Meet Darlene Ryan

An Interview by Judy Gorham with additional questions by Janet Koch.

Where do you get your ideas?

I get this question a lot. I think all writers do. For a while I would very flippantly answer, “Wal-Mart,” until one day I said that and the person who asked the question thought I was serious. She thought I walked around Wal-Mart waiting for inspiration to hit.

The best answer is I get my ideas everywhere. Something—anything will start me on a game of “what if.” It could be something I hear on the news. It could be something someone says to me. Could be something I’ve overheard. Yes, I’m guilty of eavesdropping in public. And I can read upside down.

What’s the secret to writing a book?

The secret to writing a book is…that there is no secret. Writing a book is like everything else in life, you have to show up and do it. There may be writers who wait for inspiration to hit and then the words just pour out, but I’m not one of them. I work from an outline and I write a certain number of words each day. Some days it’s easy. Some days I keep clicking on the Word Count and moaning, “Am I done yet?”

Do you ever get stuck?

Sure. I call it writing myself into a hole. Most of the time, I just keep writing until I’ve written myself back out again. If I’m really stumped I go for a walk. Once my feet are moving for some reason my brain kicks into gear.

How did you get started as a writer?

I’ve been writing forever. (I won third prize in a poetry contest in third grade.) I wrote radio commercials for years and lots of bad short stories that I couldn’t get published—for good reason—they were awful. There’s a saying that goes, Before you meet the handsome prince you have to kiss a lot of toads. For me, before I could write something publishable I had to write a lot of junk.

Did you always want to be a writer?

No. I wanted to move to Hollywood, become a movie director and marry Michael Cole from The Mod Squad, which gives you an idea of how old I am.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I can’t choose just one book. Among my favorites are the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond, Dr. Doolittle, Robin Hood, Pippi Longstocking, and Trixie Belding.

As a teenager I loved anything by Paul Zindel, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury.

Was English your favorite subject in school?

People always seemed surprised when I say no. My favorite subject in school was math.

Do you have to go to college to become a writer?

No, you don’t have to have a degree to be a writer. I know some great writers who only have a high school education. (However I do think a college education has a lot of value.)

Are you a grammar and punctuation fanatic?

Yes. (Picture me laughing.) I’m not as bad as I used to be. I once wrote to a “grammar expert” to settle an argument I was having with someone over the use of a certain phrase. And I was annoyingly smug when I turned out to be right.

Did you choose writing or did writing choose you?

Ummm….Both, I guess. I spent a lot of years doing other things before I became a writer, but I was always writing in one way or another.

How much research do you do for your books?

That depends on the book. For instance with Rules for Life I needed to do some research on emergency room procedures and on miscarriages.

There was very little research needed for Saving Grace because I have lots of experience with adoption.

With Responsible I had to research guitars. It helped that I know someone who is a musician. I asked him what his dream guitar was and that became Kevin’s dad’s beloved Les Paul.

For Five Minutes More I did a lot of reading about ALS. 

How do you fit writing into a schedule if you have job, family, kids, etc.?

It’s really difficult. When I was writing my first book my husband was working out of town for five days at a time and my daughter was just a baby. After she went to bed I’d clean up the house, do laundry and then I’d write. I was tired all the time. But I wanted to write that book. I wanted to write it more than I wanted to do anything else.

Even now, there are things that I don’t do so I can write. I don’t watch a lot of TV and I very seldom go to the movies. I used to make all my own bread—I don’t do that anymore. I don’t play computer games. I don’t surf the net.

Do you write a certain number of hours a day (or a certain number of pages, words, etc.?) How do you keep to a schedule?

I try to write a certain number of words. Some days they come easy. Some days they come hard. I also follow a schedule. Unless I’m too sick to sit in front of the computer—or someone else in the family is—I’m there. If I know I’m not going to be able to stick with the schedule on a particular day I try to make up the time in advance—usually in the evening after my daughter’s in bed. If I don’t make up the time in advance I know I probably won’t make it up later.

Do you write EVERY day, or take weekends off?

I don’t usually write on Mondays. I do write on the weekend. The weekend is also when I do all the non-writing things related to writing, like answering mail and cleaning the spyware off my computer. It’s also when I work on smaller projects like articles and short-stories.

Do you write for the joy or the money? Or both?

I write because I like it and because I think I’m good at it, but if I wasn’t getting paid I would do something else for a living because I have to pay for things like milk and toilet paper and braces. There are lots of days when I’m not inspired, when I hate my hair, when I have a cold and piles of laundry and no clue what’s for supper. It would be easy not to write on those days but I do. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, but it is a job, so I show up and give it my best—even when my best is pretty crappy.

I think if you decide to me a writer just to make money you’ll probably be disappointed—and broke.

How do you handle rejection? – first time writers must be rejected a lot. Stephen King was told to give it up and just stick to teaching!

It helped that I spent years writing radio commercials. I once wrote and voiced a commercial for a new client and when I played it to him he hated it. He asked who wrote the script and I said, “That would be me.” He backpedaled a bit and said that it wasn’t so much the words as it was the voice of the announcer he couldn’t stand. Then he asked who that was. “Me again.” I told him.

I give myself a day to sulk after a rejection. Mostly that means I stomp around grumbling that the person who rejected me is a moron who wouldn’t know talent if it bit him (or her.)

It helps to remember that when someone doesn’t like something I’ve written it doesn’t mean the person doesn’t like me. Most of the time the person I submitted the work to doesn’t even know me. My family doesn’t always like what I cook and I don’t take that personally—although I do make them eat it!

How did being published change your life?

It was exciting to hold a book with my name on it for the first time. And I’ve gotten to make some great friends because of my writing.

What's next for you?

There are a lot of things I’d like to try.  I’ve been playing around with writing a screenplay on and off for a while.  I’m working on a series of books for adults.  And there are more books for teens I want to write.

I think a lot of writers believe they’ll write the next Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter book and become another Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling. Chances are that isn’t going to happen. What are the chances of a first time writer being published?

New writers get published all the time. It’s not easy but it is doable. Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Every writer was a first-timer at one time.

Do you answer fan mail?

I do. Readers can write to me via email or care of my publisher.

Will you read my work?

No I won’t. (Sorry.) I just don’t have extra time between my own writing and the rest of my life. Also for legal reasons I can’t take the chance that someone will think I’ve stolen his or her work.
What do you like to read?

Everything. I read the dictionary. I read junk mail. I’m a huge fan of children’s author Robert Munsch. I’ve been reading Kurt Vonnegut since high school and that’s been a while. I like books that make me laugh so I love mystery writer, Tim Cockey. I like Lynn Viehl’s Darkyn series, Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone mysteries and the Reacher books by Lee Child.

I also like books that make me think, like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I know that makes me sound pretentious, but you’ll notice I said it makes me think, not that I understand it all.

What do you do for fun?

I like to read. I practice Wu style tai chi. I like to swim. I love to cook. And like Izzy and Lisa in Rules for Life, I like to prowl around thrift stores.

I love music. I sing with a great deal of enthusiasm but no ability. I’m also a mixed media artist—I make collages and do a little painting.