26 March 2012

My Thoughts on Ryan Bradley, Code for Failure and an Author Interview!

Welcome to the Ryan W. Bradley Fails the Internet Blog Tour 2012!  This tour highlights Ryan's new book Code for Failure which releases tomorrow (!) and is hosted by Lori at The Next Best Book Blog.

Here are the other stops on the tour, in case my post rocks so hard and makes you so excited about the book that you need to read more about it (which you should anyway):

Alison@ Alison Writes
Ben @ This Blog Will Change Your Life
Benoit @ Dead End Follies
Erica @ Booked in Chico
Caleb@ The World's First Author
Barry@ Monkey Bicycle

So, first, my thoughts:

Code for Failure is kind of a slight book, but it is really full of good stuff.  I read and reviewed Ryan's short story collection Prize Winners last year, which struck me as the work of a very capable writer, and so I was excited when Lori asked me to be on the tour for this book.  The novel is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a year in the life of a college dropout/gas station employee.  The narrator is sort of typically apathetic, surprisingly popular with the ladies (do women really hit on gas station attendants this much?), and totally confused about what to do with the rest of his life.  Working at a gas station is, in his mind, "code for failure," but he has little to no motivation to do anything else.  So, he goes to work, gets drunk, listens to and ruminates on lots of cool music, goes on some really bad dates, sleeps with kind of a lot of women, and finally goes on a good date. 

I thought the book was great.  I also thought that although the book was pretty dirty, in the end it was a pretty lovely story about romance and falling in love (you'll see my question for Ryan about this below).  It is totally real, and the characters easy to become attached to.  I didn't really want the story to be over, although I was certainly satisfied with the ending.  If you aren't opposed to some adult language and content, definitely pick up a copy of this one when it releases.

And now, the interview with Ryan:

So, I don't ever do author interviews.  I'm not very good at them.  I quit the school newspaper in high school because I was too shy to interview one of the girls on the volleyball team.  However, since this interview is via email, hopefully I will do okay.

1.  This is the second of your books that I have read, and there are a few things I've noticed about both.  The first thing is that they are both beautifully designed (although I haven't seen the finished copy of Code for Failure).  I love the short chapters, the font and all the white space on each page.  I personally think it has great effect on the reader, and adds to the tone of the work. Do you intend for it to have a particular effect?  How did you develop that style and how much are you involved in the physical design of your books?


Thank you! I take a lot of pride in design. With Prize Winners I did 100% of the design inside and out. For Code there are actually going to be two editions. The one with the illustrated cover is a limited edition and was drawn by my friend John Dermot Woods (who is an amazing artist/writer) and I designed around that. The trade edition of the book was designed by the folks at Black Coffee Press. As for the interior, I haven't seen the final version yet, but I did help with the interior design as well. As for that aesthetic, I'm obsessive compulsive, and have a lot of compulsions and peculiarities regarding books. The most daunting thing for me is opening a book and seeing just a dense block of text, which feels to me like the reading equivalent of quicksand. I think this informs not only my interior design of books, but also my writing style. I tend to write in short sentences and short paragraphs. It opens up the page, creates a faster flow for the eye, I think.


2. The other thing that the books have in common is that they are both totally adult.  Prize Winners is a bit raunchier than Code, but they both have their moments. I'm not exactly sure what to ask about it, but it is an obvious feature of your work.  I guess I could say that  I thought that the character in the novel was developed perfectly, and all of his thoughts and actions seemed to mesh with the persona you developed, including the drug use and sexuality.  However, do you worry that writing so explicitly limits your audience?  Do you consider yourself an x-rated writer, or are you just telling stories about characters that wouldn't seem real without sex and drugs?
I don't consider myself an x-rated writer, but I do realize that because of the content my writing isn't going to be for everyone. But that's okay. You can't please everyone. I write to try and understand how people relate to one another, how people manage to get along. I think it's baffling that any person can get along with any other person in life. Yet we do. Drugs are probably less prevalent in my writing than sex, but it is something that is a reality for the kinds of people I write about. And I think sex is about as universal an experience as you can get. Most people beyond a certain age will have a life that involves sex one way or another. To me it is natural for stories to involve sex. Sexuality is a key component to not only human life but many forms of life. Why not explore that?


3.  As a follow-up, I'll say that I don't think that Code for Failure is about sex or drugs, or even working at a gas station.  I thought it was a kind of perfect love story.  Would you characterize the novel that way?  What do you think makes a good love story?

I think you are the first person to mention this aspect of the book, but I would agree with you. It is a love story. I didn't know it when I started writing it, but I think that's how real life love stories are, too. I told my wife recently that I understand if she doesn't want to read the book, but that if anything she should read the last section. I wouldn't have been able to write something like that if it weren't for her.


As for what makes a good love story, well I think reality. Love doesn't come packaged neatly. I had a bunch of weird and/or negative relationships before stumbling into a relationship with my wife. And I know it was the same for her. Because of that it has made our relationship more meaningful, more real. I think the formula you see in movies or even in books is so far from reality that it fails at truly connecting with people. And I think maybe that's why Code may not always been seen as a love story, because there's more of a reality to it, if that makes sense. It doesn't feel like the love stories people are used to seeing reflected in movies or books, instead it comes across as a factotum story. Which it is as well, but I think that appears at the forefront for many people.


4.  And finally, I'll wrap up with a typically bookish question:  What writer influences you the most and how do you see his/her writing affecting your style? Who do you like to read?
Oh man, let me narrow this down a bit: the living writer who influences me most is Jack Driscoll, one of my mentors from my MFA. He and I have very different styles, but he writes with an incredible compassion for his characters that I'm just in awe of. His new collection, The World of a Few Minutes Ago is just amazing. What is evident in everything Driscoll writes is that all of his characters are treated as real people. Even if they make mistakes or do bad things, you can tell that as a writer (and more importantly, as a person) Driscoll has forgiven them as if they were real people just trying to make it through this life and not being perfect. I try to write with that as a goal.

I read so much. And there are, of course, writers who I read every book from. I'll just list writers who I have read four or more books by (because that's random yet answers the question, right?): TC Boyle, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Michael Chabon, Paul Di Filippo, Jack Driscoll, Dave Eggers, William Faulkner, Pete Fromm, Ernest Hemingway, Ha Jin, Denis Johnson, Etgar Keret, Jack Kerouac, Jonathon Lethem, Naguib Mahfouz, Ken Sparling, Neal Stephenson, Benjamin Tammuz, Ben Tanzer, and Christian TeBordo. And that's fiction. Don't get me started on all the poets!


Well, that's it!  Thanks to Ryan for answering my questions, and to Lori for hosting the tour!

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