Sunday Interview # 12

Hello, Everyone! Today I’d like to introduce a fellow blogger and writer who loves everything ‘pirate’. He often posts about everyday pirates and is writing a serial-style futuristic story, Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo. Please welcome J. D. Ryan.

Oh, please, call me Jim!  I hear “JD,” I think of either what my brother calls my son, or think of what they used to use ‘JD’ for, short for ‘juvenile delinquent.’  And no, my son does not act that bad…

Okay, hi, Jim! Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I’m a writer based in New York, waiting for his long evening to end so that he can become an ‘overnight sensation.’  It shouldn’t be more than a few years from now for that to happen…  I’ve pursued the craft for a while between bouts where other things have popped up, like being a husband, a father, having a trade, all the stuff that keeps frustrated writers from ending up like a sad pastiche from La Boheme

What got you interested in Pirates? 

I think you could say I’ve always had an interest in those who didn’t “color within the lines;” even as a kid, the rebels and malcontents tended to get my interest in just about any story.  This applied to pirates, but also to revolutionaries, civil justice crusaders, punk rockers, all the folks outside of the whole “rigid law and order” alignment; hell, as a kid I identified a lot more with Han Solo than Captain Kirk…

Beyond just about every kid’s attachment to Treasure Island and Captain Hook in Peter Pan, I can’t claim that every instance when growing up that someone unfurled the jolly roger got my attention, but there were plenty of opportunities to go on the account when they came up.  I remember being one of the few people who really took notice in Watchmen that when superheroes actually showed up that comic books in that universe would turn instead to pirate stories; I thought it was one of the coolest things about the work.  And to my surprise, no one else I knew thought the whole Tales of the Black Freighter subplot was worth paying attention to; it’s finding yourself all alone out there that can keep you from finding your strengths for a while.

Were pirates the inspiration for your writing, or did you like to write before you were interested in pirates?

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I’d been writing for years before I found my muse, at the pilot wheel of a brigantine, doing work in other areas.  I had some success out there with some gaming articles and some fiction in print, and it’s an area I’ve never fully left.  For some time, I was doing a lot of stuff in horror and SF, particular alternate history (AltHis) with some degree of success. 

A few years ago, I discovered an interesting book, The Science Fiction Stories of Jack London.  Apparently, early in his career, before Jack London was Jack London, he wanted to be H. G. Wells.  None of the stories collected in the work were all that bad, but it was watching him trying to find his voice that made me look at what I had been doing, and ultimately something clicked. 

It encouraged me to take a good look at what I had been writing at that moment, which was feeling a little stilted, and when I just let go, Abigail Sanders showed up, probably after killing some time in the same room Harry Potter was hanging out in before he introduced himself to Jo Rowling.  I used to think this whole “character springing up and introducing themselves to the author” thing was just bad PR copy, and yet there she was; our eyes met and a half an hour later there were thirty pages of first draft narrative at my feet…

I noticed on your Author Page that you have published work on many on-line sites. Why did you decide to use this format to publish your stories?

I spent a lot of years sending my stuff to anyone who’d be willing to look at it.  When I started out, there were no online opportunities; the concept of an Internet writing outlet was years away from being a reality when I was collecting my first rejection slips from the likes of Analog and Playboy.  One of my online pieces, Tick-a Tick-a, actually got reprinted physically in an English magazine, The Dream Zone.  If an opportunity came to share a work in that way, any opportunity, I would certainly be willing to go that route.  Paper, electrons, smoke signals, synesthesian odors; hey, I will do it all…

Have you ever considered traditional publishing routes? Why or why not?

You know, I’m of two minds on that.  On the one hand, part of me would love to do the traditional thing, get a book done with a publishing house.  It’d be part of an old picture I used to have as to what it meant to be a writer, which included drinks at the Russian Tea Room with my agent and a few minutes during Carson’s third half hour on his couch to discuss the book.  And yeah, I had this image in my mind for a long time…

But part of my going digital is this fear/belief that Publisher’s Row isn’t going to wait around for me to give them a book they want.  I gave it a pretty good try for years, with a lot of encouragement from reading groups and confidants who’d keep me from giving up, then we would all gripe about something that did get published like Fifty Shades of Twilight or some such and wonder, what the hell?  And with the technology and the market forces actually allowing writers to seize the means of production (and yes, I did go there), the whole question of the underlying relationship between writer and publisher can’t help but be challenged.

