RYAN QUINN: I TREAT WRITING THE SAME WAY I TREAT RUNNING
by Ognian Georgiev
Originally published November 14, 2014, on Georgiev’s blog
Ryan Quinn’s second book End of Secrets became a big hit three weeks before its official release. The novel made a Top 10 move to Kindle Amazon Bestselling list and even spent some moments as number 1. Our next guest will be a real nice guest for every journalistic article. We’ve got a chance to speak with one future star in writing.
Ryan, welcome to the blog. What is your next book End of Secrets about?
I’ve always found this to be one of the hardest questions for an author to answer, simply because after hundreds of hours spent developing, thinking about, writing, and revising a novel, I’m just way too close to it. I pretty much get tongue-tied when I try to boil it down to a sentence or two.
But this question is, in fact, a totally reasonable one! So I’ll say this: On its surface, End of Secrets is a thriller that takes place in the very present-day world of cyberespionage, big data, and surveillance. Specifically, it’s about a covert agent, Kera Mersal, who has no idea what she’s getting into when she’s assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearances of several popular artists. I hope there’s a few extra layers of depth buried beneath the superficial “thriller” label, but I’ll leave that up to readers to discover and judge for themselves.
How did you decide to write the story?
I like spy thrillers and spy movies, but a lot of them come either from the Cold War or they’re set in a future that relies heavily on speculative technology. Though I have nothing against historical fiction and sci-fi, I’m most drawn to stories that are topical and plausible, with dilemmas rooted in the present. And I really enjoy books that, in addition to telling a compelling story, resonate deeper with important social and cultural topics. So I more or less set out to write the book I wanted to read—great advice for writers, which I think I first heard Ann Rice offer up once at a book event.
How will our new digital technologies impact espionage? How will corporations use them? How does this affect our actual daily lives? Our art? Privacy? I was curious about these questions as a citizen. And as an author, it felt irresistible to try to explore them through fictional characters with life-or-death stakes.
What was the biggest challenge during the write-up process?
Researching the technology. I’m not a techie. At all. I’m the guy who just gives up on watching TV if the remote control doesn’t work after I push a few of the obvious buttons. But I’m also the guy that gives up on a story if the details aren’t authentic. So I made a point to immerse myself in nonfiction books on how the Internet works, on data mining, and on the intelligence community. Honestly, I had a great time doing all that research and spending so much time grappling with these interesting problems, and that only gave me more confidence that this was a story that I wanted to explore.
Tell us something more about your main character? Is it close to someone from your real life?
Not at all. My main protagonist, Kera, is smart, ethnically ambiguous, and dedicated to her day job. In other words, she’s nothing like me! Which, it turns out, makes her very good at being an intelligence agent, but it also gets her into a fair amount of danger.
How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
The short version: it took about two years. There are always three phases to the process. The first is me alone writing, which for End of Secrets took about a year. Then I make a few friends read the draft, and they always have pretty smart things to say about it, so then I spend another month or two revising a new draft. Finally, I submit it to the publisher and spend another month trying not to think about what they think of it as they’re reading. Once I signed the contract, there were eight more months of additional editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, etc. And now, finally, it’s made its way out into the world.
You’ve been selected as Kindle First book nominee. Tell us more about the selection process?
It’s a mystery. I didn’t even know that End of Secrets was being considered for the Kindle First program until I got a call from my editor telling me it had been selected. As people who read e-books know, Kindle First is a fantastic opportunity to read new releases a month early and to try out new authors. And for authors, it’s a mind-blowing opportunity to get your book some exposure that would be impossible otherwise. I feel very fortunate that the team at Thomas & Mercer, my publisher, has fought so hard to get End of Secrets in front of so many readers.
What were your first thoughts when you saw End of Secrets in Top 10 of Kindle bestselling books?
I’ll admit that on the first day the e-book launched, I frequently refreshed the Kindle bestseller list on my computer. The book’s ranking kept jumping up the list every few hours —900,000…1,500…600…300…30. And then around dinnertime, all of a sudden it was number one. That was a thrill. I had been in my hotel in New York resting up for the NYC Marathon, which was the following day. But after it hit number one I sort of lost focus on the race. I met up with some friends and had a few celebratory beverages that aren’t normally a part of my pre-race routine.
