The Next Best Thing Project

As part of The Next Best Thing Project, I am answering some interview questions concerning my collection, SURVIVAL SKILLS, which will be published by Ashland Creek Press in April 2013. Many thanks to JoeAnn Hart for tagging me for this exciting venture.

I am tagging these other authors so that we can continue to connect with one another and discover new works.

Jennifer Simpson, Director of DimeStories International

Dyane Forde, fantasy writer


What is the title of your book? 


Where did the idea come from for the book?

Most of the stories were inspired by something I had read or a show I had seen. “Migration” issued from the real story of a Toulouse goose that lived in a park in Los Angeles and became smitten with one of the visitors. “Looks for Life” also came from real events—a co-worker told me about a friend of his whose life changed after a plastic surgeon rebuilt his face. “Waiting for Annie” followed a special I had seen on coma, the “silent epidemic.” Improved emergency response techniques and sophisticated life support machines are keeping more and more lives in this eerie state of suspension. Especially intriguing to me is the mind’s ability to make connections by itself, to persist without the complement of consciousness. “Paradise” emerged from a program I had watched about intelligence in birds, parrots in particular. One bird had acquired a prodigious vocabulary and this stirred my imagination. I thought it would be fun to work this creature into a story, to use him in fact as a main character. In order to create conflict, the parrot in this tale is malicious as well as brilliant. The extravagance of Palm Springs, its artificial overlay, seemed an apt parallel to the various indulgences that Max enjoyed in his man-made abode.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary short fiction. I love the short story form, how quickly the reader is pulled in. Poised between poems and novels, short fiction aims for precision and intrigue. I think the quality of writing in literary short fiction is often superior to the writing in novels. Novels can become weighted down with exposition. Short pieces must get to the point quickly. This urgency requires distillation, which is a challenge I revel in.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

As SURVIVAL SKILLS is a story collection, this is a tricky question to answer.  But if I had to cast one story, it might be “The Side Bar,” for which I would choose Helen Hunt as the narrator, Jeff Daniels as Ronny, Kristen Wiig as Carla and Cate Blanchett as Louise.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Ryan writes of beauty and aging, of love won and lost—with characters enveloped in the mysteries of the natural world and the animal kingdom.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

These stories were written over a period of several years. As they began to gel into a collection, I was able to understand what interests me most as a writer: the natural world and the vulnerability and interdependency of all living things. I enjoy exploring the connections, the synchronicities, the quiet miracles underlying the world we see. Fear and the relative fragility of the human mind fascinate me in particular.

 What other book might you compare to SURVIVAL SKILLS within this genre?

While there are many excellent contemporary collections—Jean Thompson and Antonya Nelson are brilliant short story writers—the closest match to the nature content and unusual relationships in SURVIVAL SKILLS might be BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I am endlessly inspired by natural phenomena and the many ways people find to survive their difficulties.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I hope readers will enjoy what they might learn about the natural world; I certainly had fun doing the research. I also hope that the humor will make them smile along the way. I think people are reassured by humor; it makes them feel better.




Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

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