By Daniel Ford
As you can see above, Done in One has a cover that compels you to pick up the book. I saw bullets on the cover and immediately knew it would be something Sean Tuohy and I would love (I plan on putting the book in his hands after he gets back from his globetrotting).
I’ll have more to say about the novel, which features a sniper working for a California S.W.A.T. team supported by his equally badass wife, in our upcoming 5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar, but in the meantime, enjoy my interview with authors Jan Thomas and Grant Jerkins.
Daniel Ford: Did you grow up wanting to be a writer or was it a desire that built up over time?
Jan Thomas: In my case, I’ve just always been a writer. Even in my earliest memories, when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “a writer” (The jury is still out on whether I’ve actually grown up or not!). I was just born with it. I thought everyone could write poetry with words that rhyme or craft sentences with symmetry and cadence. I believed everyone could spell big words, and/or inherently know how to pronounce or spell new words. It just came naturally to me.
I wrote greeting cards, award certificates, poems, songs, short stories, speeches, training manuals…anything and everything. No matter what else was going on in my life, writing was with me, always.
Grant Jerkins: I always wanted to be a writer. I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. My big regret is that I didn’t start putting any real effort into it until later in life. I figured all my odd jobs and wild ways would be enough credentials, but it turns out you have to practice.
DF: Who were some of your early influences and current favorites?
JT: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Joseph Wambaugh, Jack London, V.C. Andrews, and Archie Comic Books were all favorites growing up. These past few years, my reading has been almost exclusively true crime and some of those great writers are M. William Phelps, Ann Rule, Gregg Olsen, and Aphrodite Jones.
When we started getting blurbs or quotes from other authors about Done in One, I vowed to read at least one book by every author who so generously helped us along the way. In so doing, I happily stumbled upon John Gilstrap (and am blazing through all of his books!), John Verdon, John Burley, and others, like, oh…say, Grant Jerkins! I realized I’d been missing all sorts of fun and cool stuff while my brain was filled with serial killers and crime scene tape.
To this day, Stephen King sells me a hardback every time he publishes anything. Dean Koontz is another who can easily get my head out of the crime stuff and into some fun and excitement. They are both incredibly gifted and vastly prolific writers. Just the thought that something I wrote might be read and enjoyed by Stephen King is like the golden ring on the carousel. To evoke emotion in either of these authors would be my wildest dream come true.
GJ: I’m a big King fan, too. My favorites are James M. Cain, Hemmingway, Matheson, Ketchum, Octavia Butler, Lawrence Block, Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown, Horace McCoy, Jim Thompson, and tons more.
DF: What are your individual writing processes like, and how did you collaborate on Done in One?
JT: I spent 15 years writing a weekly humor column for the Mountain Democrat (a California newspaper). I had learned the power of a well written first person essay in high school (thank you Mr. Purdy!) but having to write weekly and also having to make sure the material was funny seemed daunting at first. But I was able to hone certain skills about crafting the piece.
So, much as a stand-up comedian might, I would riff about topics in the news or personal things that I would notice and then point out. I often did it out loud first. I would usually see something ridiculous and then start adding commentary about what was going on (in accents, if need be, whatever it took!). Or I’d verbalize captions to a picture or commercial. Grist for my mill seemed to be everywhere! I would often finish my verbal venting by saying “And that is this week’s column!” My sniper never had to read my work, he was living it with me!
Another great benefit to writing so much so often was that once I wrote something down, it was out of me. I know some of you other writers will know exactly what I mean. Much like writing a letter you’ll never send, or keeping a diary (or journal), once it was written down, whatever bad feelings I had about a situation were out of me and on the page. I no longer had to labor over it or reflect on it. It became finished business. Writing can be a great stress reliever. It’s like having a weight taken off of your shoulders.
For screenwriting, I see ideas everywhere. So I keep pens and paper everywhere so that when inspiration strikes, I can capture it in a few lines and then stick it in a file, like adding a gem to a treasure chest. Often I’ll find that ideas have something in common and then I have a whole new concept and a motivation to write more of the story. I write it all down. Editing things is simple. So I keep snippets of everything that moves me in any way (anger, sorrow and frustration included!) and use it in my work. Some of it is never read by anyone but me, but I still grow as a writer in the process.
GJ: When it comes to writing, I’m either all in or all out. Full steam ahead, or dead stop. So, we didn’t do a whole lot of passing the manuscript back and forth. It was hard for me to start/stop like that. I needed to always be moving forward.
DF: Where did the idea for Done in One originate?
