I swear that Derek is one of the nicest people ever. Not only did he agree to do this Q&A, but he answered so many questions. I think you will enjoy his answers as much as I did.
First, about Derek (from https://www.derekmilman.com/):
Derek was born in New York City, and raised in Westchester County, NY. In grade school he wrote short stories about stuff like aliens and submarines and magical strawberries. He would frequently send story ideas to computer game companies, which would always result in an awkward phone call informing Derek that, at eight years old, he was too young to be put on their payroll. In high school, Derek published an underground humor magazine (sold in local stores) that caught the attention of the New York Times, who wrote a profile on him at the tender age of 14.
Derek studied English, Theater, and Creative Writing at Northwestern University. He started off as a playwright and screenwriter–his first play was produced in New York City right after he graduated college–and went on to receive an MFA in acting at the Yale School of Drama. As a classically trained thespian (Derek’s favorite word), Derek has performed on stages across the country, and appeared in numerous TV shows and films, working with two Academy Award winning film directors (who probably have no recollection of working with Derek).
Derek has taught at a film school in NYC, worked the front desk of a yoga studio, and had a very short stint as a DJ in a Lower East Side club (if you tipped him well enough, he would pretend to have that New Order B-side no one ever heard of). He began writing YA fiction a few years ago. Scream All Night is his debut novel, out now. Swipe Right for Murder, coming August 2019 from Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson, will be his second novel for young adults.
Derek currently lives in Brooklyn, where he writes fiction full time, wanders the waterfront staring at the Manhattan skyline, plays video games, and buys lime green hoodies made out of locally-sourced hemp.
Q&A with Derek:
How did you come up with the idea for Swipe Right For Murder?
It just started as a tiny vague idea in my head — an updated take on Hitchcock, but super queer, and firmly enmeshed in our current times, the digital age. When my debut was acquired, people were asking if I was working on anything else. I told my agent “I think I want to write a gay North by Northwest” and she was like : YESSSSSS! Write it! She really inspired me to make this my next project and write this book.
Was it harder to write Scream All Night or Swipe Right For Murder?
They were both equally challenging in completely different ways. For SCREAM, I had the advantage of being able to hide behind Moldavia and the zany world and characters it entombed. SWIPE is set a bit more in the real world as we know it, but also with a heightened neon techno-noir edge. I read that when Paul Thomas Anderson was filming…I think it was There Will be Blood…he just kept playing John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre continuously, night and day, as inspiration, and to get a sense of the dusty world, the rhythm of the dialogue, etc. I did something similar with North by Northwest for SWIPE. I’ve always been obsessed with that film, and while I didn’t necessarily want to do a strict re-telling, I wanted it to be a heavy, open influence, with lots of winks and nods to Hitchcock (hotels, trains, undercover agents, cinematic set pieces, wildly dangerous climactic moments, razor sharp dialogue, an air of romanticism) so I watched it a lot, as well as other Hitchcock like Strangers on a Train, The Foreign Correspondent, The 39 Steps, Notorious. I think there are nods to a lot of those films in SWIPE, and even stuff in that mold from much later on too like Three Days of the Condor and The Fugitive.
For SCREAM I had to read a lot of books about filmmaking, horror, and old movie studios to really build out that world in the way I wanted. I read a lot of books, looked at a lot of photos, watched a lot of old films. For SWIPE, the research was more micro. There’s a lot of stuff in that book that people don’t know is actually real: Hotel Death Rays, the call-to-arms Gay Rights leaflet the Swans use as their manifesto, the Merrick Gables, Samy Kamkar and the MySpace worm, legit security concerns about the specific types of cyber attacks mentioned in the story, Bushwick warehouse parties, co-living start-ups — all real, real, real! The book begins with the famous tea service at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, so I went and did it and took a lot of cool photos. I took photos in and around Bushwick, Brooklyn, where Aidan passes through late at night; I read articles about co-living start-ups and cyber warfare, and hacking. I rode Metro North trains and took photos to see if you could actually see the tracks under your feet if you change cars while the train is moving, because that came up in my copy edits. I mapped my way out of Penn Station the way Aidan and Shiloh might if they were moving fast, trying to keep their heads down. The tennis courts where Aidan has that climactic drop near the end of the novel are near my apartment in Brooklyn. I took photos during the day, then came back at night to see what the lights look like in the dark (I’ll post all these photos at some point, maybe on my Instagram). So each book was hard to write, just in different ways; they each had their own requirements.
