In his new novel Chop Shop (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), writer Andrew Post makes a very good case for why you shouldn’t take career advice from a criminal. Though as he explains in the following email interview about this story, it was actually the job he used to have — one that probably led someone to a life of crime — that inspired this medical crime thriller.
To start, what is Chop Shop about?
Chop Shop is about two young women, Amber and Jolene, who run a funeral home together. They like to party a bit too much and because of that the business is starting to look like it might go under. When they’re told by a drug dealer friend of theirs — always reputable source of business advice — that they could sell body parts on the red market and drag themselves out of debt, out of desperation they try it, hoping their life of crime will only be a temporary thing. Turns out neither of them is exactly cut out for it, proving that sometimes running a business can cost an arm and a leg — literally.
Where did you get the idea for Chop Shop, and how, if at all, did the story change as you wrote it?
Well over a decade ago, I was working at a rental car company and it was my oh-so-glamorous job to clean out all the stuff people will leave inside those cars — including, one time, a giant bag of crack and another wonderful day when some guy left the guts and feathers of the turkey he’d cleaned in the backseat. Glamorous, like I said. Anyway, someone left a newspaper in one of the cars one day and there was an article about human organ trafficking. I read it over my lunch break and was both fascinated and unable to finish my ramen. I think I started the first draft either that same day or soon thereafter.
First, Chop Shop was a novel. Then it was a screenplay. Then it was a novel again. Then a screenplay once more. Then back to a novel. Every time I’d finish something else, I’d come back to ol’ Chop Shop and try something different with it. Amber and Jolene were originally dudes, for example, Frank Goode was the antagonist, and everything was played straight — like dead serious. Because I felt it had to be, seeing how we’re dealing with the trafficking of human body parts and organs.
Then I read Kubrick: Inside A Film Artist’s Maze by Thomas A. Nelson (highly recommended) and in that, Nelson talks about how Dr. Strangelove was originally supposed to be a very serious adaptation of Peter George’s very serious novel Red Alert and how, eventually, Kubrick realized the material could only work as a comedy and how, as such, it’d even help the grimmer aspects of the story be even more poignant because of the stark tonal contrasts and other stuff I like to pretend I understand.
Bang. That’s it.
Chop Shop sounds like it’s a medical horror story. Is that how you see it, or are there other genres, subgenres, or combinations of them at work in this story instead or as well?
I’d say it’s a medical horror story mixed with a crime thriller. I pitched it as horror just because of the level of violence and gore, which to my mind doesn’t automatically nominate something as horror but I figured that’d be a way to prepare editors for what’s in store.
It’s been interesting watching people categorize it on Goodreads. It’s mostly getting shelved under horror but a few are filing it under crime thriller. One person put it under memoir / autobiography, which made me laugh, but I assume they just clicked the wrong thing. I mean, I hope for many reasons Chop Shop isn’t someone’s memoir I accidentally wrote!
Moving on to influences, which every writer loves talking about, are there any authors or specific stories that had a big influence on Chop Shop but not on your first novel, Knuckleduster, or anything else you’ve written?
It’s probably obvious to anyone who’s read Chop Shop that I’m a huge fan of Elmore Leonard. I was also heavily inspired by George Higgins, Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, and Donald Westlake / Richard Stark. I’m a big dialogue guy. Stick some bad people in a room, toss a problem in there with them, lock the door, and have them work it out and / or kill each other. And those writers do that pretty darn well.
Though not so much for dialogue, Will Christopher Baer had a big influence on me with how far you can push content (taste too perhaps) as well as pacing and characters with unusual motivations that are still anchored in believability — which can be tricky. I’d say the same for Clive Barker, who I started reading when I was far too young. Barker is outstanding when it comes to building characters. He’s known for his psycho-sexual body-horror otherworldly dreamscape stories, which are all great, but they’re made even better because he really, really makes his characters not just stand-ins for bad things to happen to but three-dimensional people and, man alive, he is good at that.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have an influence on Chop Shop?
Chop Shop was a long time coming, so it passed through a lot of foster homes of influence over the years. I watched Breaking Bad and that, for example, had an impression on one draft. Again, for anyone who has read Chop Shop, like with Leonard, they probably picked up on my love of Tarantino. Like I said, I’m a big dialogue guy and, well, if you absolutely, positively have to hear some great dialogue: accept no substitutes. I also like Guy Ritchie’s early movies for that same reason as well, as his approach to stories about wannabe criminals who get way in over their heads and the situational humor that can come from that. Scorsese, naturally. De Palma. Schrader. On the horror side, the early stuff of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Cronenberg, especially when he started to move away from horror into things like Eastern Promises and A History Of Violence, crime stories that still have his horror sensibilities bursting through when you least expect.
