Interview

The following transcript is a live, hosted chat I did on July 21 for the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem, Ore. Some of the info might be of value for novelists-to-be. Most of it’s just fun. Enjoy!

Dana Haynes:Hi. My name is Dana Haynes and I wrote and edited for the Statesman Journal from 1999 to 2007. Now I work at Portland Community College and I just had a thriller novel printed by St. Martin’s Press. It’s called “Crashers” and I’m working with my great good friend and former audio producer Melissa Kreutz Gallardo, on today’s chat.
West Salem, OR:Will anyone “recognize” themselves in this book?
Dana Haynes:Not as such. I try really hard not to use real people or even pastiches of real people in my novels. There are exceptions. When I worked at The Oregonian’s Washington County Bureau in the 1990s, my editor was Rod Patterson and the assistant editor was Karen Pate. The fictional engines on my fictional airliner are built by Patterson-Pate. And sure enough, my long-standing friend Robin caught the in-joke last week and razzed me about it on Facebook.

The other funny thing about the characters is the intergovernmental liaison on the team, Susan Tanaka. She’s 5 foot 2 and a classy dresser. Years after I created the character, I started dating Katy King, who’s the intergovernmental liaison for the state Public Health division, is 5 foot 2 and a classy dresser. Sheer coincidence, I swear.

Salem, Or.:How did you research the details of doing autopsies on plane-crash victims? Did you attend an autopsy?
Dana Haynes:I did more than a year of research on this book, including research into airliners and autopsies. I interviewed the Multnomah County Medical Examiner but, no, I turned down his repeated offers to attend an autopsy. I kept telling him: “How does my throwing up make this a better book?” I’m a wuss.

The Powell’s Books technical store on the Park Blocks and Burnside in Portland was amazingly helpful. I spent days and days in there doing research. The National Transportation Safety Board’s Web site also is a tremendous site.

Salem, Or:Why did you decide to make some of the terrorists Irish extremists? Wasn’t that tough for you as a writer with Irish ancestry?
Dana Haynes:I started the book in 1999, and even then, pre-9/11, I thought Muslim terrorists would be a cliché. Russians are passé. That left who? I needed bad guys that no other writer was using at the time. Also, I’m Irish-American and have been to both Ireland and Northern Ireland. My theater background helps with dialect, too. So I took a gamble that a political “cold spot” like Belfast could still generate violent terrorists. As luck would have it, the Power-Sharing Agreement in Ireland fell apart this spring, so now I look vaguely prescient. A few online reviewers have blasted me for using Irish terrorists but that’s cool.
Dallas, OR:If you were a sea creature, what would you be?
Dana Haynes:“Celibate.” My girlfriend hates seafood.
Salem, Or:What has been happening since the book was published? How busy have you been with appearances and book signings? Any exciting reviews?
Dana Haynes:The book’s been out since June 22 and so far it’s been a blast. We did signings at Powell’s and Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland. We have a signing at 7 p.m. tomorrow at one of my fave independent bookstores, Murder By the Book, 3210 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Love that store! Katy and I got to go to New York City last week and we signed books at close to a dozen bookstores. It’s been a kick!
Salem, OR:How long have you worked on your book?
Dana Haynes:I did the research for “Crashers” in 1999 and wrote the book in 2000. The next summer, a literary agent liked it so much, he flew to Portland to sign me. He was sure we’d sell the book and it would be a huge success.

And one month later was Sept. 11, 2001. Yeah…. My book about terrorists who bring down multiple airliners became completely unmarketable (by the way, all of the L.A. scenes in the current version were New York scenes back then). So I put it away for about 6 years.

St. Martin’s Press asked for a sequel and I didn’t have the luxury of a year’s research. That book took about 10 months, start to finish.

Keizer, OR:I’m curious about how you researched some of the technical aspects of your book, e.g. info about anatomy, autopsies, forensic reconstructions, guns/weapons, etc. I have some training in human osteology and forensic anthropology, so I enjoyed some of those technical references, but I was curious if you’d read up on the subjects, took courses, interviewed/shadowed folks in those fields for info.

