David Benioff joins Joe Dunthorne, Rivka Galchen, Owen Sheers and moderator Susan G. Cole in a round table discussion, Excuse Me, I Have To Write This Down: Life As Material, Saturday (October 25), 1 pm, at Lakeside Terrace; Benioff also reads on Saturday (October 25) at 8 pm at Lakeside Terrace.
David Benioff leads one of those charmed existences that seem to happen only in movies.
Acclaimed novelist, author of blockbuster screenplays like 25th Hour (based on his own novel), Troy and the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine, husband to a hot Hollywood actor (Melinda And Melinda's Amanda Peet).
And he may soon be adding director to that list. Benioff is intent on bringing his second novel, a stunning page-turner set during the siege of Leningrad called City Of Thieves, to the big screen - but only if he's behind the camera.
"Whenever you turn your book or screenplay over to someone else, it's like giving your kid up for adoption," he says. "With a screenplay, you know that already it's the rule of the game.
"When I wrote 25th Hour, there was no way I could have directed it, and I was very pleased with the film that Spike Lee made. But since then I've seen the way the sausage is made and I've watched it go bad too many times, and I'm just not willing to give up these characters to someone else. They've been in my head for too long."
City Of Thieves stars (to borrow a film term for a novel that is already cinematic) Lev, a Russian Jew, and Kolya, a deserter, both accused thieves who are sent on a ridiculous mission to find a dozen fresh eggs so their commander's daughter can have a cake for her wedding even as artillery shells bombard the city.
While the story was inspired by Benioff's grandfather's experiences surviving the German siege of Leningrad during World War II, "this was not my grandfather's story," he says. "His name wasn't Lev and he never went hunting for eggs in Leningrad."
It's been seven years since The 25th Hour was published, around the same time that Benioff wrote the first sentence of City Of Thieves. It took until last year to write the last sentence. Hollywood got in the way - scripts for The Kite Runner, the upcoming Brothers remake of the Danish film and a handful of others in various stages of development.
"It took me a long time to get the voice down for the book. I rewrote the first 20 pages god knows how many times," he says, "partly because I hadn't written like that in a while - screenplays are a very different style and format and are faster to write, and I wasn't used to sitting at a keyboard for four hours and only coming up with a paragraph.
"And the story came to me very subtly, the idea of two young men wandering around looking for eggs. I didn't even know it was Leningrad, or what war it was. I just knew it would be a city under siege, and it grew from there. I tend not to outline with too much detail, partly because I'm lazy, partly because if it's too fully planned you're not going to have as much fun writing it. The fun of writing is the joy of discovery."
One of the great joys of the book is the friendship that develops between Lev and Kolya as they set out on their impossible mission in search of a not-so-dirty dozen.
"I always had this image of the two of them and the banter they shared, the way they constantly insult each other but at the same time are growing more fond of each other. Even though they're in this life-and-death struggle with the Nazis they never stopped chattering," he continues.
"It's a buddy story, and there are certainly elements of a road movie in there. And the historical details are true and as accurate as I can make them: candy made from book bindings and that the buttocks are the best eating for cannibals."
As you can probably tell, City Of Thieves is a very dark book, if darkly comic at times.
"I found the distinctly Russian black humour very inspiring. These people were living in such dire circumstances that we can't imagine. Yet they never abandoned their culture. People were still reading books and going to plays, Shostakovich put on a concert while the Germans were shelling the city and people were there in black tie and tails. Crazy stuff."
Even though it took years to complete and the financial rewards will likely be something less than what he'd make for penning an X-Men movie (unless City Of Thieves sells like Harry Potter), Benioff says being a novelist is easily more rewarding than being a screenwriter.
"A novel is entirely your own; there are no other voices chirping in. A screenplay is never a completed work and you can never even begin to be satisfied until you see the movie, and often not even then," he says.
"And certainly among the intellectual community there's more respect - novelists are considered smarter, screenwriters are considered the retard mercenaries of the writing world. At the same time, if you say you wrote a book, people's eyes glaze over, but if you say you wrote Wolverine, they perk right up.
"Novelists are still considered more prestigious, and playwrights, too, which is ludicrous given that movies are the medium of the culture at this point. Movies have a far greater impact than plays do, and I'm far more excited to read the next Charlie Kaufman script than the next hot young playwright's play."
Speaking of Wolverine, the comic-book movie starring Hugh Jackman that has fan boys in a frenzy (right behind the upcoming Watchmen adaptation), Benioff is pretty mum on what we can expect.
"I would probably be assaulted by goons from Fox studios if I said too much," he says. "I can tell you that Logan (aka Wolverine) is still Canadian. One of my favourite lines in the script is about him being Canadian - unless that's been cut since I last saw it.