Ryan Aldred writes mysteries and thrillers. Today he joins us for an interview. Learn more about him at his website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’ve enjoyed writing and storytelling for as long as I can remember, but it was back in high school when I first attempted to write a novel. I wasn’t really thinking about genre at the time, but I suppose you’d call it a comedic political thriller about a seniors home in the U. S. that declares itself an independent nation. It was and remains completely unpublishable, but I had a tremendous amount of fun writing it. The consensus was that I wouldn’t be able to make a living from writing, so I studied Cognitive Science (computing science and psychology) and shoved my writing to the side for a decade. But I always had one project or another brewing in the back of my mind.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Either four years or fourteen, depending on how you count it.
I was on parental leave with our son when the idea for the Bar on a Beach mystery series came to me. I’m grateful to my very patient and understanding wife for not murdering me when I told her that I intended to start writing a novel while we were still learning how to look after a three-month-old. But I worked at it steadily, and had the first draft of a novel about four months later. That’s when the real work began – editing, querying, more editing, more querying, more editing, and so on.
Within that first year, I wrote the novel, found an agent, and did the first major re-write. In the second year, we went through a slew of rejections, the agent and I parted ways, and I met Deni Dietz from Five Star at the Bloody Words conference in Toronto. We went through two more major re-writes – adding and removing about 15,000 words – before Five Star picked it up in November 2014. It was published in June 2016.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Traditionally published through Five Star, which is part of Gale Cengage. A lot of authors are doing some incredible work via the indie and hybrid route, but I knew my first novel would benefit from an experienced editor. I can’t say enough good things about the work done by Deni Dietz and her team.
Where do you write?
We live in a Victorian-era home in Prince Edward County. There’s an old teak table in the library that’s surrounded by windows overlooking our garden. There’s a bit of motion outside, but not enough to distract. Although my wife and kids are also at home, I like being on the main floor – it lets me feel a part of the household, but still far enough removed that I can focus on my work.
But really, I’ll work anywhere. I write in 90 minute blocks. So long as I can get (relative) peace and quiet for that window, I’ll get some work done. I set a goal of 500 words – about a page and a half, double spaced – per day. 500 words might not seem like a lot but if you do that every single day, you’ll have the first draft of a novel in five months.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I love music, but I just can’t do lyrics when I’m writing. The words get all jumbled. So I listen to a lot of Vitamin String Quartet – they do covers of a lot of big name alternative music. It’s beautiful and upbeat. Their rendition of ‘What’s My Age Again’ by Blink 182 is a personal favorite – it’s beautiful music, which stands in such stark contrast to the song’s filthy lyrics. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VAoHQbndKs ]
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I first visited Rum Luck’s setting of Tamarindo in 2004. It’s just this really great town, with this laid back vibe. Beautiful beach, great surf, awesome people. But it does have a bit of an edge to it. There is a drugs trade in the region, and there’s not much that can’t be had at the right price. Still, Tamarindo has this gravity. It makes you want to sell all of your worldly belongings and live in a shack by the ocean.
Some friends and I joked that we were going to open a bar that we’d rent out to pretend-owners who wanted the experience of running a bar on a beach somewhere. We’d let clients customize the bar however they’d want – so it could be a sports bar one week, and a jazz club the next. Time marched on and we never opened that bar, but that became the basis for the cantina in Rum Luck and the rest of the upcoming Bar on a Beach mysteries.
My characters tend to borrow traits from a handful of people I know in real life. That’s where they start, at least. But as they get out into the ‘real world’ and make decisions, they grow and evolve on their own.
Describe your process for naming your character?
I have a hard time remembering names, so I try and keep my characters’ names as distinct as possible. I also try and space them out on the alphabet. There’s nothing worse than a book with five characters whose names start with ‘M’. And I genuinely feel that names convey a certain personality, and so I reflect that with my characters as well.
Real settings or fictional towns?
