Ryan O’Nan is joining us today to talk about his novel, Winders. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this stunning debut by actor and screenwriter Ryan O’Nan (Skins, Marvel’s Legion, Queen of the South), time itself can be wound back like a clock. The power of Winding can fix mistakes and prevent disasters. Or, in the wrong hands, it can be used as a weapon against the world…
“Clever, kinetic, and personal, O’Nan’s prose will keep your bedside lamp burning till the wee hours.” — Pierce Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Juniper Trask is a prodigy, raised under the Council’s strict Code, which allows Winders to exist in secret among average humans. After the shocking murder of her mentor, she is chosen to take his seat on the Council. But as Juniper settles into her new role, cracks of dissension are forming around her, and she uncovers the dark truth behind their power. Juniper has just become a pawn in a game no one knows is being played, and as she begins to question the Code for the first time, her life spirals into a world of danger.
Charlie Ryan always knew he was different, ever since he saved his mother from a horrible car wreck that no one but him remembers. After meeting a mysterious man who claims he has the same ability, Charlie leaves home to chase him for answers. But the world Charlie’s stepped into is more dangerous than he could have imagined. Charlie’s powers are special, and there are those who would kill to get their hands on him.
Now, Juniper and Charlie need each other if they are going to survive the future—no matter which future that may be…
What’s Ryan’s favorite bit?
Bookstores are my favorite places in the world. I love the quiet. The endless possibilities. A thousand little doors—each one ready to lead me into a different world, or to plop me into someone else’s mind, body and soul. But what to choose? I take tons of recommendations from friends, and even strangers sometimes, but I also love to blindly buy something unexpected and unrecommended. That feeling of discovery somehow makes the book a little more mine. Like when I was a teenager, scouring my local record store for a new band that none of my friends knew about yet. It was such a fun hunt. I listened to an endless amount of first songs.
But in bookstores, for me, it’s all about first lines. I love first lines.
And first paragraphs. I play a game where I imagine what the story could be just based off of the first few lines. This is probably a stupid thing to share, because it could make my own writing look like dogmeat, but here’s a few of my favorite first lines…
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
–George Orwell, 1984.
“All children, except one, grow up.”
—J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
“The terror that would not end for another 28 years, if it ever did, began so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”
–Stephen King, IT.
At a bookstore, I’ll pick up a book, read the first line, and if I like it, I’ll read the first paragraph. And if I like that, that story is coming home with me.
So, when I started writing my first novel, I wanted it to begin with something that might’ve got me to tuck the book under my arm and head for the register. That first glance inside the door, enticing me to walk through. And it was so fun to get the chance to try my hand at it.
My book, WINDERS, is what I like to call “time travel adjacent”. More on that in a bit. Anyway, here’s what I ended up with for the beginning…
“My mother died twice. This fact, and the brutal, relentless memories tethered to it, lock onto me once again like a familiar firing squad. Some facts, with the proper motivation, can slip away: like a snake’s tongue they can shoot out, taste the world, then snap back in the blink of an eye. But this isn’t one of those facts. Not even close.”
I wrote these first few lines months before I attempted to dive into the rest of the book. Because, honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure where the story was going to go yet. It revealed itself to me bit by bit. That’s not to say I didn’t outline as I went. I wouldn’t call myself a pantser, necessarily. The ideas popped up in no particular order, and I put them where they fit best. The puzzle is the real fun of writing for me. The ideas hinted to me in those first few lines sent my mind on journey, aimed directly at one of my greatest weaknesses…
I’ve always been obsessed with choices. Intimidated is probably a better word for it. I agonize over choices, filled with indecision, frozen at times, because some part of me is always living with this fear/knowledge that every choice I make kills every other possible one I could’ve made. And just what if… (I had chosen differently…ad nauseum).
So, my characters in WINDERS have some of this burden lifted off them. It’s set in our world. But it’s also a world where a very small percentage of the population has evolved the ability to wind back time. In small bursts. A minute or two at the most. These outliers can redo moments until they like the outcome. This evolutionary leap happened a long time ago. No one knows exactly when. But, as one can imagine, it has left these Winders with an incredible advantage over everyone around them. Why was Babe Ruth able to point to the lights and hit it right there? Because maybe he was able to try it forty times, but the crowd only saw it once.
There’s wish fulfillment in there, for sure. But I also wanted to explore the dangers. The potential for exploitation and brutality. The loss of humanity.
So, I picked two young people who are still figuring out who the hell they are and what’s really important to them. I wanted one of them to be a fish out of water, just learning everything as he goes—just like the reader. But I also wanted an expert. Enter, Charlie and Juniper.
For Charlie, he’s reeling from his new mind-bending reality, where each moment is no longer locked in stone like he believed.
For Juniper, she’s never known a time when each decision wasn’t offered up to her like a sampler platter—ready to be tried and retried until she’s satisfied.
The DNA of everything that comes after is hidden somewhere in those first few lines. Or, at least, it was the tiny snowball that grew and grew into this Novel. And in some way, the closest I’ll ever get to having this extraordinary ability that winders have is in the writing itself. After those first few lines, I could try and retry anything that followed, knowing the reader would only read the final version. But there it is all over again. Choices always have to be made, eventually. Even if you get more tries, you still have to decide what the final choice will be. So, I suppose, this novel is a collection of all those final choices—for better or for worse. No pressure!
My hope is that those first few lines might lead to a few copies of this story getting tucked under an arm or two…
Ryan O’Nan is an award-winning screenwriter and director, who has written for FX’s Marvel: Legion, Skins, Queen of the South, and Wu-Tang: An American Saga on Hulu. Currently, Ryan writes and produces ABC’s Big Sky. He also wrote/directed the hit indie film Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, which was released theatrically by Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch’s production company Oscilloscope Laboratories, Ryan has been featured in both Filmmaker Magazine and Creative Screenwriting Magazine. As an actor, Ryan is best known for playing King George on the series Queen of the South. Ryan lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three cats. Winders is his debut novel.