An Interview with Shane Kuhn

Photograph by Sasha Gulish
Photograph by Sasha Gulish

Our bookseller Brandi Bailey (BB) recently interviewed Shane Kuhn (SK), author of The Intern’s Handbook, which (if you haven’t already done so) needs to be added to your to-be-read book ASAP!

“…I love cinema and wanted to be Stanley Kubrick.”

BB: The Intern’s Handbook is your first novel. How does that feel?

SK: It’s a dream come true. I always wanted to be a writer, from a very young age. I was obsessed with Vonnegut, King, O’Connor, Nabakov, Dostoyevsky, Hunter S. Thompson, Chuck Palahniuk, and many other dark voices.

I kind of set aside novel writing when I was in college because I love cinema and wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. That didn’t really work out the way I planned! So, I got back to my roots as a writer and this book just flowed out of me.

I had no expectations other than to finish it, so everything that has happened thus far – great publishing deal, now a two-book deal, and a movie deal – far exceeded my expectations. I spent many years striving to get to this place and it feels amazing, like something I was put here to do.

 “I was trained to powerfully convey messages and stories with the fewest amount of words.”

BB: You come from a background in entertainment and advertising. How did that affect your approach to writing a novel?

SK: From entertainment – mostly feature film work – I received excellent training (University of Westminster, Central London & American Film Institute) on story structure. This was heavily reinforced in my professional work in film. When you have 2 hours or less to tell a story, structure is critical. So, I feel I bring a strong approach in dramatic structure to my work – as a result of my experience in film.

From advertising, I am grateful for so many excellent lessons. First, as a copywriter, I was trained to powerfully convey messages and stories with the fewest amount of words. BREVITY! This is what my first Creative Director stamped on my desk in permanent ink. He used to say that the most effective communication in the world is that which can be done with one word.

So, I have a built in editor in my head, always pushing me to cut the fat and get to the point. This is why I think people say The Intern’s Handbook is a “fast read.” It’s because I like to grease the wheels and send your imagination on a runaway train of narrative intensity. You can only do that with BREVITY! Also, in advertising, you are always pushing concept. Everything has to have a clear and compelling concept for it to be memorable. All of my book ideas, like Intern’s, have what I believe are very cool concepts driving them.

 “He was always accusing us of stealing donuts if you can believe that!”

BB: Having worked in two industries that are rather well known for sometimes thankless internships, did any autobiographical scenes get slipped in under the guise of fiction? 

SK: The coffee assassination is closely related to something that really happened at one of my internships. I was working at an engineering firm and one of the engineers treated all of the underlings like vermin. He was always accusing us of stealing donuts if you can believe that! We probably were, but who cares? We were broke! Anyway, we got tired of him and one of my nerd buddies created a white powder concoction that we disguised as non-dairy creamer. When the guy poured it into the coffee, the liquid immediately solidified into a foul smelling gelatinous goo. No one was hurt, obviously, but the office harassment came to a screeching halt.

  “I had to take a break from screenwriting for a couple of months just to wash the stank of lazy, horrific writing out of my head.”

BB: If, and I’m assuming here, you were once upon a time an intern yourself, what was the worst horror thrust upon you? 

SK: I had a few internships and the worst horror thrust upon me was when I was a script reader for a film production company. I was a film student at the time in LA and I had high hopes for making it big in pictures. When I started reading the scripts that this company was actually considering making, I was physically ill. They were horrible. I was green as hell and definitely no Paul Schrader myself but it was unbelievable how bad these scripts were, and I was working at a highly reputable production company! I had to read 15-20 a week and write coverage! I like to say it was probably like being a porn director who loses his sex drive due to “overexposure.” I had to take a break from screenwriting for a couple of months just to wash the stank of lazy, horrific writing out of my head.

 “…coffee is part medicine, part alchemical life elixir.”

BB: Your anti-hero, John Lago, makes a killer cup of coffee. As we reside in a city known for its brews, what’s your preferred cup o’ joe

SK: I have mild ADD so, for me, coffee is part medicine, part alchemical life elixir.  I prefer espresso to drip coffee. For some odd reason, drip coffee makes me a bit sleepy. I have not spent enough time in your fair city because, sadly, I am ALWAYS there to work and never just to have fun! So, I can’t name drop any coffee purveyors. However, I will say that my favorite brand of espresso is Illy. I used to live in SF and Caffe Greco made a cappuccino that would prepare you for combat. They use Illy. Even though it doesn’t have the desired stimulant effect, I do love the taste of high quality drip or French press coffee. Some favorite brands are Graffeo (SF) and Stone Street (Brooklyn). I think it’s high time I come up there to sample some of Seattle’s finest brews!

 “To me, a great book is like an amazing guitar chord or perfectly structured rock ‘n roll song.”

BB: I have to say, the combination of humor, satire and Bourne-esque action is rare. What inspired you? Any particular authors?

I am inspired simultaneously by books and cinema. On the book side, I love the rock ‘n roll style of Hunter Thompson, Chuck P, Irvine Welsh, and Buk, to name a few. I also draw inspiration from great prose stylists like Nabakov, Pynchon, Dahl, and Vonnegut. In cinema, it’s all about Kubrick, Fincher, Lean, Tarantino, Peckinpah, Bigelow, Allen, and Anderson, also to name a few. Beyond that, fashion is very intriguing and I am obsessed with Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford. And let’s not forget music! To me, a great book is like an amazing guitar chord or perfectly structured rock ‘n roll song. It has dynamics, relevance, energy, and a beautiful taste of darkness. So, as you can see, my mind is kind of a hopper that I stuff full of things I love so that I can create an aesthetic mélange that is uniquely me.

 “The second book is a completely new concept…”

BB: Will we be seeing more of John Lago? Or do you have plans to branch into other areas of literature?

SK:  I just signed a two book deal with Simon & Schuster. One of those books is the sequel to The Intern’s Handbook and it is called “Hostile Takeover.” The second book is a completely new concept called “Business Class” and it is an espionage thriller that takes place in the world of frequent air travelers. It will be a completely different kind of thriller than my John Lago books but still thriller genre. I do plan to branch out a bit in the near future. I am a huge science fiction fan and I have a strong concept waiting in the wings for its day in the sun.


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