A VERY long overdue with Ryan David Jahn at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate 2012.
I’m very grateful for Ryan taking the time to do this interview as his arrival at Harrogate was a bit of a whirlwind and, at the time I was about to start interviewing him he was mid-way through trying to find out if his lost luggage had reached the UK (and indeed Harrogate) and was only just getting to know a group of his biggest fans on the lawn outside the hotel.
I can only apologise to @RebeccaJBradley for being the arse who nabbed the author away just as she was getting her chance to tell him just how much she loved ‘The Dispatcher’ – I hope she got the chance to do so later in the weekend – but here’s her review just in case, by way of an apology.
The interview,although during one of the 30 minute breaks between panels took place in two locations: The front of the hotel, after we failed to get seats outside and stood for a while so that Mr Jahn could have a cigarette, then into one of the meeting rooms in the main hotel corridor where he was then accosted by David Headley from the beautiful London shop Goldsboro Books (until he spotted the recorder on the table and graciously stepped outside) and then we faced ousting by the Transworld publishers team who were setting up their excellent photo booth in the room. Nevertheless, I did get some great answers from this great crime fiction author.
KBW: When you kick off a new book is there a set pattern for you? Do you start with a character, or something you’ve read in the press? Is there a formula for what sparks a new book?
RDJ: It can really come from anywhere, but it almost always starts whenever I think of a concept for might be the next book a character almost always comes with it and they come together as a package because I guess, to my mind, only one character will work to make this story happen the way it should. As far as the ideas go, like with Acts of Violence I’d heard the story like fifteen years earlier and it was just dancing around in my head.
KBW: It was mentioned during panels last night here at Harrogate, with events in Denver (the shootings at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises), if you took something like that and put it in a work of fiction, people would just go ‘it’s just too unbelievable’.
RDJ: Yes, and I can get ideas from anywhere. Like with The Dispatcher I was working in TV and I hated my job so I decided to do my job terribly so that I would get fired. I just wanted an out, and I just wanted to look for a different type of job and something that would give me material, perhaps, and so I saw an opening for a Police Dispatcher position in Los Angeles and I went and took the test and there’s like five hundred people and they’re all the way around the block and it’s a four hour test, and so I had a lot of time to just stand there and think. And my first thought was what if there’s this Police Dispatcher and his wife calls 911 and he works the nightshift and his house is being burgled and he picks up the phone and is aware of all of what’s happening – that’s a short story – and then it just sort of evolved from there.
RDJ: I used to be a big comic book fan when I was a teenager, just with piles and piles of them and traded them with friends. Then I stopped reading them after a while, but then I was reading a history of comic books called “Men of Tomorrow’ I think and so that and a documentary I watched about Grove Press and the controversy surrounding publication of Naked Lunch and all those other books – the combination of those things brought the story together.
RDJ: No. I think I used to, but now I’d stop myself from doing that – I think if you’re going to write something then you need to take it all the way, no matter what.
KBW: And I guess seeing the repercussions and effects that crimes and violence have are important to see and to read - we need to know that these things hurt.
RDJ: Yes. I really don’t think that books or movies can influence people – I mean they can influence people who are already teetering, but something else would have likely effected them anyway. So, like with Stephen King’s book ‘Rage’ which is no longer in print because there were violent situations where copies of that book were found in people’s lockers. When he was asked about that he said essentially the same thing – that they are going to do something anyway – it’s just maybe the button to make them do it.
KBW: Have you been under any pressure from your publishers to write a series?
RDJ: Not here, and Macmillan UK is really my primary publisher – they’ve been great. Every time I have an idea I just sort of blather some nonsense and they say ‘yes that’s fine’. Penguin in the US have said it’s difficult to sell me there because the books are different enough, with me starting over with new characters each time, but that doesn’t make much sense to me because with all my books the plots are different, but they tend to deal with the same things and the same themes. So, there is some pressure there, not maybe to do a series but to do The Despatcher again but not quite…
KBW: With your TV and scriptwriting background are there any plans to bring any of the novels into development?
RDJ: Anonymous Content has the rights to The Dispatcher, so that might happen, it seems to be moving but I’m not sure how quickly – maybe three years down the line…
RDJ: I don’t have visions of actors but I do watch the scenes play out like the pictures in my head so that’s probably why I write in the present tense, because that’s the way I see it.
KBW: From what you were saying on your panel about the speed that you write when a project deadline is looming, you created a lot of gasps in that room – was it really 12,000 words a day ?!
RDJ: Yes, something around that.
KBW: Well, you certainly put a lot of people to shame right there! I know a lot of people here and some on the New Blood panel yesterday have come through after doing NaNoWriMo – 50,000 words in a month for first draft – and that’s a struggle for most of us, but to produce 12,000 words in a day – well, that IS impressive.
RDJ: I used to tell people when I was asked how quickly I wrote a book, my answer was six weeks, but that’s total bullshit, it’s a lie, I wrote a first draft in six days, but if I say that people will think it’s just a piece of crap! They’d say ‘it took me that long to read it!’
KBW: Can you tell me a bit about how you work?
RDJ: I don’t outline at all, I just let it percolate. I usually have about five or six key scenes that I know are going to happen and I have a character and I just get going. Sometimes I have to go back because I realise something’s going to happen later that I need to foreshadow in some way, so I’ll back and fix that because, if I don’t, then I won’t believe it and it won’t be set up and it’ll be like oh this world is just crumbling. So, yes, I do go back and fix things to make sure they line up properly.
KBW: Between the four books we have here in the UK from you now, were there any others where you got to a stage where you had to discard them and start something new or are those the four you’ve written to date?
RDJ: No, those are the four books I’ve written.
KBW: And how about short stories, do you write those?
RDJ: I used to write a lot of short stories, that’s how I started writing, when I was a teenager. I think I’ve got two filing cabinet drawers full of short stories.
A huge thank you to Ryan David Jahn for what must have been one of the most surreal and disjointed interviews he’s ever had to endure – he was a real pro and a gent throughout and, I’m glad to say, he even found his lost luggage.