From Handyman to Hercules: The Excitement of Hidden Lives in Los Angeles, Imagined by Justin DiPego.
Justin DiPego found inspiration from his own life for his new novel, by diving into the slices of life he experienced in his earlier days as a handyman working across Los Angeles. Although primarily a screenwriter, Justin grew up in a household of filmmakers and writers and found excitement in indulging in prose he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to in his screenplays. His novel Wrong Side of a Working Man asks readers to contemplate: what if a normal working dude in Los Angeles was cursed? Also inspired by the twelve labors of Hercules, Justin dives into topics like toxic masculinity and finding the courage to right your wrongs. Have you always been a writer or was this a whole new adventure? I come from a family of writers. My father is a screenwriter, my brother is a writer and so was my mother, so from the time when I was little it was always part of our family dynamic. Telling stories was very prevalent in my life. In college, I studied literature with an emphasis on creative writing. How would you describe "Wrong Side of a Working Man?" It’s a modern urban fantasy adventure across the streets of LA that takes you into corners of the city you may not have been aware of. It also explores issues of our interconnectedness, toxic vs. positive masculinity, and our place in the universe, all through the vessel of the main character, Alex.
Alex is a grown-up LA punk rocker with a good life, and a good marriage, who wants to do good in the world, but he loses all of that due to a curse. He has no control over his life and needs to regain it by discovering his place in the world. It starts out very much grounded in the real world and then as the story progresses, it becomes more fantastical and more mythological. He discovers there’s this sort of magical world or realm that exists right under this reality that we live in.
What was your inspiration for writing the book? I have had many different day jobs and I’ve always tried to do jobs that take me out into the world. So, I was working in construction for many years as a handyman and installer of skylights. And doing that across Los Angeles, I ended up visiting all these homes and small businesses where I got these peeks into private moments of different lives all over the city. I wanted to find a way to tell these little vignettes. But I didn’t want to do a straightforward memoir of my time as a handyman. What I stumbled on was a modern re-telling of the twelve labors of Hercules and take my Hercules character and make him an electrician in modern-day LA. What are the twelve labors of Hercules? One of the core myths of Hercules is that he had a curse put upon him by Hera, the wife of Zeus and she cursed him with temporary insanity that leads him to murder his own family. In order to atone for that, he has to perform twelve supposedly impossible tasks. Over the course of these tasks, he needs to right the wrong of having killed his family.
Did you know you wanted to combine something grounded with fantastical elements? I knew I wanted it to feel like something that happened in the real world, but you just didn’t hear about it. I wanted it to feel grounded yet have these fantastical things happening that most people aren’t aware of. Tell us a bit about your background as a filmmaker. I grew up in the business, so I was exposed to film and writing at an early age. I was brought up watching movies in an analytical way. I would stay up late with my dad when he knew there was a classic on the late show because this was before cable. I’m mainly a screenwriter but write novels on the side, however, I’ve always loved films. I’m a very visual thinker and I think films can inform your writing. How has your career as a filmmaker impacted your writing career? Being a screenwriter, you have to be very terse in your language, and in my prose, I get to expand in ways I would never indulge in a screenplay. I can really dig into the minutiae of the moment that you don’t get to do when you’re writing a film.
Rock music is integral to the book. Can you tell us how? Alex, the main character, is a grown-up LA punk rocker. There’s this throughline through the story with music. For example, a song on the radio in his truck that’s a commentary on that moment or a band poster in his apartment that’s looking at him with judgment, etc.
One thing about the LA punk scene that’s important going back to its inception, is it’s a very inclusive scene. The LA punk scene is very anti-homophonic, anti-racist, etc. and that’s an important part of Alex’s ethos. He grew up with that kind of ethos and now that he has this curse on him, he develops this chronic pain and flights of temper and anger, which all flies in the face of his own personal ethos. He’s no longer the man that he used to be, and he has to reacquire his positive masculinity as opposed to toxic masculinity. He’s a physically capable, big, tattooed guy, who may be scary if you didn’t know him. But he’s actually a sweet, gentle, loving father and husband and when this curse comes on him, he loses all of that. I think chronic pain and toxic masculinity go hand-in-hand because men are encouraged to not seek help and bury their pain/emotions and you end up with this cycle of toxicity. Men will lash out when they don’t know how to handle their emotions. You developed a playlist for the book, can you share some of that and how it ties into the novel? There’s a QR code in the back of the book and if you scan that it will take you to a playlist of nineteen songs. These songs are little references that tie into the narrative. It’s an extra way to get a peek into Alex’s world.
Are you writing a follow-up to this book? Yes! This is the first book in a trilogy and I’m chomping at the bit to start working on the next one Where can people read more about you and check out your novel? You can go to https://www.dipegonow.com/ for more info!