Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Ryan Werner
by SJ Sindu Read the Story March 20, 2017
Where did you get the idea for “Straight Lines”?
The framework and narrative thrust is based on the song “Chandelier” by Sia, but the emotional center is based on how fucked in the head my wife is with anxiety. The part with the monsters is based on how much Monster Bash pinball I was playing at the time.
To break that down a bit: I used to have a project called Our Band Could Be Your Lit where I’d write stories under a thousand words based on songs suggested to me by writers and musicians from around the world. An editor solicited me for a story and I had no ideas, so I fell back on that OBCBYL idea.
They suggested “Chandelier” and I immediately pulled the main idea from the chorus. It’s easier for me to just put the girl in the chandelier right away and figure it out as I go. Stuff like “party girls don’t get hurt” and “I’ll keep my glass full until morning light” are in there, too. The lyrics sound like they’re from some dumb party song, but there’s something ominous about the way they lay against the music. I wanted some of that uneasiness in there, too.
In the story, you weave surreal and/or magical elements with realist concerns of storytelling. Is this a pattern in your work?
For sure! I like the sentence-level cleverness and organic narrative of literary fiction and the absurdity of magical realism or sci-fi. Too much one way and it’s the sort of boring Raymond Carver rip-offs I was writing in college where two people each think about a weight bench for fifteen pages before having a brief stare-down and walking about. Too much the other way and it’s one of those stories that read like a transcript from a Kids In the Hall Sketch that should have never made it past rehearsal. In the end, I just think stuff with magic is almost always more interesting that stuff without magic.
What was your writing process for this story?
The same barely-effective, no-wonder-this-prick-only-publishes-like-seven-pieces-of-flash-fiction-a-year process as it is for every story: write fifty words over the course of four hours, delete most of them the next day, write a hundred words, keep some of them, read “The Harvest” by Amy Hempel yet again, delete the rest of the words I wrote except the one sentence I like, try writing before that sentence instead of after it, get pissed I’ve been working on the story for a week and only have like seventy-five, reread “The Harvest” by Amy Hempel except this time steal something from it, listen to bad hardcore songs on YouTube, find out what Freddy Madball is up to these days, remember that I was writing a story, go back to the beginning of this list and repeat until done.
What are you working on currently?
Aside from the aforementioned stories about anxiety, I’m also writing a series of sestinas about the first season of Veronica Mars, a novella about a missing wrestler from the ’70s, a solo guitar/ambient record that sounds like shitty Jim O’Rourke, some pop-rock songs for my wife to sing that sounds like shitty Weezer, some mathy party rock songs for my band Young Indian that sounds like a bunch of Japanese dudes tapping on their fretboards, a stack of comic books like four feet high, new recipes for my job as a Montessori preschool cook, and this gut I’ve developed as a reaction to a bowl of ice cream in bed every night for the past fifteen years of my life.
About the Author:
Ryan Werner is a cook at a preschool in the Midwest. He plays guitar in a loud instrumental rock band called Young Indian. You can find him at @YeahWerner on Instagram.
About the Interviewer:
SJ Sindu’s debut novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, is forthcoming in 2017 from Soho Press. Her hybrid fiction and nonfiction chapbook, I Once Met You But You Were Dead, was the winner of the Split Lip Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest. Sindu’s creative writing has appeared in Brevity, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review of Books, apt, Vinyl Poetry, PRISM International, Fifth Wednesday Journal, r.kv.r.y quarterly, and elsewhere.
About the Artist:
A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia's writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden's Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney's, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.