Ryan Southwick decided to dabble at writing late in life and quickly became obsessed with the craft. He grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to a farming town on California’s central coast during elementary school, but it was in junior high school where he had his first taste of storytelling with a small role-playing group and couldn’t get enough.
In addition to half a lifetime in the software development industry, making everything from 3-D games to mission-critical business applications to help cure cancer, he was also a Radiation Therapist for many years. His technical experience, medical skills, and a lifelong fascination for science fiction became the ingredients for his book series, The Z-Tech Chronicles, which combines elements of each into a fantastic contemporary tale of super-science, fantasy, and adventure, based in his Bay Area stomping grounds. Ryan’s related short story “Once Upon a Nightwalker” was published in the Corporate Catharsis anthology, available from Paper Angel Press. Ryan currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children. You can get in touch with him and see more of his work by visiting his website RyanSouthwickAuthor.com or his Facebook page.
How does writing change the writer? First, there are the obvious things, like adopting better grammar in everyday speech and written communication. I hate being a burden on anybody, including my editor, so when I made the decision to write a book, I invested a lot of time into learning to do well what my English teachers attempted to drill into me in high school and college.
The most impactful ways, however, relate to what we write about. To write convincingly about a subject, you have to understand it. In some cases that can mean superficial research, such as policies and procedures for a particular agency. But for characters—especially those with disorders—it means learning not only about the disorder itself, but how it affects those afflicted, as well as their friends and family. The research itself can be eye-opening, but where it really drives home is when you as the author, to create a convincing character, have to put yourself in their shoes—walk their life, suffer as they suffer. It changes you in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started the process, hopefully for the better.
What books have fortified you as a writer? George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series was my biggest inspiration. I’ve been an epic fantasy fan since junior high school, always fascinated with not only the hero’s journey, but with magic users, mystical creatures, and worlds where almost anything was possible. Many of them centered around these unique characteristics as their defining traits, downplaying the rich possibilities the characters, relationships, and sometimes plot presented in favor of a colorful fantasy world.
Marin turned that around. It was the first series I could remember where this rich mystical world took a back seat to the amazing characters and plot he’d created. I remember being disappointed—disappointed!—when he introduced dragons to the series because I thought it was so solid on its own that it didn’t need any of those mystic elements that other series did to make them interesting.
That was the kind of story I wanted to write, one with fantastical elements that enhance the story and characters instead of carrying them.
Why is the unconscious mind a writer’s best friend? Much of what I write—especially once I know the characters well—comes from the unconscious, as if the characters themselves dwell within and are simply using my fingers to tell their story. That may also be why I gravitate toward dialogue. J
That state of writing, I find, is when my characters and their reactions feel most genuine because their actions and reactions are coming from a well of emotion and feeling without a filter of overthinking to dull them. The hardest part is retaining purity during the editing process.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? Find a writing group. You don’t have to learn everything on your own. Don’t be embarrassed; no one will think your writing is awful because everyone’s is when they start, but getting frank feedback sooner in the process will save days—weeks, months!—of re-writing, and probably yield better results.
Also, don’t start your writing career with a 500+ page book. Novellas are fun, too, are faster to iterate on, and much easier to get people to read for feedback. Save the epic series for later.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? Having an editor was an adjustment. I self-published the first time around. Editors are expensive, so I compensated by reading up on self-editing techniques, getting lots of feedback from beta readers, and going through many, many edit cycles with minimal results.
As many authors will no doubt agree, there’s no substitute for a trained eye. I’ve had 2 different editors through the series, and they’ve both offered different but equally valuable guidance that my friends and family never could, information that has made me stronger as a writer than I think I ever could have become on my own. The other benefit has been more time to write new content instead of constantly revising existing content.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into? Tolkien, of all people. I first read The Hobbit in junior high and remember it as an uninteresting slog, despite having watched and loved the cartoon movie. Fast forward a few decades to the eminent release of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I figured if there was any time I should give the series another shot, it’s before going to see the first movie, and oh my goodness, I couldn’t put them down. I don’t remember tearing through a series faster. Its amazing balance of character development, world-building, and plot progression leave me floored to this day.
Ilona Andrews is another and is now among my favorite. Being an epic fantasy fan, I wasn’t used to reading books from first-person perspectives and found it off-putting. Now, I’ve read almost (almost!) the entire Kate Daniels series, along with The Innkeeper Chronicles and the Hidden Legacy series. Their humor, imagination, and driving action scenes are compelling, and their series has a little bit of everything, which I find satisfying.
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one? I’m still technically part-time, though if you tally up the hours I spend writing in a week, it probably rivals my day job. I started writing Angels in the Mist almost ten years ago, so about that long.
How many hours a day do you write? Depends on the day. I work for a Silicon Valley startup, so my weekday hours are limited, but I still average 1-2 hours. The weekends are usually 12 to14-hour marathons of largely uninterrupted, blissful writing.
Does your family support your career as a writer? Absolutely. I had been working on Angels in the Mist for 2.5 years before I even told them I was writing a book. My mother is a voracious reader and was thrilled when she found out. She’s still the first person to lay eyes on a new chapter and offer feedback. My wife has, unfortunately, learned to tolerate the neglect, and even feeds me on occasion when I’m in a writing frenzy and forget to take a break. My oldest daughter isn’t much of a reader, but the youngest can’t wait to get his hands on it. Angels in the Mist has some adult themes I didn’t think were appropriate, but he’s old enough now.
The rest of my family has been wonderful, too. Most of them are readers, but even those who aren’t were gracious enough to read it and provide both feedback and support. It’s been a wonderful experience that’s brought us all closer together, I think, especially Mom and I.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? Best Intentions by J Dark. It’s an urban fantasy with a female protagonist who kicks butt, but at the same time is realistic about her capabilities and knows when to rush in, and when it’s just a good way to get herself killed. The author’s fantastic sense of humor shines through and captured me from the very first word. The world and magic system are unique and well-developed and set the stage for an interesting plot with varied, well-drawn characters. It received very little press, unfortunately, but I keep hoping it’ll get the attention I believe it deserves.
What is your Kryptonite? Confrontation. I like bringing happiness to people’s lives. The idea of confronting someone about something unpleasant—no matter how much it may help them—is difficult, and it’s created more than a few preventable problems for me over the years. I’ve worked hard to overcome that fear, and even harder on methods of confronting others in ways that allow them to grow and feel positive after the interaction, such as coaching techniques.
Hear Ryan Southwick with Host C. Stene Duckworth
Thank you Ryan for your time with Vertikal Life Magazine.