Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dead End Follies Interview with Ryan W. Bradley


It's day two of the Ryan W. Bradley week. I announced on Twitter that today was his guest post but I was wrong. My turn in the blog tour is Thursday. Sorry about that. Here is instead the first ever Dead End Follies Interview. If you haven't read the review I made of his first novel CODE FOR FAILURE, please do so now and preorder it because it's awesome. If I can't convince you to buy this amazing novel before the end of the week, hopefully its other great reviews will speak for themselves. In the meantime, meet Ryan. Author, publisher, design artist and all-around interesting guy...


I'd like you to introduce yourself. Tell us who are you, where you come from as a writer and how have you come to write CODE FOR FAILURE.

Hi! I'm Ryan W. Bradley, a writer of fiction, poetry, and other nonsense. Writing for me started as a way to cope with some injuries in high school that kept me from playing sports for a bit and it stuck. I was always a reader though, and like many before me, Hemingway's a big reason I fell in love with the written word. I'm also a husband and a father of two sons, and a worker of normal (read dull) jobs, the latter part being ultimately where CODE FOR FAILURE comes into play. The novel is based on when I was kicked out of college after my sophomore year and the only job I could get was pumping gas.

So how much of it is true? Would you qualify CODE FOR FAILURE as memoir or autofiction?


My usual estimate is about 60%, some things are flat-out nonfiction. But to be honest I don't think of it as memoir or autofiction. To me it's just a factotum novel that in many ways I lived out in my early twenties. Other ways I took my experiences and embellished or let my narrator make choices I didn't, and vice versa.

One of the elements that made the novel remarkable, is that you really nailed that destructive apathy that plagues young men of our time. The narrator hates his job, yet he sticks with it without reason and even becomes good at it. I could relate to it and I'm sure many other male reader will. Why do you think young men are like that?

That's a big question, and I'm sure the answer is much more complicated than I could ever hope to unpack, but I'm sure it has to do with the shifts in our culture during our lives. It used to be unheard of that people would change jobs because what they did was "unfulfilling" that wasn't even part of the lexicon that our parents understood. Until they were middle aged. Right around the time we were coming along or growing into an age of recognition and suddenly our culture was concerned with the fact that jobs made people depressed, etc. I think the shift was akin to when suddenly people considered marrying for love to be something to strive for, and something that people should have the right to do. In our lives there was this switch where suddenly people were encouraged to follow their feelings instead of a sense of pragmatism or responsibility.

Being raised during this shift I think we began to feel obligated toward finding the job that we were going to be fulfilled by, and that's not necessarily the most realistic way to find a career, so when we got stuck in crappier jobs we felt we had to prove ourselves. And maybe I'm just speaking for myself here, but every crappy job I've had has come with a boiling point, but in each I've also felt like I had a lot to prove. People don't think of younger generations as being hard working, and I was very aware that no one expected me to have a work ethic. So when I got my first job, and it was pumping gas, I was out to prove everyone wrong. I've been trying to prove something ever since, and I'm not even sure what exactly.

Do you think the need for oneself's fulfillment is part of human nature or is it a manufactured idea we buy into?

To be honest, I think it's both. I think it is very definitely part of human nature, but a part of human nature we didn't know how to name or what exactly we should do with it, until it was turned into a commodity for society. Once that happened, once "fulfillment" was marketed as a path to happiness, and psychological understanding of one's place in the world I think we became over-aware and we started seeing our place in the world differently. A revival of ennui, perhaps.

James Frey started a movement of dishonesty towards the memoir form and autobiographical material in general. Greg Mortensen has been caught inventing stuff in a memoir, lately. Quentin Rowan got a memoir deal , because he got caught plagiarizing almost everything he ever published. You have a very earnest approach towards your autobiographical material. What's your opinion about these authors? What's the effect you think they have on the literary landscape?

