Author Stephen Jay Schwartz, 47, lives in Rolling Hills Estates with his wife Ryen, and their two sons Ben and Noah. He recently talked to Palos Verdes Patch about writing his two thriller novels "Boulevard" and "Beat." Both books are available at , at the . Click here to visit Schwartz's website.
Palos Verdes Patch: You’ve been working in television for some time, haven’t you?
Stephen Jay Schwartz: Mostly in film. I was director of development for Wolfgang Peterson for a number of years, he’s a film director, a major director, and that’s where I got the opportunity to read thousands and thousands of screenplays, and do story notes for them for the studio and for the director and that gave me the chops, story chops, really.
Patch: What were you doing before that? Or was this the job you got right out of school?
Schwartz: In school, I studied filmmaking and screenwriting. I went to Cal State Northridge and before that I went to North Texas State University, studying jazz as a saxophone player, a musician. But I moved from music to writing because I’ve always written since I was a kid. And then I pursued screenwriting and filmmaking in college. And when I left that, I was writing in college and my first screenplay got me an agent, so I started doing that, but it’s a real struggle, a real struggle as a freelance screenwriter. I also made a couple short films, in 16 millimeter and 35 millimeter in school and out of school. And that’s even more difficult because you’re paying for it. You’re cash advancing your Visas, and getting loans and I don’t think I’ve paid off anything at this point. It’s been a real struggle.
So the whole kind of big break I get career-wise was working for Wolfgang. And that kind of legitimized me in a sense. And I learned a lot. I learned a lot from that experience. And then I left that because I wasn’t really getting any time to write.
So it was about five years with him, and then I left because that was five years that I wasn’t writing. ... By the time I sat down to write a novel I had a really good sense of the three-act structure and a really good sense for thrillers, too, because that’s what Wolfgang directs.
Patch: Why did you write a novel? Why not write a screenplay? You had a connection.
Schwartz: Well, I’d written screenplays. I’ve written 10 feature screenplays, or more—11 now. Some were spec, some were assignments. A couple of specs I had auctioned. But I wasn’t really breaking through to the next level where I wanted to be. Actually, when I left Wolfgang’s company, I left to take a screenwriting assignment. So that was nice, and that assignment got me into the Writer’s Guild for that period of time, a couple years, that I was in. So I left to write and to write a screenplay, which was great. But, it’s funny, once that assignment was done then I was left alone, then I was alone in the sea of freelance writers without any real credits and without any produced credits. The competition was insane and I couldn’t survive as a freelance screenwriter. So I ended up just taking a day job, getting out of the industry for a while, and just focus.
That’s when I decided I was going to write prose, I’m going to write a novel. And that’s when I started writing "Boulevard." And that took three and a half years to write. And it sold right away. It was a two book deal. I got the agent I wanted. I got a great deal with an established publisher. ... And it was so satisfying to do this, so incredibly wonderful to be able to have direct communication, what I wanted to write being received by the reader then having communication through e-mail, through the website. I know so many screenwriters who have left to write novels and they’ve never been happier.
You’re the director you’re the auteur. But then the weird thing is that the novels got me screenwriting acceptance on a better level. Suddenly, I was validated. And I got a writing assignment this last year on an action film. They were looking for a little more grittiness and realism, which is what I have in "Boulevard" and "Beat." And based on my books, I was hired and they didn’t even ask to see a sample. It was just based on my books. I’ve had a great relationship. It’s the best experience I’ve had writing a screenplay, working with these producers and this director on this film called "Grinder." They’re going into production in April.
Patch: Why did you decide to move here, to the Peninsula?
Schwartz: We just love it. You’ve got the woods and the ocean right next to each other. It’s like in Northern California in a sense.
Patch: And yet, you said earlier that you like to work in a cafe in Redondo Beach.
Schwartz: Cafes all over, cafes all over town. But there’s one in Redondo Beach called the Catalina Coffee Company that I spend a lot of time writing in. I’m writing in all the Starbucks in Palos Verdes. The one at Palos Verdes Drive North and Hawthorne, which overlooks the ocean. It’s got the best view, probably the best Starbucks in the world. I write there a lot.