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Overcoming the Jitters

story extras
Writer's note: Swindle & Shuford

other features
Trading Places
Changing the Game
The Sound of Healing
Radio Voices



Jeb QuinlinJEB QUINLIN, THE CENTRAL CHARACTER of Howard Swindle's mystery novel, Jitter Joint, is an alcoholic cop from the backwoods of Texas.

Quinlin checks into a hospital in Dallas for his own addiction and uncovers a series of murders.

The character is also Swindle's alter ego no, he isn't a cop, but he knows what it is to build a life after alcoholism.

"Quinlin is more like me than is comfortable at times," Swindle ('68) says. "I try to write about the things I feel strongly about, and there are a lot of misconceptions about alcoholism."

The book has done surprisingly well, Swindle says. Eye See You, a movie based on the novel and starring Sylvester Stallone, will debut this spring.

Swindle often toyed with the idea of a movie, but he never thought it would happen. And in his imaginings, he never pictured Stallone as the lead.

"My main character is just a 'good ol' boy' who works as a homicide detective in Dallas," he says. "Stallone definitely doesn't fit what I had in mind, but I am flattered."


Out of the backwoods

Swindle's humility has shaped his life.

Despite directing and editing three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper teams and publishing three true crime novels and a second book to continue Quinlin's story, Swindle still thinks of himself as a backwoods kid from Indian Gap, Texas, who worked his way through North Texas.

"I didn't expect to graduate from college, let alone do this much," says Swindle, who is a first generation college graduate. "So I've been pleasantly surprised by getting this far and having all of this success."

At any given moment, whether it's in the UNT graduate course he teaches or at the Dallas Morning News, you can find Swindle in a pair of jeans and cowboy boots. Or you might see him driving an old pickup.

"I hope to never forget where I came from," he says. "I think people who remember their beginnings are a hell of a lot more decent than those who don't. And if you forget where you came from, you take where you're at for granted."

He says he's always been a little short on confidence, especially at North Texas. As Campus Chat editor, he went through countless sessions with faculty criticizing his work.

"At one point I honestly thought I should just give up writing," he says. "But then there were times when it seemed my professors believed in me more than I believed in myself."

More humble beginnings

For a time his self-doubt hindered his novel-writing.

"I've always been intrigued by the idea of writing books but could never get started for fear of failure," he says. "I think there are a lot of talented people with wonderful books in them who are terrified of disappointment.

"In the end, I decided the fear of not trying was greater than the fear of failure."

According to Swindle, Jitter Joint had the most humble of beginnings the idea came during his time in a rehabilitation center treating his own alcoholism 17 years ago.

"I remember thinking this is such a bizarre place full of interesting characters," he says. And in a true writer's fashion, "I thought I should write a book about it."

Making it a mystery novel only seemed natural, since most of his life was spent chronicling the exploits of cops and robbers in the newspapers, he says.

Once the book was done, Swindle was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He did recover and return to journalism.

"What cancer did for me was put everything in fast forward," he says. "When you've enjoyed a great deal of good health, you think nothing will change. You start thinking you're bulletproof and you've got all the time in the world. I know I did."


Hollywood glitz

Universal Studios bought the movie rights to the book for "more zeros than this country boy has ever seen," according to Swindle.

All of this took place in the span of a year after he was turned down by several studios.

But there was a price for those zeros.

Movie studios rarely stick to a book's story unless you're Tom Clancy or John Grisham, so there are more than a few discrepancies between Eye See You and Jitter Joint. Swindle's book is set in Dallas in the summer, and the movie is set in Wyoming in the winter. Jeb Quinlin, the book's central character, is a homicide detective. Jack Malloy, the movie's central character, is an FBI agent.

Swindle couldn't tell you why or how Hollywood picked his book for a movie. He attributes the whole thing to the luck of the draw.

"I've seen so many movies where I've wondered, 'How could anyone have thought that would make a great movie?'" he says. "I'm convinced that tons of good scripts get thrown away every day."


A great ride

Swindle takes it all with a grain of salt and says it's still been a great ride so far.

"When I first began the book, I said, 'God, get me through this without embarrassing myself, and I won't bug you ever again,'" he says. "And once everything was done, I got another book idea. Then it was 'Lord, if you help me find another publisher, I won't ever bug you again.'"

And he did find someone to publish Doin' Dirty, Jitter Joint's sequel.

While it may be premature, Swindle says the whole thing really hasn't changed his life much.

"You'll notice I still have a day job," he says. Swindle is a writer-at-large for the Dallas Morning News. "I think if you grow up poor, you put a higher price on security than most people do. All this attention is fleeting, and I've done more than I ever thought I would."


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