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When Entertainment Meets
Soul Searching:
Interview with Justin DiPego

By Carin Chea

In an era where memoirs and imposing treatises are rampant, author and artist Justin DiPego escapes falling into either of those formulas by knowing what readers want – to be entertained.

DiPego understands that, especially in our current landscape of struggle and adversity, what the world needs more of is adventure, not indoctrination.

As an expert horseman, handyman, producer (his production company is DiPego Now Entertainment), the author seamlessly weaves in life experience and difficult social dilemmas in story.

Written by any other hand, this might seem heavy and burdensome. But, in DiPego’s case, the reader is treated to a welcomed escape into a fantastical reality.

Wrong Side of a Workingman by Justin DiPego

You’re an actor, writer, producer, and…horseman! Tell us about which came first and how the others followed.

Fundamentally, writer came first. I was always a storyteller even as a child. I come from a family of writers. My father is a screenwriter, my brother is a novelist, my mother was a writer. My brother is married to a novelist. That was definitely where I started.

The acting grew out of that because it was performative storytelling. The other things were skills I acquired along the way. I started horseback riding when I was 3 years old.

As I became a young adult, and needed a day job, I knew I didn’t have the disposition where I had to deal with the public. My friends were becoming waiters and bartenders. I couldn’t see myself doing that.

I went into construction accidentally. You know the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles? That’s where I learned how to swing a hammer; construction became a day job for me from that day forward.

Before the internet, I looked up all the horse ranches within 20 miles. You know, LA is full or horses. I started applying and asking if they needed a hand. Teaching lessons, training horses, taking a trail ride out.

As a writer, all those experiences inform your writing.

It sounds like those experiences are what inspires you as an artist?

There’s all these different worlds in Los Angeles. Many years ago, in college, I spent a summer in India. Years later, my mom asked me, “How come you’ve never written the story of your time in India?” But, all the experiences I had that summer are in my stories even though I didn’t specifically write a story about being 19 and spending a summer in India.

I learned so much while I was there about the human condition, culture shock – it informs my writing to this day.

It sounded like that was a true turning point in your writer’s journey.

Yes, but I was never sheltered as a kid. I started taking the public bus by myself when I was in the third grade. But, I was still a white, middle-class kid from California.

So, to be dropped down into New Delhi with my girlfriend at the time – we had to survive and it was a life-changing experience.

You’ve published several books. Tell us about them and what your latest project is about.

My latest project is Wrong Side of a Workingman and it takes place in LA. It’s about a guy who, like myself, is a handyman. He’s an electrician. Alex is an electrician who goes from home to home solving problems for people.

But he develops this debilitating pain in his neck and shoulder. With this chronic pain comes a terrible short temper. Up to this point, Alex has been a loving husband and father, but with the temper, things boil over.

He loses his job. He breaks a mirror at home. His wife takes their daughters and leaves.

Devastated, he ends up meeting a Mexican mystic in East LA who informs him that there’s a curse on him and that he is out of balance. In order to lift the curse, he has to find these 10 places across Los Angeles that are also out of balance in different ways.

He has to right the balance in these places so that he can lift his curse.

Wrong Side of a Workingman Map of Los Angeles

It grows off of what Alex does every day as an electrician, going into people’s homes and solving problems. The tasks around the city become more and more metaphysical.

Initially they’re physically grounded, but as the magic that exists under the crust of our reality becomes exposed, he starts to see that metaphysical world that we all share but don’t see.

How did you come up with Wrong Side of a Workingman?

I was a handyman. I was also installing skylights. I visited hundreds of homes and businesses and got peeks into all these different worlds across the city.

When you do a job like that, you quickly realize you become invisible. You can be in someone’s home for 5 hours and they forget you’re there. I witnessed all kinds of lives in these unfiltered ways because I was a non-entity to them.

I wanted to find a way to share these glimpses, but I didn’t want to write a memoir.

Where I landed was to do a modern re-telling of the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

What’s that?

Hercules is cursed and is driven temporarily insane by the Greek goddess Hera. In that moment of insanity, he murders his wife and children. He then has to spend (as penance) time doing the 12 labors.

I took that as my framework and brought it into a modern context. I wanted a real-life guy dealing with the repercussions of toxic masculinity. Alex is trying to live his life in a way that going on here that I think people don’t realize. So many of those people have never been here or never lived here or they just got there.

I try to be politically aware and active, but I get very bored reading “serious” stuff. I’m not saying I don’t read that stuff, but I don’t read it for fun. That’s why Wrong Side and Seven o’Clock Man take the approach of using a dramatic narrative to address more serious issues.

It’s also illustrated. It isn’t toxic. This is important for him as a character, but also for me as an author and a man. How do I move forward in the world with positive masculinity?

What I set out to do was tell an entertaining story. The subtext of it, in regards to interconnectedness and positive masculinity, is secondary to it being an entertaining story. Similar to the how the ancient myths are rousing adventures, yet they’re also lessons.

Justin DiPego

If you were to cast Wrong Side, who would play the protagonist?

The name that comes first is Jon Bernthal. His career is really taking off now. He was the deputy in Walking Dead. I really like him because I’ve seen him have that similar kind of approach, that positivity.

He’s clearly a physically capable rough-and-tumble kind of guy, but he’s also intellectual and smart and wants to do good in the world.

Who would you cast as his wife?

Bryce Dallas Howard. She seems very real to me. I can see her playing the role of the wife of an electrician living in the valley.

Are there any projects in the pipeline that you’d like our readers to know about?

I’m working on the sequel. I’ve planned a trilogy. I’m also a screenwriter and I have a production company where I have a couple of projects in the works.

My last novel, The Seven o’Clock Man, is a murder mystery that takes place on Skid Row in the late 1980s. I’m using the story as a backdrop to talk about gentrification and homelessness and mental health.

Again, I could write a treatise about that, but I instead wanted to write a dramatic horror, thriller mystery with a serious backdrop in the city that we live in. Los Angeles is a character in and of itself.

That’s right! Tell us about that!

There’s 30 of them. This used to be a thing up until the 1960s where books that were for adults were illustrated. There would be pen and ink illustrations that would appear maybe once per chapter or so.

As a kid, I just loved looking at those books. The captions were always opaque. You’d read the captions and they’d be intriguing but not spoilers. If you flip through the book, those illustrations entice you. I enjoyed doing them.

As a storyteller, I like to check as many boxes as I can. If I can do the illustrations, I’d like to do them. I cut together the video book trailer for Workingman. If there is a medium I can use to help tell the story, I’d like to use it.

As I was writing it and editing it, I started seeing more people on BookTok and Twitter talk about wanting adult-illustrated fiction. It’s starting to happen more.

I also created a playlist for the book. There are 19 music references throughout the text. I created on YouTube Music a playlist for all the songs and artists that go along with the story.

Thanks so much Justin for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. It was a pleasure!

For more information on Justin DiPego please visit www.DiPegoNow.com.

Hollywood, CA

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