Ryan W. Bradley and I go back, not way back, but back to summer’10 Pear Noir!, to exchanging each other’s writing, to emailing inebriated in the dead of night because no one else was awake with PST insomnia. We also go back to July 23rd, 1983, a day in which we both opened our eyes for the first time not realizing what an intense affair we’d both have with music and writing. He is a talented, jack-of-all-trades writer who’s put out poetry chapbooks, short story collections, and has a novel forthcoming in 2012 from Black Coffee Press. He is also the editor and co-publisher at Artistically Declined Press, the designer at Aesthetically Declined Design, and has an MFA in creative writing. And recently, The Nervous Breakdown brought him on as a fulltime reviewer. Ryan’s taken some time out of his demanding schedule to chat with us.
Lavinia: First of all, congratulations! You’re one of the fine Nervous Breakdown review contributors. How long have you been writing reviews and when did it all begin?
Ryan: I started writing movie and music reviews in college for the University’s newspaper. I feel self-conscious about reviewing because I don’t think academically and reviewing books feels like writing papers for class. However, I’ve been asked here and there to get over this self-consciousness, and usually I write a few reviews and then get asked not to anymore. So far, Shya Scanlon at TNB has been incredibly supportive and nurturing as I tackle this latest request to write reviews. We’ll see where it goes, hopefully it’ll be a long-standing gig.
Lavinia: We were born on the same day, which makes us almost brother and sister, right? Just kidding. When did the karmic forces draw you into the literary world? What was your very first publication?
Ryan: We share a unique place in the universe, definitely. Though, to be honest, of all the people I’ve talked to who I share a birthday with, you’re the first one I could stand. I may have discussed this before elsewhere, but I hated writing for a long time. I was an avid reader, but couldn’t stand writing. My 7th grade English teacher assigned us to write poetry and long story short as much as I resisted I got hooked. But it’s been so long now I don’t even remember what my first publication was. I don’t even have a lot of my early writings anymore.
Lavinia: You’ve pumped gas, swept floors, worked up in Alaska like Iain Levison. What’s the worst job you’ve ever held, and has it influenced your writing?
Ryan: Without a doubt the worst job I ever had was the one I recently quit, which was being a customer service rep in a call center for Netflix. When I was pumping gas people told me it was a soul-sucking job, but it wasn’t. It was a crappy job, but working in a call center, that is truly soul-sucking. Soul-sucking to the point of daydreaming about driving into oncoming traffic on the way to work in the morning, not to kill myself, but because if I was hospitalized I wouldn’t have to go to work. So far it hasn’t influenced my writing too much, but it certainly damaged my brain, and I think it’s still recouping now, over a month later.
Lavinia: Dream job. Quick, without giving yourself too much time to hesitate.
Ryan: Pitcher for the Oakland A’s. That was my lifetime dream since about 9. No joke.
But isn’t the dream of all writers to make money from their writing? But I suppose that is too easy. So, the realistic dream job would be designing book covers. Though, really, if I could make enough money to get by off all my creative endeavors I would be jazzed. I also think I would really enjoy being a writing professor. I’d be pretty untraditional, but it would be a good time.
Lavinia: Some of your writing explores the darker dynamics of the nuclear family. It’s honest and goes down smooth. I often think I’m reading nonfiction. How much of your writing is inspired by your life experiences?
Ryan: Most of my writing, at least the realist work I do, is inspired in one way or another by a reality I’ve experienced. Maybe not directly, but whether it’s a character patterned on someone I worked with in the Arctic, a bit of dialogue overheard, or simply my desire to explore how people get along, there’s a lot of truth in my writing. It just gets rolled up in fiction. But I don’t think that’s too much different from a lot of writers. I’ve tried my hand at writing non-fiction but fiction feels more natural to me, and I can get the best of both worlds.
Lavinia: You and Ben Tanzer spent some time together at AWP ’11. Did any literary magic happen between you two? Did you two change each other’s lives?
Ryan: We didn’t get a chance to write together, which would have been fun. But there was plenty of life changing. Ben and I click in an effortless way, like we’ve known each other for years. At least, that’s how it seems on my end.
Lavinia: You’ve been writing for quite some time. What’s the best advice you can give new and aspiring indie writers especially when trying to craft an art in today’s recession?
Ryan: It’s kind of scary when I realize how long I’ve been writing versus how long I’ve felt like I knew what I was doing with writing. That’s a difference of over a decade. And in another ten years I’m likely to look back and realize I didn’t know what I was doing at this point either.
My advice is to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Even when it comes easy, go back and work it over, rough it up, do it again and again. Trust your instincts, but not to the point where you forget that writing is and should be the hardest work you ever do, if you’re serious about it. And learn to love revision. Revise like you’ve got a shock collar attached to you that will electrocute you every time you don’t make a change to something.
Lavinia: You are also involved in many design ventures, especially with Aesthetically Declined Design. What projects do you have coming up?
Ryan: Well, I do all the design for Artistically Declined Press, but a lot of the cover design for this year’s projects has been tackled. I also do a lot of design work for Thunderclap Press, who published my chapbook, Aquarium, so whatever Amanda Deo the fantastic editor over there throws my way. I’m starting to work with the publisher of my forthcoming novel (Code for Failure, 2012 from Black Coffee Press) and one of my favorite illustrators on that cover and am trying to drum up some more book cover gigs because I get a lot of enjoyment out of those. Hopefully a few more will fall my way soon.
Lavinia: Thanks for taking the time to interview with me and Plumb. Here’s your blank page chance to say something random, whether it be a rant, a piece of advice, or other big news you have.
Ryan: THANK YOU! It’s been an ineffable pleasure.
And, since you’re giving me a blank check here, so to speak, and I have no rants, worthy advice, or exciting news as of the time I’m writing this, I’ll use the spot to recommend a few of the best, but not well known, story collections: Wanting Only to be Heard by Jack Driscoll, Night Swimming or Dry Rain by Pete Fromm, and Visigoth by Gary Amdahl
Lavinia: Poetry chapbooks I highly recommend: Aquarium and There Will Always Be A Better.