You’ve been writing since you were young. Did you always know you wanted to act, too?
Yeah, I did both for a good portion of my youth. I really did the acting thing full-on in college, at Northwestern, where it was competitive. I gave some intense performances. Combining both (writing a play I’d play a part in) was never smooth sailing, never seemed to work out for me in the way I wanted. I also co-wrote a sketch comedy pilot around 2006 and played some wacky roles in that, and some of it was funny, but it was also a crushing process in some ways, even though there were Hollywood types interested in what we did. Someone recently sent me the first thing I ever wrote in college: it was a video clip of a comedy sketch that we filmed where these spies keep double-crossing each other. It’s me and Seth Meyers — he was a senior when I was a freshman I think? And some other guys. Zach Braff was our key grip (lol).
I started out as a playwright, but I wasn’t a very good playwright and I was probably too young to really have anything to say. When I was 23 years old, and working on my second play with a young director who was developing it with me, he dropped out of the project because he got very sick, and I didn’t want to work on it without him. That same week I was accepted into the acting program of the Yale School of Drama. Fate plays its hand, you know? You never think you’ll get in to Yale Drama. They take 15 people out of hundreds. So when I was accepted, I felt I had to go, and then I had no time to write for the three years I was there. I was just too busy. But I was probably becoming a writer in other ways (creating characters, working with language and dialogue), without realizing it, but I took a break from actually writing words for that portion of my life. And honestly, I think it was the best thing for me. I had this habit of getting tortured by things I was writing, where I couldn’t shape them, and they’d become an albatross I couldn’t shake. I’m glad I let all that go for a while.
I finally rewatched the ending of The Wolf of Wall Street. How did you get that part? Is it intimidating to be around someone like Leonardo DiCaprio?
Oh My God, you did? Hahahaha. I was auditioning pretty competitively in NYC around that time. I was also writing again. I had just started really writing fiction, and the filming felt like a break, weirdly enough. Every NYC actor I know has a small role in that film. I knew the casting director, Ellen Lewis, from years of auditioning. And for months (this also happened for Men in Black III, or IV, is there a IV? I honestly can’t remember, hahaha) they kept calling me in to read for different roles and then I wouldn’t be right for any of them, these sort of sleazy finance types. And then finally, they just called my agent and told him they wanted me to play that particular role “and is Derek fine improvising with Leonardo DiCaprio in a New Zealand accent?” and my agent just said yes because that’s what talent agents do. So technically I never even auditioned for that part! Casting told Scorsese I could do a New Zealand accent and I HAD NEVER DONE ONE BEFORE.
There weren’t any New Zealand dialect coaches in NYC, everyone just told me: “well, I can do Australian” and I was like “noooo, that’s not the same thing!” So I tracked down some really good tapes and listened to them on a loop, even slept with them on, and they had given us fragments of the script, of the scene we were going to shoot with Leo, and it was just linking the text in my head (that I had) with the NZ dialect; thank God I’m theater trained. I was terrified it was going to be a mess and I’d be fired by Scorsese, ONE OF MY IDOLS, but it all worked out fine. Both Leo and Marty (I’m calling him that for the sake of this Q&A) were really focused, but extremely warm, even funny. I met them privately before we were shooting (it was a large scene, more than a hundred extras) and we were all joking around about the ridiculous shirt that wardrobe found for my character. The filming itself was long. A 14 hour day, so you just do the work. I don’t get starstruck really, but hours of Leo in your face saying the same line, you stop being intimidated quicker than you’d think. Leo works really hard, he gives it his all even when the camera was on us, I was impressed by that. He also called after me as I was leaving, after we were done. “Bro!” he screamed at me, waving his arms, so he could say goodbye to me, and tell me how awesome I was. That’s a nice story, isn’t it? I’m happy to report those iconic people happen to be quite lovely.
Have you considered more acting?
Yeah, I shot a role on a Hulu series called The Path with Hugh Dancy. That was the last thing I did. I have a sort of emotional breakdown with him, and it was a tight, close crew, so it was all done really fast, like in 4 or 5 hours, so I didn’t have to worry about giving too much emotionally the first couple takes. I was editing SCREAM ALL NIGHT so I was paying very close attention to what the camera crew was doing, how they’d disassemble the dolly track and then do a different set-up where the cameraman actually had the camera strapped to his body. Anyway, Hugh Dancy was really interested that I had a book coming out, his mom’s a copy editor or something, so he had a lot of questions about that. He was really charming I didn’t tell him my friend used to date Claire Danes (his current wife), which is kind of funny.