On another note, I was amused with some of the fashion descriptions of the female characters, what fashionistas a couple of them were…like a couple descriptions of the boots, I thought, having experience wearing such things, are they fashion or torture devices?! On the other hand, the one lead NTSB gal, I thought, yep, that’s the way they dress in D.C.! (I used to live there…)

And kudos on the Arthur Conan Boyle stab at TV reporters; I’ve been around some that were that dense, so it was spot-on for illustrating that. :)

Thanks!

Dana Haynes:Thanks! I did a lot of research in 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, which contributed to the fiction writing. I did more research for the book. I also wrote five more novels after this one, between 2002 and 2009, which haven’t seen the light of day but each of which needed its own research. Some of which found its way into latter drafts of “Crashers.” As for clothes, I do use that as shorthand for character development. One guy in scruffy sneakers and another in Calvin Klein tells you quickly a little bit about them, without wasting paragraphs. And I work at the Capitol in Salem and became quite used to seeing powerful, brilliant, hard-working women in four-inch heels, so it never seemed odd to me to put the character Susan Tanaka in stilettos and still let her kick ass.

I like the Arthur Conan Doyle joke, too. Was it petty of me? Sure. I’m actually OK with that.

Spokane, WA:Do you have a book tour schedule or book signing schedule?
Dana Haynes:No book signing schedule. We did two so far in Portland, one more on Thursday at Murder By the Book. I’m speaking to some Portland-are book clubs. We’re organizing an event at the Salem Public Library, too. Watch http://www.salemlibrary.org for more details.

We hope to schedule signings in Seattle and Spokane, too.

Portland, Oregon:Questions:

-What are some of the talents, skills or credentials you’ve given to your characters that you secretly wish you had?

-Which of the characters is most like you?

-If there was a movie made about your life, who would play Dana Haynes?

Dana Haynes:I loved giving the character of Kiki Duvall the ability to decipher sounds and voices. I like Susan Tanaka’s ability to deal with bureaucrats and agencies. Those are both super powers. And there are no characters like me in “Crashers,” in that they’re all more or less scientifically oriented and I’m so not. In the sequel, I introduce readers to John Broom. He’s very much like me. He has his own novel, too, which I’m hoping to sell to St. Martin’s Press sometime. If they make a movie…. Well, I adapted “Crashers” into a screenplay and it made it to the semi-finals of a pretty influential contest in Hollywood in 2005. So I’m hoping the role of “Dana” will be played by the writer. How cool would that be?
Portland, Oregon:Where is Daria Gibron now?
Dana Haynes:I love, love, love Daria Gibron. I won’t say much about her in the sequel, other than to say that she’s in a pretty dark place personally, when the book starts. She’s incredibly fun to write. Also – and my girlfriend, novelist Katy King, is cool with this – I have a long-standing love for tough chicks with guns. This dates back to “The Avengers” BBC television show. I’m dating myself here.
Salem, Or.:What advice do you have for struggling novelists? For instance, if one is having no luck getting published by a commercial publisher, do you think it’s better to self-publish or to shelve the novel and try writing a better one?
Dana Haynes:I am not a believer in self-publishing, if only because self-published authors don’t have the same links to the book wholesalers, which sell books to the major chains, supply libraries and even support independent bookstores. That means selling books out of the trunk of your car. Hey: Those who do it, more power to you.

I believe there are only two ways to get published: Keep writing and keep submitting queries. I have a half dozen books at home that St. Martin’s Press hasn’t seen yet, because during that long, dry decade, I always figured I was better off writing than not-writing. I have many, many rejection slips. Katy King often says the only thing worse than getting rejection slips is not getting them, because you’re not out there querying.

As to the latter part of the question, if you can make your book better, do so. Join writing groups, get critiqued, put the work away for a few months and go back at it with a critical eye. I had “Crashers” on a shelf for 11 years and I still find passages I wish were sharper.

