T. Jefferson Parker On Knowing When To Leave A Character Behind

Mindy:             Today's guest is T. Jefferson Parker, the bestselling author of 13 standalone noir crime novels as well as three separate series featuring the characters Merci Rayborn, Charlie Hood, and his latest Roland Ford. He joined me today to talk about knowing when it's time to create a new character as well as the bittersweetness of leaving an old one behind.

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Mindy:             We're here to talk about The Last Good Guy, which is your third book in the Roland Ford series. So you've created quite a few series that focus on an individual investigator. So when do you know that it's time to create a new one?

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Parker:             Good question. Yeah, yeah. I have, I have written I guess three series now about different eh, heroines and heroes. I feel like sometimes that the character has, has reached her or his maximum level of entertainment value and want their job to be done. They have, you know, reached a point in the series of books where the reader will feel satisfied that they know that character well enough and it's time to, you know, move on to another one. I think essentially as long as I'm deeply interested in the character, then I always feel like there's going to be another book in there and at some point it's going to be time to say, that's enough. I'm going to end this. And I'm going to go onto the next character.

Mindy:             Do you ever miss the ones that you've walked away from?

Parker:             Yeah, I do. Sometimes ones that I walk away from or characters who die at the end of the book, you know, I miss them and I go, Gosh, I wish she was still here. I wish he was still here. In terms of the characters, the series leaders, Roland or like Charlie Hood or MercI Rayborn. I do miss them when they're gone. And when people go to book signings and do tours and stuff and they ask about, are you going to write about Silent Joe again? I know I'm not. And yet I always say, well, you know, probably not, but I'd kinda like to. And that's, and that's true.

Mindy:             Yeah, absolutely. I have, uh, characters in some of my own books that have open endings and people will say, are you going to write another one? I want to know what happens. I mean, more than likely, no, I'm probably not going to return to that series because that particular genre is no longer a viable genre. Um, but that's a horrible answer to a reader.

Parker:             It is. That's the writer's answer.

Mindy:             Exactly. Exactly. That's an industry answer. Whereas they're asking me about a character that they care about as a human being and I'm just like, well, you know, the money just isn't there.

Parker:             Yeah. And you want to be with that character. You want your readers to ask about those characters that go, well, what about Merci? Or what about Joe or whatever. You got them where you want them and it's just so nice to have characters that people care about and then you can't do what they want, which is to bring them back again cause you're doing something else. I mean, I literally stopped writing Merci Rayborn books. I wrote three of them in all, it was only three, but still it's a lot of writing about one character. I literally stopped that series, brought that series to a halt so that I could write Silent Joe, which was a story that just sort of presented itself to me. And I saw this character. I had to write this book and I had to say goodbye to Merci in order to write that book and then that book led to another book. There's too many good characters to get to.

Mindy:             And you do have to follow inspiration once you have it. Ignoring it is folly.

Parker:             You can't because, no. As you know, I mean that's what gets you through the year of work that it takes you to write one of these books. It takes a long time and you need lots of inspiration to keep you at work

Mindy:             Coming up, the importance of setting in fiction and how to create a place readers want to return to.

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Mindy:             I want to talk about setting a little bit. You are a California native and all of your books reflect that. So you have just deep California roots in all of the books. And the setting is really imperative often to everything that's going on. I mean, not only as a backdrop, but also as a character itself in many ways. So if you could talk about that for a little bit. I've always found literature of place very highly compelling.

Parker:             Yeah, me too. Me too. As a reader, you know, my first demand is, is I want to know where I am, what day it is, what time it is, what's going on, where I am geographically, you know, I don't care where, I just want to have a really firmly rooted grasp of, of where I'm at. And, uh, and as a writer, I've found over my many years of doing this that I really love, writing about where I am. So my first few books take place in, in Laguna Beach, California where I was living at the time that I wrote them. And then a couple about Newport Beach, California, and then Tustin, California. These are all places I've lived. And then a little bit in LA. And then when I moved down here to San Diego County, to Fallbrook, almost 20 years ago, my books followed south, you know, down into San Diego County and down into Fallbrook where I live now.

