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World of Writing, interview

-- World of Writing --

Yes! It it time for another World of Writing Interview, one of our most popular themes with our readers :)

Shout out to Sarah Miniaci ( PR agent for our guest today: Ryan Frawley - a Vancouver-based writer whose short stories have appeared in subTerrain, WordWorks and The Fiddlehead magazines. Born and raised in Coventry, England, he has lived in Vancouver since 2003. Ryan won first prize through the Vancouver International Writers and Literary Writes short story competitions. His book, Scar is a full-length literary review.

Q: Do you find that you are inspired to write in certain genres?

A: I don’t know that I do. I mistrust genre in the same way I mistrust large organizations, and for largely the same reason. It’s a way of making up your mind about something before all the facts are in. For instance, I don’t generally read science fiction, but one of my all time favorite books is Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada. I don’t, as a rule, read horror, but I loved Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. I don’t like to impose limits on my reading or my writing, because you might miss something really special. I haven’t written a speculative sci-fi trilogy or bodice-ripping romance novel yet, but I might want to some day.

Q: Do you insert your own characteristics in your writing? 

A: I think it’s unavoidable. Sooner or later, little pieces of the author will work their way in to a story like a stray eyelash in an oil painting. I try to be careful not to write a book populated entirely by versions of myself, though. There’s nothing more tedious than trying to read a book and constantly having the author tugging at your sleeve, grinning obsequiously and shuffling his feet.
The same goes for other people. Facets of those around you are going to make their way into fictional characters, whether you want them to or not; but friends of mine who have gone looking for themselves in my writing have generally been disappointed, or else misguided. You can’t copy and paste a person from your life into a story; it’s the literary equivalent of poor Photoshopping. The general rule is three-to-one; it takes a combination of a minimum of three people you know to make one fictional character.

Q: What makes a good story?

A: Truth and style - I don’t mean truth in the sense of documentary; I mean a kind of emotional truth, characters that make sense, plots you can believe could happen. You can set a story a million years ago on a planet you just invented and I’ll go along, but have a character do something incongruous, and you’ve lost me.

As for style – some people can tell you about their grocery shopping trip and make it fascinating. The last time I spoke to my father, he told me a story about his uncle’s funeral that made me burst out laughing. That’s style.

Q: What are the biggest surprises you’ve encountered as a writer?

A: The generosity of strangers. I grew up in a working-class town in England, and it wasn’t an atmosphere conducive to the arts. It’s not that my family weren’t supportive, they were and are; but they were supportive in the way people are when they’re not sure what it is you’re trying to achieve. They believed I could do it without really knowing what was involved. As for the world outside the home – it wasn’t so supportive. You don’t go around Coventry telling people you’re a writer; I didn’t, anyway. As a result, I still have a hard time describing myself as a writer. I still have that working class mentality that says that a real job gives you callouses, and anything else is pretension.
But people are incredibly kind. When I do tell people I’m a writer, now I finally feel qualified to say it, their responses are almost universally positive. People are impressed by it. They admire it. The people who take time to comment on the articles I’ve written, people I’ll never meet – it’s beyond anything I would have ever expected.

Q: What is your proudest writer moment?

A: There’s a few moments I look back on with a smile. But my proudest moment wasn’t really an achievement at all. It was when I got the proof copy of my first novel, Scar. It was beautiful. I took it to work with me; it sat for days on the passenger seat of my truck, and I’d sneak glances at it while I waited at red lights, and smile. I’d carry it around with me like a mother chimpanzee, unwilling to let it down even for a moment. It’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s true. I’d put years of my life into that book. So many times I thought I would never finish it, that I should just give up. To see the physical object itself was quite something.

Q: What is your most embarrassing writer moment?

A: Criticism and rejection come with being a writer, and if you can’t handle that, you won’t last long. When you’re first starting out, though, rejection can be harder to take – which is unfortunate, given that it’s generally more likely when you’re still green and haven’t honed your writing skills.
A short story I submitted to an online magazine was rejected, and the editor sent me a brief email to tell me. I took it badly, and decided to reject her rejection. I wrote a scathing criticism of her rejection and her magazine, and forwarded it to a few friends I thought would find it amusing. What they found even more amusing was that, after adding my friend’s email addresses, I had actually hit ‘Reply’, sending a copy to the editor in question. …Unlike me, she showed some restraint and declined to reply.

Q: What business challenges have you faced as a writer?

A: Writing is an art, but it’s also a business, and this is problematic. I’m not anti-business, per se, but I have deep reservations about the economic structure we live under. So when I’m told that I need to maintain a blog (which I do), and I need to comment on other people’s blogs (which I sometimes do), and I need to build online relationships with influential people (which I don’t), I get uneasy.

The Internet is the greatest medium for the exchange of ideas that has ever existed in human history, even filled with gossip, pornography and insults as it is. But the Internet, like every other human creation, comes down in the end to a bunch of people. I have a really hard time building relationships that are essentially parasitic. I want to comment on someone’s blog because I have something to say, not because I think it will help my book sales. If I cultivate a relationship with someone online, it’s because I like what they have to say, not because they have a wide audience. It saddens me that one of our species’ greatest creations has so quickly become a vapid echo chamber.

Q: What is your writer life philosophy?

Joseph Campbell once said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” I can’t think of a better description of the process of creating fiction than that.

Q: What is the wisest thing anyone has said to you?

A: Just before I left England to move to Canada, I was working with my father. He was a construction site manager, and he got me a job doing things around the site that didn’t really need doing, just to help me out with some extra money for my trip. One day, he was telling me about some electricians he was having problems with; they were telling him the way that he wanted them to do something was impossible. “Nothing’s impossible” my dad said; “everything can be done, it’s just a matter of how.” He meant it in the context of the building site, but it stayed with me. It was one of those moments when circumstances align to make signs and symbols of mundane things; leaving the only home you’ve ever known for an uncertain future tends to put a patina of meaning over everything. I still believe it though; if there isn’t a door to get me where I want to go, I’ll kick a hole in the wall.

Q: What is the role that writers play in today’s world?

A: I think that depends a lot on the writer. I think that at its best, writing serves to expand the consciousness of the reader in some way. Fiction and narrative have a way of exposing people to truths commonly known but rarely understood. I think you can often learn more about what makes people tick by reading about a fictional character than you could from any amount of psychological studies, because the only people you can really know everything about are fictional characters. It’s easy in life to get caught up in the rush and start to see people only as they affect you; either an asset or a liability in some sort of balance sheet of human worth. We’re actively encouraged to see the world that way by any number of advertisers and corporate interests. Once you make people into commodities, you can start selling them to each other. But fiction allows you to see the world through the eyes of another, and it becomes that much harder to see people in that narrow way.

Aside from that, I think there’s a case to be made for beauty. It can be a harsh, brutal, ugly world, and every shot of beauty in it makes it a little bit better. A single line of poetry can part the clouds and let a little light in to someone’s life. We all need that from time to time.

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