“Fireworks in your brain”: An Interview with Guest Readers Ryan Ridge & Mel Bosworth

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers
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Ryan Ridge and Mel Bosworth will be giving away a copy of their new book, Second Acts (Alternating Current Press) to the writer of the story they select for publication during their guest editing week.

Your new book Second Acts in American Lives, a collection of flash fiction, is a collaborative project. Can you tell us more about it? What was the inspiration for the book? What was the process of writing it together?

MB: It’s dozens of little stories that act as fireworks in your brain. There’s wit, sadness, laughter, hope, and despair. Lots of fun. It’s like riding on a roller coaster. And there are illustrations, too!

The inspiration for the book, I think, was our shared love of the short form. And I think we’re both poets masquerading as fiction writers, or vice versa. The result is a colorful hybrid that’s as fun to read as it was to write. And it’s super accessible. People who don’t generally dabble in “literary” fiction have nothing to fear here.

The process of writing it was easy: Ryan would start one, I’d finish it and start the next, and so on. We passed the pieces back and forth, melted ideas and voices together.

As readers, do you think you’re both drawn to the same types of stories?

MB: I’m drawn to all kinds of writing. We’re both big fans of James Tate, Lydia Davis, Mary Robison, and Barry Hannah. And Hunter S. Thompson, of course.  I think we share some solid common ground, and our differences in taste certainly add some different flavor to the mix when we’re working together, and in all the best ways.

RR: Yes, our tastes in stories are similar yet different, but similar enough to share an overlapping aesthetic.  I think in the final estimation we’re both drawn to work that walks that fine line between harrowing and hilarious.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

RR: A dozen or so years ago, I took a workshop from the great Western writer, William Kittredge. First round I turned in this thirty-page snoozer that traced the sociological implications of a small-town drug deal. It was a terrible story with a terrific title, “Guntown Mountain.” I’ve never tried to publish it. Kittredge didn’t have much to say about it either. Next round I turned in a series of short, experimental pieces (many of which ended up in my first collection, Hunters & Gamblers). Bill and I met for coffee a couple days later and he had “Guntown Mountain” in front of him and next to that he had the series of short fictions I’d written. He pointed to the short pieces and said: “Do this.” He pointed to the long story and said: “Don’t do this.” And that was it. We drank our coffee and talked about other things. But I’d say that brief exchange gave me the license to pursue my own weird whims creatively, which I’ve done ever since (for better or worse).

 What kind of story would you love to find in the queue this week?

MB: I’d love to find something darkly beautiful with a hint of humor tucked inside.

RR: Ditto.

About the Reader:

Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight, the poetry chapbook Every Laundromat in the World, and co-author with Ryan Ridge of Second Acts in American Lives. His work has appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Per Contra, New World Writing, Santa Monica Review, Melville House, American Book Review, and elsewhere. A former series editor for the Wigleaf Top 50 and a former assistant editor for The Best Small Fictions, Mel curates the Small Press Book Review, an online archive. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

Ryan Ridge is the author of four books, including American Homes (University of Michigan Press, 2014), which was the Michigan Library Publishing Club’s inaugural book club pick. His next book, WEIRD WEEKS, a collection of stories coauthored with Mel Bosworth, will be released by Cupboard Pamphlet this fall. Past work has appeared in Tin HouseDIAGRAMMississippi ReviewPotomac ReviewLos Angeles ReviewLuminaMiracle MonoclePost Road, and numerous others. An assistant professor at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, he co-directs the Creative Writing Program. In addition to his work as a writer and teacher, he edits the literary magazine Juked.

About the Interviewer:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicyclewigleaf, and elsewhere.