Interview with A Frayed Web Author: John Ripslinger
S&S: What drew you to writing thrillers? If it was a particular book, what was it?
JR: I started out writing YA romance. In fact the first book I sold was titled Triangle, the story of two boys in love with the same girl. But it was a real event that led me to the thriller genre. In my hometown of Davenport, Iowa, a doctor killed his wife, sawed her into pieces, and threw them into the Mississippi River. I used those events for my first mystery/thriller. Titled Missing Pieces, the book easily found a publisher. Turns out, I loved creating a mystery surrounding a strong hero and an evil villain. I loved planting red herrings and pointing the story to a dramatic conclusion. I also loved including an element of romance. I’ve included the formula in A Frayed Web and several other books: Last Kiss, Derailed, and The Weight of Guilt.
S&S: What was the most difficult part of writing this book for you?
JR: Writing the first draft of a novel is always the most difficult part for me. I write from the seat of my pants, no outline. I let the characters take me through the story to the end. For me, this technique requires tons of rewriting, but I simply cannot make myself sit down and write an outline. Yet writing the rough draft is also an exciting time because I don’t always know exactly what’s going to happen next, and lots of times I’m pleased and surprised at where the characters take me. On good days, after three or four hours of work at the computer, I might write two or three pages. On rare days, four or five pages. I look forward to sitting at the computer every morning and facing the challenge. But I’m telling anyone who is thinking of writing a first novel that constructing an outline would make writing the rough draft much easier.
S&S: From start to final draft how long did it take you to write this one?
JR: Writing the first draft took seven months, which is normal for me. Then I spent nearly three months rewriting, setting the book aside and rewriting again and again until I finally felt I had it right. I titled the book Trapped and had it professionally critiqued. Then I sent it out for the first time on 3/6/13. Red Adept Publishing offered me a contract on 6/24/15. Now titled A Frayed Web, the book hit the market on 6/7/16. So the entire process took roughly four years. A writer needs a great deal of patience.
S&S: Has your writing style changed over time or have or have you just refined your original style?
JR: I haven’t changed my style. I’ve always admired Ernest Hemmingway’s style. I like short sentences, short paragraphs—lots of white space on the page—and I always use the simplest word. I like quick exchanges in dialogue and try hard to avoid long speeches. I avoid passive sentence construction and an excess of adjectives and adverbs. I search for the right action verb, and refuse to start a sentence with it or there—totally weak words for a sentence beginning. My goal has always been to get into the heads of my characters and tell a realistic story as simply as possible in an easy-to-read style.
S&S: If you could partner with a famous author in your genre for a collaborative work, who would it be and why?
JR: Judy Blume, no doubt. Years ago, I happened to read Judy Blume’s Forever. It’s the story of a teen girl who feels it’s okay to enjoy sex with her boyfriend because she believes their love will last forever. But when she goes away to a summer camp as a tennis instructor, she becomes involved with one of the other instructors and has sex—proving that first love is not always forever. I loved the book, the writer’s style, the realistic handling of the boy-girl relationships, and the story’s theme. I thought to myself Man, I can write a book like that! I know about teens. I’ve been working with kids for years. I’m a high school English teacher. I can write sentences and paragraphs. I can punctuate. So, if I could collaborate with a famous author in my genre, it would be Judy Blume. She’s my inspiration, and we seem to be on the same page. I’d like to sit down with her and write a modern day Catcher in the Rye with a murder mystery in the plot.
S&S: Are there any triggering events in your book that potential readers should know about?
JR: I hesitate going into detail about triggering events in the book because I don’t want to spoil what’s coming next for the reader. I will only say the Adam Kingsley and his daughter Kristi have intriguing backgrounds that trigger all their most troubling actions throughout the plot.
S&S: How much of you is in your main character?
JR: In A Frayed Web, Walter’s dad dies when Walter is ten. Seven years later he must welcome a potential stepfather into his home. Walter is suspicious of Adam Kingsley. He feels uncomfortable around the man. He doesn’t want to share his mom with a stranger. My father died when I was nine, and I felt much the same way Walter does when my mom married two years after my dad’s death. My dad’s dying and my reaction to the arrival of a stepdad sparked the idea for this story—how does a kid who is close to his mom deal with a stepdad—a stranger—entering his life? But let me point this out emphatically: My stepdad was in no way a dangerous person. He was not a criminal. Adam Kingsley is purely fictional. I added the mysterious Adam Kingsley to the story for dramatic purposes only. I might add that as I grew up to be a teen I still resented my stepdad’s presence and didn’t fully accept him until I spent four years in the US Navy and came home a more mature and understanding person. That’s when we became friends.
S&S: Have any of your stories ever been inspired by a dream or nightmare that you had?
JR: Dreams and nightmares have played no inspirational part in the nine YA novels I’ve written. My ideas have come from personal experiences or unusual events I’ve heard about or read about in magazines or newspapers.
S&S: What was the most constructive criticism you’ve ever been given?
JR: The most constructive criticism I’ve been given is: Don’t Write about Wimps. Interesting characters are active. They’re goal oriented. They’re risk takers. They’re troublemakers. They’re fighters. They create conflict; conflict hooks readers. Hooked readers buy your next book. Walter Bohannon suspects his soon-to-be stepdad might be a shady person, a criminal even. Walter is not passive. He doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen. He takes action. He probes. He investigates. He risks his life to uncover the truth about Adam Kingsley, whatever it might be.
S&S: How much research did you have to do before writing this novel?
JR: None. I live in Iowa. I’ve experienced all of its sights, sounds, and smells. I’ve been part of its activities, like a street festival—an important scene in the book. I took Adam Kingsley’s backstory from an Iowa newspaper clipping I’d saved in a folder of other interesting clippings. So that part of writing the story was easy: no research.
S&S: Did you base the villain of your book off anyone you’ve interacted with in your past?
JR: No. All the characters in the book are purely the creation of my imagination.
S&S: What does your coffee/drinking mug say about you?
JR: I don’t drink coffee. But I drink beer. My mug says, In Heaven There Is No Beer! That’s Why We Drink It Here. And that says I believe life is short. Make the best of it.
S&S: Any weird habits when you write?
JR: I write with classical music playing in the background. When I write dialogue, I mouth he words to myself, moving my lips. In front of the computer, I often make the same facial expressions my characters are making: I scowl, frown, glare, smile. I often make the same gestures: I rub my forehead, scratch the back of my head, wave a hand, and stomp a foot. I am my characters.
A Frayed Web
By Jon Ripslinger
Walter Bohannon fears love has blinded his mom. After his dad’s death, she reconnected
with an old sweetheart, but Adam Kingsley may not be the same person she dated in high
school. Even his teenage daughter doesn’t seem to know him very well.
Probing into Kingsley’s background, Walter discovers some disturbing things about his soon-to- be stepdad. Kingsley has secrets, and he might be willing to kill to protect them.
Can Walter convince his mother of the danger before it’s too late?