And truth to tell, when it comes to inspiration on how to decide this, pirates don’t help as much as you might think.  Yes, every pirate out there all found their fortunes by going their own ways as the flew against all flags, but give a sea dog a chance to have a letter of marque to make it all legal and he or she would often take the opportunity.  Henry Morgan, the pirate who terrorized the Spanish, brutally sacked Panama and got a line of rum named after him?  He ended up Deputy Governor of Jamaica, so there you go…

I read your story Rooftop Sessions! From that, I have a feeling you’re a fan of ‘The Beatles’. What is it about their music that you enjoy?

Where to begin?  When you’re young, you get drawn to the hooks in each piece that just draw you in and get the endorphins running, and when you’re older and start studying musical theory and deconstructing songs you realize what complete geniuses they were when they wrote their own pieces. 

I can’t really recall a moment when the Beatles weren’t around me in some fashion.  I just about grew up on the Beatles, playing my poor parents’ first pressing of Magical Mystery Tour to death; we could have found oil in the gouges I left in that disk.  One of things that drew my wife Susan and I together was our interest in the group; she’s gone on to become a recognized authority on the band, its members and their influence, which means for the sake of shalom bayit  that I just cannot change my mind about them this late in life…

There’s another aspect concerning the Beatles and my fiction:  They were and still are great focal points for historical and AltHis pieces.  Because they were some of the best documented people of the 1960s and later, writing about the history of the time and how that history had changed in a piece, using them as foci, relays a lot of information to the reader very quickly.  And they were so interconnected with their times, with everyone wanting to be with them and they with others, that you can write about a large swath of the 1960s in one story.  So for me, doing pieces like One Ring to Rue Them All, Magneto and Titanium Man, and Act Naturally, they were a way to approach a decade loaded with rebels and questioned authorities and delve into themes of challenge and change.

I’ve noticed in your writing a rather wry sense of humor that I find very amusing. When you’re writing, is humor something that just slips in or do you put it in deliberately to create comic relief in your stories?

I’d have to say it is deliberate, essential even.  On the one hand, there’s so much misery and bad news we all get bombarded with every few seconds, and Lord help you if you depress easily and get caught in a big 24 hour news cycle, as none of those are ever happy affairs…

There’s another reason for bringing in humor wherever possible.  In most of my material, I have characters that are in the process of being under threat of assault, threatened with being stabbed, shot at, blown up, raped, tortured, you name it.  And for most of them, given half a chance they’d flip from being victims to perpetrators if they could.  None of these are folks you’d really want to be caught with on the subway between stations for 20 minutes, so something has to be done to keep it light…

Getting back to pirates, would you please describe the premise for Red Jenny, to those who are unfamiliar with the story?

Well, Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo is a tale that takes place a few years after climate change became undeniable as it rendered major changes in the world we knew.  Hardest hit was the United States, bankrupted from failing to save the East Coast cities from being claimed by the sea and unable to get a good crop from a perpetually dry Corn Belt.  Things are so bad that a war they launched with Canada to claim the Great Lakes solely for themselves ended in defeat with a hostile neighbor to the north, with one of the results of the war being the closure of the border.  And on this border over the lakes, smuggling between two former trading partners has flourished, which prompts a rise in piracy, as practiced by our heroine, Red Jenny DiNapoli.  And we follow Jenny through a rough patch in what’s a rough trade to begin with, as trying to celebrate a successful raid as the book opens just spins wildly out of control for her.  Her luck’s like the weather in Buffalo, if you think this is bad, wait an hour…

You’ve painted a rather dim view of the future and with good reason, I think, with everything you’ve posted about the economy and real life pirates these days. What was the inspiration for Red Jenny, the thing that triggered in your writer’s mind, ‘THIS is what I will write about’? 

The main inspiration actually came to me years ago, with the release of the Schwartz-Randall Report to the Department of Defense.  This was written back in October of 2003, but the administration at the time did their best to keep this paper’s profile lower than an SSBN on station.  The thrust of the report was to raise the possibility of radical climate change as a national security issue, and included as one of its suggestions that the Pentagon “(i)dentify no-regrets strategies,” which is a wonderfully euphemistic suggestion that we get ready to do some nasty things to neighbors we can’t really share with anymore.  