Give us some info about your previous book The Fall?
The Fall is a college coming-of-age story. It’s smaller in scope than End of Secrets, but at its heart it’s about self-discovery, independence, and the roller coaster ride of chasing a dream—which I think are things that everyone encounters as they enter adulthood.
Who are you?
I’ve been writing for nearly ten years, but only recently have I begun to think of myself as an author. I’ve been a lot of other things too: I grew up in Alaska. In college I was a competitive cross-country ski racer. Then I worked in book publishing in NYC for a few years. Now I live in LA, work at an ad agency, and train for marathons.
What are your writing habits?
I treat writing the same way I treat running: I do it at least six days a week, no excuses. And each day, I stay in the chair writing until I’ve finished the day’s goal. Every writer can handle the easy days—those days when the words just come easy and you never feel stuck. Just like every runner has days when running ten miles feels quick and effortless. But most days it’s a grind. And those days are the most important. You can’t start skipping them or nothing gets done.
On a typical day, I get up at six and get a run in, then I go to a coffee shop and write for two to four hours. I like coffee shops because it forces me to stay in one place and not be tempted to get up and do household chores or turn on the TV. And then I’m off to work by noon. If I have time later in the day, I try to go back and edit what I wrote that morning and I also try to think a little bit about what the writing goal is for the next day so that I hit the chair writing, so to speak.
Are you satisfied by the presales of the book?
I’m completely humbled by how much exposure End of Secrets has been given—all before the official release date. I’m still a relatively young and unknown author, so getting my books in the hands of so many new readers is what any author in my position wants most. And then to see it hit number one on the Kindle best-seller list—yeah, it actually can’t get any better than that.
Do you have plans for a new novel?
I do. In fact, this month I’m finishing up a draft of the sequel to End of Secrets. Stay tuned!
What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
I’m very lucky to have a publisher that understands the value of programs like Kindle First and other online promotions targeted to readers who are looking for a new book to read. That takes a lot of pressure off me to generate buzz on my own. Promoting books is difficult, not only because it can be time consuming, for example, to write blog posts, pitch reviewers, and maintain a presence on social media, but mostly because none of that comes anywhere close to guaranteeing a book’s success. Word-of-mouth recommendations are always the best, but they can’t be forced or bought. I love hearing from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Oh, and I made a book trailer, which was a fun project:http://youtu.be/Xs76NIU4c2A. But does any of that stuff sell books? Who knows! Usually when I get stressed out about whether I’m doing enough to promote my book, I remind myself that I should be spending that time writing the next one.
You’ve got an experience in running marathons. Would you describe how tough is to pass such a challenge?
I did my first marathon in 2008, several years after “retiring” from competitive skiing, and two weeks ago I completed my seventh. Every single one of them has been excruciatingly painful, especially during the last six miles. I recommend it to no one and I have no idea why I keep doing them. I’m half-kidding. I love the atmosphere at big marathons—fifty thousand runners and cheering crowds lining the streets the whole way. Then you can eat whatever the hell you want afterward. And, as I mentioned before, training seriously for marathons has given me some really good writing habits as well as providing a lot of solitary hours to listen to audiobooks or sort out plot issues I feel stuck on.
Why you didn’t continue with skiing?
I ended my college ski career on a big high note: winning an NCAA championship with my teammates at the University of Utah. The next step after that would have been to try to make an Olympic team, which had been a dream of mine since I was very young. But training at that level is a full-time job. You have to structure your whole life around it. Meanwhile, I had become interested in other things—career, relationships, new challenges. Rather than train for another four or eight years, I decided to move to NYC and beg for the lowest paying job in Manhattan: editorial assistant at a major book publisher. It worked out. I have no regrets.
If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be? (Don’t forget to answer)
What do you like most about books? Books allow for those private, internal moments when you read a phrase and it gives form to something you have always known, but perhaps had never discussed with anyone else or hadn’t thought about it in just that way. This is a major advantage books have over other art forms, such as film or music. Books’ power to expand our perspective of the world in tangible ways is unrivaled.
Have a question? Ask it via Goodreads "Ask the Author"!