I’d love to do more acting, but I only have so much creative energy, and I realized I can’t do both equally well. Since the writing has been so demanding, and kind of took over my life, I’ve given myself over to that, so I’ve turned down some acting opportunities. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I’m not someone who can spread himself thin. I’m just not comfortable doing that. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it, if the right thing comes along, or the right people ask, but for now I’m content living in Brooklyn and writing books. Writing is just…never easy…and I want to make sure every single thing I do is as perfect as it can be
I see you post about some of the cool things you did in NY when you were younger. Can you tell the readers anything that stood out to you? A cool story they might not have seen on twitter?
Well, hmmmm. Post 9/11, and downtown NYC was still sort of broken and haunted and there was this club in an isolated stretch near the river on the lower west side called Don Hill’s. I would drive from Yale, in New Haven, and arrive there at around 2 AM on Saturday nights, usually with my boyfriend. I remember people were drinking Stoli Strawberry and Sodas around that time. Or Stoli Vanils. That was like a thing, haha, before classic cocktail culture came back. And it was just this secretive place, and I would hang there when I was very young, at just the right time to be there, the right age (cause now, sometimes, I just feel too old to be certain places in NYC). Saturday nights they’d have this party called Tiswas and they’d play the best music: Britpop and indie pop and Motown and everyone dressed all Mod, and it was fun to dance there. Everyone was young and pretty, gay or straight or bi or whatever, all were welcome, and you’d feel comfortable and safe there. Cool people would come and hang out. Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Or the Strokes would drop by. Or whatever hot young actor who was just breaking into indie movies. My boyfriend got kissed by Debbie Harry by the coat check. The whole early 2000’s music scene was documented by Lizzy Goodman in her book MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM, which is supposed to be a fantastic read. I miss Don Hill’s, but so glad I had that time. It was a different way to be gay, I think? It opened my eyes. You didn’t necessarily have to go to a gay club and listen to house music or “It’s Raining Men” a million times. You could be rock n’ roll gay too. At dawn, everyone would wind up at Florent, this awesome French diner in the Meatpacking district, where they’d have the best omelettes and the best steak frites (cause you, know, meatpacking district!) I’ve never had an omelette that good since. You might see Lou Reed or a supermodel all hungover in the booth behind you. All these places are gone now. But man, that was fun!
What has it been like working for James Patterson Presents?
They are a dream. Truly. It’s what you imagine publishing should be. They put marketing muscle behind every book they acquire, and they treat all their authors with respect and dignity. They care about what they do, every book. James Patterson started the imprint as a true passion project — to get kids to read. The imprint was founded on such pure motives, of course it succeeds. I feel truly spoiled. I talk to my publicist (the amazing Julie Guacci) several times a day, I get itineraries detailing every place I’m supposed to be, down to the minute, and they planned my tour, my BEA, ALA appearances, and take care of travel and accommodations. It just feels right, it feels like this is how it’s supposed to work. I know it’s rare though. Not everyone gets to have this experience, and I certainly didn’t have it with my first book, so I’m conscious of being grateful all the time that I get to work with these people. So moving over to Jimmy Patterson for this book was the best thing that could have happened, and I’m eternally grateful to my agent, Victoria Marini, for making it happen, and for Jenny Bak, my editor, and the entire Jimmy Patterson team, including James Patterson himself, for having me.
Do you have a favorite place to write? Do you have a specific process?
Not really, nothing religious. I will take notes by hand in whatever Brooklyn café or coffee shop I’m in the mood for (there are a lot of choices, with entirely different vibes) just to have a jumping off point, so I can avoid the blank screen/blinking cursor. And then I will draft at home at my desk, on the computer. Sometimes with music (I favor electronic or dream pop), sometimes in silence. Sometimes in the mornings, sometimes late at night. It depends on the rest of my day or when I feel motivated. Feeling motivated has been a big factor lately what with everything else going on, all the distractions. I like to have something to sip on, usually an iced coffee, my notes beside me, and sometimes I will pace around my apartment, write a sentence or two, pace around some more, sometimes I will have to consult the Notes app on my phone, because sometimes I take random notes there too, so it’s a bit of a messy process, with notebooks, my phone, binders and images and whatnot spread all over my desk, on the floor, on the coffee table, but that’s my job — to make poetry out of chaos!