Parker:             I love being able to go out into my little town. I live in Fallbrook now and look at the streets and the people and talk with people and do my errands. And do my stuff and see the marines from Pendleton, which is right next door coming and going to our wars and stuff and talking to them. I love being able to, to make this little town real, you know, and it, it really informs the books. The setting is so important and, and as you said, it's not just window dressing, it's, it's the fabric of the life that you're living here and, uh, reflecting the world around you. In a small town like this, you get to write about the world around you, through the small hometown eyes, if you will, and I treasure that. I think it's something that readers like. I think I like this place, even if they've never been here.

Mindy:             I'm from the Midwest, I'm from Ohio. It's interesting to me how often I see country life, especially the Midwest and also Appalachia represented completely inaccurately. Would you say California, and at least as a Midwesterner, you automatically have an idea and it might be wrong. So do you see California or especially small town California represented accurately in books, movies, television?

Parker:             Yeah. Good question. You know, California is really a whole bunch of little tiny microcosms, all the same place at the same time. My California if you will, Fallbrook. Okay. It's San Diego County, 37,000 people. We call ourselves the avocado capital of the world, proudly. And we have lots of citrus and Avocados and commercial nurseries. Fragrant, floral, little place. Woodsy. Homes are kind of tucked away. And it's very much a mom and pop town. It's not a bunch of franchises. Joe's hardware. Bicycle shop that specializes in bicycles and vacuum cleaners.

Parker:             Quirky, quirky little world that I live in, you know, which is completely unrelated to Los Angeles even though Los Angeles is only an hour and a half drive from here. So, so to answer your question, I think a lot of the writers I know are neighbors. I know Don Winslow and I know Mike Connolly and I know Robert Crais and those guys write about their little pockets of California, I think really brilliantly. So I don't often read a novel. Did I go, Oh God, that's, that's nothing like it really is. I think for the most part, people writing about California are getting their little portion of it, right.

Mindy:             Ohio is usually wrong. And I say that as like from a really small town like population 2000, when I see it represented and I'm a farmer's daughter, grew up farming. Farming is never right ever in movies. I have a huge problem with the way cornfields are represented. They love the way it looks, but they're never doing it right. The cinematic shots of the green corn is beautiful and everyone loves it, but they're never interacting with it appropriately. Like ever.

Parker:             That's a crackup. Do you know my mother was a farmer's daughter only child. She grew up in Kenton, Ohio. Grandma, Grandpa May, Elmer and May were corn farmers. So I know exactly what you're talking about.

Mindy:             There isn't really anything quite like a corn field when you're out in it. Basically, you know, they have the animal wranglers and gun wranglers for movies they need to bring a farmer in.

Parker:             They should, they should.

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Mindy:             We're here to talk about The Last Good Guy. The book features white supremacy. So it's timely, but unfortunately it's also evergreen. Did the news cycle inspire you at all with this or was this a, an idea that had been cooking?

Parker:             You know, it's an idea that had been cooking forever in my little brain pan and I've written about it before I kind of hatched this book around the time the Charlottesville protest turned deadly. I've always been interested in hate and you know, white supremacy and any version of that kind of thinking. Growing up in southern California, you know, weirdly enough southern California is correctly known as the liberal bastion, but, but back to the idea of little microcosms living together, you know, there's all, there's a long and sort of infamous, uh, a string of white supremacists who have lived and operated and agitated from southern California, from San Diego County where I live from Fallbrook, where I live. I mean there's a notorious one. Yeah, I've always been interested in those people and what they do, they make great, bad guys and what they're doing. Is it timely? Unfortunately it is evergreen now. I mean, they're up to it again. Just open the news and check it out. And there they are.

Mindy:             I'm curious about your research. So when you're researching something that is obviously difficult, I have a duty as a writer to get into the mind frame of even your villains. So you know, how, how does that research work when you're dealing with something that is, you know, uncomfortable?

Parker:             I don't feel uncomfortable when I brush up against those kinds of people and those kind of ideas. Some people scare me. I've been to supermax prisons and talked to people in those prisons and they scare the living daylights out of me. And there's bars between us. These kinds of organized, you know, haters, political extremists and stuff. I can tolerate that. I don't finish the book feeling like I blighted myself, you know, I mean, I've written about some really dark people back mid career. I wrote some really scary books. A couple of them. I literally felt like, you know, taking a hot shower at the end of the day after I'd spent eight hours creating these characters and telling these stories and it the left, uh, you know, a bristling sort of bad feeling on my skin. I don't feel that way anymore. Maybe just because I'm older and feel a little tougher.

