- Shane Kuhn's darkly comic thriller, "The Intern's Handbook," debuted this month
- In the book, a law firm intern is a hired hit man, infiltrating top-level companies
- Kuhn: "An intern is basically someone who is hiding in plain sight. ... They do everything"
Interns -- between office duties, they fetch your coffee, pick up your dry cleaning, maybe even cover for you when you play hooky from the office.
But watch your back: That same fresh-faced intern who sucks up to you from 9 to 5 might be gunning for your job or, worse, trying to kill you. At least, that's the premise of Shane Kuhn's darkly comic thriller, "The Intern's Handbook," which was released this month.
In Kuhn's story, John Lago is an intern at a prestigious Manhattan law firm. He's also a hit man, hired to infiltrate top-level companies and assassinate crooked executives, all while disguised as a lowly office intern.
While the plot may sound far removed from reality, Kuhn has found a powerful theme in the working world. Almost everyone trying to climb the corporate ladder has to start out at the bottom; some huge success stories started out as interns, including people like Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs and Sean Combs. CNN's Anderson Cooper was once a summer intern for the CIA.
In recent months, interns have been making headlines, not for the work they do, but for for how little they're paid to do it -- and sometimes, for how they're treated by the boss. A growing number of cities and states are passing laws to protect unpaid interns against sexual harassment and discrimination. There has been a handful of lawsuits from interns against some big targets, including movie studios and media companies, over unpaid wages and overtime.
Kuhn, 46, says he, too, started out as an intern and it always struck him as "odd" how interns have a combination of anonymity and access.
"An intern is basically someone who is hiding in plain sight. Nobody knows their name, no one could pick them out of a lineup, but at the same time, they do everything for their employers," Kuhn says.
Kuhn says his novel wasn't inspired by any horror stories from his working past. There were no horrible bosses, just indifferent ones.
"To the boss, interns are complete nobodies they don't even want to look at," he said. "It's all the people working under the boss, the everyday workers, that take advantage of the interns."
Kuhn says at times he felt like "a bit of an indentured servant" working for the paid employees in his office. "If they wanted to go play golf in the afternoon, but they had filing to do or documents that needed to be pulled, they would just have me do it. Then afterward they say to me, 'Hey man, thanks for doing me a solid, Shawn.'"
Nevermind that his name is Shane.
Ultimately, Kuhn says, he realized he was not going anywhere as an intern.
"You kind of end up bending over backward and then you don't necessarily get a job," he said. "You just get shuffled off and they bring in a new batch of interns to do all their work for them."
But the Fort Collins, Colorado, author's experiences stuck with him, and eventually became fodder for his fiction. He describes his book as the "love child" between two of his obsessions: corporate America and assassins.
"I've always wanted to write a really good assassin's story. To me it's the ultimate blank slate character," he said.
Previous movies and books put a comic spin on the intern story, but Kuhn had a different vision, saying, "There could be something more sinister about an intern, something darker. Then it clicked for me, there's my unique take on the assassin story. It seemed like the perfect thing to apply to interns."
While this is Kuhn's first novel, he has worked for nearly 20 years in the film industry, mostly as a screenwriter, penning such B-movies as "Drive Thru," "The Scorpion King 3" and "SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines." In 1995, he co-founded the Slamdance FIlm Festival, an even more indie version of Sundance in Park City, Utah.
He says he wanted his book to capture the feel of a big screen blockbuster. "I wanted to create enough cues for this to really blow up in your mind and feel like a movie."
Hollywood's taken notice. Kuhn says he's had preliminary discussions with several stars in the entertainment industry about bringing his book to the big screen or television but says he's in no rush to make a deal.
"This is really a dream come true for me," he said. "Finally I'm a published author. I don't want to screw it up. This book is my baby. I'm going to be pretty careful with it."
For now, Kuhn says he's going all-in with "The Intern's Handbook." He plans to have the book's jacket art tattooed on his arm at a promotional event this week. He's already written a sequel and has an idea for a third story, and potentially more, in what could be a future "Interns" franchise.
"I'm moving forward creatively," he said. "I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep writing."