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Let Us Introduce You to...Ryan Rivers!

Kent Holloway

Managing Editor



I've been looking forward to this interview for quite some time now. Although (unfortunately) few will know today's guest by name, Ryan Rivers, I definitely think they should do everything they can to get to know him and his. Although Ryan has only been writing for a short time, he has become one of my personal favorite cozy mystery authors. Basically, if he writes a new Bucket List Mystery, you can bet I'm one of the very first in line to get it. They're just that much fun. And very well written.


So, who exactly is Ryan Rivers? Well, let's start with his bio:


Ryan Rivers is the author of the Bucket List Mystery series, featuring Levi Blue and Sho Tanaka.

By day, Ryan teaches technical writing and stops the spread of unnecessary adverbs and vague pronoun references. By mid-afternoon/early evening, he fights crime with his trusty sidekick/toddler son. Together they have uncovered who, in fact, has got your nose and tracked the elusive Peekaboo. They live and eat and occasionally sleep in North Texas with their Brussels griffon pup.

Ryan writes the Bucket List Mystery series. As his bio says, it features Levi Blue (a former child/tween actor of a cheesy tween cop show) and serious as nails Sho Tanaka. The duo are a modern odd couple. Like oil and something completely opposite of oil. Air, maybe. But when they come together, it's magic. A pure buddy cop story without the official 'cop' part. Best pals who would love nothing more than to strangle each other, and yet, they work beautifully together despite themselves.

And the mysteries themselves are just so delightful. I devoured every single book in this series (novel, novellas, and short story) in about a two day span (something amazing for my slow-reading self) and I can't wait for book two to get here in September. Every single mystery is crafted so well in terms of "fair play". All the clues are always there. Plenty of red herrings. You should definitely be able to solve these yourself if you pay close enough attention.

You'll also laugh out loud quite often. Look, I just can't say enough good things about this series. Go and pick up a copy of any of Ryan's available books today (and leave a review when you're done!). Still not convinced? Well, fortunately we have Ryan here today to talk to us about his books and writing in general. Maybe he'll convince you.

 

I’ve already talked a bit about your Bucket List Mystery series, but it’s always best to hear it from the ‘horse’s mouth’, so to speak. So, in your own words, tell us a bit about Sho Tanaka and Levi Blue. What inspired you to write about this charismatic sleuthing duo?


I wanted to write a series featuring unlikely friends who inspire personal growth in each other. Sho, an ICU nurse from Seattle, finds himself on a forced sabbatical following a panic attack at work, a result of some severe trauma he experienced in the ICU that led him down the path of prescription drug dependency. He embodies pragmatism and seeks stability amidst his personal chaos. On the other hand, Levi is a former actor from the less-than-mainstream TV tween detective series, Tween of the Crime. His impulsive nature and craving for adventure spring from a childhood spent on a TV set, which left him yearning for genuine life experiences. He’s convinced that his acting stint gives him just the qualifications he needs to solve actual crimes.


Their paths cross in the Texas town of Bluebonnet Hills where Sho visits his sister, and together, Sho and Levi unwittingly find themselves amidst crime scenes. Sho’s methodical and clinical approach, stemming from his medical training contrasts Levi’s imaginative solutions, drawn from his TV show experiences. The balance creates an effective, hopefully humorous, detective team that dives into one mystery after another, much to Sho’s initial reluctance.


Both characters inspire each other to face their fears. Sho’s trauma and his struggle with prescription drug dependence contrast sharply with Levi’s dread of a potential future shadowed by a neurological disease that claimed his father. Together, they encourage one another to overcome these challenges while bringing levity and excitement to their lives and the readers of the Bucket List Mystery series.



Right now, you have one full length novel out, Aerobics Can Be Deadly and one novella, Halloween Hoedowns Can Be Deadly. You also have a free novella (Arbor Day Can Be Deadly) that introduces your two sleuths. What future books can we look forward to in Tanaka’s and Levi’s mystery solving futures? Tell us a bit about what we can expect.


I have plans to continue the adventures of Sho and Levi in Bluebonnet Hills. The second novel, Barbecue Can Be Deadly, will involve Jenny entering a barbecue competition. As usual, it leads Levi and Sho into another investigation with some twists and turns.


I also recently published another novella, Masquerade Mayhem Can Be Deadly, in a forthcoming anthology. In this story, Levi stumbles upon a dead body in his Tween of the Crime fan museum during a New Year’s Eve masquerade party. I enjoy writing these shorter pieces, and I’m toying with ways to deliver more of these “bite-sized” stories in between the longer novels.



Cozies are predominantly written by women and most often are populated by women sleuths. What prompted you, as a man, to write cozies? Is there a reason you chose to use male sleuths instead of female?


When I first got hooked on cozy mysteries 20+ years ago, it was authors like Jeff Abbott and his Jordan Poteet series, David Handler’s Steward Hoag series, Matt Witten’s Jacob Burnes series, and Jeffrey Cohen’s Aaron Tucker series that drew me in. Back then, the genre was more diverse in terms of both the authors and the protagonists.


But you’re right—over time, the genre has predominantly become populated by female writers and sleuths. While I enjoy many of these series, when I sat down to write my own, I wanted to create something that mirrored the cozies I fell in love with. As a reader, I saw a gap between the two common spectrums - the young, successful yet personally stumbling protagonist, and the Miss Marple-type character. I wanted to write something that landed in between.


In doing so, I recognized I might be considered a “niche” writer, given that my series features not one but two male sleuths. That’s something I had to reconcile with myself. My intention wasn’t to suddenly draw a massive male readership but to offer something fresh within the genre that could still appeal to its largely female audience. The feedback I’ve received so far indicates readers appreciate this twist.


