Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome David Ryan to the blog.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I came to the author game late in life. I didn’t start writing my first novel until I was 45, which was both surprising and disappointing to me, because I’ve had as a goal since college to write a novel. I ended up in another writing direction first. I spent more than 30 years working as a journalist, writing, editing, and managing at newspapers before leaving for a marketing job. My career as a novelist started one night when I was traveling as a reporter and couldn’t sleep one night. So I started. And I got up the next morning and added to what I’d written. And added more that night. By the time I took the time to do any plotting, I had five or six chapters. I realized I needed to map out the story somewhere other than my head and create some characters with backstories, personalities, and descriptions. I write mysteries and thrillers because that’s what I’ve always enjoyed reading. And they’re fun to write.
Why crime writing?
I was an avid reader as a kid, and one of the series that captured me early on was the Alfred Hitchcock Investigators series. This was a variation of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys books, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I was hooked. When I’d watch TV on Sunday nights, we tuned into shows like Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife. Sometimes you knew the criminal right away because they told you But what they showed was how the detective solved the crime. Toward the end of my journalism career, when I’d already started writing Dead Odds, I managed a breaking news team, which was basically the crime team. That pretty much sealed the deal.
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
I didn’t know until college. I was fortunate to have two people give me a kick-start. My youth-league basketball coach was a journalist, and he helped me land a gig working Friday and Saturday nights on the sports agate desk at one of the local papers. Those were the two busiest nights in the department, and if you could survive those, you could make it in the newspaper business. After a while, one of the editors let me cover games. Once he learned I could make deadline, I was in. The second person was a manager at a restaurant where I worked, and her brother was the editor of a local sports magazine. She learned I was writing and introduced me to her brother. He gave me some writing assignments, and I was in heaven. I eventually joined the college newspaper staff. Even though I was writing and getting paid for it, I didn’t find my writing voice for many years. I think that came when I finally relaxed and started telling as many stories as I could in the way that I wanted to tell them. At some point, the editors stopped editing so hard and started letting my ways get into the paper.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
Our two pooches are with me constantly – in my heart. During the writing of Dead Odds, we had to face the hard choice that most pet owners confront at some point. Both our Miniature Schnauzers crossed the Rainbow Bridge in recent years. Baron was older, stocky and muscle-bound with a smooth, silver coat and a feisty, all-guard-dog disposition. He was sweet, but he disliked kids. And he ran the house – until Xena joined us. That first night, we gave Xena a toy to play with. She wrestled with it until Baron stole it from her and took it to play with underneath the coffee table. When Xena, at 12 weeks old, barked at him and tried to retrieve it, Baron growled and chased her away. The next night, the same scene played out. We gave her the toy, he took it, and she went after it. This time, though, when Baron growled, she pounced. With sharp puppy teeth, she bit him on the ear and walked off with her toy. It was Baron’s last day running the household. Baron used to lay in a chair next to my work desk at home, snoring away as I rewrote scenes from Dead Odds. Xena, as her name suggests, was a fierce pup but what a sweetheart. But she was not a literary companion. She didn’t tolerate others not paying attention to her, and in many ways she was more cat than dog. She preferred to sit in my lap when I wrote. But she refused to stay still, and often she opted to be in another room where she could lay in the sunlight or watch lizards outside.
How do you fill the pet void? Do you see yourselves having more pets?
My wife and I get asked that all the time. We don’t have a final answer. We want to do some traveling, but at some point I think we’ll get another dog or two. Right now, we’re the resident dog-sitters of our neighborhood. Two young couples around us occasionally need help when they travel or have conflicts, so now we’re a second home for Buster and Bonnie. Buster is a black mutt who has some Dachshund in him. He’s excitable. I can’t get any writing done with him around. He wants to play too much. Bonnie is a young Miniature Schnauzer who reminds us so much of Baron and Xena. She’s silver and has a beautiful coat and a wonderful temperament. She likes to bark, but she’s a doll. My wife likes that neither Buster nor Bonnie like to lick people in the face.
Did you have childhood pets?
I didn’t. I am allergic to long-haired dogs and all cats. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m still allergic, but at some point I was around a dog that didn’t shed, and my sinuses didn’t go haywire. When my wife and I got married and I was traveling a lot, we thought a dog made sense for us. (We have no kids.) And it worked.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
There are no pets in Dead Odds. Well, wait. The protagonist, Conrad Keane, reveals that he had a pet dog as a teen but had to leave the dog at home when he left for college. In the second book in the Keane series, tentatively titled Dead Sleep, Keane gets reunited with a Miniature Schnauzer. At least, that’s the case in my current draft.
What are you reading now?
I just finished November Road by Lou Berney. Up next are two novels by fellow Floridians, Four Years Gone by Dallas Gorham, Beached by Micki Browning, and Yard Goat by Ray Flynt. At some point soon, I’ll get to Holy Ghost, John Sandford’s latest Virgil Flowers novel, and Bob Woodward’s Fear.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
Well, this blog post. I have another guest blog post teed up for the International Thriller Writers website. The work on Dead Sleep is always there, and I am working on a short story about an ex-mobster who is living quietly in northern Florida. Although my days as a journalist are behind me, I write a number of blog posts, emails and internal office missives in my role at a digital marketing and technology company.
Who is your favorite author and why?
There are three authors I will read anytime, anywhere: John Sandford, Lee Child and Pat Conroy. I enjoy Sandford and Child because they drive stories as if they’re running a race and they don’t dare slow down. Conroy, who died in 2016, captured me shortly after college with Prince of Tides. I grew up in the South, and Conroy’s11 language and sense of the South grabbed my heart and dragged me around for years. But one of the things I’ve discovered in this author journey is that there are so many great books out there written by people you’ve never heard of before.
What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
First is “show, don’t tell.” This is a much more nuanced approach to writing than I was aware of. Telling is saying someone was angry. Showing is having the person throw a cellphone across the room after learning something bad has happened. The second thing is how important beats and tags are to telling a story the right way. As a journalist, I could finish every paragraph with the same attribution: he said or she said. You can’t do that as a novelist.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
I give the advice that was given to me: read. Read a lot. There are those who say to study the language, the word construction and the engineering of whatever it is that you like to read. For me, those things didn’t stick until much, much later in my writing career. I just loved to read entertaining stories. But if you read a lot, you will by necessity read a variety of authors and styles. You’ll find a genre and an author (or two or three) who speaks to you.
David Ryan is a former award-winning journalist turned mystery and thriller author. After more than 25 years as a sports writer, assigning editor, digital editor and people manager, Ryan opted out of daily journalism for a second career that includes crafting crime fiction stories. His first book, Dead Odds, is available in eBook on Amazon. The paperback version will be available next month. He lives in Orlando, Florida, with his wife.
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