Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dana Haynes's Strong Women CRASH the Party

HALLIE EPHRON: We're so happy to welcome Dana Haynes. He writes thrillers, the kind that make you hang onto the seat of your chair.

Today is the launch date for his brand new thriller, ICE COLD KILL. Dana's first thriller, CRASHERS, introduced an unusual cast of leading characters -- unusual, that is, for a male writer. I'll let him tell you about it --

DANA HAYNES: When I came up with the idea for CRASHERS, my first thriller about the people who investigate air disasters, I knew I wanted a large ensemble cast. And one of my earliest decisions was about the female characters.

I’d read thrillers, and like many people, I hadn’t found a lot of female protagonists. The women tend to get saved in thrillers. I’m less interested in reading about the savee than I am in the saver.

So I decided CRASHERS would be populated with strong female characters. Not one or two, but four of them.

The next challenge: How to make them unique individuals. I’m not just a mystery/thriller fan, I’m a journalist by training. So that part was easy: In my day job, I see strong women in leadership roles all the time!  So I had a wonderfully bright spectrum to choose from.

For CRASHERS, I got the honor of writing dialog for:

Kiki, the former Navy officer and expert in the cockpit voice recorder, who has a funky, California vibe and a born gift for hearing audio clues.

Susan, the Beltway insider and intergovernmental liaison who clears the bureaucratic bramble out of the way of her Crashers.

Daria, the former Israeli soldier and spy who gets involved in the story not because she’s heroic, but because she’s bored. She goes on to be one of the heroes, but her motivation is questionable. It’s noteworthy that Daria is the breakout star of CRASHERS, with her own debut novel, ICE COLD KILL, hitting the stands this month. Daria is grand fun to write because she’s unpredictable and more than a little crazy.

• And Meghan, the pilot of the doomed airliner. She was the toughest to write because (not giving away much here), she doesn’t survive the first chapter. And yet, Meghan’s heroic effort to save her plane, her passengers and her crew had to be the mortal heart of the story. If the audience didn’t care about Meghan, they wouldn’t care about clearing her name. That was a tough writing nut to crack.

Deciding to open up my story to strong women gave me the luxury of a diverse host of characters to choose from.

It’s a good lesson for all writers. The more we confine our definitions of “hero” and “villain” – be it through the lens of gender, race, age choices or whatever – the more we confine our storytelling and the more we exclude readers from seeing themselves reflected in our stories.

HALLIE: After CRASHERS, Dana came out with BREAKING POINT, and his new novel ICE COLD KILL is out today from St. Martin's.

Daria steps into the lead in this one -- here she is in the novel's opening chapter:

Ray Calabrese looked up from his BlackBerry to see Daria Gibron stride into the Rodeo Drive wine bar in Lycra exercise togs and sneak­ers, her hair slicked back, sans makeup.

It wasn’t the part of Los Angeles that many people tried to carry off, the I’m-just-back-from-kickboxing look. She used her fingertips to brush still-damp black hair behind her ears. Her togs were two-piece, skintight, abdomen-baring, and black with red piping. She either had been working out or had joined the Justice League of America;Ray couldn’t tell at a glance.

 I'm guessing that's her on the cover, too, taking aim at the reader.

Welcome Dane to Jungle Red. His comments have me thinking about strong women in crime fiction, and whether I've ever read a book with four of them.


  1. I can’t think that I’ve ever read a book with four women protagonists, but I must admit to being quite intrigued by the idea . . . and by the premise for their story. Best of luck with “Ice Cold Kill”. . . .

  2. Wow, Crashers sounds great. I am definitely going to check that one out. Thanks for stopping by Dana and good luck with the launch of the new novel.

    It's interesting, I remember reading Savages, a book by Shirley Conran (of Lace fame) in my late teens. It was the story of a group of women who were stranded on an island after a plane crash. It detailed how they had to learn to survive on their own and I can remembering thinking even then, that it was a bold choice to populate the book with an almost all female cast - even for a melodramatic soapy type read such that it was.

    It is one of those touchstone books for me. This one, showing me that strong female characters can easily carry a novel.

    I just can't handle it when readers (men especially) say that they won't read something with a female protagonist (or a female author for that matter). Seems short-sighted to me.

  3. Kristopher - I'm going to check out Savages. It sounds like it's right up my alley for escapist reading.

    And boy are you right about reader biases. It always amazes me when I talk to people who really won't read a book WRITTEN by a woman, never mind if the main character is a woman. Short-sighted, indeed.