Being a male author, I was keenly aware of avoiding any suggestive or “locker room” humor. Humor is an important part of my writing, but I wanted it to be inclusive and respectful. Similarly, I was mindful not to objectify female characters, as is sometimes done in other genres.


I also downplayed the romantic subplot, which is common in modern cozies. There’s a hint of romance between Sho and the police chief, but it’s a slow burn that will develop over several more stories. Instead, the emphasis is on the friendship between Sho and Levi or the sibling dynamic between Sho and Jenny. From the responses I’ve received, readers appreciate these foci over romance.



Who are some of your biggest influences (books, authors, TV, movies, etc)? How have these influenced you?


My influences span a wide range of media, but a significant part of my writing inspiration comes from the realm of comedy. I Love Lucy and screwball comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy and Burns and Allen left a deep imprint on me. During high school, I even conducted a research project on comedy radio plays, leading me to write and perform my own. These comedic influences have significantly shaped the Bucket List Mystery series, specifically in creating Levi’s background as a TV tween detective.


This comedy-drenched background allows Levi to reference his own fictional TV show episodes during investigations, giving me a delightful opportunity to create outrageously funny plotlines.

Influences from shows like Monk and Psych have also influenced my writing style, particularly in how I use humor to mask clues within the narrative. This method creates a vibrant and engaging atmosphere while maintaining the suspense integral to a cozy mystery.


As for Sho and Levi’s interaction, their dynamic is heavily inspired by the comedic pairings I’ve admired over the years. Writing their dialogues often mirrors the process of sitcom scripting, where I pen multiple jokes for a setup and then test them on beta readers to ensure they hit the mark. This iterative process, reminiscent of classic comedy writing, breathes life into the characters and their relationships, resulting in a narrative that’s both humorous and intriguing—at least I hope it does!



Tell us a little about your journey as a mystery writer. Have you always wanted to write mysteries or is that something that sort of developed organically? What attracted you to mysteries to begin with?


I started writing mysteries relatively “late” in my life (40!), despite having fiction writing as a long-time hobby. While I’ve had a successful career in technical writing and business communication, I didn’t start writing fiction professionally until the onset of the pandemic. Lockdown presented me with a unique opportunity to channel my energy constructively and finally overcome the fear that had been holding me back.


My interest in mysteries, specifically cozies, has always been significant. I enjoy reading a variety of genres, but there’s something about cozies that keeps me returning. The intrigue for me is less about who-dunnit and more about why-dunnit. The exploration of the motivations leading a villain to commit a crime fascinates me. Cozies, which often revolve around communities, render crime much more personal and impactful.


I write my cozies centered on this focus. When plotting, I start with the premise, but my primary focus is on why someone would commit a crime. Tracing the steps leading up to the crime invigorates my creativity, and this process allows me to delve into a variety of human issues, such as addiction and mental illness.


The expectations of the cozy genre—no sex, no swearing, and no gratuitous violence—don’t hinder my storytelling. These expectations align perfectly with my emphasis on the psychological and emotional aspects of crime.



What do you think makes a Ryan Rivers book truly a Ryan Rivers book?


I think the uniqueness of a Ryan Rivers book lies in the blend of mystery, humor, and heart. The mysteries create an engaging framework, but it’s the development of the characters and their relationships that gives the stories depth.


I hope readers will find the dynamics between Levi and Sho and Jenny relatable and inspiring. There’s an underrepresentation of stories about friendship, especially male friendship, and I believe that exploring these “quieter” human relationships is just as interesting as depicting more explosive relationships.


One aspect of my writing that readers seem to appreciate is my refusal to sugarcoat the darker sides of crime. While my books adhere to the expectations of the cozy genre, I refuse to offer superficial motives to my villains. Cozy readers have expectations, but they also don’t want a sterilized version of reality. I balance laugh-out-loud moments with serious discussions of topics such as addiction and mental illness. While addressing these issues, I make sure that my humor derives from the situation and not from mocking those who struggle with these challenges.


My favorite scenes to write are the interactions between Sho and his sister, Jenny, as well as those between Sho and Levi. These quieter moments bring out the layers and complexities of the characters, and it’s fulfilling to see Sho and Levi develop into better versions of themselves through their interactions with each other.


A constant challenge for me as an author is finding ways to convince both Sho and Levi to investigate a crime. As their characters have developed, so have their motivations and their involvement in the investigations. For example, in my recent novella, “Masquerade Mayhem Can Be Deadly,” Sho is the one who understands the severity of a dead body showing up at Levi’s house and wants to clear his friend’s name. An earlier version of Sho never would have taken this initiative, but this character development provides new avenues for creativity and keeps the series fresh and engaging.



Finally, if you could offer just one piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?


My best advice for aspiring writers would be—don’t delay. Don’t let self-doubt or your own critical voice deter you from publishing the stories swirling in your mind. I took a long time to publish my work because of my analytical nature/overthinking. This trait has served me well in some contexts, but not in the decision of becoming a fiction writer.


If you have stories within you, conduct your research and understand your genre, but don’t let fear dictate the next steps.


And write what resonates with you. I write cozy mysteries for readers like my younger self who found comfort and excitement in such stories during a dull data-entry job. I hold fond memories of that period in my life and the cozies I read during that time. So, I write for those readers who might be in similar situations. Create stories that you would have loved to read, and you’ll undoubtedly connect with readers who feel the same.

 

Thanks Ryan, for the great interview! Everyone else, seriously...let's put this guy on the map. His books deserve it (and no, Charade doesn't publish his books (although Lord knows I've tried!). Check out his website HERE. If you're interested in his books, check out his Amazon page HERE.

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