Parker:             And so much of the research I do now is, is online and is videos and people are so eager now, you know, to reveal themselves and to tell you what they're doing. I mean, you can go online and see anybody doing anything at any time practically, you know, I mean, you can watch cartel torture if you want to. There's that distance too. I think I'm seeing these people and listening to these people, these, these haters kind of BS philosophy that they spout on about, I feel like I can take it now. I don't feel quite so, so tainted by it all.

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Mindy:             And it's interesting too. You mentioned doing the research online. You have a fourth wall, you know, there's a screen. You know that it's real, but at the same time you're watching a screen. And so even though it is very different from sitting across from someone and talking to them about their activities or their past, I think it's interesting talking about dark topics and diving into the research. My most recent book is about the opioid crisis. So I'm like, Hey, you know, we've got the Internet and boy, you're right. You really can find anyone doing anything. I did so much research and was simultaneously highly alarmed at how easy it was for me as a novice to learn so much about how to do like step by step youtube videos about how to tie off and find a vein. And I'm so grateful for those as a writer and yet disturbed as a human. Yeah,

Parker:             I totally hear you, Mindy. I, I've been there too. Yeah.

Mindy:             And people, you know, asked me similar questions. Uh, how do you write such dark topics? You know, the truth is it doesn't bother me either. So when I answer the question that way, sometimes I'm like, oh, did that, do I sound a little off now?

Parker:             It doesn't bother me at all. Yeah, you can't really say that then and it's not quite true, but I, I know what you mean. You're a reporter in, in a lot of ways. I think while all of us are novelists, I mean we're creating stories, at heart we're kind of journalists and we kind of have a cold eye for the facts.

Mindy:             Yeah, very true. I feel very much more like a funnel than anything. Things pass through it. They don't stay inside.

Mindy:             Lastly, what has changed in publishing over time and how to stay invigorated as a writer?

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Mindy:             So you have been publishing for quite a while since the mid eighties is that right?

Parker:             Yeah. 85 exactly. 31 years worth,

Mindy:             You have been in writing and publishing for a really long time. Um, what has changed for you? Like in the industry,

Parker:             The industry? This is writer to writer now.

Mindy:             Yeah.

Parker:             The Internet has revolutionized the world really. And certainly our jobs, you know, the research that we do changed immensely. I guess more specifically though, um, I'm proud to have seen novels especially, but books in general have survived the digital age. We're still writing and we're still reading and, and kindles did not take over the world. And even that's still reading, you know, in spite of the mountains and mountains of entertainment that you can get, gaming and TVs and in movie theaters. In spite of all of that, much of which is really quite good, our little books hang in there and they survive and they move people in ways only books can. I'm proud to be a part of a genre that I write in, you know, the noir and the crime writing that goes back, uh, you know, maybe all the way back to Edgar Allen Poe if you believe the scholars. I think books have weathered the great storm and books will be with us forever.

Mindy:             I agree. I mean, we started with oral storytelling, passing it down and, you know, we're still here. From the creative end. Do you ever get tired or are you ever worn out?

Parker:             Yeah, I get tired. I get tired. Um, but I gotta admit Mindy, I really kinda like what I do. I always tell students this, young people, you know, writing, if you want to be a writer, don't forget that writing should be fun. And I don't mean fun all the time. I don't mean fun all day. I don't mean every day. But I mean there, there has to be a point where you write a sentence and you sit back and look at it and go, that is a good sentence and I take satisfaction in doing that. You know, and a good sentence becomes a good page and a good page becomes a good chapter. And the draw of creativity, you know, that funny state you get in as a writer where you're funneling just like you said, you know, you're funneling things from the outside, mashing it through your brain and then your fingers and then onto the screen and then onto the page is really kind of magical.

Parker:             I like that a lot. Um, it's exhausting too, for me, get to the point where I can begin writing a book. The hardest part of writing for me is not writing. You know what? I'm sitting around trying to hatch a story idea, make a story work, you know, in my brain and, and okay, I know I got Roland and he lives here in Fallbrook and he's going to get another case and you know, what's it going to be? What am I going to do? You know? And I'll spend weeks and months in that weird state. You probably do too. You're waiting for the story to coagulate just enough so that you can begin writing it. And then once I begin writing, then I'm pretty happy.

