Behind the Book with Dwayne Clayden
This week I'm thrilled to bring you an interview with the fascinating author, Dwayne Clayden!
Liz - You’ve written several Emergency Services Textbooks and journals, so what prompted the switch into fiction writing?
Dwayne - It wasn’t so much a switch away, as it was taking on a new hobby. At least in 2010 I thought it would be a hobby! One of the paramedic texts I co-authored, Prehospital Emergency Pharmacology, is still in publication and revised every 3-4 years. So, I still have my hand in paramedic textbooks.
Writing fiction was something I loved in high school and I loved to write satire, like Saturday Night Live, or MAD magazine, a few years before there was SNL. Sarcasm, irony and satire came easily then. Then life and career and kids come along and took priority.
In 2010 I was separated, and knew I needed something to occupy my mind and time. One morning as I showered, the thought of fiction writing came to mind. At work, I searched ‘writing classes’ and one was starting the next week and I signed up. It was just meant to be.
I completed the first draft of Crisis Point and then spent many years rewriting as I continued to take courses and learn the writing craft. Crisis Point was a finalist for the 2015 Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis awards. In April 2018, Crisis Point was Indie published. In November 2020, I published my fifth novel. When I look at them in a row on my bookshelf, I’m amazed.
Liz - With experience both as a police officer and a paramedic, it’s wonderful that you share your knowledge with other writers. What are some of the most common technical errors you find writers of crime/medical books make?
Dwayne - Oh, boy. That could take a few pages! I think the challenge for most writers of crime/medical novels is that the only reference they have to police or medical procedures is from TV and Movies, and a lot of what is on the screen is wrong. So, the stuff that is wrong on TV or Movies, makes it into current novels. That is no fault of writers of crime/mysteries, that is on the writers, producers and technical experts for those shows. So, the best way to give examples is through the errors of TV or movies.
I did a column and presentation on ‘What TV and Movies Get Wrong.’ Each week TV provided horrible (good??) examples.
For medical shows, it's usually the six to eleven doctors in one room with one patient. You never see nurses, respiratory therapists, lab tech, x-ray, or ultrasound. And when the doctors do a medical procedure that one of the other allied health specialists would normally do, it is atrociously incorrect. I don’t even break a sweat finding errors in medical shows!
The biggest one, though, is CPR done poorly. Medical shows can manage the special effects of organ replacement, huge fires and collapsing buildings, but haven’t figured out how to show CPR even remotely accurately.
In police shows there are few common errors. The first is that the TV cops never seem to realize that the house might have a back door, or the apartment has a back window to the fire escape stairs. The cops burst in the front door and the criminal escapes out the back door. The back is sometimes the best place to be as a cop. The bad guy comes running out, looking over his shoulder and there you are. Twenty guys in the front door and you make the arrest by yourself. That is fun!
Second and related, is the fully geared out SWAT team is on the scene, and the two detectives wearing basic body armour and a pistols entire the house first. Would NEVER happen in real life.
Third is racking a pistol or shotgun before shooting. The sound is impressive, but in reality while you are loading your gun the back guy would shoot you. So, the police guns always have a bullet in the chamber and once the safety is released, they are ready to be fire. Also, no one would throw a gun away when it is out of bullets. If it’s a big shoot out, you’ll come across someone with bullets you can use. If it was me, in the big shootout scenes I’d collect every gun I found and the bullets. I might die, but it wouldn’t be because I didn’t have weapons or bullets!
Add to these that neither criminals or cops firing guns seem to be able to hit anything other than cars, few get hurt and they seldom run out of ammunition.
Few shows have paramedics as at least secondary characters, which to me is a shame. Of the three emergency services, working as a paramedic has far more shifts with critical incidents. I have paramedics as secondary characters in all my novels. The reader gets to know them and know the skills that they have. There’s so much more than dabbing some gauze on a bleeding forehead! That’s what I bring to my novels.
Liz - Was there a particular person who inspired the character of Brad Coulter, or was he an amalgamation of people/ideas?
Dwayne - Sometimes I’m embarrassed by this question. I was a police officer for over three years, then changed to emergency medical services as a paramedic. Most of my career was as a paramedic in many communities and in various positions. So, for the Brad Coulter Thriller Series, the premise was, what could my career as a police officer looked like if I’d stayed and not became a paramedic. So, Brad was me.
But an interesting thing happened. Not so much in Crisis Point, but in the sequels, Brad developed his own attitude, his own skills, and own personality. I really believe as I was writing, that he was telling me who he was and how he would react. I became the scribe to his character. Now, there’s a little of me still there, but he has developed very much into his own person. Certainly, in some ways, a much better than me, but his career takes its toll on his mental health, which I can relate to.