What advice would you give young Derek now?
Haha, oh boy. Maybe accept all the flaws about you and know that the person who winds up loving you, and the people who wind up loving what you do, will love all those flaws as well as the rest of you, so stop WORRYING SO MUCH ABOUT EVERYTHING AND JUST CHILL. What will happen will happen, and not every little stupid thing is so important.
What are 5 of your favorite books?
THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt, A GATE AT THE STAIRS by Lorrie Moore, GIOVANNI’S ROOM by James Baldwin, A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway, PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov.
Going back to Scream All Night, how did you come up with all the movies? Have you always loved those cheesy type of horror movies? What are some favorites?
That was the best part! That was so much fun, coming up with all those titles. That came out of all my research. I read about Hammer Horror films (which Moldavia was partially based on) and Troma films, all that, and then tried to create titles and plots that COULD have been one of those films. How funny is it that one of them was called Dial W for Witchcraft and now my second book is titled SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER? I always loved movies, but I had to educate myself on all those cheesy B-horror movies in order to write SCREAM. Some favorites are the original Suspiria, all Italian giallo films really, and also Happy Birthday to Me, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The Brood, Cat People, Mystics in Bali, Terror Train, The Loved Ones, Eyes Without a Face.
Can you describe Swipe Right For Murder in 5 words?
Dark, intense, twisty, funny, timely.
What was it like to have a NYT profile written about you as a young teen? Can you tell us anything about the magazine you wrote and published back then?
I was twelve or thirteen when I started my magazine publishing career, haha. I was really interested in writing and publishing and creating something. It came out of an art project in grade school where we designed magazine covers — something like that. I just decided to make the actual magazine, fill out the contents. It was basically an underground zine. I would write short funny stories and talk about pop culture stuff, and created a fake staff of people (all with silly names who had silly jobs) and I would bike around to local businesses and sell ads and some local stores started carrying it and that was really cool. Did not expect the media coverage. A few local papers wrote about me, and then the Times. It was the Westchester section of the NY Times, I should clarify, the local section, I wasn’t on the front page under updates about the Gulf War. It was cool! This lady came to my house with a photographer and asked me questions and they took photos. The photo that resulted is maybe…the dorkiest photo ever taken of a human being? But that’s another story. My parents had bought me a laser printer and the angle of the article seemed to be about “local boy takes up laser printing” –something weird and specific like that, hahaha. I should write a YA with that title, right? James Patterson Presents LOCAL BOY TAKES UP LASER PRINTING.
Do you write about personal experiences or people you know?
I do. During the writing of SCREAM ALL NIGHT, for instance, I started having stomach problems (probably from the stress of writing that book) which did lead me to get a misleading EKG and then an echocardiogram, and that experience wound up in SWIPE RIGHT FOR MURDER. A lot of things from my life go into my books, filtered through other characters, and their fictional lives. I don’t write strictly about people I know, I’m not going to write a low-key biography on someone, but I do tell my friends that anything they say is fair game, haha, and things people have said have inspired dialogue, funny quips, or character facts or traits; that’s just how writers operate, I think. Be careful around writers!
What would you want to do if you weren’t a writer?
We live on this volatile planet and our bodies have evolved to deal all the pathogens constantly trying to infect us, use us as hosts, and I just find that fascinating — I would probably want to be an infectious disease specialist, or some kind of medical doctor.
Can you give any hints on what’s next for you? Do you plan to stay with YA?
I will be staying with YA for a while longer. I have two projects in the works right now, one that I’m actively drafting now that people are excited about, and so we’ll see…down the line I have this feeling I might be switching over to adult literary fiction. It depends on if I feel I have more to say in the YA sphere, or if what I want to say, or write about, will start to lean more towards adult. Only time will tell!
Swipe Right For Murder by Derek Milman
On the run from the FBI.
Targeted by a murderous cult.
Labeled a cyber-terrorist by the media.
Irritated texts from his best friend.
Eye contact with a nice-looking guy on the train.
Aidan has a lot to deal with, and he’s not quite sure which takes top priority.
