"THAT MAKES FOR SOME ENTERTAINING WRITING: AN INTERVIEW WITH REED FARREL COLEMAN
Reed Farrel Coleman is one of my all time favorite writers. It had been awhile since he had a book out, but he came back with a vengeance and new direction with Sleepless City. The book injects Reed's lyrical prose style, emotional mediations, and Lou Reed take on New York into the Jack Reacher style hero novel with Nick Ryan as cop who works as a special fixer for the city's mayor office. Reed was kind enough to take some time to discuss the character and changes in his fiction.
SCOTT MONTGOMERY: Nick Ryan is very different from your other series leads. How did he come about?
REED FARREL COLEMAN: I left the Jesse Stone franchise behind and by leaving Putnam, I left my Gus Murphy series in limbo. So I was searching for a new project. I was discussing the issue with my agent, Shane Salerno, himself a famous screenwriter. We began kicking around the idea of a different kind of protagonist for me. Previously, most of my protagonists, like Dylan Klein, Moe Prager and Gus Murphy, were guys in over their heads. All were smart, big-hearted, and dogged, but lacking in the requisite skills to do their jobs. I call them stumblers. They always got to the bottom of things, though they often took a lot of missteps along the way. That makes for some entertaining writing, fun for the reader and for the author alike. The thing is, I didn’t want to keep repeating the same pattern. Nick Ryan was who we came up with, a man exquisitely competent, talented, with an almost preternatural nose for trouble. A man who is great at undercover work and who has done two tours in Afghanistan, but who has a very personal and specific sense of right and wrong. The best part of Nick is that he may seem invulnerable, but has a soft spot for the little guy and weak spots not even he knows about. New York City’s problems become his problems. The tension between his own issues and the city’s issues, the echo and sway between what’s right in the moment and what’s right in the long term make for great conflict on the large and small scale. Think of him as a prince of the city, but one who must rule from the shadows.
S.M. Did writing a a guy who is less of a stumbler prove a challenge?
R.F.C.: Indeed it was. Stumblers are fun to write because you can take them to all the wrong places and put them in situations way beyond their abilities to cope with those circumstances. To be human is to be a stumbler. So to write Nick, I had to clear my head of the stuff that came easy to me. I couldn’t rely on my old tricks and I used some of the experiences I learned in writing Jesse Stone, a very competent guy. But I’m bored by superheroes. Vulnerabilities, blind spots, foibles are what makes a character worth investing in. So I had to figure out new ways for me to make them part of Nick. I think readers will see I’ve done that even better than I had hoped to.
S.M. : What made the third person the right point of view to view him in?
R.F.C.: To make Nick the best character I could, it was important for the reader to see the POV of the people he was battling against. You simply can’t do that in first person and I don’t like the trick of switching from first to third and back again. I think it’s cheating the reader. It was also important for me to have the reader aware of stuff that would happen off screen in first person. I wanted the reader to have a visceral response to the “off screen” stuff that would be impossible to recreate in hearing it second hand via someone Nick might talk to about what happened. Better for the reader to witness it than to hear about it. The challenge is to use third person, but make it feel intimate like first person. I hope I’ve done that with Nick.
S.M. : His New York also feels different. How would you describe it?
R.F.C. : Nick has loved Shana Black since they were 16 years old. Shana is from a wealthy family from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Nick is from Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Nick works undercover in all areas of NYC. So Nick’s New York is one with a wide range. He sometimes lives in the grit beneath the fingernails of the city’s worst places and sometimes operates in a world of white linen tablecloths and yachts. World building is one of the great parts of developing a series. Nick’s New York is one that gives him and the series endless possibilities.
S.M. : You also have an investigation going on with Callie, a reporter for a small paper. Was there any challenge to the journalism procedural?
R.F.C.: The challenge was not to make her seem too competent. Callie’s young and inexperienced and suffers from youthful exuberance. What was fun about that is that she doesn’t work for the Times, the Post, the News or Newsday, the big papers. So she isn’t constrained by all the rules that a reporter for a big paper would be. And frankly, that allowed me to take liberties. Hey, I make this stuff up. The trick is making it feel real.
S.M. : What excites you about writing for Nick Ryan in future books?
R.F.C. : As I said in my answer about Nick’s New York and about Nick’s skills, I can do just about anything with Nick. He will face all sorts of challenges even an NYPD detective or a PI would never face. The problems can be big or small, personal or global. For instance, in Nick #2, BLIND TO MIDNIGHT, there’s a seemingly senseless murder of someone very close to Nick that may be somehow connected to the ‘90s war in the Balkans and possibly stretching all the way back to World War II!