Now, I spent a lot of my life in Northern and Western New York.  Both my folks were from Buffalo, I have a lot of family in and around Erie and Franklin County, and I spent a few years living close enough to the border to be able to cross it casually.  I still come back upstate every chance I get.  Most people, when they get word that their government is seriously thinking about invading their neighbor to claim a resource formerly shared in friendship, feel a little uneasy.  I was shocked, like a lot of people who live on a friendly border would be to find that we actually considered how to be anything but a good neighbor. 

Now by the time word of the paper started getting out there, which was inevitable considering what a better Republican president said about “fool(ing) all the people all the time,” there was growing evidence that climate change might not be as slow a process as imagined, and that we might need to consider “no-regrets strategies” sooner rather than later.  At the time, I was working heavily on writing Raging Gail, but I started to keep notes so that I could get things ready to launch once I wrapped the first book.

Why have you chosen to post Jenny in a short serial form instead of larger blocks, or waiting until the whole story was written before posting it?

Well, most of the writing was done before I started posting.  I have the overall story and most of the key plot points written out.  When I do work on the novel now, it’s a matter of polish and flow to get the individual pieces to “crisp up” and to make the flows from scene to scene work better. 

Putting the work online in this format is actually a business decision that I came to when I started work on the first novel.  I noted the work of other online writers and comic creators who were getting their material out there without the constraints and hassles other distribution channels offered.   Because of the nature of the Internet, the fact that users when they get online expect their content to be in manageable bits refreshed regularly dictated the form, while proving that Marshall McLuhan was right yet again

One could argue that the tradition of a novel coming out in short segments harkens back to an earlier time.  Charles Dickens presented his novels in serial form before ultimately being collected in single volumes.  Rather large volumes, too, as he used to get paid by the word on first pub, which explains some of the extended scenes you find in Great Expectations that seem to go on forever…

That’s true! Do you have any other ‘irons in the fire’, so to speak, that you’d like to tell us about as far as your writing goes?

I’m a little superstitious about pitching upcoming works.  I’ve had stuff previewed by me before it was ready to share, then watched it disappear as something comes up and the moment passes.  There’s footage out there of me at an old Beatlefest previewing a work I was halfway through, a piece with John Lennon growing up in a post-Operation Sea Lion Liverpool; I still have problems living that one down…

What I can mention with some comfort is that I’ve finished work on some short pieces that I’m going to try and offer to paying markets, to try and update my collection of rejection letters going back a few decades.  I have some larger works that are very preliminary right now that keep me distracted in a good way that might some day lead somewhere; some older set pieces from things that didn’t get completed found their way into Red Jenny, so there’s no waste of material on this end.

I do have a few notes for how to follow up both Raging Gail and Red Jenny with direct tie-ins.  Whether I move ahead depends on the reaction when I post notice in the future on the soon-to-be-launched KickBriber (TM pending), where my ardor for the work depends on what goodies I’ll be offered for going that way.  Let me say right up front that yes, booze is always a good enticement, but that I am open to any vice that you may wish to seduce me with…

Well, on that note, I encourage you (my readers) to check out Jim’s website, Raging Gailhere and if you want to read what has been posted of Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo, you may do so by clicking here.

Jim, are there any other links you’d like to share with us, places where we can find your writing, websites you enjoy, Facebook, Twitter?

I am fairly regular over at io9.com, where you can watch me make an even bigger fool of myself on a grand scale.  I’m also on Facebook, and maybe a few government watch lists as well...

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close, today?

Oh Lord, I have always been bad at closing thoughts; there’s a good chance that when my number’s up, the epitaph I come up with is going to be pretty lame.  Which gives me yet one more reason to be careful and not snuff it yet…

Well, let’s hope you don’t ‘snuff it’ any time soon! Thanks, Jim, for taking the time to join us today!

My pleasure; and thank you for hosting me!

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9 comments on “Sunday Interview # 12

  1. Very cool! I scribbled a lot of stories down when I was much younger. One of my favorite characters that I came up with was a lady pirate. Great interview. I think I must look up this Red Jenny, too. 🙂

  2. Social Studies — Pirates: The study of pirates is an often interesting (and over-glamorized) subject for children. There are many good books about pirates and their history available. An especially colorful and informative book is The World of the Pirate by Val Garwood. The basics involving the Pirates in the Park are covered below.

  3. Pingback: Scary October – Day 9 | mywithershins

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