Author Interview: Shawn Grady
Most people try to avoid the Angel of Death. In novelist Shawn Grady’s latest—Tomorrow We Die—protagonist Jonathan Trestle chases this death angel from one paramedic call to another. Set in Reno, Nevada’s high-stakes gaming town, Shawn takes readers from one crisis-driven scene to another. And if that’s not enough tension, Shawn draws Trestle into a twisted, shadowland where everything becomes upside down with life-threatening consequences.
Shawn’s real-life experiences as a Reno firefighter and EMT for over a decade helps create this thrilling and realistic novel. Tomorrow We Die will be released this month.
This author’s debut novel—Through the Fire—hit the shelves last year on the tail of Shawn being selected as the “Most Promising Writer” at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference in 2008. It appears Shawn’s life will be divided between his day job—saving lives, putting out fires—and pushing ahead on a burgeoning writing career. Readers can learn more about this exciting new writer at Shawn’s web site, shawngradybooks.com.
MARK: Now that readers have a clue about your latest novel, Shawn, give us more about this quick-paced story. Tell us about Trestle and his dance with the Angel of Death.
SHAWN: Jonathan Trestle is chasing the Angel of Death in Tomorrow We Die both in reality, through responding to an increasing series of cardiac arrests, and figuratively, in a misconceived connection between intimacy and death. In honoring a dying patient’s last wish to pass on a simple notepaper covered in indecipherable dashes, he soon finds himself racing for his life through a maze of mystery and murder.
MARK: Visually sketch out for us the geography where Tomorrow we Die takes place for those who might not be familiar with Reno, Lake Tahoe, or the surrounding Sierra Mountains.
SHAWN: The city of Reno and the greater Washoe Valley are home to about 400,000 people and sits in a valley that at its lowest point is about 4,500 feet in elevation and is surrounded on the west by the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which reaches heights over ten thousand feet, and a variety of other mountain ranges on every other side. It is considered a high desert climate that interfaces on the west with an alpine environment. Lake Tahoe, pristine blue and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, is within twenty minutes from the southern end of the city. The downtown area has a mix of casino/hotels and other residential and business towers.
MARK: Both your novels spring from experiences gained as a firefighter and EMT. It takes a special person to handle these kinds of medical emergency calls. Share a little about your background as a life saver, fire fighter, and first responder. What drew you to this line of work?
SHAWN: It really is a team effort. My initial major going into college was Theology, but I soon discovered that I wanted to do something a bit more hands-on and outside oriented and still help others in the process. I had an interest in medicine and so the combination of firefighter/paramedic was the perfect choice.
MARK: It appears you live and work in Reno, Nevada? Are you a native Nevadan? What drew you to this city?
SHAWN: I’m not a native Nevadan, but we’ve lived here for over a decade. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. My parents’ jobs got transferred up to Reno my first year in college so I came to stay with them while I obtained my fire science degree and paramedic certificate.
MARK: Trestle seems to be struggling with personal relationship issues—okay, many guys struggle over this one— as well as spiritual issues. What makes him tick? What kind of issues does he face?
SHAWN: Death took something of dear value to Jonathan Trestle when he was very young. He’s committed his life to the vain effort of overcoming death through medicine. He aspires to be an ER doctor and has scored in the 98th percentile on his MCATs, but he knows inside that even achieving that won’t change the past. Flight Nurse Naomi Foster is key in helping Trestle to overcome his fear of intimacy that is related to the tragic event he experienced.
MARK: Trestle’s EMT partner—Thaddeus “Bones” McCoy—adds a lighter side to the main character’s crisis-ridden life. For example, Bones falls in love with a female dispatcher as he and his partner get dispatched to another call. He tries to draw this dispatcher out in conversation over the radio so he can listen to her alluring voice just one more time. Is there a real-life “Bones” that comes to mind? Is this character created from a composite of several people you’ve known?
SHAWN: Though Bones is not meant to be a representation of anyone, he is largely inspired by a former partner of mine— one of the best medics I’ve worked with and definitely a lot of fun. Bones was a blast to write.
MARK: It must be very exciting to watch your second book about to be released. How did you get to this point in your writing career? How did you move from wanting to write a novel to actually seeing it become a printed reality?