Liz - You’ve received wonderful reviews for the Brad Coulter Thriller Series, with Crisis Point, OutlawMC, Wolfman is Back, and 13 Days of Terror. What was the inspiration behind these stories?
Dwayne - The Brad Coulter Thriller series is set in Calgary, Alberta, Canada starting with Crisis Point in 1976. I have been introduced as a writer of historical fiction! Which is hurtful when you lived it!
For the first three novels, I based the stories on actual events in Calgary, but I moulded them into my own story. In Calgary in 1974, there was a very traumatic event where a lone gunman, high on model glue, barricaded himself in the oil pit in a garage and kept the police out. One detective was killed, and six others were injured, some seriously. I kept the newspapers from that event, known in Calgary as Black Friday, and thirty-six years later when I needed an idea for that first writing course, I used that event. It became a major part of Crisis Point.
OutlawMC I used information from an outlaw biker gang war from the 1970’s in Calgary. Rival outlaws motorcycle gangs are fighting for control of crime in the city. All that stands between the gangs is Brad Coulter’s tactical support team.
Wolfman is Back originally had a different antagonist out for revenge and was based on a very disturbed criminal in Calgary in the 1980s. But after OutlawMC came out, readers emailed me saying they hated the character Jeter Wolfe, he was deplorable, and I should have killed him at the end when I had a chance. So, there was only one thing to do. I brought him back in Wolfman (his biker nickname) is Back. He combines his evil from OutlawMC with that of the real-life disturbed character.
13 Days of Terror is the first story not based on a Calgary crime or criminal. The inspiration was the 2002 Beltway Snipers in Washington DVC and area. I was working on the plot when I found out that an FBI profiler would be in Calgary giving a talk on that incident. So, I was able to get firsthand, inside information in the case. While the Beltway Snipers were inspiration, the story is totally from my warped and evil brain.
In March 2021, the fifth Brad Coulter Thriller, Goddess of Justice, will be released. It is another novel that is not based on a Calgary or any real-life incident. It is purely from the dark side of my brain. A vigilante has decided that the court system is ineffective and takes on the role of judge, jury and executioner.
Liz - Do you foresee a continuation of novels for this character for the long term?
Dwayne - Readers love Brad Coulter and if they catch me on Facebook, I get a message telling me to stop goofing off and get writing, that they are waiting for the next Brad Coulter novel. I have plots out to novel nine, but I see this series going for as long as I am writing with at least one Coulter novel a year and probably two a year.
I have more than 10,000 words in the final Coulter Novel, when ever that will be. There has also been discussion with a friend who is a New York Times best selling author that we would collaborate and have Brad Coulter, much older and wiser, meet his female character for a very fast paced thriller.
Liz - We see a different track with your latest release, Speargrass Opioid which released in August, 2020 – what inspired you to branch away from the Brad Coulter series?
Dwayne - Frist, I love the TV series Longmire and the novels by Craig Johnson. The idea for Speargrass was from four years where I worked as Director of Operations and Emergency Services on a First Nation/Indian Reservation. During those years, I saw many things I experienced before. For the most part, they lived in poverty. There was little money coming in, no businesses for jobs. They were totally at the mercy of the chief and councillors. Elections were very much a clan event. The clan that won, would have jobs for the term of the election. Other clans, unless openly supporting the winning chief, would have no work for the term.
As well, the addiction rate was high, suicide rate was high, high school completion low and seeing mid twenty’s to thirties men and women with dead looking eyes was gut wrenching. I attended nearly every major event—police, EMS, fire—on the reserve. I saw firsthand the poverty, the effect of addictions, the deaths that increased every month due to addiction, but especially from opioids. To me, it was a story that needed to be told. It was a challenge to write the events and culture as I saw it, emphasizing the conditions without placing blame. I agonized over the story before I was ready to have it printed.
Liz - Have you planned out how many books will follow on from Speargrass Opioid? Or do you plan the books individually and see where the plots take you?
Dwayne - December 1, 2020 I started writing Speargrass 2, the working title is Speargrass—Casino. It will deal with money laundering through casinos and the mysterious deaths of men with a common background, they are all abusive husbands or boyfriends. I have ideas for two more in the Speargrass Series. Speargrass—Opioid was released in August, so I’ll monitor response from readers, but I’m excited about writing a modern western similar to Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.
Liz - Drug trafficking and addiction is an ever-growing issue world-wide. How did your experiences as a police officer and a paramedic impact this book?
Dwayne - Both professions bring you up close and personal to the enormous problems of drug trafficking. For those at the top, its all about making money. For those below, its about moving up to make more money. The effects of the drugs are not a concern of the hierarchy of the drug dealers.