Mindy:             Yeah, it's true. I get tired of being behind my screen so much, almost in a meditative state when you are writing and it's um, you know, it cuts you off from the outside world when you're good writing happens, but it also cuts you off from other people. Can make me a little bit unhappy if I am stuck inside in my own mind in front of a laptop. But when I'm not writing, I'm also very grumpy and unhappy.

Parker:             Oh, there you go. Can't win either way.

Mindy:             No, you have to get it out or else, uh, you know, it's, it'll explode. So that's, it's just a process thing for me. And it sounds like it's similar for you, so I'm going to let you go because I know you've got another interview lined up.

Parker:             Okay. Well, it's been really good talking to you, Mindy. Congrats on your success, your Edgar, and just very cool.

Mindy:             Yes. Thank you so much and congrats to you and this, uh, new series. I'll be diving into those,

Parker:             This new one, as a writer. I think it will grab you on page one when you read it. Anyway, have fun. Awesome. Thank you so much.

 

Representing the Midwest in Fiction with J. Ryan Stradal

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Mindy:             Welcome to Writer, Writer Pants On Fire. Where authors talk about things that never happened to people who don't exist. We also cover craft, the agent hunt, query trenches, publishing industry, marketing, and more. I'm your host Mindy McGinnis. You can check out my books and social media at MindyMcGinnis.com and make sure to visit the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog for additional interviews, query critiques, and more at writerwriterpantsonfire.com. If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar.

Mindy: Today’s guest is J. Ryan Stradal. His first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, was published by Viking in 2015, and reached the New York Times Hardcover Best Seller list. His short fiction has appeared in Hobart, The Rumpus, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Review of Books, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Electric Literature, and Midwestern Gothic, among others. His second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, is available now. J. Ryan joined me today to talk about representation of the Midwest in popular culture, the rising importance of microbreweries in small communities, and the lost stories of the middle class.        

Mindy:             Let's talk about the book, The Lager Queen of Minnesota. One of the things that, as I said, really appeals to me about it is that it's about the Midwest and it's setting is in the Midwest and you grew up in the Midwest. I often see, and I imagine you probably do too, writers and TV show producers and movies, always trying to do the Midwest and not quite getting it... if sometimes completely missing the mark and really corn holing us. So if you could talk a little bit about that, I would love for you to let us know your opinion.

J. Ryan:             I totally agree. I've seen some over the years, like Butter for example, which I thought was extremely condescending. The writer of that movie, I'm not gonna name names, but he's from Maryland. He's not even from the Midwest, you know, we gotta make our own art. We've gotta represent our own people. So in a lot of ways this is a response to me not seeing our people represented properly or with enough depth or imagination, but also not just a course correction or a diatribe. It's the celebration of these people. Being a Minnesotan, I'm more inclined to praise what I love than denigrate what I hate. I'm more motivated to write stories about these people because I love them, than do it as some kind of retort to culture at large, but that does play into it. I wasn't seeing enough stories about the people I consider to be my people out there in the world, in any media. There are plenty of great Midwestern writers. Don't get me wrong. Peter Guy, Nicholas Butler, Lorna Landvik Vic Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley. There's a ton of them, but in terms of writing about kind of contemporary working class suburban and kind of like the people I grew up with, I wasn't seeing a ton of that. That's kind of my sweet spot in terms of inspiration, subject matter, like people that live in these smaller towns on the outskirts of a city and live paycheck to paycheck. That's how I grew up.

Mindy:             Yeah, me too. I encourage you as an offside, check out the author, Donald Ray Pollock.

J. Ryan:           Oh, you bet. I saw him on a panel a while ago and he was really cool. I actually bought one of his books at that event and gave it directly to my brother. Said, give it to me when you're done and he's never given it back to me.

Mindy:             Take it back because that man is my idol. I mean, pure sheer Midwest. He's from the Circleville area up here, very southern Ohio, very Appalachia. Stunningly talented.

J. Ryan:           Cool. Yeah, I've heard people compare him to Dennis Johnson.

Mindy:             Absolutely. Yup. Absolutely. No doubt about that. So the other thing that you talk about, and you just mentioned it too in response to the question about the Midwest in general is middle class and it's so true that so much of our popular culture is centered on the Uber rich or Uber poor. That's what we talk about. It's like that's where the stories are and that's not true. I mean there is that grind and that struggle of just making it, it's so terrifying in itself in some ways. And I know it plays into the book. So if you could talk about that for a little bit.

