In 2004, Garry Ryan published his first Detective Lane novel, Queen’s Park. The second, The Lucky Elephant Restaurant, won a 2007 Lambda Literary Award. He has since published seven more titles in the Calgary Herald-bestselling series: A Hummingbird Dance, Smoked, Malabarista, Foxed, Glycerine, Indiana Pulcinella, and his latest, Matanzas, which was released in Fall 2017. In 2009, Ryan was awarded Calgary’s Freedom of Expression Award. His series of World War II aviation adventure stories began publication in 2012 with Blackbirds. The second installment, Two Blackbirds, was released Spring 2014.
For more information on Garry Ryan, the Detective Lane Series, and Blackbirds, visit www.garryryan.ca.
IN GARRY'S WORDS
The making of The Lucky Elephant Restaurant
The Lucky Elephant Restaurant has a similar origin to that of Queen’s Park. Before I started writing the second installment of the Detective Lane Series, I had watched a documentary on the fall of Saigon, in which a Canadian journalist expressed his disgust with Canadian diplomats who loaded ceramic elephants and limousines onto aircrafts when they evacuated a war-torn Vietnam. The journalist believed the Canadian diplomats should have rescued some of the people who were desperately trying to escape Vietnam—many of these Vietnamese nationals actually had permission to come to Canada, but were left behind. This occurrence provided an essential underlying theme for The Lucky Elephant Restaurant.
Next, I worked with the idea that dangerously dysfunctional people can appear to be normal. I thought, How is it that some people are equipped to recognize dangerous people (like Bobbie in The Lucky Elephant Restaurant) and others find a person like Bobbie to be admirable? This marks another essential element for The Lucky Elephant Restaurant.
The making of Queen’s Park
My novels are collages of ideas, images, and memories that coalesce into a story. The idea for Queen's Park originated during a trip to Oahu in 1972 when I was eighteen. (Go ahead, do the math, I'm ancient!) I went on a tour of a US military cemetery where bodies were buried at twelve and six feet, in the same hole, to save real estate. That’s when I started wondering what one would do with a dead body, which fuelled the idea for Queen’s Park. In the novel, the question of where to hide a body (namely the uncle’s) is one that needs answering in order to solve the case.
The second (seemingly disconnected) image presented itself when my kids took karate. The instructor explained what would happen to a person's airway if a sharp blow hit the base of the throat, which is how Ernie in Queen’s Park acts in self-defense to kill his uncle.
A third ingredient to the Queen’s Park recipe came from watching my parents and Shar's (Sharon is my wife) parents grow older. I saw how their experiences from World War II and the Depression had formed their personalities, which made me think about how these experiences would influence a person’s actions later in life. As a result of similar experiences, Ernesto and Nanny in Queen’s Park have come to believe that the defense of loved ones is their primary motivation in life.
Add in some of the experiences my students survived to talk about, and you have the basic elements of Queen's Park.
The making of A Hummingbird Dance
A Hummingbird Dance begins with a disappearance connected to an unsolved murder. When Detectives Lane and Harper investigate the death of a sixteen-year-old First Nations man, they begin to unravel a series of killings. They must also deal with complex family issues while risking their lives to uncover the truth behind the killings.
When I envision a hummingbird dance, I am reminded of the weeks of observation required to come to the conclusion that hummingbirds are very human. They become extremely aggressive in defense of their flowers or feeders. This knowledge was gathered during two weeks of photographing hummingbirds in San Diego. Hummingbird behaviour allowed me to better understand human behaviour and our violent desire to hold onto what we think we own.
Now add to this mix the idea that a talented artist can make you believe a marionette is a real person. Only by bringing a marionette to life can the reader understand what was lost when Alex was murdered. Alex’s friend brings him to life on her stage, and I believe that her art and her voice makes this tragedy more authentic for the reader.
Detective Lane himself
During the writing of the novels, the main character, Lane, has become one delightful surprise. He's a real person to me now, an old friend. He and his family live next door in my imagination. In many ways, he and I grew up together.
Garry Ryan on why he writes
All of these seemingly disconnected facts and imaginings have become essential to the creation of the Detective Lane Series. I can't really explain the process or the instinctive compulsion to write them down. The closest I can come to describing my urge to create is by saying, “Writing is oxygen.”