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Dana Haynes: Q&A

crasherss To call Dana Haynes a debut author is a little bit of a stretch. Back in his 20s, he'd published three novels (under a pseudonym). Then came a long period without a new novel, nearly twenty years, so perhaps his new one can be considered a sort of debut. Especially as it's his first that's been published under his own name. With Crashers, Haynes has written a highly praised thriller that critics say "moves like a rocket."

It follows a team of investigators who try to figure out the hows and whys of a mysterious plane crash. Here, these crime scene investigators for the aviation industry sift through wreckage (actual and figurative) to determine who brought down CascadeAir Flight 818. And, of course, the truth reveals a much more devious element to the tragedy than mechanical error.

Dana Haynes sat down with Criminal Element editor Bob Hughes to discuss his novel, his writing, his period of authorial silence, and thrillers in general.

Bob Hughes, The Criminal Element: Describe the long process of getting back to writing. 

Dana Haynes: I was trying. I wrote five independent novels, and taught myself to write screenplays.

Bob Hughes: And then inspiration struck with Crashers?

Dana Haynes: I'd read an article in The New Yorker, a wonderful article about these people. I kept waiting for a novel about them. Then in 1999 I started doing research, and in 2000 I wrote the book. In 2001 I got an agent. He flew from New York to Portland (Oregon) to sign me. I thought this was going to be terrific. Then September 2001 happened.

Bob Hughes: And a novel about terrorists who bring down multiple planes wouldn't work at all.

Dana Haynes: All of the L.A. scenes in the book took place in New York in the original draft. We put the novel away for seven years, and I worked on other projects, such as my journalism. In 2008, we were able to sell the novel.

Bob Hughes: What was your journalism career?

Dana Haynes: I was the capitol bureau chief for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. I left journalism in 2007 and work now at Portland Community College as communications director. I have a day job that's a lot of fun and satisfying.

Bob Hughes: It was years between your first draft and the version that's now out. How did you have to change the novel to keep it current?

Dana Haynes: I had people carrying pagers, for instance, so I had to update stuff like that. The primary story didn't change; I had to update some furniture, mostly.

Bob Hughes: The plot is compelling here. Do you plot beforehand? The characters?

Dana Haynes: When I wrote mysteries back in the day, I really plotted them out in advance, and knew lots about the characters going in. With this thriller, I thought maybe I shouldn't know so much: get them in situations that are over their head and find a way to get them out. It was a different way of writing. It meant I erased as many pages as I wrote, because it was plot-driven rather than character-driven. It was important that I was surprising the protagonists as much as possible.

Bob Hughes: Are there writers who inspired you, or from whom you learned?

Dana Haynes: I hadn't realized it, but after I wrote the book back in 2000, I went back and read a classic, The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. I realized how much it really influenced me: smart people working against a ticking clock. When Crichton was good, he was very, very good. I also give a lot of credit to Philip MacDonald, who wrote many mysteries, including The List of Adrian Messenger. That's one of those books I read every eight to ten years. It teaches you how to put together clues, how to set stuff up early and tee off on it.

Bob Hughes: And the writing drought is over?

Dana Haynes: I've finished the follow-up to Crashers. I've also got several other standalone novels with all different protagonists.

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