J. Ryan:             Well, it's also so rich with conflict and I mean, when you're struggling to make it every day is some kind of conflict. Anytime you can't answer a problem with money, you've got conflict. And that's one of the things I find kind of amusing, uh, about the fact that so many books are written about wealthy people or, or at least financially stable people. It's like, boy, what problem do they have that they can solve with their wallet? And the people I grew up with couldn't say that. And my characters, most of them can't. Every situation could end up becoming septic for them. You know, like the smallest cut could kill them sometimes. I enjoy exploring that dynamic because you know, you grew up in a world where, you know, as Eda says in my book, you'd treat money like a motorcycle driver treats asphalt. It keeps you going, but one mistake with it can kill you. I knew a lot of people who are very risk averse, you know? Certainly very cautious, very, uh, if not stingy at the very least, you know, very conservative with money. Like I grew up in a family. We didn't eat out a lot. You know, I wanted to though, boy, I'll tell you that when I started working out out of the house and making my own money, I spent it almost all on restaurants and CD's.

Mindy:             I love that.

J. Ryan:             So those kinds of purchasing decisions, having opportunity costs when it comes to money, you know, and I explore that with my character, Diana, you know, she's got a job, she makes money doing something criminal on the side. But anyway, she's got money that she needs to sustain her and her grandma's life, but also looks at this money in her life and goes, what do I spend it on? I have a choice. I can't do both things. Boy, that's as dramatic as it gets. I'm surprised more people don't explore this realm. Talking to someone else earlier today, and, uh, we talked about this topic and it came up that, well, maybe not enough people come out of the working class to become writers. And that could be a part of it too. Is that you've gotta be in a fairly privileged situation to be able to afford the time off to write a book. At least have your mornings free. I mean, if you have kids and you're working a full time job, I mean, how many hours a day do you get to write? You can do it. I know people who do, it's a lot harder. You know, someone whose parents paid for their MFA and now they get to sit in an apartment in Brooklyn and write their novel. It's very different for them from what I came from.

Mindy:             Yeah. Exactly. Same here, same here.

J. Ryan:             And they're obviously gonna write a different kind of novel than you or I. I don't even think they should try to write a novel set in Ohio. I wouldn't want to read it.

Mindy:             No, not at all. And that's, yeah, that's the experience that I have. Um, I'm lucky enough I'm able to write full time now, but you know,.

J. Ryan:             Yeah me to too and I feel the same way. I feel lucky.

Mindy:             Yes. And always aware that it can be taken from you.

J. Ryan:             Oh yes.

Mindy:             Well, and you mentioned being risk averse as part of that middle class mentality. And I see that, I mean, you can't take a stand and say, I'm going to be an artist. I mean, that's all risk.

J. Ryan:             Oh my God. Yeah. And it was a risk my parents supported, you know, my mom's supported and understood because she always wanted to be a novelist herself. My Dad was slower. His burner on the stove is slower to heat up under that pot. He's into it now, you know. But uh, at first when I went to college, he was like, oh, you should major in, uh, in a skill like a trade. And so I majored in Radio, TV, film partially, you know, partially to make him happy, but also because I was scared shitless of the idea of writing prose at the time. I was a young dude. I didn't like to revise.

J. Ryan:             I didn't revise. Oh my God, what, what insanity was that?

Mindy:             You know, I didn't either. My very first book, I finished in college, I wrote a novel, finished it and was like, I'm sending this to publishers. And I did. And then, you know, that didn't end well. That did not work out.

J. Ryan:             Thank God. it didn't. Imagine if that had been your first book out there, you wouldn't be able, if it was still on shelves like right now you wouldn't to be able to look at it.

Mindy:             Thank God self publishing didn't exist then because, oh my God.

J. Ryan:             Oh yeah, yeah, I know. I know. I know. Just imagine. I talked to writing classes sometimes about that, but like I've sent out this story 50 or 60 times and it hasn't been accepted. Like, you know, maybe in five years you'll be glad it wasn't right? Also think of that.

Mindy:             I have a blog post, an interview with another author coming up tomorrow and she was querying for six years and I had over 500 rejections and you know, I was querying for 10 and I definitely had over 500 but I'm not sure how many, but then she says the same thing. It's like it was all on me. I was just so convinced that I was this little undiscovered genius. I wasn't revising, I wasn't putting in the work. I wasn't even rereading my own stuff. I was just like, this is awesome!

