be to play a stripper who moonlights (“sunlights”?) as an assassin. I wanted to do more with her, and I loved how stupid and pulpy the idea sounded, but I had no idea how to write about an assassin.
STORY #2: It was still 2007. Robert Rodriguez (who’d written the book that, in part, inspired my movie) and Quentin Tarantino (whom I’d spent the last five years idolizing) were collaborating on a film called Grindhouse. I couldn’t wait to see it. And while they talked about bringing back the “grindhouse”, I pretended to know what a grindhouse film was, but all I really had a handle on was that it sounded unapologetically trashy and like a lot of fun. I wanted to do something like what I imagined a grindhouse movie to be: high-energy, completely tasteless, and hilarious if you’ve got a sick mind.
STORY #3: It was 2005. There was a show called Masters of Horror. It was an anthology show on cable where top horror directors were supposedly given free reign to make one-hour horror shorts. Almost never was an episode as good as it should have been. One episode, titled Pick Me Up, promised to blend two urban legends–the hitchhiker who kills people who pick him up, and the psycho who kills hitchhikers–and put them on a crash-course for each other. I waited eagerly for the episode and instantly hated it. It was boring as hell, and had sounded so fun. I thought I could do better. It stuck in my head for years. Two years, to be specific.
FOREPLAY: Stories 1, 2, and 3 came together in a forty-page screenplay called Foreplay. I’d abandoned the assassin idea because I didn’t know how to do it, but I’d gone instead with an idea inspired by Pick Me Up. A stripper in a trashy club is a serial killer, and she takes men home and tortures them to get off. Meanwhile there’s a maniac going town to town killing strippers for much the same reasons. This script was hilarious, disgusting, and nothing but fun. And while a lot of One-Night Stan’s is recognizable in it, it wouldn’t be fair to call it the first version of the story for two reasons. The first reason is that the club within the story was nameless, the script contained nothing about a missing bag of money, no gangsters or criminal club owners, no college students, no cops… it was laser-focused on the two serial killers, the strip club, and the FBI agents chasing them. The second reason it can’t be called the first version of the story is…
STORY #4: It was 2004. I’d just dropped out of high school. In my spare time, I’d been working on my first full-length screenplay. It was called A Wake-Up Call. It remains the only significant piece of writing I’ve done that nobody but me has ever read, and while I still have a copy of it, I plan to go to my grave having never let another person see it, because fuck that script. It’s awful. There’s one scene that literally happens twice because I forgot I’d already written it fifteen pages ago, that’s how bad that script is. Worse than that, it’s a movie about a guy who accidentally gets involved with the mafia because of a gangster who has the wrong number telling him where a bag of money is before verifying his identity in any way. It’s a mob story written by a middle-class fifteen-year-old with no idea how the world works. However, thankfully I’m a hoarder when it comes to writing. I hate to let an entire story go to waste. And that one didn’t.
STORY #5: It was 2006. I’d just finished the screenplay for Gunslinger, P.I. and I was getting ready to direct it. I knew one other filmmaker and he was getting ready to make his first feature too. His was called All Night. It was a character-driven comedy with a bunch of intertwining stories and only what little is necessary in the way of a central narrative. I liked that structure. I also liked that it started at sunset and ended at sunrise the next day. I’d seen that in Michael Mann’s Collateral two years earlier and made note of it, but this refreshed it in my mind, and I thought that I liked the idea of imposing that restriction on yourself as a writer.
ONE-NIGHT STAN’S: I didn’t want to film Foreplay. It would have been hard work to film, and as much as I liked the script, with Gunslinger, P.I. I was finally making the jump from short films to features and I didn’t want to go back, especially on something that would use up this much effort. But I thought maybe if I could expand it to a feature it would be worth making, and there were three or four plot points in A Wake-Up Call that, while horribly executed, seemed to have the potential to be awesome. So the bag of money was dropped into Foreplay, the gangsters and college students from A Wake-Up Call became patrons of the strip club, and I started weaving everybody’s stories together. Since I borrowed the all-in-one-night timeframe, I thought I wanted a title with something about “one night” in the title. I also needed a catchy name for the club. And boom. One-Night Stan’s was born.
The script was 150 pages long, with scenes in a strip club, a dozen main characters, car crashes, shoot-outs, tons of violence, and the whole goddamn thing took place at night which meant lighting was going to be a bitch. It was completely un-filmable on my salary of eight bucks an hour. Despite loving the finished script, I shelved it and hoped to come back to it years down the road. By that point, the girl I’d written it for had joined the army and come out as a lesbian anyway. There didn’t seem to be a rush.
When I took interest in novel-writing in my mid-twenties thanks to the emergence of self-publishing, the same limitations didn’t seem to be in place. There were no budgetary issues, no problems with certain settings or car crashes or darkness. If I could make it work as a script, I thought I could make it work as a novel. So it was the first project I leapt to (aside from Blood Brothers, which I had already been writing as a book for years). It took about six months to turn the script into a book. I have a hard time looking back at a lot of the projects I’ve finished, but I love that book. I think it’s fun as hell. I’m really glad it exists and a lot of people like it. I hope the Germans like their version too.
One-Night Stan’s the film is still one of my big dream projects. It still intimidates me, but a little less each year. I used to be afraid I’d screw it up, and I still am, but I’m increasingly of the belief that you should always make the thing you’re most excited about, even if it’s impractical to do it right now, and that you do better work when you’re terrified of screwing up.
Right now I have a different movie I’m working toward. I hope to start on that as soon as I have a few bucks to spare. But I think it’s damn near time I got around to rolling cameras on One-Night Stan’s. That movie needs to be made.