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Last updateTue, 06 Aug 2013 2am

Wednesday, 01 June 2011 21:42

May's Writer in Residence: Ryan Wilson

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Who are you?

I identify myself, whenever someone cares to ask, as a writer and teacher, but really the best word is "student." I'm pretty good at that role, so whenever I have success or feel good about a story, teaching a class, or music I write, I feel like it comes from that impulse to learn and express. It's a role I don't think I'll ever graduate from.

Where are you? How long have you been in L.A.?

I'm up here in Los Feliz, tucked underneath Griffith Park. It's been 10 years since my girlfriend and I made the trek out from the Midwest, via Miami, and moved into the neighborhood. We've since added 3 animals to the operation--one dog, two humans. We love the buildings so much, just walking around. Barnsdall Park is our backyard. Vermont Avenue. It's part of who we've become. Leaving, if we ever have to, would cause some major spinal tearing.

Tell us about Spiral Bound Brother...

The excerpts I ended up sending you are the beginning of the book. The poor, pompous, kind hearted (more or less) narrator, Craft, a freshman English teacher, finds himself taking a beating and then a journey into the unknown, and the excepts are the events that send him there. The key, for Craft, is how his journey connects to two siblings, Lila and Duke, 21 and 17, who don't know the other exists and don't know who their real father is. Suffice it to say this guy, the father, is no saint, so they have to figure out what to do about it all. All three characters drop out of their lives, so this story takes place in that strange time-out-of-time for all of them, when you know you're not living your normal life, but you have a feeling you're living your real life.

There's a heavy (maybe the wrong word, but go with me on this...) tone of spirituality in what I've read. Stepping blindly into fate, having fate blindly crash into you, Running towards/away from God, Craft is obviously on a big odyssey of sorts here. can you talk about his ultimate goal? Where's he going and what does he need? What's so important in Kissimmee/St Cloud?

You're right there. "Goal" is an interesting word for Craft, because he's constantly trying to locate some kind of purpose in his mess of a head. "God" is another interesting word for Craft. All he's willing to say for certain is that he's experiencing something so overtly beyond his previous experience that he has to take notice. So, he has a destination, as you mentioned, the outskirts of Orlando, but the goal is something he's always refining.

And yes, he does need something, many things really. It may vey well be in Kissimmee/St. Cloud, but for Craft, the important thing is simply going without the expectation of receiving what he needs. In a way, he's beyond all that, the give and take of "being good” and “fulfilling” something. At this point, he must go just to say he's alive.

There's a great balance between cold science/analytical thinking and warm imagery throughout the excerpts. That, coupled with the issues of memory and the IDEA of memory - it all seems to point to a larger picture. His name is CRAFT, fergodssake - is he trying to rebuild himself, recreate himself, forensically figure out who he was?It's fertile ground, certainly!

I hope so, man! I tend to think, if we're being honest with ourselves, there's a larger pattern and longer path to unwinding and unlearning a lot of damaging horseshit, with respect to our place in the universe, our parents, money, sex. The culture is a sick puppy to be sure—but what else ya got? I feel like that predicament is universal, it's whether we want to take the time and energy, because a lot of that kind of undoing hurts something awful. Fortunately, it has the possibility of being just as funny as it is painful. And freeing, maybe.

And Craft is a real way of digging into that soil, if you’ll allow me to hop onto your metaphor for a second. He’s real—largely because of the real people who inspired his voice. They were the ones that started me thinking about all of this, so they get the narration in the form of this one bookish, perverted yet specifically principled clown.

How long have you been working with The Black Boot?

 It was a one man bonanza for a while--the editor, the big jefe, Ethan Antonucci--distributed it as an underground publication within the Entertainment Business. After he quit his job as a literary agent and washed himself extensively in the river, he brought me on to help take it above ground, or at least right to sea level. That was about 4 years ago. Our mission is pretty simple—and daunting: to engage people as much as possible who like this kind of shit, help people kind of on the fence learn to like it more, and to share new voices that we think people need to hear. The book we put out, No One, by the Los Angeles poet, Dennis Cruz, is as good of a book of contemporary poems as you're likely to find. We have landed some writers who've put out “real” books, like Monica Drake, Kyle Beachy, and Steve Heighton, and the poet, Sierra Nelson, but not for the purpose of putting feathers in our threadbare caps. Hopefully if you like a book like Monica's Clown Girl, or Kyle's The Slide, you'll like the other work we're putting out. And those authors knew they weren't going to see a dime from us. Bless them. But the other element that's important for us is the live event. Reading, performing, partying--we're in a great, contemporary city. Use it! Engage. Embrace.

Issue 9 will be out in October--hopefully some we'll see a bunch of new faces in Echo Park for the party. New readers and contributors too.

The novel-in-progress is always a mysterious beast, one I've slain a few times, but there's always the next, and the next, and the next... What's your approach to writing? Is Spiral Bound Brother your first novel-length work?

Yeah, I started this book when my son, now 3 and 1/2, was in the womb. His existence changed my process forever--and for the better. There's no rush, there's only a book, out there in the distance, one that I'm truly happy with, that I'd read myself. I'm not there yet, because it's not done, but every once in a while I see it in a flash, the whole book, and I just know I've got to keep going, paragraph by paragraph. I'm close, or, I’m closing in--or something.

My 20's were mostly dedicated to writing songs and trying to play them in front of people. Tough. Screenplays too. Also tough. My Black Boot partner, Ethan, sort of acting as my agent, told me I'd write a stack of screenplays to the ceiling if I didn't start thinking in high concept form. Unless of course I was going to direct my little absurd slice of life dramas too. But I don't have that kind of head, for directing movies, which is why I love the process of making music. You write it, live with it, record it. Bang. It exists.

But when it comes to story, I'm only able to think in terms of sprawling landscapes. My old writing teacher told me my screenplays would have been better as books. In hindsight, I think they would have been pretty awful novels, but I took his point. Then, becoming a parent, I had a vision of how some kind of sustainable process could work--using music and songwriting as my journal, then letting the long narratives wash over a few years. It's early, but so far so good. My folk duo, Gutterbunny, is about to finish a new record, which plays like a sonic diary. And the book, well, I still like it after almost 4 years.

You teach Creative Writing and Ethics - I'm curious how that translates into your written work. Obviously most fiction writing involves putting people into bad situations. do you see any kind of ethical limits to writing? anything that's off limits (genuine bomb recipes? Brutal violence? That kind of thing?). Is it all good if it serves the higher purpose of the story? Or does the story itself need to aspire to a higher purpose? Should it just BE, or does it need to have a greater scope than what's contained between the covers? I don't think this applies to every written thing, it depends a lot on what the story is, but give me your take on the novel. (Abstractly, not necessarily YOUR novel. What are books? What should they do?)

In terms of story--no limits. No censorship. If it's been imagined, it already exists. Every awful thing possible will be thought of and brought to bear with sickeningly inspired creativity, regardless of what the storytellers do. It's important to remember that writing and making art is just one form of creativity. If there's one subject where people need absolutely no help, it's how to hate and what to do about it with new, horrifying twists. It's the easiest way to be creative. Kill. Destroy. Put somebody’s head on a pike and plant it in front of the castle. Stick enough explosive up your ass to kill a thousand people. Design genius warheads that’d end it—for everyone. Who thinks of doing that stuff? A lot of people, obviously. And it takes imagination and determination.

No. What books do, I think, is offer a home for the reader, a home that changes something in her. And I think we read for that home, hoping it'll free something important inside.

ePublishing - the beast has slowly risen from the depths, and its tendrils are reaching out into the world further and with increasing rapidity. What's your take on print vs. e-Ink? How has it changed the publishing game, and what role will paper play in our futures?

I don't know, Michael, except that there's been a steady cacophonous chorus shouting that printed books are obsolete. I only read actual books. Our neighborhood bookstore, Skylight Books, just expanded last year. It’s conceivable that I’d buy a Kindle—who knows. Would I care how someone read my book? Not in the slightest, and I don’t know a writer who’d say otherwise.

I have a hunch that it doesn't much matter, from a big picture standpoint. And the medium might change the form over time, change the job of publishers, change how money is exchanged, but the impulse to write and the impulse to read seem relatively stable. And people are never going to have hours and hours to investigate which books are good and which are garbage, so there’ll continue to be a need for some kind of filter, some way of pointing people to quality. And there will be more and more options to compete with for readers’ attention—all that crap—same old struggle. But nothing, nothing, is a substitute for creating a mental landscape from a story, doing half, if not more than half, of the work. It just feels better.

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson


Ryan Wilson’s Spiral Bound Brother, won a fellowship for novels in progress from the Vermont Studio Center. He is Stories Editor of The Black Boot (theblackboot.com). Ryan works in counseling and teaches writing at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. He wishes to lovingly namecheck his family: Sarah, Chance, Seamus, and Tuva.   To reach Ryan-- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Website: www.theblackboot.com

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Michael Paul Gonzalez

Michael Paul Gonzalez is the founder and editor of ThunderDome Magazine.He believes in good Chinese food, good monkeys, good writing, and freedom of artistic expression, but probably not in that order. 

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