J. Ryan:             Oh no, Oh no, no. Yeah, Kerouac writing on the road. This is just my role of typewriter paper right here. I know I wrote a manuscript in my twenties that'll never see the light of day, but I was of course, you know, disappointed about that at the time. You know, like any writer would be. I didn't even get a response from agents. Yeah. I mean, once or twice I maybe got, we received it, you know, but certainly no one asking for a full. And then the cases I sent a full like no response. You know? And I look at it now and I perfectly understand it's an embarrassing piece of work, but it was the first novel I had to write more to develop the discipline of writing a novel.

Mindy:             Absolutely. I know I would get partial requests, then I would send them off and they would just be like crickets. And now I'm like, well, I mean I'm glad they didn't respond. I don't want to know what they thought.

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J. Ryan:             Me Neither. I'm glad that some of these agents are no longer in the business and they're no longer around to besmirch my good name should they check their email archive.

Mindy:             So you've mentioned writing that bad first novel and getting out of your system. How many novels did you complete? How many books I should say? Did you finish before you got an agent?

J. Ryan:             Okay, well I got an agent with my second one, but it was 10 years later and then the intervening 10 years I took extension classes at UCLA, which were great because first of all I had an instructor, Lou Matthews, best instructor I've ever had who read my work and said, you know what J. Ryan, your work's going to get a whole lot better, once you start writing about things you care about. It's like, Oh snap. He was right. Lou was right. I was like all right, okay. Waddled out of there like in shame like a toddler. But then, you know, I thought, you know, he's right, I've got to take him up on this. And so that was one thing. The other two things were a ton of reading and a lot of writing. I published my first short story in 2006 after my mom died.

J. Ryan:             It was about four years before I had another one published and that four years it was instructive too. Cause I wrote, I was writing, submitting that whole time, you know. I was burning up, Duotrope, you know, like deadliest catch captains smoking, you know, it was, you know, I just didn't let it get me down. I could feel myself getting better. I took the, I took Lou's advice, started getting short stories out in the world again and one was published in 2010 and 2011 then a couple in 2012. And it was just slowly building up a little momentum. And in 2013 I started writing Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I mean I'd been thinking about it since 2009. I'd been saving money since then to take a year off from work. I'd been working in TV production, but I just couldn't help it anymore. In February of 2013 I was working on a show called Storage Wars, Texas. I just started writing it in the morning, you know, before going into work. And um, the rest is history, I guess. It took me about a year to write writing every day. And when Storage wars, Texas was canceled for some reason. Who knows?

J. Ryan:             I just thought, you know, most of the time I'd hop onto another production, but this time, you know, I'm gonna take this as a blessing and I'm gonna keep writing. I'm gonna use the full day now and treat it like a job. Yeah, that was another huge lesson. Was treat it like a job. Wake up, clock in, do your writing. I don't have any sort of word count or page count assigned to every day, but I do try to write every day.

Mindy:             I think what you're saying, you've got two like mini MFA courses right there - write about something you care about, which is great. And treat it like a job. That's, that's a big one. I read and I believe it was uh, Nick Cave, the singer who also writes novels and I believe that I read somewhere I have it stuck in my head that it was him. So if I'm, if I'm attributing this to the wrong person, then I apologize, Nick Cave. But, um, I read somewhere that even when he is just writing at home, he wakes up in the morning and he puts on a suit.

J. Ryan:             Oh yeah, I've heard that.

Mindy:             Yeah. And it goes to his office to write cause he has to treat it, he has to tell himself he's at work.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. My buddy Brian K. Vaughan, He rents, uh, like an office about a mile or two from his home that he goes to, you know, and so it's like going to work for him.

Mindy:             I think it's really smart because one of the things I see writers talking about all the time on Twitter, and I'm guilty of it too, is that we lay around in our pajamas all day because we can, and I think I will probably take myself a little more seriously if I had pants on.

J. Ryan:             I do notice my writing gets better if I, if I have pants on.

Mindy:             Yeah. As it should, I feel a little less sloppy if I'm actually, you know, got some support. So one of the things that actually the major theme with The Lager Queen of Minnesota is the emergence of brewery culture. And you talk a lot about how you visited breweries and you learned so much about all of the brewery process and the families and the communities that do pop up around a brewery, especially in small towns where they can be like a social hub. So if you could talk about that.

