Monday, November 15, 2010

Interview with Ryan O'Reilly!

About the Author:
Ryan O’Reilly is also the author of the travel novel Snapshot and a free-lance contributor to various newspapers and periodicals throughout the country. He studied English Literature at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and is a member of the National Writers Association and the Writers League of Texas. Ryan's wild, often death-defying, adventures have nearly gotten him killed; they've also earned him travel writer street cred (see his Road Trip Tips for here). O’Reilly divides his time between his business in Austin, Texas and a small farm in Clever, Missouri. Ryan's Site
Welcome to Rex Robot Reviews, Ryan! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your novel To Nourish and Consume and the inspiration behind it?
 The novel To Nourish and Consume is the story of three former friends,who reunite unexpectedly in the small resort town on Lake Michigan they had known as children. For the main character, Brian Falk, coming home brings him face-to-face with a past that he has spent most of his adult life running from, especially his teenage involvement in a complicated triangle wherein desire for passion and love crossed both class and gender lines. Central to this triangle are Jaqueline Morgan, a coquettish and manipulative woman whose hold on Brian has withstood the tests of time and distance, and Dabney Dryden, Brian’s childhood best friend whose easy charm is balanced by a dangerously explosive personality. The end of Brian’s association with these two characters came about as “the violent explosions between two young men predicated by love for one another, and for the same woman,” and now the three of them must confront the living emotions left over from their past. Named after Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, this is a story about fleeting youth and the not- so-fleeting impacts our childhood experiences have on our adult lives. Brian’s memories of summers spent on the lake with Jackie and Dabney are fraught with class tension, romantic conflict, and youthful hubris. Brian’s eventual self-discovery comes in the form of breaking certain ties to the past, while at the same time recognizing the role his past has played in sculpting his current life.

What type of research did you find necessary for your novel?

This a is chicken and egg question. Does research yield the story, or is the story preemptively alive inside the writer waiting for a particular research or experience or inspiration to trigger its release? The research that qualifies one to discover a story need only come from an identifiable experience in the life of the writer.

For example, TNAC is set in the fictional town of Charleton, Michigan. Charleton is loosely based on the real town of Charlevoix, Michigan. Charlevoix is a town I’ve been to once but have heard stories about for a long time. The first time I ever fell in love was in college with a girl whose family frequently summered there. Her descriptions of the town and of spending summers there could’ve been taken straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The black and white pictures she showed me could’ve been from the 1920s. Possibly the most passionate descriptions of any town I’ve heard. I mean, you could literally see the sparkling reflection of the lake in her eye as she spoke about it. It wasn’t until years after that relationship ended that I finally went there myself. I spend a week just walking around the town and letting my imagination swirl around the beaches and the buildings. Of course finally seeing the town brought the memories of that first love flooding back, so I hold a sense of nostalgic romance about Charlevoix that I’ve never felt anywhere else. And I’ve only been there once! I just knew, once I saw it’s lazy streets and quiet houses, that there was a novel there. 

Now, there is also the very un-sexy aspect of writing a book that is fact checking, but I’ve always enjoyed the meticulous necessity of it. For me, not every day is a creative day, but the necessary discipline of constructing a 100,000-word story means that every day is a writing day. On the days when the goddess of inspiration isn’t present, then I use my time at the desk to check dates and facts. That is very good and very necessary research; and people love to tell you about inconsistencies in your story, so you can’t be careful enough. In my first book, Snapshot, I referred to a particular state university’s law school. Turns out that university doesn’t have a law school. I got a lot of letters about that.

