For Colorado native and Hollywood screenwriter Daniel Pyne, writing a little Wild West thriller set in mining country in the Rockies is like a vocational vacation. The book in question, A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar, was inspired by a thread of truth -- Pyne's brother once bought a gold mine off eBay on a lark -- and the spirit of the West, with all its quirky characters. Along with a sibling relationship that's central to the theme, the novel also contains a cantankerous small-town mayor, a pair of misplaced Pakistanis and some dangerous troublemakers.
Pyne will present and sign the book at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch. We recently had a chance to ask Pyne a few questions about the book and his respite from the Hollywood grind.
Westword: What made you decide to spin a novel out of this narrow core of reality?:
Daniel Pyne: Three things: First, I grew up in Littleton, so I wanted to write something about the West. Second, my brother -- who still lives in Denver -- bought a mine on Independence Pass. I came out and witnessed what he was doing, and I was extremely amused by it. Third, I already had two characters in my head who were brothers, and I wanted to find an environment in which to explore their relationship, with its inherent themes -- loyalty, reality, greed and so on. Not much of it is based on my actual relationship with my brother, but I did poach details from his life and from the mine. But the brothers themselves are complete creations, although hopefully, they feel like real people.
How much of it is real?
A lot of the details about opening the mine -- what it looked like, finding it -- were things that my brother either told me about or that I saw myself. For instance, I was astonished to learn that mines are wet. All the mines I'd seen in movies were dusty, dry things. But when we opened my brother's mine, water drained out of it for a while. He had terrible problems -- inside, it was filled with weird muck that he had to clean out. Groundwater collects in the cavities, and it clung to the walls and floor. I went in there a few times with him, and the description of the mine is the way I remember it. I also did a lot of research about modern gold mining.
A lot of the stories in the book are tall tales that I embellished. I love old Western Colorado characters. Where did some of those characters and situations come from?
Some of them were people I've met or things I've seen that helped me appreciate the fact that I've grown up west of the Mississippi, and that it's given me a different perspective on life. Growing up in Colorado, there's the whole boom/bust thing. That's an observation I made years ago, and it does sort of define people who grow up in the Rockies, with the legacy of mining history and the idea that if you make one big strike, that will set you up for life. There's a weird, fatalistic optimism about going up in the mountains and taking huge chances, throwing everything away to find your fortune. And on the other hand, certain bad truisms came out of my other profession as a screenwriter -- Hollywood is responsible for a lot of the things we think about the West, and it's fun to puncture that a little.
What did actually happen with the mine?
I'm embarrassed to say I'm not quite sure. I think my brother played with it for a while. He toyed with the idea of building a cabin up there. I think he just decided to get rid of it and sold it, and it had no mineral value.
You've had a long career doing a lot of different kinds of writing -- what kind of writing do you like doing best?
I like writing pretty much everything. I set out to be a novelist, but I was distracted when I was accepted to film school. I really enjoy writing for film, but if someone put a gun to my head, I might choose novels. For me, it's the purest form of expression, but I do not regret my screenwriting. The sad reality of writing serious fiction is that it's not necessarily the most profitable endeavor. Screenplays enable me to support myself, so that I can continue to write novels.
Any tips for authors wanting to write thrillers?
I could go on and on. Storytelling is a peculiar craft -- you have to be persistent and realistic about what you're doing. I know my writing isn't like James Patterson's, but to hit that audience, I have to do something different. Be realistic about who you are and what you're writing. And you have to do it. One thing that's sustained me is I don't get complacent. I keep working at my craft. The more experienced you get, the more critical you get of your own ideas. The world is filled with interesting people and conflicts and stories. Let your imagination run and think about what it would be like to be in another pair of shoes.
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