  4. Hallie - it's been 25 years or so since I read Savages, but I still remember some of those scenes. It was a fun book for escapist reading.

    I'll be spending this weekend reading my ARC of there was an old woman, so I have that to look forward to. ;-)

  5. Dana, I love thrillers, and love the idea of FOUR strong female protagonists. Didn't I read somewhere recently that the CIA said women make the best spies?

    Going to check out your books ASAP. I was thinking I'd download Crashers on my tablet to read on my flight from the UK back to the US next week, but maybe that book is not the best in-flight reading...

  6. Ooh, no, Debs--do NOT read Crashers on your airplane trip. I have read it. I am just saying, the first chapter alone will--well, wait til you get home.

    If you insist, yeah, read it on your tablet, so at least the cover won't freak out your seatmate.

    Hey Dana--thanks for being here. YOu know I'm such a fan.

    As for villains..I love writing the bad guys--er, people. And spoiler alert, many of mine turn out to be women. I didn't plan it that way--as much as anything can be planned--but that's how it turned out.

    DO you know in advance what's going to happen in your novels?

  7. Welcome Dana, what an interesting story! I am intrigued by the idea of Meghan, figuring out how to get your readers attached without devastating them when she doesn't last long.

    And also your Israeli character with mixed motives. I've had the reverse happen too--ended up with a character who does the wrong thing but for the right reason.

  8. Love this interview, and can't wait to read the books. I hadn't really thought about my reading preferences, but I'm realizing most of my faves have strong females in lead roles, and I avoid the helpless female-focused ones. Thanks for stopping by, Dana!

  9. Thanks, folks! Wow, this is a blast!
    Hank: back at you (fan wise)!
    And no, I don't know how my books will end, nor often who the villain is, before the first draft is substantively done. That's because I have absolutely zero faith in myself as a writer. If I know who the villain is, the dialog starts sounding like, "Look, dahlink. Is Moose and Squirrel!"

    And Deb: Read it on a plane! Go Meshugeh! I wrote some of it on a plane. And if I ever had any fear of flying, it evaporated as my research showed how well built planes are, and how well trained the crews.

  10. I once killed a character in an opening chapter... soooo hard because first I tried to make the reader care. Because otherwise, SO WHAT?

    In the work in progress, I kill someone in the opening chapter, too. But before he kicks it, he comes off as a narcissistic jerk.

    Usually I don't kill anyone. I just read an essay Jane Friedman posted about the opening chapter -- and it talks about SHOCK versus SEDUCE. Usually for me it's the seduce. For anyone interested: http://janefriedman.com/2013/03/19/story-opening/

  11. Dana- Congratulations on the launch of ICE COLD KILL. When I finish this post I'm going to go load your book into my Kindle,light a fire and settle down with what sounds like the perfect read for a snowy day.
    I can hardly wait to see what happens when four strong women go after the bad guys.

  12. SNOWY DAY? Oh, Pinny...

    (People, tune in Friday to hear about Pinny's work with female felons, and how reading fairy tales unlocked closed up hearts and minds.)

  13. Hallie: Not to give too much away, but I had a HUGE advantage, when it came to the pilot who died in Chapter 1 of CRASHERS. I had the cockpit voice recorder, and the audio of her heroic struggle to save her passengers and her crew.
    And, because we (the audience) heard the CVR at the same time as my investigators, my goal was to evoke emotion from readers and protagonists alike.
    I leave it to others to say if it succeeded or not. But it's a nice writerly trick for putting your protagonists and your reader on the same page.

  14. Okay, funny airplane story:

    I was flying in the world's tiniest plane from Dulles to Charlottessville this weekend. It was incredibly choppy.

    As you know, they usually make an announcement in that very modulated, hyper-calm voice: "We are experiencing some turbulence. Please remain seted with your seatbelt securely fastened." (You can hear that,right?)

    But this flight attendant came on the two way, and said:
    "Wow! It's really windy out there! So that's going to make this really choppy. We're gonna have some turbulence! But don't be scared, okay? Everything is going to be okay. We will get you there safely, I promise."

    I was fine til she said that.

  15. Welcome, Dana. I love the idea of four strong women characters but I also love the premise of CRASHERS. My husband had to do some crash investigations in the Navy. He's horrible to fly with now. On a flight from San Juan to St Thomas he blurted out "Look, there's a rivet missing!" Not fun. LOL

    I cannot wait to read your first book and move on to the following ones. Best of luck with the new release.

  16. Thanks everyone! You sure know how to make a guy feel welcome!