Interview with Ryan Quinn
What genre do you write and why?
I write espionage thrillers set in the present day. I’ve always loved spy thrillers, but I’m particularly drawn to the challenge of writing modern-day stories because it allows me, via my characters, to dig into the key technological and social issues that we’re all grappling with as a culture.
The protagonist of my current thriller The Good Traitor, and its predecessor End of Secrets, is Kera Mersal, a former CIA-operative who’s accused of treason after leaking documents that exposed an illegal domestic surveillance program. In addition to the action, the books weigh the impact of surveillance, cybersecurity, privacy, and the role of the media.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Keep writing, keep reading. There’s really no other way to do it. It’s probably best not to listen to other people’s advice. There isn’t anything I can tell you that you won’t better discover on your own through writing and reading as often as possible. If you’re passionate about writing and connecting with readers, and committed to it for the long haul, you’ll figure out what you need to make it work best for you.
What's the best thing about being a writer?
I find the level of observation and reflection required to write a novel-length book to be very rewarding. When we talk or read or think on our own, we can learn a lot about ourselves and the world we live in. But the act of writing is really the act of thinking on a much deeper level. You write and then you revise over and over. And that process forces you to discover things you never would have otherwise—including things that the reader never sees on the page.
Obviously, there’s a big thrill when you have a book published and see the impact it has on other people. But those moments are so few and far between. It’s the daily reward I get from working in the trenches that sustains me.
How long did it take you to write your book?
The Good Traitor took about a year to write, and then another nine months of editing and seeing it through the publication process. That’s a few months faster than my previous book. Ideally, I’d love to get it down to a book each year. But I’m not going to force something for an arbitrary timeline. I think six to nine months of writing and three months of revising would make sense for me, creatively. But it’s not always about that. Unfortunately, life has a way of stealing me away from that ideal writing schedule.
Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
Every day. I tend to need to do a lot of research for my books, so I start learning new and unexpected things even before I’ve written a chapter. But once I start outlining and writing and watching it all come together, the scope keeps expanding and new areas of meaning and learning open up. It’s like I said before, writing forces you to think and observe at a different level. When you do that every day, you’re going to learn things you never saw coming.
How do you research your books?
Mostly by reading or listening to other relevant books. I do spend a good deal of time discovering resources online, especially if a very narrow question needs answering, but for wrapping my head around a big topic like the Edward Snowden leaks, cybersecurity, or big data, I turn to books written by experts. One of my tricks is to listen to audiobooks while I’m running or driving in the car. It saves me time and makes it so that most of my day is spent immersed in whatever topic I’m trying to absorb.
What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
Right now I’m working on a standalone thriller that is unrelated to The Good Traitor and End of Secrets. The new book is about the colliding worlds of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Both of those fields are on the cusp of some revolutionary breakthroughs that, in our lifetimes, might seriously impact what it means to be human. So the stakes there are high and I couldn’t resist getting a piece of the action.
What are you currently reading?
Most of what I’m reading and listening to now is for research in support of the book I’m working on. But I’m still always reading at least one novel strictly for pleasure. Right now that’s a debut novel called Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley. I got an advance copy and it’s incredible. It’s one of those books that stands out from the first page. It comes out in June and it’s going to be huge.
For research, I’m reading an academic essay collection called The Future of the Brain, written by various scientists; a fascinating book by the philosopher John Searle called The Mystery of Consciousness; and I’m listening to Tales from Both Sides of the Brain by Michael Gazzaniga, which is part memoir about his life in science and part explanation of our current understanding of neuroscience and what we know about how the brain creates the mind.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I stay pretty content if I’m able to run, write, and read every day. Most weekends I play beach volleyball, and my fiancé and I are pretty social with our group of friends.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
All the basics can be found at my website, ryanquinnbooks.com. The Good Traitor and End of Secrets are easy to find on Amazon, but feel free to ask about them at your local bookstore if you prefer. I’m also on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I love hearing from readers, so drop me a note if you’ve got a question or comment.