By Dawn Ius
As the long-time wife of a SWAT sniper, Jan Thomas has lived most of her life under a cloak of anonymity, keeping her emotions—and close relationships—tight to her chest. She’s witnessed firsthand the darker side of humanity, and admits, it’s sometimes scary.
Thriller author Grant Jerkins considers “scary” part of his job. His dark novels—A Very Simple Crime, The Ninth Step, and At the End of the Road—are known for their ability to take readers down disturbing, uncomfortable paths.
But neither Jerkins nor Thomas ever considered those paths might one day cross.
The two have never met, but together, they’ve written DONE IN ONE, a vivid, visceral look at the haunting world of a police sniper. Though fiction, the novel is very much centered on Thomas and her husband’s life.
“If my husband had his way, this story would never have been written,” Thomas says. “Snipers are very solitary creatures. He doesn’t like anybody knowing his business.”
But Thomas knew in order to do the story justice, she’d have to dig deep and get personal. Ultimately, she’d have to get naked in front of the world. Which could have left her co-writer feeling a little like a third wheel.
Jerkins doesn’t see it that way.
“I knew Jan for four years before she even told me her husband’s name,” he says. “It’s built in to Jan not to share personal information. But even from the beginning, I’ve always felt part of their inner circle.”
Indeed, the final product is a careful blend of truth and the traditional elements of thriller fiction, infused with Thomas’ intimate knowledge of the world, and Jerkins’ command of the craft—though he admits, he had to tone down the “darkness.”
“Jan made me realize that people don’t always want to take the train to crazy town,” Jerkins says. “I knew this needed to be a deeper story. She kept me in line.”
“When we wrote together, we seemed to speak in the same voice,” Thomas adds.
Amazing, considering where the book originated. DONE IN ONE began more than fifteen years ago in the form of a screenplay Thomas had written, then called Green Light. She’d had marginal success in Hollywood, so was thrilled when the story got picked up by an accomplished director.
At the same time, Jerkins was also dabbling in screenwriting, and unbeknownst to Thomas, was assigned the task of revising Green Light.
“I read it, was excited about it, and worked as hard as I could,” Jerkins said.
Unfortunately, his efforts were met with mild enthusiasm from the director, and eventually, the screenplay was rewritten by another writer who Thomas says completely missed the mark on the script’s essence. She pulled the project.
“The story was always in the back of my mind, though,” Jerkins says. “I tracked Jan down, and sent her the rewrite I’d done on the script, not thinking anything would come of it. To my shock, she loved it.”
So much so, that she put both of their names on the screenplay and began the tedious task of sending it back out into the market.
In the meantime, Jerkins had found a publisher for his dark thrillers, and screenwriting took a backseat to writing novels. With this new experience under his belt, Jerkins pitched the idea of DONE IN ONE to Thomas, a novelized version of their now co-written script, Green Light.
Thomas admits it might have been easy to say no. After all, this story was her baby, an homage to her husband and people like him.
“I couldn’t refuse. Grant knocked me out with his writing,” she says. “I could clearly see what I had wasn’t enough and what he could bring to the table. I knew I could trust him. He forced me to be honest about the world my husband and I lived in.”
Including the psychological impacts of killing someone.
“There’s a routine we went through after every call out,” Thomas says. “A way we dealt with those emotions. It’s in the book. Grant drew that out of me.”
Gritty, raw, thrilling for sure—but at the heart of the novel is an atypical love story.
“This is a character who isn’t even capable of love,” Jerkins says. “He disassociates himself from the world. But it’s his wife that keeps him plugged in, and part of society.”
“My husband hates that I made him love me,” Thomas says. “Because I’m someone else he has to worry about, and that scares him. We have enemies out there, but this is the truth of who we are, and it’s a story that needed to be told.”
Thomas’ husband seems to agree.
After so many years living and breathing this complex, and often terrifying life, coupled with the ups and downs of the publishing industry, Thomas finally shared DONE IN ONE with her “sniper.” She waited patiently for his feedback, knowing how desperately he didn’t want this book to be written.
“I asked him, ‘Did you finish it?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’”
And then some time later, he said, “I loved it. You made me laugh, you made me cry—and you made me look like a bad ass.’”
Grant Jerkins is the author of the novels A Very Simple Crime, At the End of the Road, and The Ninth Step. His newest novel, Done in One (with Jan Thomas), will be published by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, January 2015.
To learn more about Grant, please visit his website.
Jan Thomas has worked as a firefighter/medic, a role-player at a police academy, a weekly humor columnist, and a screenwriter. She lives in Northern California with her husband, a retired law-enforcement sniper and their two St. Bernards. Done in One is her first novel.