MORE: Ed Barkin


Conversation with Ed Barkin

Q: What was the inspiration for your novel, "I Wish You Were Dead"?

A: One inspiration was Dostoevsky’s "Crime and Punishment," which I read years ago. The combination of a psychologically complex protagonist with radical ideas and a murder plot really appealed to my sensibility, which is somewhat philosophical, bare bones and noir. I was also inspired by the film “Taxi Driver,” which I think ironically was also inspired in part by "Crime and Punishment."

Q: What’s the basic plot of the book?

A: Basically, it’s about an impoverished graduate student who kills a drug dealer as part of his acting out some philosophical theories that he adheres to. The trouble is he can’t live with himself after he commits the crime and feels a powerful urge to confess what he’s done. The novel’s also something of a love story, since the protagonist ends up in a romantic relationship with a young woman who also finds herself in dire straits.

Q: Is this the first novel you’ve written?

A: It’s not the first one I’ve attempted, but it’s the first I’ve published. When I was in my twenties, I wrote a draft of a novel that borrowed from my experiences in college. A few years after that, I wrote a crime novel that I later threw out in disgust. I also fooled around with some short fiction and poetry, but didn’t try to publish any of it.

Q: What else have you written?

A: I’ve written a lot of screenplays and a couple of stage plays. Three of the screenplays that I wrote I turned into films, with myself as director. My first film was about a New York twenty-something love triangle (or maybe more accurately a love “square,” since it involved four characters). My second film was a satire about a corporate retreat gone awry. And my most recent picture was a film noir drama about a wealthy executive who is taken down by con artists – one of whom is his wife.

Q: Do you think I Wish You Were Dead would make a good film?

A: It’s funny you should ask, because in my first stab at writing this novel I didn’t use the novel form – it was actually a screenplay, which I then later novelized. So the answer is “yes,” I think it would make a good film. The fact that it’s very streamlined and plot-focused and takes place over a very short time frame definitely helps as well.

Q: What’s more challenging in your opinion, writing a novel or a screenplay?

A: I’d say it depends on what the material for the story is. For example, if you’re writing about subject matter that you’re not very familiar with, a screenplay is easier, because no one has to fill in all the details until it’s turned into a film. If you’re writing about something closer to home, for instance something based on your own experiences, a novel might be easier, because it’s not as hard to fit all the details of character and setting you’re familiar with into the story. You’re not limited to just a few lines of action here and there and dialogue to express the characters’ inner life and external environment.

Q: Besides "Crime and Punishment," what novels have had a big influence on you?

A: I would say, for one, Nathanael West’s "Miss Lonelyhearts" – because it‘s so short and to the point, the language is so economical and precise, and the occasional use of metaphor or otherwise poetic language is very effective. I’d also say I’ve been greatly influenced, like many other writers, by Salinger’s "The Catcher in the Rye," and, in addition, by Jay McInerney’s "Bright Lights, Big City" – not coincidentally, both novels about interesting but troubled characters.

Q: What formats is your novel available in?

A: It’s available in a paperback version of 135 pages – and a more densely typeset kindle version of 60 pages or so, that can be downloaded from I think "I Wish You Were Dead" has really good potential as an e-book, as well as a paperback, because of its overall brevity and its relatively short chapters, which make for easy reading on the go. Also, I read somewhere that Amazon now sells nearly 50 electronic books for every 100 it sells in paper form, for titles for which both formats exist. And on Christmas Day 2009, Amazon actually sold more e-books than paper ones! An amazing statistic.