Ryan O’Nan: Five Things I Learned Writing Winders

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…

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…

TIME TRAVEL RULES ARE HARD AS HELL

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure made time travel rules look easy. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar made them feel hard (for me at least). So, as I ventured into the swamp of time travel world building, I prepped myself for some struggle. But truthfully, the world building of the rules in Winders was one of my favorite parts. I love new rules in sci-fi. Rian Johnson’s Looper had a rule about people only being able to time travel in one direction through time, which shaped his story in a really fun way. As I approached my rules for Winders, I knew a couple of things. I knew I wanted the people in the story to wield this ability like Jedis somehow, and I also knew it wasn’t going to be actual time travel. The example I use is: If you cut your arm and you time traveled back one minute, you would still have the cut—it would just be a minute earlier. But with winding, if you cut your arm a minute ago, and then you wound back time a minute, the cut would go away. It would have been erased. Ok, so kinda time travel, kinda not. Definitely time travel adjacent.

But how could I make it like Jedis? The answer that changed everything for me came with three rules: 1. A stronger Winder can block the wind of a weaker one—unless the stronger Winder is distracted or too tired.  2. If two Winders are touching, then they wind together, and both perceive it happening together in real time. 3. Winding makes a sound. A sound which other Winders can hear, but normal humans can’t. Winders can tell if a wind has happened close by them, but if they’re focused, they can tell when a wind is just starting to happen, which gives them the chance to block it—if they can. And with those rules in place, let the jousting begin.

I WISH I HAD THIS POWER SO BADLY

For some, people and opportunities just seem to come to them, as if by gravitational force; while I’ve always felt myself balancing on a knife’s edge, trying desperately to make correct choices, fighting to say the right thing at the right time to the right people.

Call it trauma from moving around so much as a kid and constantly entering new schools and new social circles (or trying to). Whatever. Here’s the thing: the people we tell ourselves we are when we’re young never really leave us, I think. I’ve always felt like an imposter. In my life, I’ve been a skateboarder, I’ve toured around in an indie rock band, I’ve been an actor, a screenwriter and even a director, and never have I lost that feeling that I’m on a tight rope and one wrong move will send me spiraling down to my doom.

The power that Charlie and Juniper and the rest of the Winders have in this novel makes me incredibly jealous. There are so many advantages someone with this ability would have. An extra minute of knowledge of how stocks or international currencies will shift could lead to endless wealth. If a basketball player knew exactly what pattern the defense would form every time they had the ball… If a candidate in a presidential debate knew exactly what their opponent would say right before they said it… Or if you had endless chances to say all the right things to the girl, or boy, of your dreams…

Hell, I’d be using this ability on a regular basis to pick which lane of traffic I’m in. Every time I pick a lane, it seems like all other lanes start moving faster than the one I’m in. But maybe the traffic Gods are even more powerful than winding, and no matter what lane I picked, it would still be the slowest. Which leads me to the next thing I learned…

MAYBE I AM A CONSPIRACY THEORIST

I don’t like to think that the world and all of us sloshing around in it are being manipulated on a constant basis from unseen force, BUUUUTTT, isn’t that the nature of all power? To eventually control? To play God. There IS a reason that the Zuckerberg’s don’t let their kids participate in any kind of social media. There’s a reason why, when I have a private conversation with my friend about the incredible month I spent in Dubrovnik, Croatia a decade ago, suddenly I start getting sent ads on my phone for Croatia vacations. And that’s just a little dorky example. That’s not the multi-national corporations asserting their influence on countries across the globe, all for the sake of power and money. The time winding is the fiction; the world spanning puppet strings are very real. I think.

I LIKE TO KILL MOMS

My mother called me when she read the first line of Winders, which is: “My mother died twice.” She wanted to know why I always kill the moms in my stories. This is true. But I didn’t even realize it until she asked. I kill a lot of moms in my stories. I tried to examine it, and I this is what I eventually concluded… growing up without my mom sounds like scariest thing I can imagine. I grew up in a pretty damn chaotic childhood. Multiple factors involved. But there was a ton of criminal shit going on, and because of this, my family moved around like crazy. Not state to state, but from a nice home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac to living in tents on the beach, and shitty motels, for years at a time. I’m the oldest of five kids, and when I was young, we ran like wolves. Very little supervision. But it forced us to be self-reliant, and to make our own games, and to get creative in order to have fun. But there were also scary times.  Danger and poverty are kissing cousins after all. Big danger in the world my father was involved in, and little danger in the rough areas I lived in at times. But through all of that, I had my mom. My mom was not perfect. She had her own demons. Definitely dealt with substance abuse issues, for which she’s been in recovery now for decades. But she was an amazing mom. She poured love into me and my siblings. And that made us braver. It made us feel safer—that there was a safety net for us when we failed. The scariest thing I could imagine was losing my mom at a time when I needed er most. I’m not sure me and my siblings would have survived what we went through without her. So, I suppose, because of that, my kneejerk reaction to the idea of making my characters less safe, and making their worlds more frightening, is to pull the net: kill the mom. So, both Charlie and Juniper are momless. Sorry, moms!!!

“LET ME PLAY THE LION, TOO”

There’s this part of me that has always wanted to be and play everything. Like the character of Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’ve always wanted to play the lover, and the tyrant, and the lion. Everything. “I will roar, that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me”. He’s the fool in this play, because obviously you can’t do everything. But the beautiful thing about writing—that I learned specifically with this novel—is that you actually get to do that. While writing Winders, I got to be Charlie, the troubled young man fresh out of a military prison and yearning to reconnect with life; and I got to be Juniper, a young woman scientist warrior, whose life gets completely uprooted when she suddenly discovers that everything she knows to be true is different than she believed. And I also got to be the psychotic villain, Trevor, bent on world domination, still reeling from a brutally violent childhood and making the world pay for it. And I even briefly got to slide into the skin of Grams, an old woman who raised two orphaned boys who were in desperate need of the love she poured into them. I got to be all of them for a small amount of time; and in the end, they all have little pieces of me sewn into each of them on an elemental level. The good, the bad and the ugly. All of it. I’ve always been so grateful to writing for being a medium in which you get to take the very best part of yourself and the very worst part—the apotheosis of your personal experiences and the most brutal and humiliating moments in your life—and temper all of that into something to offer up to the world. I loved writing this novel. Whether or not anyone likes it (which I really hope they do) the story has given me a ton of joy, and that has meant the world to me.

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Ryan O’Nan is an award-winning screenwriter, actor and director. He has written on such series as Marvel’s Legion on FX, as well as the edgy teenage drama Skins, Queen of the South on USA, and Wu-Tang: An American Saga on Hulu. Currently, Ryan writes and produces on Big Sky on ABC. On the film side, he wrote/directed the hit indie film Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, which was released theatrically by Adam Yauch’s (Beastie Boys) company Oscilloscope Laboratories, where it received several awards. 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, California with his wife and three cats: Bosco Beanbag, Fantine the Bean, and Amelia Wolfman. Winders is Ryan’s debut novel.

Ryan O’Nan: Twitter

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