Ryan Sayles is a writer you should get to know. His novel The Subtle Art Of Brutality, out now from Snubnose Press is a good place to start. In case you want something a little shorter as a get-to-know-ya' you can read my conversation with Ryan below.
The guy's got some crazy stories of his day job as a campus cop. And he actually managed to keep his typical sense of sarcasm in check to answer honestly and in depth. For the other, snarkier side of Sayles, see any of his interviews over at Out Of The Gutter (including one he did with me!)
But now, on to Ryan.
Tell us what you do and how it is like or unlike a novel?
I’m a campus cop at a medical center in the ghetto. Whereas most campus police break up dorm room frat parties, we deal with gang bangers who’ve just shot one another, dudes high on PCP that we have to fight after the ambulances bring them in and psychiatric patients who’ve been off their meds for months and are neck-deep in their latest break from reality. I’ve handcuffed a 6 foot tall white girl who honestly believed she was Jesus. I’ve stopped gang cars that were trying to dump their shot-up buddy out on the Emergency Room entrance and drive off. That same car was wanted by the city cops for having just fucked up a nightclub. Those dudes were armed to the teeth. My buddy and I got an award for that.
Like or unlike a novel? I suppose the way that last paragraph reads it sounds really cool, but in all honesty, those things just kind of happen and then it’s over. There are days when jack shit happens. But, if I got the bug to do it, I could write a 100,000 word novel based off of real things which have happened to me and then just tweaked to sound cool. Like I did in that last paragraph.
Describe a time when your job influenced a story of yours?
It does a lot, actually. I have a story in Yellow Mama called Accidental Discharge that’s about two dudes who smoke PCP, and then one guy confronts the other about porking his girl. Instead of trying to kill his friend, he just commits suicide in front of him. Then, in his death throes, he spasms and shoots his friend to death.
Now, that kind of happened. We got a report that we had two gunshot wounds coming in. That usually means they shot each other. And in this neighborhood, that usually means gangs. When an ambulance rolls up with that kind of mess inside, you give it a few minutes and family arrives. That means mom and all the gang members. And if we have both sides showing up simultaneously, now we have a real shit storm brewing. There’s always retaliation for a gang shooting and if we can avoid it, we don’t want that in the hospital.
But, what it really was turned out to be this: one dude with a history of suicide attempts decides he’s going to have his family over and blow himself away in front of them all. He does it, then drops with the gun still in hand. Spasms. Shoots his friend in the foot. And the horrible/funny thing is this: the guy shot himself in the head and lived. Just fine.
So there you go. That’s how it went from real life to a story.
Destroying Ryan's Hardboiled credibility one cute fatherhood picture at a time.
Have you ever been tempted to turn your campus cop expertise into a book or a series? I know publishers love to have an "expert" with experience behind a book. Do you see that as a possible shortcut to fame and fortune, or is it too scary to be labeled as that guy who writes the campus cop series?
Yes. I have enough war stories from the emergency room alone to build a novel. In fact, when I finish the follow-up novel to Subtle Art of Brutality, I might just ruminant over that... Shortcut to fame? I wish. No idea on that, but if my major career is launched on a campus cop book, so be it. It's actually a cool job.
Some of the city cops walk around and regard us like we were the guys who couldn't make it on there and so we came to the "easy" job. Not so. We have a few dingbats like everywhere else, but the context in which we deal with folks in much different. We deal with more psychiatric patients than any street cop for sure. When outside agencies bring in a mental they are uncomfortable as hell. They just want to dump off the person and roll out.
One night a family found their schizophrenic son/brother on the street after being gone for liek three months. No meds, no nothing. He was very volatile, very paranoid. He shaved all the hair on his head and face and went back through and drew it on with a Sharpie. He actually did a fantastic job. Straight lines like a drafting engineer, no criss-crossing, nothing. Arguing with people who weren't there. Try giving task direction to a man of formidable size that believes he's going to be executed by folks who don't really exist but are taking up all of his attention.
Some of those nights are long.
I wouldn't mind be labeled as the "campus cop" guy. I get it now from folks on the street. Even after they've been arrested they go on about me not being a real cop. I ask them what kind of a man they are then, letting themselves be arrested by a fake cop. My handcuffs are real. The jail is real. They have no response. Or they'll try and fight. That's my favorite. We're in the ghetto, we don't have dorms or anything like that. We don't bust a frat boy with his beer and call mommy and daddy. Some people mistake us for those kinds of cops and they find out the hard way we're not. Unless the school needs us we're in the Emergency Room or out on the street doing the usual stuff. We avoid the city's calls because those are their calls, just like they avoid ours. I've heard from gangbangers that we have a reputation of finding their guns and warrants.
