I’ve read only one of Patrick Ryan’s books but I’ve read that book twice: The Dream Life of Astronauts, a collection of short stories set around Cape Canaveral. I love his quirky and heartfelt characters, and he’s a master at sentences and story structure too: I can’t think of another story collection where every single story in the book is strong—but all these nine stories are gems. You can read an NPR review here and/or buy it at Powell’s, Bookshop, or Amazon.
I’m grateful to him for answering a few questions on his work as a writer and editor.
How long have you been writing fiction? What drew you to this genre?
Patrick Ryan: I think I wrote my first story when I was eleven. It was about a detective in the future who flew around on a jet-fuel-powered scooter and solved murders. But I really got into writing when I was fifteen—all because my English teacher encouraged me. She taught me what a vignette was, told me to go the mall and observe people and eavesdrop and write little one-page sketches of them. I wrote two or three a week for an entire school year. By age sixteen, I was marching around telling people I was going to be a writer.
How long have you been working in the publishing industry? How did you land in this profession?
Patrick Ryan: Eleven years. I fell into it sideways. I was looking for a job and [the writer and literary critic] John Freeman was looking to hire someone to help run the US office of Granta. I was forty-four and had published short stories and three books, but I had never worked in publishing before. It was a real trial by fire, because I suddenly had my hands in almost every aspect of lit mag publishing. I wore about forty hats at that job. In 2013, the owner of the magazine decided to close the US office, which dissolved my job. That was when I joined the One Story team.
How has your writing and/or publishing of fiction overlapped with or not overlapped with your work as a publishing professional?
Patrick Ryan: “Overlap” would be a very nice word to describe how working in publishing eats writing time. Any job you take home with you (I’m speaking, of course, of when most of us weren’t working from home) eats writing time. I used to advise writers: Get a job you can’t take home with you! I didn’t follow my own advice.
That said, I’ve published two books since I started working in publishing, and I’m nearing the end of a long writing project five years in the making.
A nice overlap is being a writer and getting to meet and know so many writers (even if I don’t get to meet a lot of them in person). A crummy overlap is being a writer who, because of the job, has to reject other writers. One Story publishes twelve stories a year and receives over two hundred submissions a week.
If there was one thing you could change about the publishing industry what would it be?
Patrick Ryan: The extreme disparity in what emerging authors are paid for their books.
What fiction project are you working on right now that excites you?
Patrick Ryan: As an editor? I kind of fall in love with the stories I edit for One Story. Each one is like a short-term romance. We spend a lot of time together and get very intimate. And each one ends like a short-term romance: by the time we go to print, both the story and I are thoroughly sick of each other. But we remain good friends!
As a writer, I’m both excited and antsy about what I’m working on now, which I obscurely referred to in my third answer as “a long writing project.” It could also be called a novel.
I’m excited to read that novel!
For those of you who don’t know, One Story is a literary magazine that sends one excellent short story to your doorstep every month. They have won awards for the quality of their work; they don’t charge submission fees; and they pay their writers and staff. If you’re interested, you can read more about them and/or subscribe here.
Thanks for reading! Next time, I’ll discuss my years working as a project editor at Perseus Books Group in Colorado. I hope everyone is doing OK.