Having met Rod Reynolds at Monday Night Crime I knew I wanted to feature him on my Crime Writers Series. He was a brilliant panelist but also everyone spoke very highly of him in terms of personality but also his writing ability.
So a few tweets and an email later, here is my interview with Rod Reynolds. As always, links to books are at the bottom (just click on the book title)!
Who are you and what have you written?
My name is Rod Reynolds and I am the author of the Charlie Yates series, published by Faber. My debut novel, The Dark Inside, came out in 2015 and is loosely based on a set of real life killings known as The Texarkana Moonlight Murders, which took place on the Texas/Arkansas border in 1946. The sequel, Black Night Falling, came out in 2016 and is set in the nearby town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, a hotspot for the Mob in the 40s, and the town that served as the inspiration for their plans for Las Vegas. My third novel, Cold Desert Sky, is published in July and is set in Hollywood and Vegas, just as the first casinos were opening.
Why do you write crime fiction?
It’s what I’ve always been most interested in as a reader. Although I never really looked at labels or genres, just picking up books that interested me, I always seemed to gravitate towards crime. And one of the things I’ve learned as a writer is that you have to write what you enjoy, otherwise 100k words becomes a real slog.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I only started writing in my 30s. I’d always been a big reader, but never dreamed of being a writer because, growing up on a council estate in north London, I didn’t know anyone who did anything like that. Even when I left university, I ended up working in advertising for almost a decade. It was only when I turned thirty and started trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life that I decided to give writing a try. And I loved it so much, I knew I’d found my passion.
How did you become a writer?
I took a year out of my previous career to try writing a novel. I didn’t know anything about it so I signed up for a distance learning course to get a grip of the basics. I wrote every day, working longer hours than when I was in a job – because I just loved it. I finished my first (unpublished) novel in three months and although it was rejected everywhere (I sent it to about 40 agents), I had some very positive feedback that encouraged me to try again. Then just as I was about to go back to work, I stumbled across the true life story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders and started researching the book that would eventually become, four years later, The Dark Inside.
You undertook the City University’s Crime Writing Masters course? How did you find this? Do you recommend courses like this for aspiring crime writers?
I really enjoyed the course and found it helped me a lot in a number of ways. And the City course was the first to offer a qualification specifically in Crime Writing. But I’m very clear whenever I answer this question that doing a Masters is not a prerequisite for becoming a published author; I’m fortunate enough to have met a lot of authors at this point, and probably the minority took an MA. I think what counts is understanding that writing is a skill and it requires practice, hard work and dedication. For me, the route to that was signing up for a masters degree, but that was a personal choice; I didn’t sign up for the degree expecting to get a publishing deal out of it – I did it because I loved writing and wanted to get better at it.
What influences the content that you write? News? Books? Personal experiences? Previous jobs?
All of those things. I think most writers allow themselves to be influenced by all sorts of things – it’s part of the skill. My books are specifically influenced by real life places and crimes, but beyond that, all sorts of elements go into them. I’m always looking out for character traits in people I know to help bring my characters to life, for example.
Do you have to do lots of research when you are writing?
I’ve done a fair amount, because I wanted to nail the real life elements of my novels and make sure I knew the historical facts before I started writing. I studied history, so I enjoy that part of it, to be honest. I also had to research the places my books were set, as they were all parts of the US that I wasn’t that familiar with (apart from Las Vegas). But the key is to make sure you then draw on that research sparingly. Research should give the reader the confidence that the author knows their subject – it shouldn’t take up page after page. A little goes a long way.
Do you have a writing routine?
Not really. I have two young kids so I’m also a stay-at-home dad, so my day is structured around school and nursery runs. I do get a couple of hours each morning when my youngest is at nursery, and then it’s naptimes, evenings, whenever I can find the time. I tend to work to a target word count each day and each week, depending on what time I expect to have.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome this?
I’ve never had the kind of block you read about, where I literally can’t get anything out, but I’ve spent my share of time just staring at a blinking cursor. I’m not sure there’s any way around it other than to just write; it’s hard if you feel like whatever you get down is wasted because you think you’ll just end up deleting it, but honestly, if you can force yourself to get to that computer and start tapping away, eventually it will come. I find I have to reassure myself that nothing is ever really wasted – even if I delete it the next day (and I’ve done that plenty) it’s just part of the process.
Which authors and books do you like reading?
I love reading so there are way too many to mention. American authors have always been my biggest influence – James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Raymond Chandler, Don Winslow and many more – but I also love reading what current writers are producing, and there’s a huge amount of talent out there right now. To pick just a few – Mick Herron, David Young, Steph Broadribb, Caz Frear, Susi Holliday, Tim Baker, Mark Hill…I could literally go on for hours, but those are some of the most recent ones I’ve read so they’re fresh in my mind.
Your first two books are part of a series, was this the intention from the outset? Would you ever consider writing a standalone book?
Originally I planned my second book to be set in the same universe but with a different set of characters – but when I got my deal with Faber, they liked Charlie Yates so much that they wanted to bring him back. Hence a series was born! So, in truth, The Dark Inside was written as a sort of standalone – and I’d have no qualms about writing another (although there are challenges to either approach).
What are your future writing plans? Can we expect another book in 2018?
Yes, Cold Desert Sky publishes in July, and I’m in the early stages of writing something very different at the moment. Watch this space.
If you could recommend just one of your books to my audience, which one would it be and why?
Definitely my first, The Dark Inside. Not just because it’s the start of the series and because everything that happens in the subsequent books stems from the events of that one, but because it was my first and I spent so long with it rattling around in my head, I think I’ll always have a particular attachment to that one!
How have you found the overall writing experience, from ideas and writing the novels, to getting an agent and being published?
It’s been a blast. I love writing, and that hasn’t changed from pretty much the first day I started out. Certainly there are highs and lows, and I’ve experienced both, and it’s a career that requires a lot of self-discipline, patience and persistence. But when it’s just me, at a keyboard, with no distractions, it’s a great feeling.
Where can people find more information out you? (Website and social media?)
You can find me on Twitter, @Rod_WR, and on Facebook. I love talking books, my own or other people’s, so don’t be afraid to @ me.
And I’m also usually at First Monday crime, the monthly event for anyone interested in crime fiction; check out the website https://www.firstmondaycrime.com/ and do come and say hello!
A massive thanks to Rod Reynolds for taking part in this Crime Writers interview series. Do check out Rod’s books and also, if you do like reading crime, consider coming along to First Monday Crime.
p.s. if you have liked this interview and have some other favourite crime writers why not drop me a message and I can see if I can interview them. Or if you are a crime writer reading this, send me an email if you would like to be interviewed. Email can be found on my contact page here!