Andie Ryan's intelligent new thriller,
Shakedown delves into the much-maligned world of high finance. Andie sat down with "Writer to Writer" to discuss her new book, and the craft of writing itself.
JD: Tell us about your background as a writer, and in finance.
AR: I wrote horror stories and science fiction growing up, and short stories in college, at Berkeley. Once I started working full-time, I didn't write much fiction. I worked as a technical writer, then started a career in regulatory oversight - compliance and audit positions mainly. I got an MBA and took on more senior management positions. I co-wrote a negotiation exercise for business students that was published at Northwestern, and wrote an unpublished children's story. But I didn't write seriously again until I started taking fiction workshops in 2002. SHAKEDOWN was originally a short story, with a much different focus. An instructor suggested there was enough ballast for a novel, and that's when the two worlds collided.
JD: Shakedown is so timely! What was going on on Wall Street when you were actually writing it?
AR: Enron and WorldCom had gone bankrupt, and people were reeling from that. That was the initial influence for the short story. In 2004, when I started writing SHAKEDOWN, both companies were still making headlines; their executives would soon be facing trial. Martha Stewart had been convicted for securities fraud. Publicly traded companies were implementing the complex Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, and many thought we had seen the last of the big corporate collapses. But of course others loomed, along with a mortgage crisis. The Spitzer prostitution scandal broke at about the same time Bear Stearns collapsed in 2008. Both themes had been finalized in the novel well before then, but it was a little uncanny. Lehman and Madoff failed, AIG all but failed, and the government issued bailout money. Now there are allegations of insider trading, another major theme, in the Galleon case. The book still resonates with all this, because the headlines never seem to stop.
JD: Will you draw from current events for your next book -- and what IS your next book anyway? What can you tell us?
AR: I'm outlining a prequel to SHAKEDOWN to stay with these characters a little longer and explain how the whole fraud evolved without cell phones or texting or present-day technology. (For those of you familiar with the novel, the prequel focuses on Laine Jeffrey and the younger Sledd Payne management team.) I'll research and draw on financial fraud cases from the sixties and seventies, for authenticity. I'm also working on a novel about a serial killer in a small, isolated town that is on the brink of economic collapse. I'm not sure which one will be finished first, so I'll have to keep you posted, okay?
JD: What is your revision process like? How do you find good readers/editors for your work?
AR: I love this topic. Major revision is the real work of good writing. I didn't understand that until about the fourth draft when I had to cut characters and subplots and develop what was left, make it all stronger. It's so critical to get to that tearing-down point. I constantly sought feedback, and worked from an outline on an Excel spreadsheet (this is what a corporate background does to you). Once the preliminary outline was done, I tended to revise chronologically through the story. I kept the outline updated, and slept on major revisions before revising them again. The longer I worked on the rewrites, the deeper my insights grew, and the more real my characters became. I completely rewrote SHAKEDOWN nine times before I felt it was ready to go, and that doesn't include the endless line editing. There's a huge, embarrassing difference between the first draft and the final book.
Finding good readers and editors can be challenging, especially if you're still learning what kind of constructive criticism inspires your writing. Writing workshops can be a great source, though. I was very lucky with my instructors and other workshop students. They're still brutally honest with their criticism, and that's what you want. I found my freelance editor through the Independent Editors Group, and that was the best decision I made. Good readers and editors will challenge your thinking and make you look at your work more objectively. It's tough, but it's how you learn.
JD: What writers have influenced you the most?
AR: I majored in English, so I had a lot of exposure to classic literature and poetry. But the early influences include Stephen King for his ability to weave a tale, John Cheever for the poignancy of his short stories, and John Irving
Last Night in Twisted River and Mark Helprin for their beautiful prose. But no matter what you read, or from what era, you learn techniques and styles that influence your writing. It all has something to teach you.
Bang the Keys. Until the next time ...