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J. Ryan:             Yeah, I've been noticing that since I was touring for Kitchens, you know, cause I did over 120 stops for Kitchens, mostly in the Midwest. That's where it so much or the brewery culture has been historically in, and is now, you know, and it's wonderful to roll into these smaller towns that were a lot less lively 10 years ago. Have this center have this epicenter. Uh, you've got some like local people working there that normally would be working elsewhere, be going to the big city or would have outright moved to the big city by now. And they're making something and keeping money in the, in the local economy, hiring locals to work the tap room and giving families, young families, couples, people with pets, quite often, a place to come hang out. That's not denominational, that's not a chain that doesn't funnel the money outside of town somewhere. It has a little bit more conviviality than a coffee shop. Also can be a little more raucous. You can have like, you know, musicians that aren't just a solo acoustic guitarist in the corner. I really love it and I love, I love seeing it and I love their uh, effect on, on small town America and the Midwest. I've been motivated to write about it since then and I wanted to marry it with this idea I had of writing the story of a, an unfairly divided farmland inheritance, which has happened a couple of times on both sides of my family. And I thought, oh, how could I marry these two things together? And Lager Queen is a result of that.

Mindy:             I find often when I'm traveling for work or I'm just visiting friends, like from college that are scattered usually around the state, they do, you know, most places have a, a semi local brewery. Everybody wants to show it to you. Everybody's proud and everybody wants you to try it and, and I'm like, no matter what, I actually think,I always tell them that it's good because you can't say...

J. Ryan:             Yeah, you got to see it's good. It's like, it's like going to your grandma's house and she makes you a pie. What are you going to say? Like grandma, your pie makes me cry. I'm going to cry to sleep thinking about this pie. No, no, funny to think of a brewery is pride of place, you know, for, for community.

Mindy:             But it really is, I went through a period of time where I was really into the microbrews and so I would tweet about it a lot. And I was traveling, I think it was a couple of years ago. I was traveling and I ended up out in California and I had a fan. She actually brought me like a six pack of the local brew.

J. Ryan:             Oh cool.

Mindy:             Yeah, it was really cool. But I, my signing ended at like 9:30 I had to fly out at five in the morning. I had like, you know, a six pack of this local brew and I'm like, oh my gosh, I can't, you know, slam these overnight.

J. Ryan:             I know. I know. That happens to me too. Sometimes people will give me beer, like tall boys or something. Like the end of the night when I've got a 5:30 AM flight or something. I'm like, well maybe I've got a buddy here that I can pass this along to and I'll take a picture of this can and next time I'm in this town I'll make a point of having this beer.

Mindy:             That is exactly what I did. I took a picture and I left it for housekeeping because I was like, I can't, I can't drink six beers tonight like that's not on the table.

J. Ryan:             Not at all. Boy. The demands on writers. Oh God, you drink all this beer. People give you so much beer.

Mindy:             Beer and coffee. That's the thing.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. Yeah. Hey, I'll take it. I love them both.

Mindy:             I do too. Do you have anything that you're working on now? What do you have coming up next or are you just still focused on pushing The Lager Queen?

J. Ryan:             I am working on another book tentatively titled Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club. So the setting is a Midwestern supper club, like of a northern Minnesota, Wisconsin ilk with the fish fries and the brandy old fashions. So that's the primary setting, but it's really, once again more about the people about the family involved. I was writing it yesterday at a hotel in Connecticut, you know, I don't know if I'll have time to work on it today, but yeah, no, it's a world I love being in and developed some brand new characters and, but it's still a Midwestern setting. I'm not, not one talking about the Midwest. It feel like it's, it's home to me in a lot of ways and also has presented me with a lot of puzzles that I need to unpack.

Mindy:             I hear ya. All of my books are set in Ohio, small town, small town Ohio, because I don't see enough of that. One more reading recommendation if you haven't already picked it up. Steven Markley wrote a book called Ohio.

J. Ryan:             Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard about it.

Mindy:             It's good.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. Good, good, good. That's good to hear. It's about a group of high school friends?

Mindy:             Yeah. It follows them in high school and then also in their adult lives and uh, it really captures the Midwest. specifically Ohio. Just really good. Really good. I was all over it.

J. Ryan:             Awesome. Awesome. Thank you for the rec.

Mindy:             Absolutely. And uh, thank you for the interview. It was awesome. I'll let you go. I know you've got another one to get to, but it was a great talk. Good time.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. Oh yeah. It was invigorating.

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