In screenwriter Daniel Pyne’s new book, A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar, a middle-aged high school shop teacher up and buys a long-abandoned gold mine in a tiny Colorado town. It sounds like an author’s conceit, but it’s actually based on real life. Years ago, Pyne’s brother bought a mine, providing Pyne, a screenwriter known for such films as The Manchurian Candidate, Pacific Heights, and Fracture, the inspiration for his second book, one of our Critic’s Picks for March.
How much of your brother’s mining experience made it into Hole in the Ground?
“Inspired by” is the best version. The kind of technical details of it are based on his experience—specific things like my memories of standing outside the mine and smelling the pines. I only went there a couple times to hear stories of things that happened. … It was free research. It was the experience of seeing him, the sort of humorous part of my brother buying this gold mine, that inspired me to write this very different story about a man who buys a gold mine on eBay.
What’s your brother think of the book?
He’s pretty amused by it. He’s been reading it. He wrote me an email saying, “It’s exactly the way I remembered it.” My brother’s very dry.
Why does the character of Lee buy a gold mine?
Not because of midlife crisis. He does it because he’s looking for mystery that has vanished from his life, the joy of discovery, the joy of the unknown. Everything that’s happened to him over the past few years in terms of his regular life has been kind of a downer for him. He’s stuck in this rut. He buys it not even with the intention of finding gold. As it says in the book, the gold is not the point. The point is the pursuit of the gold, it’s adventure.
Are we, per the title, supposed to think of Lee as a liar?
In a way. Another title that I toyed with was A Liar’s Heart. I think he’s lying to himself a little bit. It’s a story about people who are coming to terms with the lies they’ve been telling themselves and each other. Lee is the character who think he hasn’t been lying, and he kind of has been — about what his life is.
Which is more fun to write, a screenplay or a novel?
I like them both, for many different reasons. I tend to be a very visual writer, so screenplays have always appealed to me for the power of the picture. But I have to say that the drawback to screenwriting is it’s a document that’s really never finished. It’s never intended to be finished—it’s a kind of working blueprint that turns into something else and makes everyone agree to collaborate and make a movie. I was always frustrated because I like writing, and I love being able to write a story that makes people want to make a movie. But I also think that what I’ve written has some integrity. So the first time that I saw my words on the page of a book, I knew that no one would ever be able to give me notes and make me change any of them. It was a great feeling.
Daniel Pyne is currently working on a third book, a sort-of thriller set on Catalina.