Finding himself alone in a posh New York City hotel room for the night, Aidan does what any red-blooded seventeen-year-old would do—he tries to hook up with someone new. But that lapse in judgement leads to him waking up next to a dead guy, which sparks an epic case of mistaken identity that puts Aidan on the run from everyone—faceless federal agents, his eccentric family, and, naturally, a cyber-terrorist group who will stop at nothing to find him.
He soon realizes the only way to stop the chase is to deliver the object everyone wants, before he gets caught or killed. But for Aidan, the hardest part is knowing who he can trust not to betray him—including himself.
First written and posted here.
I normally don’t read arcs until a month before release date. But I’ve been dying to read Swipe Right For Murder since I got my hands on an arc (thank you Derek).
This is going to be one of those books that’s hard to review without giving too much away. There was just non stop craziness throughout the whole book. And that was a good thing. The pacing was great and I struggled to put it down. I know my review won’t do this book justice. I just don’t want to spoil anything.
This book has a little bit of everything. Terrorism, LGBTQIA+ rep, mistaken identity, murders, relationship issues, friendship, family issues, hacking, and so much more. And while this is a serious book, I found that Derek fits in some humor in just the right places. It always helps break up some of the tension in his books.
Aidan is in New York to have a heart test done. His brother died of an enlarged heart and this is something that is hereditary. While there, he meets up with his best friend, Jackson, and Jackson’s girlfriend, Tatiana. They leave and Aidan goes back to his hotel room alone. He decides to go on an app for hookups. After one failed hookup with a guy from school staying at the same hotel, Aidan finds one that looks interesting. Benoit looks attractive and seems normal. Aidan goes to his room and they hook up. But that’s when everything changes.
There are people shooting through the windows. Aidan gets a weird message on his phone. He finds photos of himself on Benoits phone. Ones that look like he was being stalked. A man calls and tells him to leave before the police show up. Aidan is freaking out. The man says that he wants his delivery and calls him Mr. Preston. A mistaken identity. Aidan finds that even the hotel is calling him Mr. Preston, so he takes off without his stuff.
From there, things are all kinds of nuts. Derek did a great job making the reader (or at least me) question what is real and who can be trusted. Aidan runs into so many different people and is almost killed more than once. He finds himself involved in a terrorist group that is killing homophobes. Aidan knows that killing is wrong, but he finds himself questioning this at times.
This book makes you realize how quickly things can change by one decision you make in life. One moment can create chaos and it just spirals out of control.
I obviously loved this book. I would have read it in one day if I had more time, but I still finished it in two. I gave this 5 stars and will buy anything Derek writes. If you haven’t yet, make sure you check out Scream All Night. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy (with Derek’s help).
There are a lot of trigger warnings and I’ll probably forget some. A sexual relationship between a teen and adult and homophobia which is all challenged and shown that it’s wrong. Cyber terrorism, murders, sexual hookups (not that there is anything wrong with those), family issues, mention of multiple suicides, self doubt/sort of self loathing at times, teenage drinking and drug use.
Swipe Right For Murder is out August 6th, 2019.
Scream All Night by Derek Milman
A darkly hilarious contemporary realistic young adult novel about growing up and finding your place in the world, perfect for fans of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Running With Scissors.
Dario Heyward knows one thing: He’s never going back to Moldavia Studios, the iconic castle that served as the set, studio, and home to the cast and crew of dozens of cult classic B-horror movies. It’s been three years since Dario’s even seen the place, after getting legally emancipated from his father, the infamous director of Moldavia’s creature features.
But then Dario’s brother invites him home to a mysterious ceremony involving his father and a tribute to his first film—The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue. Dario swears his homecoming will be a one-time visit. A way for him to get closure on his past—and reunite with Hayley, his first love and costar of Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun, a production fraught with real-life tragedy—and say good-bye for good. But the unthinkable happens—Dario gets sucked back into the twisted world of Moldavia and the horrors, both real and imagined, he’s left there.
With only months to rescue the sinking studio and everyone who has built their lives there, Dario must confront the demons of his past—and the uncertainties of his future. But can he escape the place that’s haunted him his whole life?
I think that Derek has such a unique style and voice in both books. I will continue to read anything he writes. Thank you again Derek for taking the time for this post.
Have you read Swipe Right For Murder or Scream All Night? Did you have a favorite Q&A from above? Don’t forget that Swipe Right For Murder is out tomorrow.