THE REAL MICHAEL SWANN: Five Questions with Bryan Reardon

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When an explosion rocks New York City, Julia Swann worries for her husband’s safety. She’d just been on the phone with him as he entered Penn Station, heading home from a long day at work. Suddenly, their phone connection died. Moments later, reports of a bomber fill the airwaves, sending Julia into a panic as she frantically attempts to make her way from their suburb home to Penn Station, where she hopes that her husband, Michael, is still alive and waiting for her. Halfway there, Julia overhears a radio station report that eye-witnesses have worked with police in an effort to apprehend the bomber, whom the authorities have since identified as Michael Swann. 

Refusing to believe that her husband could be part of such a heinous attack, Julia joins the growing number of people looking for Michael Swann, though she might be the only one with intentions other than arresting him for an act of terrorism. 

To be honest, I knew nothing about this book when I started it. I didn’t read the media packet that came with it or even glance at the plot synopsis. I just dove in, eager to see what Bryan Reardon had written. It didn’t take long for me to be completely hooked, racing through the pages, searching for and wondering, like the characters, who the real Michael Swann is. . . 

I was thrilled when Reardon agreed to take part in our Five Questions segment and struggled the narrow my long list of notes down to just five measly questions. I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this page-turning thriller to what his next book is about. Read those answers and the rest of the Q&A below, and then make sure to pick up The Real Michael Swann the second it hits bookstores tomorrow, June 12th. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did! 



TRBS: What a page-turner! I could not put this book down! How did you come up with the story idea, and how much research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write it?

Reardon: “I came up with the initial idea while standing in a very overcrowded Penn Station watching the board as every train in and out was delayed. I was amazed by how quickly the station filled up. And, as my wife can attest, the curse of having a mind that likes to write kicked in. I immediately started to plot out what could happen. That’s when the beginning of the book, the bombing of the station, came to me. It took years after that to turn that single incident into a full novel.

“As for research, I guess I have a write-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality. For example, when the trains are held up in the novel, I had to pause and research the inner workings of the Penn Station Control Center. It can interrupt the writing process, which is a negative. But I haven’t taught myself to do it the right way. Honestly, I just blame the internet.”

TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline your books, have a target word count you try to hit each day? And do you know all the twists and turns of the story before you start writing?

Reardon: “I would say that my writing process is always evolving, though a lot of my habits stay the same. I tend to write pretty much every day for at least a few hours in the morning. If I can, I do another session in the evening. I try not to take two days in a row off, but that can be hard because I might have to put something aside to edit a book I’ve already finished.

“When it comes to my process, outlining and plotting and character pre-development, it is ever changing. Each book seems to teach me something. I never outlined. I felt it restricted the organic growth of the story. A book never really ends up how I planned it at the beginning. Lately, I’ve outlined more.

“I used to crank out a quick first draft without stopping. That’s how it went with Michael Swann. Lately, though, I find myself writing a part of a book and moving on to work on something else. When I go back, I read what I’ve done and make revisions. Rewrites, sometimes.

“As for twists and turns, I know the core ones from the start. I think it is very difficult to edit in the development you need to pull them off. Instead, you have to know what the end game is as you go and leave clues along the way. With every story, though, new twists pop up along the way. I’d say more about the particular twists in this book, but it is so hard to even talk about it without spoiling the ending. And I’ve been warned by many people not to do that.”

TRBS: How long did it take you to write your first novel, and what advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Reardon: “I wrote my first published novel in two to three months. Now, I wrote about ten novels before that. They sit on old floppy disks and data sticks in the drawer below my printer. Some I may revisit. All of them I consider my education.

“As for advice, I have two thoughts. The first ties into the ten books I have collecting dust. Writers need to write. A lot. In my opinion, they need to be critiqued, too. It’s the only way to improve. I give a lot of credit to persistence and rejection. Together, they are the best teachers.

“My second thought is a little more practical. It’s something I use all the time. If I am writing a story and I find myself getting bored, I stop. If I’m bored writing it, the reader will be ten times as bored when it gets to them. Sometimes, when that happens, it means the plot needs some action. Sometimes, it means the plot is just not working. Sometimes I can fix it. Sometimes, I have to just move on to the next thing.”

TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what books are currently sitting on your nightstand?

Reardon: “I am a chronic re-reader. So there is always J.D. Salinger, Donna Tart, George R. R. Martin, and Bernard Cornwall somewhere on my nightstand, among others. Sadly, I find myself reading less now than I used to. I think it is because I write way more often. The good news is that I still can’t fall asleep at night without reading at least a few pages.”

TRBS: Lastly, now that The Real Michael Swann is set to hit bookstores, what’s next for you?

Reardon: My next book, which is untitled, is in the editorial process. The awesome people at Dutton Books describe it as ‘a Cain and Abel story of two brothers with a dark and complicated past, whose lifelong rivalry comes to a head when the latter is driven to one final, desperate act.'”


Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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