Smoking With Ryan Werner
by Gay Degani Read the Story March 24, 2014
The rhythm of the title, “If There’s Any Truth in a Northbound Train,” drew me into your story. The opening line, “I’m on a train going one way and my twin brother Keith is on a train going the other way” gave me immediate tension. Both feel as if they came organically to you and that’s what prompted this piece. What was its genesis?
I think about Aerosmith a lot. Once every couple of days, at least. There was probably a 25-30 minute period in the 70s where they were the greatest band on the planet. Not a terribly long time, but not something you can say about most bands.
Really, all Aerosmith did was put style on the basics. I sat down last week and learned “Nobody’s Fault” and “Combination” in about ten minutes, and I’m not great at guitar. More than good enough for the KISS tribute band I was in, but not much more.
That opening line is really just something they teach in the first chapter of every craft book, the first lesson of every workshop. Just present an idea of power, two or more points, and a way to bounce the power between the points. I love writers like Barry Hannah whose best stories are essentially, and I’m sure I’ll get crucified for this, a fucked up dude finding really awesome stuff to say about why and how he’s fucked up.
Aerosmith, Barry Hannah. I’m not on their level or even close, but that idea of personal, energetic simplicity is endlessly more interesting to me. I’ve never been a craft guy like Matt Bell or Sam Snoek-Brown, writers who really flourish when they’re immersed in a thick, multi-layered interrogation with narrative. I’d rather watch Ric Flair wrestle Ricky Steamboat for an hour, finding it almost unbelievable that there’s maybe a dozen moves between them and I can’t take my eyes off it.
I see from your answer that music is one of your inspirations and love the phrase “idea of personal, energetic simplicity,” and I can see that in your writing. What other writers have you read that exhibit this aesthetic and how have they influenced you?
I mentioned Barry Hannah, and I want to do it again. The first few pages of “Love Too Long” are deep charms of death. He says he wants to rip a woman’s arm off and fall asleep in her uterus with his foot hanging out. The biggest word is “binoculars.” It’s like riding the roller coaster and then having to clean it afterwards.
Rick Bass and Kevin Wilson are cut from the same cloth—Wilson from a bit more on the modern and suburban side of it than Bass—and both taught me the same thing: feelings don’t have to be boring or complicated as long as they are infinite and truly yours.
Let’s not even talk about Amy Hempel unless it’s to figure out a way to trap the way she sees the world in a glass box and put it on display somewhere. “Here’s a trick I found for how to finally get some sleep. I sleep in my husband’s bed. That way the empty bed I look at is my own.” Get real.
What advice would you give a writer just starting out?
Write from Olympus, edit from the Dairy Queen. Figure out what words look like when they’re part of written work. Don’t crash on someone’s couch for too long. You have something to write about even though you haven’t been married, lost a loved one, been to France, or done acid. If it’s not in you, you can’t write it. Most people shouldn’t fly spaceships. Instead of being boring, don’t be boring. Write as if you don’t need a metaphor about writing to help you write, because you don’t.
What’s in your future? A collection, a novel, an EP?
I’m sure I’ll have a chapbook and/or this novella I’ve been working on out by the end of the year, either through Passenger Side Books or someone else, if I can drum up any interest. I don’t think I’ll write a novel just because I feel better about myself if I keep pretending I don’t have the time to write one—the reality is that I’m losing long stretches of my life to the WWE Network.
I’ve got three EPs with three different bands coming out this year, too, and hopefully a full length and a demo with one of them and then another one. I’d like to do a solo guitar record, but the world totally doesn’t need it and I’ve got enough stuff to do without sitting down and playing with reverb pedals for a couple hours a day.
I’m really into the idea of DIY book tours, lately. And I think collages are cool. I wouldn’t mind trying to learn how to make collages. I also need to practice soldering, just in case. And my girlfriend accidentally got me kind of invested in Veronica Mars.
I’ll probably just keep yelling into the ether until I die.
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:
Gay Degani is the content editor at Smokelong Quarterly. She has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be located.