Because we do.
Also, people might doubt one of my campus cop stories until they read one. Then campuses everywhere will be flooded with applicants wanting to be half as awesome as I am. They'll fail. But they'll apply. You're welcome, campuses across the world.
What would it take for you to quit and write full time?
Same answer as everybody. Money. My wife stays at home with our kids and that’s very important to me. We live a lifestyle that can accommodate that; one car, no expensive hobbies, no extravagant purchases, etc. It’s fine, and I like it. It keeps the focus on my family and not whatever piece of crap I think I have to buy next. So money, money money.
Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?
I think they envy it. It seems like folks hear you write, and all of a sudden they imagine what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies. Some artsy-fartsy dude agonizing over a type writer in his clean, expansive study with a bottle of Jack next to him. A shoebox full of papers printed on only one side. An impending deadline they’re racing against, and in the end they always write the Great American Novel.
Inevitably, they imagine the cocaine, the hookers and the fast convertible. Now they hate you because while you’re cheating on your wife with some Vegas whore and snorting fat rails off her ass, they’re flipping burgers and agonizing between buying cigarettes and paying the water bill. Then they get bitter and start a fight. Then you beat them into the ground and go to jail. All because of Hollywood’s BS movies.
A lot of folks, when they find out I write, they stare at me for a second. Then they say it makes sense because I’m so full of shit anyways. Then they look for the cocaine smudges under my nostrils. Then we fight.
Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?
I do think I would be regimented as hell. If that was my income, I’d install a punch clock in my home just to make sure I was getting in the time. Not to sound all queefy, but I’m a father and husband first. That’s why I had to back out of BoucherCon 2012 the week before it went down. Had the room reserved, had the time off of work, had plans to meet face-to-face with some writers. But real life and expenses got in the way. A lot. I couldn’t ask my family to take the hit coming with BoucherCon as well. That’s not fair to them and without them, I am nothing.
What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?
Professional adventure racer. Hands down. I’d bike, trek, land navigate and kayak all over the place. Also, I like being a cop. I’d love to be a National Geographic photographer, so long as I don’t have to eaten by a lion or roasted on a spit by some hidden tribe.
What has been your best job? Your worst?
Best: police. Worst: tie between moving houses and being an E1 in the military. Being a cop, despite all the shit that comes with it, is very rewarding. Most folks deal with a cop at their car window when they get the ticket. Or they want a cop to work magic and the cop can’t. They don’t want to get involved as a complainant or as a witness but they think that shouldn’t stop the bad guy from being arrested. It don’t work that way. The Constitution says so. But, a single mom had her week’s paycheck worth of cash stolen from her purse and I got it back for her. That day. Rare, but it happened once. People have lost their kids and I’ve found them. Bad men try and hurt the nurses and I get to stand between them. That makes me feel like a knight in shining armor.
Being an E1 in the military means you get all the shit jobs. Everything. And you can’t leave without doing it. Moving houses was just filthy, thankless, back-breaking and underpaid.
I cooked a lot, but I like to cook so it was cool.
Has your job, or past jobs, had any influence in inspiring you to become a writer?
I like to write down the holy shit stories you hear from people, so in a way, yes. It spiraled from there.
Is your job harder than writing?
Not really. I’m not a very good writer and I’m not very good at my job so it works out.
Imagine your job in the plot of an existing book (or movie, I'll give you that much leeway), where does it fit best? Would you be a character in a Jack Reacher novel? A Sam Spade mystery? Matt Scudder? Mike Hammer? What else?
I’d be a background character in an 80s Schwarzenegger movie. One of those faceless, nameless guys that gets shot while he strolls unstoppably through fields of enemies and kills them all. Or, I might be a quirky cop in a Joseph Wambaugh Hollywood Station novel. That’d be cool as hell, actually. Or, in a Nora Ephron book. She’s so wonderful.
How would a character with your career be a good or a bad protagonist for a novel?
My career—as a cop, not as a male stripper—is what crime novels are based on. Even if it’s not a cop book, a cop shows up somewhere, guaranteed. He might be slovenly, covered in powdered sugar, selling drugs on the side, corrupt as the devil and only interested in looking down the blouse of the lead female, but he’ll show up.
What do you think is the best work experience for a writer to have?
Real life. Stories that people care about are stories about people. Whether it’s a cashier job at a burger joint, a janitor, suicide prevention hotline call-taker or dietician, jobs where folks interact with other folks are where it’s at. All you have to do is listen to what actually happens to people and then tweak it some. Not much. Maybe none at all. But if a story is good in real life, make up something about it and then it becomes great. Or it at least helps you not get sued.