Salem, Or.:What’s it like to be the guy who is doing the reading and signing the books at author events?
Dana Haynes:Completely surreal. I haven’t been published for 15 years, and back then, at Bantam Books, I was a “mid-list” writer, meaning I got no promotional support from my publisher. This time, I have a publicist! She’s terrific, too. It’s been great good fun. The best part: My girlfriend and I decided never to be cool or suave about anything. Every time we get an opportunity to read or sign books, we do the Happy Dance. It’s really, really not very masculine but so what?
Salem, OR:Hello Dana,

What is your inspiration when writing a novel?

Dana Haynes:Hi! I write first drafts for me. I set out to entertain myself with the kind of book I’d buy if it were on the shelves. If I get 60 to 80 pages in and I’m not having fun, I throw it away and start a new story. I like to say that, from 2001 to 2009, I wrote six books for an audience of one guy, but hey! I was hitting the hell out of my demographic the whole time!
Salem, OR:What advice would you give to a new author looking for an agent?
Dana Haynes:Great question. I’d say: write a whole book, right up to “the end,” then seek an agent. When doing query letters, offer to provide a synopsis, an outline, first three chapters, first 100 pages, whole novel…whatever. Offer to go to the agent’s home with sock puppets. Does the agent want 8 ½-by-11-inch pages or does she want to read it on her Kindle or does he want a pdf? Be the no-drama guy. Be the person who is quick to work in whatever format and timeline best suits a busy agent.

I also have a prejudice for agents who live in New York City, where all of the book publishers and the editors are. These people do lunch together and see each other at cocktail parties. I just have to think that gives your agent a leg up on someone who a headquarters in, say, Shreveport.

Salem, OR:My name is Dan Morris. I recently completed a fantasy/horror novel and I am unsure of how to go about getting it published. Do I just send in a manuscript to different publishing companies? are some better than others?
Dana Haynes:Hey, Dan. In the mystery/thriller field, you absolutely have to have an agent first. Unsolicited manuscripts go directly to the garbage can. Fantasy/horror? Dunno, mate. But I’d join a writing group like Willamette Writers in Portland or the Horror Writers Association (www.horror.org) and talk to folks in your genre. Also, check out the blogs of writers you like.
Multnomah Village, Oregon:Help! We’re being held prisoner.

Velocity and Glamour

Dana Haynes:I should never have taught my cats how to use the computer. Sigh…
Salem, OR:When do you write? Hell, how do you find time to write?
Dana Haynes:I write in longhand, with a pencil in steno pads, usually in the morning, then type those pages into my computer in the evening. The process slows me down, which makes my writing better. It’s a handy trick, I find.
Salem, OR:A Cooper Mini seems like the perfect car for a mystery writer. Do you agree?
Dana Haynes:Yes! Love my car. Novelist Katy King has a Mini Cooper too, so you’re on to something!
Salem:Who’s the worst editor you ever worked for?
Dana Haynes:No comment. I’ve been incredibly lucky as a novelist and journalist, in that most of my editors have been fabulous.
Salem, OR:Hi Dana! I hope you will have time to stop by Tea Party Bookshop/Tigress Books to sign a book – if this had been on my radar a teeny bit earlier, I would have gotten some more books in!

Thanks!

Dana Haynes:I would love to do an event at your store, 420 Ferry St. SE. Contact me at http://www.dana-haynes.com and we’ll set something up! Thank you! Also, Salemites? Support your local bookstores and libraries! I just stopped in at the Book Bin to sign copies of the novel, before coming here. Yeah, booksellers!
Dana Haynes:Thanks, folks! This has been a blast! You can visit me at http://www.dana-haynes.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter, because my agent insisted (I’d get out of it if I could…). Thanks to the Statesman Journal for this opportunity. And thanks to Melissa Kreutz Gallardo for hosting today’s chat.

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