As for Frey, I think he gets more attention than he ever should have. I read A Million Little Pieces or whatever it was called and it wasn't a good book. Doesn't matter if it was nonfiction or fiction, it wasn't well written. I think he did a great job of getting famous by causing controversy. As for the continual condition of nonfiction being busted as fictionalized, well, I mean, who is so stupid as to think they won't get caught?! I don't necessarily think they have any effect on the literary landscape, other than making themselves out to look like jerks and/or idiots. But I think it's the sort of thing that makes me wary to write straight up memoir. However, I started working on a memoir recently and it's going to be the slowest written thing in my life, but I approach it right from the beginning as "this was a chaotic time in my life, and my memory is as chaotic regarding this period as the period was itself." I think ultimately all you can do is be honest, as soon as you fail to do that you're on a track toward getting called out. I feel like a fraud enough when it comes to life and writing, I don't need to deal with being caught as a fraud for real.

What is your opinion about electronic publications and eBooks in general? I noticed Artistically Declined Press is publishing for Kindle. Would you qualify it of a revolution? Also, what do you think about Jonathan Franzen's recent comment about ePublication?

It is what it is. I'm not into ereaders and the like, I love a physical book. I still buy CDs, even though they get ripped to my iPod. I love having the art to hold in my hands, the liner notes. I like tangibility. ADP does some ebook stuff because I recognize that to avoid it is to be close-minded, and to alienate readers, which is the opposite of what I want, but personally I feel like I make beautiful looking print books, and that can't be replicated in electronic format.

As for Franzen, well, I have no idea what he said, but I know of his recent spat of hating on all things technological, which I think is hilarious. I presume the man uses a computer. If he's turning in handwritten drafts to his publisher I will applaud him. To me he's just starting to sound like a grumpy old man. And I'll preface my next statement by saying that I really liked The Corrections when it came out, but I read Freedom somewhat recently, and to be honest I could never read or hear another thing from that man because after reading Freedom I'm very near death-by-boredom. I think there's no greater example of someone so hopelessly out of touch with reality than Freedom.

To me, CODE FOR FAILURE was a socially engaged novel. It gave a very human perspective on corporate life and the nihilism that spreads among employees. Do you think novelists have a responsibility towards their content? Are there novels you would judge harmful?

Thank you. I didn't set out for it to be such, not consciously, but I think that it's probably somewhat inherent in who I am. I don't think writers or artists in general have a responsibility other than to reflect their topic or themes in a manner that is honest and I don't mean that in terms of truth versus un-truth. To me, the only thing writers owe anyone, including themselves, is to write with passion, with soul. I hate to harken back to Franzen, but Freedom so clearly lacks soul. You can feel its void on every page. It's why people like me wanted to stop reading after page 60 (or 25). There are a lot of different reasons writers write. Some write solely to entertain, and that's fine, but if they do it without any love toward the writing it's not going to turn out as well, and readers will feel it, intrinsically.

Perpetual-author-interview-question. Who are the authors who influenced you and who are the authors you're looking up to right now?

Well, there are three categories, Canonical: Hemingway, Carver, Faulkner, O'Connor. The mentors from my MFA faculty who I owe a lot of my growth as a writer to, and whose writing continues to inspire me to be better: Jack Driscoll, Pete Fromm, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Brady Udall. And there are my compatriots who keep me trying to catch up: Ben Tanzer, xTx, Elizabeth Ellen, and Scott McClanahan.

Any artists outside literature influenced your writing?

I am often influenced by music. The musical influences on Code for Failure are evident throughout as I namedrop a bunch of bands, but one musician who always influences me and isn't namedropped in the book is Sebastien Grainger. His album, Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains is something I still listen to on a weekly basis, now years after its release. Also, The Long Winters, who upon re-listening to an older track of theirs the other day gave me an idea for a new story.

Where can the readers get more of your writing?

Oh man! Should anyone want more after reading Code for Failure, I would suggest checking out my website: www.ryanwbradley.blogspot.com as I try to keep a comprehensive list of publications there. I also have a small collection of rather vulgar stories, called Prize Winners. Publishing gods willing, one day my bigger story collection of pieces set in my home state of Alaska or my new novel will be picked up!

Anybody you would like to thank or anything you would like to plug? Now is the time.

There are always so many people to thank, and it is impossible to thank them all. I will, however, start with you, Ben! And Lori Hettler of TNBBC for roping you into reading Code for Failure. And this is, I think, is also a perfect time to thank my wife for putting up with everything Code for Failure related.

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