I set Rum Luck in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, which is a real town. I think it’s tougher to use real towns – it takes more research, and there’s a greater chance you’re going to make someone angry – but I love the idea of introducing someone to a real place. One reader told me that she felt like she’d been to Costa Rica after reading Rum Luck, and I’m just not sure you get that feeling with a fictional town.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Victoria Holmes flies down to help her friend Ben Cooper when he’s arrested for the murder of the cantina’s former owner. She’s this really smart, sarcastic lawyer who works at this high powered law firm, and who quite enjoys her life of luxury in Toronto. But she’s also always dreamed of being a DJ, so when the chance presents itself, she decides to quit her job and stay in Costa Rica. She’s wearing a business suit during her first set, and picks up the name of Maestra de Escuela or DJ School Mistress. I love exploring the idea of a character who seems to have everything, yet never had the chance to pursue a dream. It seems ridiculous in some ways, but it is very, very human.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
A couple of years ago, I joined an improv troupe by accident. It started with a practice once a week and, before I knew it, we were actually performing. By then it just felt as though it was too late for me to back out. While I never imagined that I’d end up performing on stage that way, I do really enjoy it. As a writer, I’m always trying to get the perfect story eventually. When I’m up on stage, I have to do the best I can with the very limited time available. It makes it easier to go back to writing rough drafts.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I absolutely love Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. She just has a flair for the locked room mystery. I’d love to attempt something that technically demanding one of these days, but I don’t see that happening for a while yet. But I do like having something to aspire to.
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I don’t think you can go back and change just one part in your life. I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that by mucking about with history.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve is when someone complains that a television show / author / musical artist that they pirate isn’t making any new material. If you are completely broke or simply can’t access the content where you live, then I understand. But most of this material cost less than a trip to a coffee shop. If you like what we’re making, vote with your dollar.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A satellite phone, membership with Global Rescue [https://www.globalrescue.com/], and a pizza. By the time I’m done with the pizza, Global Rescue will have me on a helicopter back to the mainland.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
When I first joined the Army, a Sergeant told me that it would be the best and worst job of my life. I thought he meant that some years would be hard, and others would be easy – but no, one moment you can be digging trenches, and the next you’re in a helicopter flying over a frozen lake, so low that you’re below the tree line. I’ve been in the Army Reserve for 18 years now. I’m a Sergeant myself. And I would say it’s the most difficult job I’ve ever done, but I fully intend to stay in until I age out.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
It’s a tossup between Starship Troopers and Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, but I think I’ll have to give the edge to Pratchett. He just did such an amazing job of creating these fantastic characters that seem so very real, and weaving a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I’ve never been a police officer, but the way he wrote Captain Vimes seems so natural. Whenever I read Night Watch, it feels like I’m spending time with an old friend.
Ocean or mountains?
Why not both?
Perhaps our favourite place to visit is Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. It has these beautiful hillsides – not quite mountains, but a fair facsimile thereof – that are covered in rainforest, and they crash down to the Pacific. Best of both worlds.
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I’m a country guy, but I live within a few hours of Toronto. I like knowing my neighbours and buying that night’s dinner from a farm stand, but sometimes you just need to spend some time at a museum and take in a show.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m working on an in-depth re-write of Past Salvage. That’s the first book in the Extractor series, in which the lead operative from a private search and rescue firm is drawn into the black market antiquities trade. I’m hoping to get it out to agents in early 2017.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’d just like to thank everyone for reading. I hope you’ll consider taking a moment to read the opening pages of Rum Luck. I love hearing from readers, so do reach out and let me know what you think of it.
Sand. Monkeys. Murder. Ben Cooper was supposed to be on his Pacific honeymoon, not waking up in a Costa Rican prison cell with no memory of the night before.
Then again, Ben never thought he would catch his fiancée with some clown--literally. Or that his friend Miguel would drag him to the surf paradise of Tamarindo before Aunt Mildred could ask why they canceled the open bar reception.
But surely his friend and lawyer Victoria didn't need to fly down from Toronto overnight. After all, the police would let him go once he sobered up and paid his fine. Right?
Except for the little matter of a murder. And Ben's buying a beachside bar from the victim, hours before the man's death. With foreclosure looming and death threats piling up on the rum-soaked bar, Ben and his friends must scramble to salvage something from the ramshackle cantina that is their best shot at a fresh start or a quick end.
To succeed in this sinister surf town, they must turn to the wild idea that got them into this mess--building a business around those who've always wanted to run their own bar on a beach somewhere, even for just a week.
But to survive, they'll need every skill at their disposal--including those they'd rather forget they have.