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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Contributor Spotlight: David Ryan

“The Man with the Boat” is a chapter from a novel-in-progress whose idea came from a conversation about the worst jobs a friend and I’d ever had. Jobs so bad they attracted people who couldn’t really work anywhere else—cash-under-the-table people who were running from the law or who’d immigrated to the U.S. illegally. Others were simply dodging any of a million terrible choices they’d made, or that life had made for them. Choices few of them would probably ever paddle back from. Throughout my life, these people have been the best storytellers, and the conversation between my friend and I turned to the stories we’d heard these co-workers tell us, back then, about the worst jobs they’d ever had. Jobs whose circumstances were a rung or two deeper in the inferno. Jobs so bad that they didn’t seem possible.

In one sense the nameless main character in this story is a composite of all these people I once knew—many of whose names I’ve forgotten, a few of whose I haven’t. But very little from that conversation between my friend and I ends up in this story. The truth is, even in the earliest drafts, various anxieties from my own life began falling into place, entering this nameless guy’s life. I’m a new father, for one thing. The image of an infant swaddled, cocooned here, is drawn from a photograph taken just after my daughter was born, wrapped in the hospital blanket. Other personal details get displaced and condensed in the story, enough that the dreamlike, ghastly strangeness of this man’s life feels, to me, entirely reified and personal. Of course that's inescapable with writing fiction—I think most writers find themselves inside what they’ve written, even when it’s a story entirely apart from their own day-to-day experience. I suspect the displacement of ourselves, whether we think we intend it or not, is much of the point.

David Ryan’s fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Fence, BOMB, Tin House, The Encyclopedia Project,, Unsaid, Booth, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, several Mississippi Review Prize issues, Nerve, Cimarron Review, Salt Hill, and Hobart, among others. His work has been anthologized in Flash Fiction Forward (WW Norton), The Mississippi Review: 30, and Boston Noir 2: The Classics (Akashic).

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