Interview with James Byrne

James Byrne transports his readers back into Desmond Limerick’s world, a good and loyal man with a shadowy past, now a retired soldier at age 35 who travels around the United States playing music and running into problems he must solve. Strand Magazine was honored and excited to meet and interview James Byrne. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did and check out his newest book release, Deadlock

TSM: Tell us about your newest book release, Deadlock.

JB: Deadlock is the second book of the series, surrounding Desmond Limerick. Desmond is a guy who used to be a soldier, and now he’s retired at 35. He travels around the United States with a guitar and piano, musical gigs, and running into stupid problems that must be solved because of who he is. In this instance, Desmond gets a call from Portland, Oregon, saying that his sister has been attacked and assistance is needed. Dez zooms up to Portland to see if he can help. He runs into a conspiracy involving the Drug Enforcement Administration, the witness protection program, and the US Marshal Service at a major international corporation. Dez gets involved because he doesn’t really have any choice. 

TSM: What sparked your passion for writing it?

JB: I wanted to do a single male protagonist because many of my books had ensemble casts or partners. There are a lot of really good books out there in this genre. But I had to come up with a different book. Desmond is from the United Kingdom. He’s an Englishman. And I have two readers who proofread for me to look for British colloquia versus American colloquia. I also wanted to create a character with no angst. Desmond is not a brooding, angry dude. He greatly likes life and considers himself the luckiest bloke on the planet. More often than not, he’s not nearly as funny as he thinks. He’s constantly trying to be funny, and other people don’t understand his humor. And it would be really fun to do a character in an action-adventure book who would grab a tub of popcorn and watch the movie with his own book because he thinks this is fascinating. Desmond is insanely fun to write. That’s one of the things I really had fun with this book. 

TSM: What were the most challenging obstacles you faced while writing?

JB: Well, for this book, I needed a high-tech company, and Portland is the Silicon Forest. I invented an app that this company made billions. And so it took me a year to develop something that seemed logical and made sense because it’s not my world. So that took a ton of research. The other challenging but fun part was that I’d never written a book in my hometown of Portland. So it was fun and a challenge to show my beloved town through the eyes of somebody who hadn’t been here before and pretend I hadn’t been here for 30 years. It gave me a fresh take on things I sometimes had taken for granted.

TSM: How long did your research take before you felt it was enough to be able to write?

JB: I spent well over a month noodling around with ideas, throwing things out, and trying something that didn’t make sense. That probably took a good month; do that sort of thing. I do research for plots in an inverted way that most people do. I wait until I need the research, and then I do it. So I’ll write up a scene and think, I don’t know enough about this. I have to research it now. Whereas so many of my friends do all their research in advance, lay it all out, figure out what they will do, and then write. I do mine more like, okay, now kind of a place where I need to stop, and I’ll leave a mark for myself in my manuscript that says, okay, you got to go look this thing up, explain it. You don’t have to do it today, but you have to before it’s a final draft. 

I’ve taught some fiction writing, and I often tell people that you should finish the first draft and do whatever you must to get through it. So I always tell people that your first draft should be ugly. You can always clean that stuff up later. Just keep moving forward. I will come to a place where Desmond will walk into a bar, and I will write in brackets the word ‘Scripto,’ which means I will have to describe the bar at some point, but I don’t have to do it today. Then later, if there’s a point where I don’t really know what the next chapter is, I will go and do a search for that word and find things that I have to describe. And then I can go ahead and do the Scripto stuff, but I’m always moving forward. I’m always getting closer to the end.

TSM: Is there any advice you would like to tell aspiring authors you wished you knew when you started as a writer?

JB: If anybody ever tells you there’s one way to write a book, they lie. Everybody has got a different zone. And your zone is the way that you write, and it’s going to be really functional for you. People laugh when I tell them this, but I write longhand on steno pads. Do I do first drafts longhand? Well, nobody else does it that way. I do it that way because I’m a journalist and have spent a million hours in school board meetings and city council meetings. I’m comfortable writing in steno pads, but that’s because that’s my way. Some people write in the morning, so people write in the evening. Some people like a lot of noise. Some people like quiet, whatever it is; if anybody ever tells you there’s only one way, that’s nonsense. You’ll find your zone when you sit down to do some writing, and you’ll look up, and you realize you’ve written seven pages. 

My second bit of advice. It has to be fun. You have to be having fun because you’ll be stuck with these characters in your head and then on pages for months and months and months. And if you’re not enjoying the journey, neither will the reader. So I always tell people to be your first reader. Write for yourself. Write a story that will make you wake up and say, ‘Man, I put my protagonist in a bad situation last night. I wonder how she’s going to get out of it.’ If you’re having fun on the journey, that will translate to the other readers. 

TSM: Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited to work on?

JB: The third book in the series is done in manuscript form, and it’s with my editor at St. Martin’s Press, Keith Kala, an absolute legend, one of the great editors in the mystery thriller genre. I still need to start the fourth book because they bought four books, but I want to see what my editor liked about the third book before I begin work on the fourth one. 

I have another unrelated project, and it’s on my agent’s desk. It could be a series, but I still need to figure it out. I really enjoy writing so much. I’m always working on something else. And so I’ve got another project with about 130 pages done that’s coming together, and it feels like it might be a real thing.

I was very excited about it because I liked the plot. I like these characters, and I’ve been living with them for a while. I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had as a writer.

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