And what about the music or movies of Mr. Rob Zombie, who, you say in your bio, you’ve been mistaken for “on no less than ten separate occasions”?
I really enjoy Rob Zombie’s music and his films, especially The Devil’s Rejects. I get a kick out of it when someone says I look like him instead of, say, Hagrid for example, which has also happened, but I wouldn’t say Zombie had a direct influence on Chop Shop apart from maybe his willingness to let his characters just exist as these reprehensible, often disgusting individuals.
Speaking of being mistaken for other people, do people ever confuse you with sci-fi writer Andrew Timothy Post?
No, but if he and I should ever run into each other I think we’re obligated by ancient law to drop what we’re doing and have a sword fight. “There can be only one.”
I make that joke but I’m about as graceful as a bag of laundry. So, take it easy on me, Andrew Timothy Post.
Earlier we talked about the movies that inspired Chop Shop. But has there been any interest in making a movie out of Chop Shop? Or maybe a TV show or video game?
Well, there’s some interest brewing about adapting Chop Shop. We’re still waiting to hear back so whether they’re thinking TV show or movie, I don’t know. I italicize interest because having gone through this before with other novels, as exciting as that possibility might be — and flattering, certainly — I can’t hold my breath for anything because I’ll just drive myself crazy. That, and the cold fact is that less than 2% of novels get optioned and of that 2%, 2% actually go on to materialize into something. So, not phenomenal odds. I mean, personally speaking, I think Chop Shop would make for either a pretty fun movie. I’d watch that.
If that happened, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
All right, if any author claims they don’t spend what’s probably an unhealthy amount of time thinking about this, their pants are on fire.
I saw Set It Up on Netflix, which couldn’t be more different from Chop Shop, but Zoey Deutch has this incredible comedic timing and really got across the frustration and anxiety of working for her terrible boss in this fun, relatable way. Seeing her in other things since, I noticed she has the outstanding ability to play it light and silly when it calls for it but then hone that energy to this very serious and raw, heartfelt level — in the same movie, sometimes the same scene, which I think is very impressive. If I were to have any say in the casting, she’d be who I’d recommend play Amber, number one.
For Jolene, Sunita Mani. She’s on GLOW, which I really love. Sunita Mani’s character on that starts out kind of shy and awkward, but soon becomes this outstanding wrestler and performer and is she’s so dedicated to helping make this ragtag group come together as a team. She can convey so much heart and care and with a single look give this earnest I have doubts, but I still really hope all this works out okay so, so well. And for Jolene, that’d fit perfectly.
For Frank: Bradley Whitford [Get Out], hands down. In most roles I’ve seen him in, he brings this sort of strange, fun energy to them — aloof, sarcastic, deadpan, sharp, sometimes wrathful, and really, really funny when it calls for it too. For me, it’s easy to picture Whitford as an ex-con former surgeon looking at the carpeting of dead gangsters across his living room floor and give one long resigned sigh. “Well, great. Now what?”
Jeffrey Wright as Ted. That voice, first of all. Wright’s characters often radiate this powerful degree of intelligence, like he’s always 50 steps ahead of everyone else but isn’t showy about it — he just is. He plays characters that are often a little unkempt, professorial, but frequently unflappable — like in Westworld — but when it calls for him to unravel, he shatters himself with such a realness it really makes you feel for what his character is going through.
Scoot McNairy as Shawn “Slug” Klegg. McNairy was great on Halt And Catch Fire. He often plays guys that are down on their luck, a little messed up, maybe on the edge of broken — and plays them very well. Slug, bless his stupid little heart, is all those things.
And Steve Buscemi as Cornelius.
Finally, if someone enjoys Chop Shop, what similar book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, which Tarantino adapted into Jackie Brown. There’s a lot of scenes where it’s just characters talking while the plot seems to become secondary — and it’s always a treat to just soak in how Leonard could have people just talk about nothing really in particular and still manage to keep it captivating, clever, and oftentimes funny. And speaking of the plot, at any minute, it can go off in any one direction with every character — from Jackie, Ordell, Louis, Max, Melanie — having a different goal in mind, most trying to get their hands on that money. Apart from Max, who really just wants to be with Jackie, in what might one of Leonard’s best hard-boiled love stories second only to Out Of Sight.