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Interview: Ryan Ridge

Ryan Ridge's "Porch Platitudes, from The Anatomy of American Homes" appears in our December 2009 issue. Other pieces of the project have appeared in DIAGRAM & The Mississippi Review Online. He lives in an apartment in Orange County.

1.  Can you talk about the inspiration for this series of shorts? What was on your mind while you were writing them?

I think unless you’re in an incredibly interesting line of work then you have to look to literature (or various other mediums) for inspiration. I teach composition, which I love, but it gives me zero material. So I generally retreat into my own imagination and get most of my inspiration from other books. While writing “Porch Platitudes”, I was rereading Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America for, like, the tenth time. It’s a book that I return to often because it’s so refreshing. I read it and it sets off flashbulbs in my mind. The thing I like so much about the book is that America emerges as the main character. I see the same thing happening in The Anatomy of American Homes, except fifty years on I’m writing about a considerably different America than Brautigan. Along with rereading Brautigan, I was also looking at a lot of William Eggleston photographs. The thing I love about Eggleston is how he photographs these really banal things like a ceiling, or the interior of an icebox, and yet when you look at them it’s a goddamn revelation. Now you’ll never see an icebox or a ceiling the same way again. Suddenly the familiar seems strange, which is necessary in life I think. When I was writing the porch section, I wanted to incorporate a decent amount of defamiliarization. Hence the goat skulls as porch fixtures.

2. What audience did you have in mind when writing "FrontPorch"? It reads like a humorous mock-guidebook or some other reference to a foreign country and its culture.

“FrontPorch” with its mock-guidebookness most closely resembles the other two completed sections of the homes project (“Awayward Functions” & “Doorographical Divisions”). After the front porch, “Porch Platitudes” goes another direction. It gets more narrative. Michael Martone’s mock guidebook Blue Guide to Indiana is certainly a big influence, but the central difference is that Martone writes about place and I’m writing about architecture. The question of audience is a great question. I suppose the only audience I ever have in mind is a certain woman. I’m always writing to impress this certain woman and it must be working to a certain degree because she’s agreed to marry me.

3. Something that struck me as I read from "FrontPorch" to "PorchSwing II" is that the stories become progressively more informal, more conversational, reading through them as they're ordered. Is this also a theme in The Anatomy of American Homes as a whole?  What was the thought process behind ordering the shorts as you did?

In each chapter of American Homes, I’ve tried to do something different. The porch section is the first section where the faux formality of the mock-guidebook deteriorates altogether. I agree that the tone becomes more conversational as it progresses. The speaker (me) also steps more and more into the forefront. Still too early to say whether this will become a theme in the book, but I think it’s a great idea. Thank you. I’ll try it out.

4. Where else can we find excerpts from The Anatomy of American Homes, either already published or upcoming?

“Doorographical Divisions” is up at DIAGRAM and “Awayward Functions” is at The Mississippi Review Online.  As of now, that’s all I’ve written. However, in the new year I plan on finishing three more sections: “Window Types”, “Lawn School”, & “Driveway Designs”. With any luck they should materialize somewhere on the internet by summer.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a collection of stories called “Pedestrian”. It should be done by spring and then I’ll send it to some small presses that I’m enamored with, and hope. There’s also this epic poetry project I’ve been working on forever called “The Cantos for David Berman to Sing”, sections of which have appeared Salt Hill & The Greenbelt Review. It’s a pet project mostly, but it’s probably my favorite project. It’s pretty wild.

6.  What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

I’ve been reading a lot of David Markson lately: Reader’s Block, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel. All of which are great. I also followed Shya Scanlon’s Forecast as it was serialized online. It floored me. I can’t wait til the book comes out. Right now, I’m reading a galley copy of David Shield’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto and can say with absolute certainty that it is a book of profound significance. It promises to shake things up when it drops next March. I also hear that Sam Lipsyte has a new one coming out, which is awesome. He’s my favorite.

It was a pleasure talking to you, Marie.

[Interview by Marie Schutt]

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