If To Nourish and Consume had a soundtrack, what songs would you choose? 
Crooked Teeth by Death Cab for Cutie
Tell me Why by M.I.A.
No Cars Go by Arcade Fire
Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622: II. Adagio by Mozart
Least Complicated by The Indigo Girls
Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John
Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams
Are you Alright by Lucinda Williams
Someday Baby by Bob Dylan
The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1 by Neutral Milk Hotel

How do your interests influence your writing?
I love to travel. But I don’t really go in for easy travelling; I like to get my hands dirty. I’ve contracted malaria, had a gun pointed at me, broken my ankle severely while alone in the woods, imbibed bad LSD in a group of people I just met, watched someone wave a knife in my face, ridden an out of control airplane off the end of a runway into some trees and fractured my scapula in a motorcycle wreck. Most of those experiences have found their way into my books, and the ones that haven’t will in the future I’m sure.

Do you think having a critique group is an essential part of the writing process? 
Not for me. I don’t like to muddy the story gene pool. That and I don’t take other people’s shit very well.

One time I was part of a critique group in a creative writing class in college, and there was this smart-ass know-it-all. You know the kind I mean; the person in the group who has seen it all, done it all and will never hesitate to explain why he’s right and your wrong. Well this guy had it out for me I’m convinced, and during one of his explanations regarding my work I told him where – stapled en first – he could stick my manuscript. I walked out and dropped the class. It was my last critique group, as well as my first and last creative writing class. A better writer than myself once told me that any story has a gestation period, and if you present the work pre-maturely then there’s a chance it’ll become contaminated and will not survive. I’m very careful not to let anyone read my stuff until second draft time. Then I only let one person read it. Plus, when you interject too many other ideas into a new project then on some level it ceases to be yours.

What book would you say influenced you the most, why? 
The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Hands down.

Campbell convincingly outlines the notion that all stories and mythologies and religions are comprised of the same fundamental elements; but with slightly different language and details. Not only that, but these stories and myths are related to the human psyche in the same way that Jung claimed that dreams were. Stories are physical manifestations that come from the human mind, and their purpose is to describe the significance of the human experience.

This book helped me greatly to understand the importance of not only developing characters and plot, but also to ask the important and often difficult question that a writer MUST be able to apply to their work: Why? Whether your talking about the inclusion of a character or a particular punctuation mark, or even the storyline in general, you must be able ask, “what is the purpose of this? Why did I put this in the story?” If you can’t answer it, then highlight and delete everything back to the point where you can answer the why question. It’s painful, but necessary, to – as Oscar Wilde said – “to kill all your little darlings.” Campbell can give you the perspective to be able to do it.

What comes next? Any other releases or works in progress that you're excited about?
In 2008 I started at the Missouri River’s headwaters in Three Forks, Mt with a canoe and paddled for two months and 2,341 miles to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi. I just finished a third draft of a creative nonfiction piece about that trip.

Aside from the tried and true travel motifs (adjusting to life outside the modern world, learning to live with the self, and adapting to the trials of the natural world) I tried to really get into why a person is mentally and emotionally drawn to wander. To figure out why people are drawn to the adventure, and to the adventure story. Joseph Campbell, says that “the adventure story is the symbolic expression given to our unconscious desires, fears and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior. We have only to read it, study it’s constant patterns, analyze its variations, and there with come to an understanding of the deep forces that have shaped man’s destiny and must continue to determine both our private and public lives.”

The stages of a person’s journey, being for the most part universal, exist because they are components of our psychological makeup. That’s why people are drawn to the adventure story. That’s why we are drawn to write about them. We are attracted to adventure stories not necessarily because of what they say about the characters in them. Rather it is how those aspects relate to the reader’s own experience and journey.

For me, as both a traveler and writer, the draw is not only to take part in the adventure as an experience; but also to work to impart that experience to others. To make my experience in some way relatable to theirs. If we are all really drawn psychologically to the adventure story, and if the adventure is a lens that give us an alternative perspective through which to view our own lives, then perhaps travel stories and memoirs can act in part as a cloth to polish that lens.

This book, and this experience, really sing to me and I can’t wait to finish it.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Any last words for our readers?
If you feel the famous itch to scribble, then do it. But don’t half-ass it. If you decide that’s what you want to do, you can’t tread water until your big break and then take it seriously. You have to do it now, do it with discipline, and make every page count.

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