JT: This story is based on my real life. I’ve been trying to tell this story for 15 years. It began life as a screenplay. I wanted the world to know that there are snipers among us and no one seems to notice them. When snipers are discussed, most people think about the military and/or Black Ops guys. But on every S.W.A.T. team in America there is a highly trained and skilled sniper. This story was a way to out all of them without outing a single one of them, since snipers treasure their anonymity above all else. They just want to get in unnoticed, handle their business and get out unnoticed. And the reason this story is so important, (important enough to keep trying to tell it for a decade and a half) is because I am married to a S.W.A.T. sniper.
Grant and I “met” (not in person yet!) over this story when it was a screenplay. He understood the material right away and he’s the one who eventually suggested we use the screenplay like a template or outline and turn it into a novel. He said we could flesh out our characters and give them room to grow and show us who they are. I could never have told this story without Grant. He is an incredibly gifted writer and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him. Grant’s dynamic plot twists and brilliant writing are things I will always treasure.
Our collaboration method seemed odd at first, with both of us writing chunks independently and then, with those chunks in place, we gave notes to each other and then we refined it. We edited and added until we fell into an easy routine, using the screenplay as the outline reminding us where we were going and where we needed to end up. We talked on the phone several times, but mainly we communicated through e-mails, sometimes several times a day. The truth is we are both present in every single sentence of the book. We both wrote it as one.
And even though we collaborated, our voices seemed to mesh throughout the entire process. As I so often say, “Alone, neither one of us could have told this story, but together we couldn’t fail to tell this story.”
DF: How much of yourselves ended up in your main characters?
JT: For me, personally, this could easily be a non-fiction book. The main characters are based completely on my sniper and I. When we decided to give Done in One a try as a novel, I committed to dig deep and bare my soul in the process. In order to show how it works, being married to a “professional killer,” I had to give as much of myself to Jill as possible.
It was actually kind of fascinating the way it all transpired because my sniper retired shortly before Grant proposed the “let’s try it as a novel” thing. It wasn’t until a few years after my sniper’s retirement that I fully realized the incredibly regimented way we were living.
GJ: Since this was based on Jan’s life, not a whole lot of me ended up on the page this time around. But I was very interested in getting everything just right and making sure things rang true to Jan’s ears.
DF: The crime/thriller genre has certain built-in tropes that can deter some writers from taking the plunge, but Done in One has a good hook. How did you two ensure that your tale was original?
JT: Because we knew all about the snipers in our midst and the public seemed completely oblivious. Even today, in the wake of “American Sniper,” people are slow to make the connection that “Holy cow, that cop we know who lives down the street…isn’t he on the S.W.A.T. Team? He could be one!” With the story being based on actual events, it kind of tells itself.
Grant makes a great analogy between Done in One and “The Godfather” and he is spot on. I think I’ll leave that for him to elaborate on so I don’t screw it up!
GJ: Yep, at some point, as we got deeper and deeper into this secret society, it occurred to me that we were doing something similar to what Mario Puzo had done. We were pulling back the curtain on a world and a culture that most people are completely unaware of. I felt honored to be a part of it, that Jan and her husband trusted me enough to share these intimate details. And what is more intimate than death? The giving of it, and the receiving of it.
DF: Did you go through multiple drafts for Done in One?
JT: We didn’t go through multiple drafts. I’m sure it’s partially due to the benefit of the story already having an outline and being based on real events. Coupling that with the incredible way our voices meshed, had us of like mind 99% of the time.
GJ: Agreed. As the fine novelist John Farris said, “I don’t like rewrites, and I don’t do drafts.”
DF: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
JT: Dare to dream it, hope it, reach for it or go for it, and be prepared to work hard. As I’ve said, I’ve been trying to tell this story for 15 years. That takes stamina, patience and an “I don’t quit…ever” attitude. Learn the submission rules of your chosen field and follow them. Then, start sending your work out there. What’s the worst that can happen? They say “No, thank you.” Well, if you never asked the question at all, the answer would still be the same so what harm is there in that?
And at some point, finish your current project. I harken to something another writer once said “A novel is never finished, it is abandoned.”
DF: Can you both tell us one random fact about yourselves?
JT: I have a serious pen fetish. It has to write in black ink (left over habit from medic days). But other than needing black ink, I love them all! There is no such thing as too many pens! I burn through them. My sniper prefers pencils, but as I so succinctly point out “Pencils come with erasers. Pencils are for people who make mistakes. When you write in ink, it better be right!” This usually results in a pencil being hurled in my direction. Okay, I made that last part up.
GJ: Here’s a weird, spooky one: In 1999 (or so) I collaborated on a screenplay in which the central plot event involved terrorists crashing a hijacked Concorde into the World Trade Center, bringing down both towers and devastating lower Manhattan.
To learn more about Jan Thomas, visit her official website.