Ryan Sayles is a literary type dude I first became acquainted with when he interviewed me after my novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me was republished by Gutter Books in 2015. This was when the movie deal with Christian Slater was blazing hot. Since then the movie deal has cooled considerably despite global warming, and I haven’t heard from Ryan much at all. Not that I take this personally. Just like I didn’t take it personally when he changed all the questions to the answers I’d provided for our interview. No, sir. No offense meant, none assumed. So I’m sure he won’t be offended that I am publishing this interview in which the inquisition tables are turned completely intact. Nothing redacted. Nothing edited. These are the exact questions I emailed him, and yes, I can back that claim up with evidence.
And these are Ryan’s answers. Unfiltered, uncensored, unapologetic. Raw. He will have to live with the repercussions of these shocking disclosures to the free media. Well, kinda free. I got paid. He didn’t. But that’s okay, he’s a writer, so he’s used to writing for free. Of course, so am I. But I am pretty sure he wasn’t paid to interview me. So in that way, our score has been settled. In my favor.
Of course, he’s a lot more than “just another low-paid writer” because God knows, there are enough of those around. For one thing, he’s a crazy talented low-paid writer, and truthfully, I haven’t seen his tax returns because he refuses to release them to the public, so I’m only assuming his income level in this regard, perhaps out of my own petty bitterness.
But the truth I’m getting at here is that Ryan is basically a really good guy. I mean, like, as a person. Even though he hates cats. Of course, I would wager they all hated him first, and with good reason, because cats are not arbitrary with their affections and are a reliable judge of character (which is why they don’t really like any humans and frankly, I can’t blame them). I’ve never actually met Ryan in the flesh. But trust me. Of all the people that slowly and discreetly drifted out of my social circles once my movie deal collapsed, he is definitely one of the more tolerable.
That lovable affability is on full display in this off-the-cuff, on-the-record exchange revealed in its entirety for the first time to an apathetic world starting right now…
You’re a crime fiction author with a military and police background, meaning you know the turf from the inside out. How have these experiences informed your work in the hardboiled field?
I started writing these things while in the military, and wrote the first draft of Subtle Art of Brutality (my debut novel about private detective Richard Dean Buckner) before I was a cop. So, I was just winging it. I went through the police academy and was on the streets for about a year before it was published so I was able to go back through and insert a number of “war” stories, antidotes, et cetera. I wrote the second RDB book, Warpath, after a few years on the streets so that one, to me anyway, felt very different. I knew how these things worked by then so I came at it from a different place.
I also wrote a number of short stories after becoming a cop, and several of them such as Accidental Discharge and Uncluttering were based on things I saw. Details of police work have made it into Goldfinches, a novella I wrote that has a lot of police presence. It sneaks in just about everywhere, really. If for nothing else, I think I have a lot of insights into human behavior. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a homeless drug addict, but I can tell you what it’s like to deal with them from the police perspective. That kind of thing makes for a decent story to tell.
You’re a founding member of Zelmer Pulp and besides noir you’ve also written horror (and maybe others, I don’t know, I didn’t dig too deep). Do you have a preference in genres as both writer and reader, and do you see “pulp” as a sort of hybrid umbrella of genre mashups? (Technically that’s two questions, but it’s a mashup).
I’ve had science fiction stories published (with ZP and on standalone sites) and one fantasy story of which I’m particularly proud of. I also had a comic book story published with some accompanying illustrations. It was really cool. To be honest, I’ve gotten really tired of reading crime stuff. I’m sure it’s a passing feeling, but still. Right now I think the culture is in a dark place and that gets reflected in the art. Everywhere I look, all I see are people of every persuasion and preference who have no respect for the humanity of others. Crime is about that by its very nature and I get too much of that in real life. I don’t want to read about it also.
Lately I’ve been reading Catholic fiction (Flannery O’Connor for life!) and nonfiction and science fiction. Both are fresh breaths of air. I think my Catholicism has begun to present itself in my writing--Goldfinches and my latest RDB novel, Albatross both have a strong thread of it—and I’m sure my imagination will tune more towards science fiction.
I do see pulp as an umbrella for all those genre stories. I always thought pulp was the collective term for quick and to the point stories that were exciting, exhilarating, thrilling, lurid and/or whatever in most “off-brand” genres. Adventure, detective, popcorn science fiction and fantasy, all that. Pulp struck me like pornography: I can’t really define it but I know it when I see it.
Why don’t you like cats?
Because cats are from the devil.
Now, giraffes are from outer space, have vampire blood, fly the night skies on the leathery wings of a bat and desire to conquer and eat the whole human race.
But, I digress. Cats still are and have always been feral, despite living under the same roof as people. They make no attempt to integrate with their human families and don’t care about the people they’re living with (as opposed to the undying loyalty of dogs), can and will turn against their human owners at the drop of a hat and are known to celebrate the destruction of the traditional human family. But seriously, I just don’t like how independent they are. If I’m going to pay money for an animal, I want a kinship with it. I don’t own lizards or rodents for the same reasons.
While I’d like to leave home for a few days without having to make arrangements for our dogs, a cat just poops in a box and won’t care about me when I die of a heart attack. Oh God, I hope it’s just a heart attack. Knowing my luck I’ll die in the middle of a shit and be discovered days later, slumped over on my throne with my Hello Kitty sleep pants scrunched down around my ankles and the crumbs of the Twinkie I was eating while pooping still in my naked lap, all the blood vessels in my eyeballs burst from the exertion that killed me.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
To be honest, I think my writing influences started back in high school when I wrote lyrics for my old heavy metal band. I remember very clearly how groups like Pantera (their album Far Beyond Driven especially), Souls at Zero and Testament (Low, especially) had noticeable influence on my writing. I think that spilled over into my fiction much later on. Pantera’s lyrics just made forceful go-ahead-and-fight-me statements. Most of the time the lyrics didn’t even rhyme. They were the rawest things I’ve ever read.
My writing was influenced a lot by Chuck Palahniuk. A lot. I read Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy and whoever else but I can look through my early stuff and see how I copy-catted Palahniuk. Later Will Christopher Baer snuck in there and that was about the time I developed my voice for RDB. I think everything after him was an offshoot of his narrative voice.
Of course, before I started writing Warpath I started writing a hell of a lot of police reports, and that had an effect on me. I could watch it happen, but I couldn’t stop it from happening either. It was a strange thing.
What’s next for you?
I dunno, baby number seven? Probably, yes, but I imagine you’re asking about my writing career. I’m always looking at getting something new to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. I have some things I’m working on, but it seems like any one project of mine is the culmination of months or a year of me cramming in a minute or two here and there. I can’t just sit down and focus from start to finish. I’m having a hard time doing that with this interview. I hate working like that but it’s what I’ve got.
In 2019 I’ve edited a clown-themed anthology called Grease Paint & .45s coming out through Down & Out. We’ve got some great stories in there that range from slow burning to all-out ragers, from accidents to horror to crime to worse. Man, you give these people the clown theme and set them loose and they come back with some stuff that maybe shouldn’t be in the world. Oh well. It’s going to be cool.
I told my cat you said she is the spawn of Satan. She said, “So?”
Ryan Sayles has over two dozen short stories in print, anthologies and online, including the Anthony-nominated collection Trouble in the Heartland: Stories Inspired by the Music of Bruce Springsteen. He is the author of The Subtle Art of Brutality, Warpath, Goldfinches and That Escalated Quickly! He is a founding member of Zelmer Pulp. He was in the military and is currently a police officer.
Amazon Author Page
Goodreads Author Page