Bio: Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. A collection of her short stories, SURVIVAL SKILLS, will be published by Ashland Creek Press in April 2013. Please visit her website at http://jean-ryan.com/
Do you have any writing projects that you currently working on?
I am working on some short stories as well as blog posts.
How / When / Why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a child. Translating ideas and experience into words is how I make sense of the world. Finding the right phrasing is a tremendous challenge—like tuning a musical instrument, perhaps: one just knows when the right chord has been struck. This intuitive knack may be the one thing that can’t be taught in writing classes. Humor, another element I strive for, is also challenging. Like other aspects of composition, it is best approached from the side. Jean Thompson does humor very well.
What inspires you now to write? / Why is your genre important to you?
Short stories pull the reader into a situation quickly. I think the quality of writing in literary short fiction is largely superior to the writing in most novels. Novels often carry too much exposition and padding. Short pieces must get to the point quickly. This urgency requires distillation, and this takes care and some talent.
Do you have a daily / weekly writing routine? Can you tell us about it?
I write in the mornings, in my living room, using a laptop computer. Though I don’t write every day, I think about my stories anywhere and everywhere, so you might say that I am always in the process of writing—either mulling over scenes in a particular story or absorbing ideas for future stories.
I usually start making notes for a story in longhand. After I have a few paragraphs down, I switch to the computer. I love the ease with which text can be manipulated, and paper saved, using a computer. I edit as a I write. Manuals on writing will invariably instruct you otherwise, but my method is more like a stone mason’s: A sentence must be as strong as I can make it before layering on another. I am obsessive about finding the right word. Occasionally a word that perfectly defines an idea is not a word that fits rhythmically, so I will used a slightly different word in other to achieve the right sound. The rhythm of a sentence is very important to me.
When and / or why did you first consider yourself as a successful writer?
Success is relative. I’ve had quite a few stories published in print and online journals, but I’m hoping for a wider audience, especially after SURVIVAL SKILLS is published. I’m not sure when I began to take myself seriously as a writer, probably after a certain number of acceptances. Friends and family can’t be relied upon to offer honest assessments, or to even have an interest in your work; real encouragement comes with publication.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love the immediacy and brevity of short stories and some of my favorite contemporary authors are masters of this form. Among many others, I admire the work of Lorrie Moore, Helen Simpson, Amy Bloom, Antonya Nelson, Jean Thompson, James Lasdun, Marisa Silver, Annie Proulx, Rick Bass and Joy Williams. Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary is one of my favorite novels, along with J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and Rhine Maidens by Carolyn See. In the genre of poetry, I admire Ted Kooser, and I am in constant awe of Mary Oliver.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Do not be deterred by rejections. Publication decision are arbitrary. Keep sending your work out. The same day you receive a rejection, send the poem or story elsewhere. And make writing, not social media, your priority.
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