SHAWN: This second novel is the culmination of an eight-year journey. I wrote the opening of this novel and created the characters of Jonathan Trestle and Naomi Foster before I’d penned a word of my first novel, Through the Fire. So seeing Tomorrow We Die come into print is a very gratifying experience. It took a lot of patience and hard work and submissions and rejections and ultimately the blessing of favor from the right editors at the right publishing house at the right time. Bethany House Publishers signed me to a three-book deal in 2008 and they’ve been a fantastic house to work with.
MARK: What came easiest to you as a writer? What presented more of a challenge? Plot, characterization, voice, dialogue, description, etc.
SHAWN: The plot is the hardest part to me. The challenge is being able to unfold “something bigger” in the protagonist’s life in a way that is cohesive, believable, suspenseful and entertaining.
MARK: Your schedule must be very hectic at times since you must balance a fulltime day job as well as an expanding writing career. How do you structure your writing time? What does an average writing day look like in Shawn’s life?
SHAWN: I couldn’t do it without my wife. Running a lot of calls after midnight at the firehouse and then coming home on my day off and endeavoring to make a word count can be trying. Right now I am averaging 75-hour work weeks. We constantly evaluate our schedule and the tasks that need to be accomplished and then prioritize things in a way that keeps the Lord first in our lives, and then our marriage and our kids. We make sure to have a Sabbath from writing every week and focus on each other and our family.
MARK: There are a lot of changes and challenges in the current publishing industry. Digital technology and e-book market expansion, for example, seems to be changing the paradigm of traditional publishing. What are your thoughts on these changes? What have you found most interesting as you continue to develop a writing career and try keeping pace with these changes?
SHAWN: Tomorrow We Die and Through the Fire are both available in Kindle format. I downloaded the free Kindle app for my phone and recently read a book that way. So the technology is rapidly expanding and a great boon for the book industry.
I am a fan of the traditional brick and mortar publishing houses that produce a physical item, but I am definitely a proponent of them pursuing electronic means to additionally distribute their books.
I have been very impressed with the editing process with Bethany House and amazed at the amount of time it takes to really hone and dial a novel to the place it needs to be. I’ll turn in my first draft of a book and not be done with the final, final edit on it for another seven months.
With that said, there is definitely a place for those who want to pursue self-publishing through an e-book format, especially for the non-fiction author with an established or growing speaking platform.
MARK: How are you trying to develop your readership in the face of these changes?
SHAWN: Thanks to Bethany House proactively pursuing Kindle format for all their new releases, that option is available to readers who may prefer to download their books.
MARK: As you look back over your writing journey, Shawn, what is one piece of advice you might share with aspiring novelists? What is something that worked for you? That didn’t work for you?
SHAWN: Hone your craft. Read great writers. Meet great writers and be part of a reliable critique/mentoring group. Attend writing conferences. Meet editors and agents and learn about the industry. Read reputed and time-tested books on writing— Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Plot and Structure, Zen in the Art of Writing, The Writer’s Journey, etc.
MARK: Any last words you might what to share about Tomorrow We Die or what the future holds for other Shawn Grady novels?
SHAWN: Currently I’m at work on my third novel entitled Falls Like Lightning, about a smokejumper and a female pilot caught up in a mystery unfolding amid the largest lightning caused wildland fire complex the Sierra Nevada has seen in over a century.
July 12: Mike Smitley, novelist and publisher, spent over thirty years in law enforcement. Our July 12th interview will focus on his three decades wearing a badge—police chief, director of drug and homicide task forces, SWAT leaders, sniper, and criminal investigator. We will find how he wound up as a publisher of a small book publishing company in an industry that must look like David and Goliath.
July 19: Join us on this date to learn about how this blog will be expanding. Hook’em and Book’em will come out three days a week. We will continue our Monday interviews of law enforcement personnel and mystery novelists. However, Wednesdays and Fridays we’ll have more interactive posts with our readers, looking at some of the breaking topics in the writing industry, or posting answered questions from our readers about law enforcement, writing, and publishing. Please join us and let us know what you’d like to talk about on Hook’em and Book’em. Invite your friends to join us.