For the addicts and family, it is the most heart wrenching experiences of my career. It rips families apart. It destroys relationships, but most of all it destroys the person. In Speargrass I have a chapter where both parents overdose and are dead, while the kids played in the kitchen. The little girl is the one who called 911, as her mother taught her to do in case something bad happened. That story is not from me. It is a true story.
Liz - Was there a reason you focused on Opioids specifically?
Dwayne - The Opioid Crisis has been around for a number of years, but is no longer ‘big news’ and has shoved to the back of the medias and our minds. It seems we’ve moved on to other things. So, when I started writing Speargrass—Opioid years ago it was big news, then faded. Now I hope that Speargrass—Opioid will bring the issue back to our collective attention.
Especially now with Covid 19. The pandemic is scary, and every newscast is filled with pretty much only Covid. The Opioid Crisis did not go away during Covid. In fact, in many locations, it is worse and kills more people a month than Covid.
Liz - Despite your impressive experience, is there much research involved in each of your books? Do you consult with various experts?
Dwayne - I certainly have an advantage having experienced the varied career in emergency services over forty years. Some of that is easy to put in writing. I hope my dialogue comes across as authentic. There is a lot of banter between partners and I work to make that realistic.
Ten or more hours in a vehicle with your partner means you know pretty much everything about them. You are with them more than your spouse or home partner. And let me tell you, if you have something on your partner, you will never miss an opportunity to rub it in, to push that button until they snap. Then, a critical comes in and you work together like you are joined at the hip.
I have a great group of consultants who were my police academy classmates many years ago when my career started. They are all very supportive and if they don’t know the answer, they know someone who will. So that is a great resource. I am a member of the Calgary Police Veterans Association and there is a wealth of knowledge in that group as well.
I also do a lot of internet searches. Even for things I’m very confident in, I do a search just to be sure. Things like bullet capacity of a type of gun, or the cruiser police services used in a specific year. I like to use songs, movie or TV references, or hit songs in the year my novel is set, as a way to set the year. The Brad Coulter Thriller Series goes from 1976 onward, so little additions like songs, TV or movies is important to me.
Liz - You’ve written a remarkable body of work in recent years – do you write full time? What is your process?
Dwayne - I have been writing full time since January 2019. I have a writing plan to the end of 2023 that includes my writing goals, when the novel has a first edit, my edits, a second edit, proofing and then formatting and printing. I will complete four novels a year if I can keep the schedule I have laid out. I send the novel in four to five sections to my editor who does her edit. At times, I am still writing the end of the novels as she is editing the first sections. Once she has done a first complete edit, I make my changes then send it back as a full manuscript.
I do my own formatting in Vellum as well as load the novels onto all the various platforms. I also work with a local printer for paperback copies.
I treat it as my full-time job, but usually work seven days a week. A day off is rare. I try to leave my evenings free to spend time with Valerie.
Liz - When you’re not writing or assisting other writers, what do you enjoy doing?
Dwayne - We have a Golden Retriever, Boone. She is seven and loves walks and just being outside. We have a large park across the street from us, Bowness Park, and we head there daily. I also like to do yard work and Boone likes to be outside supervising.
Valerie and I do a lot of binge TV watching in the evenings.
I am also an avid reader and always have at least one novel on the go. I read at night before sleeping. For me that is my wind down time with the work of another author.
I also do a final edit/proof for a New York Times Best Selling author. He is completing six to nine novels a year, so almost monthly I have a project from him to work on.
Liz - What is your long-term goal, as an author?
Dwayne - As I said, I have plans for novels until December 2023. That’s not when I’m stopping writing, that is just as far as I have planned so far. Part of that is that my editor is planning that far out, so I had to make a plan or lose her for editing! No way was I letting her get away!
I also plan to create audiobooks with my voice. I’d like to try my hand at script writing. I may be biased, but I think my novels would make great TV series or movies.
My readers think so too!
Liz - What will your fans see from you in 2021?
Dwayne - In 2021 I plan to release three novels.
Goddess of Justice (Brad Coulter #5) Late March 2021
I was Fine … and Then I Wasn’t – August 2021
Speargrass – Casino (Speargrass #2 Working Title) November 2021
A fourth novel, The Laughing Dog, based on characters from my 2015 short story, ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ in AB Negative, An anthology of Alberta Crime is at my editor for first round edits. After thirty-seven rejections for Crisis Point from publishers through an agent, I decided to Indie Publish. I will submit The Laughing Dog to agents and traditional publishers and see if there is interest.
I think my true self comes out in this writing, sarcastic with a lot of humor, some of it dark. The few who have read parts of this story, agree it may be the best I’ve done so far. Of course, they probably don’t want to hurt the single feeling I have left!
Thank you so much for chatting with me, Dwayne! If you'd like to keep in the loop with Dwayne's work you can find him at the below links: