Thursday, June 15, 2006

An Interview With Literary Author Patrick Ryan

Last night we had the pleasure of having literary author Patrick Ryan, author of Send Me and a host of short stories, as our guest at The Writer’s Chatroom.

Patrick’s responses to questions from member chatters were filled with wit and charm, but also with a no-holds-barred attitude regaling what it takes to make it as a writer.

Question: Your work is considered “literary”. What makes it so?

Patrick Ryan: Wow. Good question. For me as a reader, that means utterly convincing characters, not over-relying on coincidence, and creating believable dynamics between those characters. Also, creating characters you, as a writer, have compassion for, even when they're unlikable.

Question: I've been putting together some short stories, but I'm having trouble with where to market them.

Patrick Ryan: Go through (Writer’s Market) to see how many stories a journal/magazine accepts a year. If it says, say, four stories, forget it. And if it says NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS, forget it. That's my advice, anyway. It's unrealistic of journals to expect a writer to wait six months (or longer) for a yes or no.

Then -- and this is crucial -- carpet bomb the market. Send your story to every place that seems an option. As much as you can afford to.

And don't think twice when a rejection letter comes. I have boxes of them. But pay attention to any hand-written note like "Good to see!" or "Please keep us in mind."

If you think your story would appeal to any reader, you should send it wherever the market says "literary fiction." The hard fact is that you'll need to submit a story to lots of places that would never publish such a thing before you get lucky with the timing and the right editor. I've published around fourteen stories, and almost all of them were rejected anywhere from five to twenty times before someone said yes.

Question: Patrick, your bio said you received a Fellowship. Exactly what does that mean? How does it work?

Patrick Ryan: You have to have published, I think, three stories over the past three years, or something like that, to apply. Then it's a fairly simple process. I applied in March and they didn't announce until December. I thought of it as a lottery ticket.

You have to be in it to win it, as they say. The NEA, because of funding cut-backs, does poetry every other year, prose every other year.

It's worth applying for. It's money, which equals time to write, of course. And yes, it was QUITE a thrill. It gave me some very necessary peace of mind.

Question: Patrick what is your writing schedule like?

Patrick Ryan: I write for about four or five hours a day, five days a week, usually. Then there's added time revising. I do lots and lots of revision. I read everything out loud at every step of the process, to hear the rhythm and the cadence and the dialogue.

Discipline is everything. If I'm not on top of it all the time, I lose it. Meaning, I lose the project (the story or the novel).

Question: You don’t have television, cable, or other distractions most of us take for granted. Does this help you get more writing done—or have you found other, more interesting, distractions living in the Big Apple?

Patrick Ryan: The Big Apple is a wonderful, insane place. But I move in small circles, so to speak. I have a routine, and I have my distractions, but they're pretty regular.

My apartment is ANYTHING but sound proof! But I work, now, at this place called the Writers Room, where I rent a cubicle and no one is allowed to speak. It's the most wonderful and creepy place on earth.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give: don't write on the machine that let's you onto the internet and your email. Just don't do it! It's bad, bad, bad. And don't answer your phone when you're working. End of sermon (maybe).

Question: Do you make your living writing, Patrick?

Patrick Ryan: I do, now, make my living writing. That's new as of about two years ago. I've been writing steadily and working various jobs since 1990, when I graduated from an MFA program. I wrote seven novels I revised and submitted and couldn't get published. I also got about halfway through seven or eight more. I just kept going.

Out of the blue, I got an agent for SEND ME, and it sold, and my life changed. Now I make my living off my writing.

Question: Could you tell us what Send Me is about?

Patrick Ryan: Basically, it's about a family and what happens to it over forty years. More specifically, it's about a mother abandoned by two husbands, left with four children, and the fallout (and, occasionally, recovery) that results.

It's told out of chronological sequence, from six different points of view, both in the third-and first-person. I wanted it to be as holistic a portrait as possible.

Question: Please tell us a little more about writing for One Story.

Patrick Ryan: That was a fantastic experience. Everyone should submit there. The editor, Hannah Tinti (a wonderful writer -- check out her story collection, ANIMAL CRACKERS) was so influential in shaping that story/chapter, "So Much for Artemis."

She told me she thought the ending was off-topic. She told me two of the main characters who are set in opposition to each other never confront each other.

Because of her feedback, I completely rewrote the last ten pages. Totally new material. That ended up being the story that got me the NEA grant and will be in Best American Short Stories, so I'm very indebted to her. She's brilliant.

Question: Where did you get your first publication?

Patrick Ryan: I'd been submitting both stories and the first novel I wrote for years, and then, just out of grad school, I had a story taken by a tiny little newsprint journal called THE GASLIGHT REVIEW. I was so excited. It had a circulation of about 100, I think.

But it helped my ego. I published about a story a year for ten years. That sounds minor, I know, but it kept me going.

Question: Patrick, do you see yourself writing non-literary works in the future? Mainstream, perhaps?

Patrick Ryan: Interesting that you asked that. Here's an aside that may be worth hearing...

When I was waiting for my edits for SEND ME, I got an idea for a young adult novel. I called my agent and said, "Would you represent a YA, if I wrote it?" She said, "Sure!" So I wrote it. Geared toward a 16-year-old audience.

She sold it to HarperCollins. It will be out in a year. And it brought in enough money to allow me to quit my day job and be comfortable writing full-time.

Question: Do you go on book signing tours?

Patrick Ryan: I didn't do a tour for SEND ME. It was my first book, and my publisher -- The Dial Press, an imprint of RandomHouse -- puts their money into advertising rather than tours. It's a philosophy I concur with.

In response to marketing questions from the room:

Patrick_Ryan: talent + hard work + luck +
timing + PERSITENCE and FAITH = a published book.

As noted by Hope Clark: Patrick dispelled many of the notions we've read in the writing books!

Visit our Previous Guests page http://www.writerschatroom.com/former_guests.htm to catch up on what you've missed. And on the Products page http://www.writerschatroom.com/products.htm you will find some great recommendations. Please use our links to buy, and help support the chatroom! (You may purchase ANY book at amazon.com by using our link at TWC site.)

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