Interview with Ryan Quinn
By Folami Morris
Originally published March 10, 2015, on Morris’s blog
Thanks for volunteering your time to answer some questions. What do you love about reading?
My favorite thing about reading is coming upon a sentence that describes something I’d always thought but had never been able to describe myself, or never even thought to try. When eloquent words are put to a particular idea, it completely changes how you think about it. And that’s an experience unique to books, which allows us to be reading peacefully alone and yet be feeling something universal.
What was your favorite book when you were a teen? Why?
This seems random now, but when I was a teen I remember tearing through pretty much all of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers. I guess I liked the action and I liked getting an inside view of the medical field, which was completely foreign to me. That was the first time, outside of required reading for school, that I really understood what it meant to get lost in a book.
What book have you read that kept you guessing—had you riveted to the very last page?
I don’t have a problem putting a book down if it hasn’t captured my imagination by around page 100. So I’m riveted by most of the books I finish. If I have to single out one book, though, the last really good thriller I read was The Fear Index by Robert Harris. It’s about stock market technology that essentially achieves artificial intelligence and begins to do some sinister things. Not only was I riveted to the last page—I went back and read it again a year later.
Is there a book you wish you wrote? What is it and why?
This is a strange question for me. It’s almost the same as asking, “Do you wish you could be someone else?” And I never have. I’ve certainly been envious or admiring of other people’s isolated experiences, but I’ve never actually wanted to be someone else. It’s the same with writing books. Do I wish my most recent book would sell like The Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey? Yes! Do I wish I could consistently give readers the experience of human depth that they derive from reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch? Yes! But I don’t actually want to have written any of those books.
I think the only proper answer to this question is to say that I wish I could write a book as rich and full and perfect as the conception of the book I have in my head when I set out to write it. Because things always get lost in the journey from the mind to the page.
If you had to recommend one book to students what book would that be? Why?
I hope my answer here won’t be seen as ducking the question. The simple answer is that I couldn’t possibly recommend one book that would be a good fit for every student. Just attempting that feels a little authoritarian. Instead, I’d recommend—I’d even require—that students do a little research or a little browsing and read a book of their choosing. Because the books we get the most out of are the ones we approach with our autonomy and curiosity fully engaged. And that, I think, is how you create booklovers.
In another interview, you mentioned that reading poorly written, successfully published novels encouraged you to write. Were there any well-written novels that inspired you to be an author?
Oh yes! I love Ian McEwan, Michael Chabon, Ann Patchett, Michael Cunningham, and Zadie Smith. I consider all of them inspirations too. It’s just that, when I read them, I’m more likely to feel awe or envy than a feeling of, “I can do that. Where’s my computer?”
What prompted you to write a story about a foreign cyber terrorism CIA agent who becomes entangled in the entertainment world? Why did this theme speak to you?
I guess I’m always mining current events for real-life situations that present interesting moral or cultural dilemmas—along with the potential for action and suspense, of course. In the case of End of Secrets, I kept getting drawn into news articles about the intelligence industry’s dependence on private contractors—which seems to me to present a serious conflict. These are for-profit companies being handed hundreds of millions of dollars to operate in almost total secrecy. What could go wrong, right? At the same time, I was also reading more and more about how the NSA’s surveillance capabilities had essentially outpaced Congress’s ability to regulate them properly. This was even before Edward Snowden’s leak of classified documents confirmed all of that. And then the third aspect—the entertainment angle—came into play because large corporations, many of them media companies, not only have a disproportionate influence in our cultural conversations, but they are using data-mining technologies that are in many ways more invasive than what the NSA is doing.
This confluence of scenarios sets up complex issues that we, as a society, are going to have to deal with for decades to come. And because of that, I found that material to be irresistible in setting up the plot of a thriller that could both entertain and also provide a little cultural criticism about entertainment and government secrecy.
What message would you impart to children who want to turn their love of reading and books into a career as an author?
I’d say, “Go write a story!” Because that’s how it has to start. There’s nothing I can tell you about how to be a writer that is as important as what you’ll learn about yourself when you actually start writing. Maybe you’ll write a page—or a hundred pages—and decide writing isn’t for you. Or maybe you’ll find you love it and you’ll write fifty books without running out of things to say. But you’ll never know unless you sit down and start typing on that blank page. Writers should use their imaginations for every part of the process—except the actual writing. That part has to actually be physically done. There are no shortcuts or substitutions.
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