Oct 21, 2009
Author Interview~~ Ron Riekki: U.P.
U.P by Ron Riekki
From a bold new novelist comes a complex tale of friendship and brutality. Set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, U.P. is the story of four teens immersed in an ugly world, one whose threat of violence is always simmering beneath the surface. R.A. Riekki's distinctive characters and their poignant quest for freedom is a swan song to lost youth, redefining the traditional coming-of-age story. Four boys, four distinct narratives that converge into a harrowing and heartbreaking whole.
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: Ghost Road Press; First edition (November 15, 2008)
1. What three words would you use to describe your book U.P?
That's hard. Only three words. Hmmm . . . Yooper, metal, punk.
Although I like Taylor Antrim's review--he wrote The Headmaster Ritual, Houghton Mifflin--where he called U.P. "funny, sad, sexy."
2. Who is your favorite writer and why?
One? That's impossible. In fact, as soon as I like an author too much, I purposely stop reading them so I don't get their voice too trapped in my head, e.g. Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. If it's me and one author's works on a desert island though, it's probably William Shakespeare. Timon of Athens is brilliant. Macbeth, wow. King Lear is Kathy Acker before Kathy Acker. I love his writing. But I'm really a multi-author reader, not a fan of one person--Acker, Sarah Kane, Bukowski, Jim Carroll, Lewis Carroll, Kerouac, Martin Luther King, Mark Leyner, George Orwell, Dalton Trumbo, Neil LaBute--those are all perfect ten authors for me, flawless, where everything they write (at least that I've read so far) has something that pulls me in. But Shakespeare's probably above them all. Shakespeare and Kerouac are probably 11 out of 10s. Where I just read and go, my God, that was awesome:
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Poetry, play, and prose at the same time. Just thick, filled, rich, complex-and-simplistic-simultaneously language. And onstage, so visual. I really like Shakespeare. Especially the older I get . . . Hamlet bored me in high school. Bored me. Because I hadn't lived any sort of Hamlet-like life . . . yet. But now, now I feel I know exactly what Hamlet's going through, because I went through my own Hamlet years, and it stuns me, the writing. If I can read something twenty times and still love it, that's impressive. (By the way, my publisher Matt Davis and producer/actor Steven Wiig both told me they've read my novel multiple times and loved it each time and that's a huge compliment I really appreciate.)
3. Describe your typical writing day?
There is no typical writing day. There's only atypical writing days for me. Sometimes I rush in a half hour of writing, usually rewriting. Sometimes I write for twelve hour stretches. That's how I wrote U.P. Double-digit stretches of typetypetypetyping nonstop. Ten, eleven, thirteen hour days. That's how I wrote the first draft in a week. I had just moved to Charlottesville and didn't know anyone and had all this time to kill, nothing to do the next day, no one to do it with, and this novel was in my head, so I had the time and energy to get it down. There's nothing better for me than having an entire night to myself, from dusk to dawn, a city asleep, and nothing for me to do or that's due the next day. Then I can write. Just write. I love that. If I can get to a point where that's everyday, I will be really on track with where I'd like to be. That's the great thing about success. The Stephen King life. Having one book do very well will allow you the leisure to work hard. Someone recently asked me what I'd do if I won a million dollars and I said, "Then I could really work hard." On my writing. I'd love that. But the reality is I have two jobs right now. I'm battling against minimum wage. Minimum wage breaks your back. It sucks your days away. So you have to fight it. That's what I liked about Bukowski. He battled against minimum wage and won. But I fight for time. And I've done it for a decade plus now. A lot of times I skip sleep. Instead of sleeping I write. And then I ache the next day, but I got my pages in. And you have to get your pages in. Non-writers sleep. Non-writers go to the party. I tended to skip other things so I could write. In grad school, amazing authors would come to our university to read and instead of going, I'd stay home and rewrite U.P. I had an agent friend, Lisa Halliday, tell me that the secret formula to being a writer is SOLITUDE + DISCIPLINE = PROLIFIC. She gave me a beautiful formula right there, because I've definitely been prolific.
4. What book do you wish you had written and why?
I'll go with Hamlet. If I can say a play. Or The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Or Dark of the Moon. I tend to think of plays that I wish I'd written. I like my books. I'm happy I've written what I've written. So I don't have that envy with novels, but maybe with plays. Or films. Buffalo '66. Or CDs. Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too or The Bends.
5. What are you currently working on?
The rewrite to the screenplay to U.P., a horror novel rewrite that I need to send out to agents/publishers, and I just have this bulk of writing that I need to prioritize and get out. I have too much to write here, too many projects, but now I tend to go where the interest is. Two producers are interested in the U.P. screenplay so a lot of time's going into that. And I know the horror novel'll get published, so I need to get that into really good shape. And then I have two books coming out with Ghost Road Press (www.ghostroadpress.com) next year--the experimental horror novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Boogey Man in spring 2010 and my pulp novel Hunger and the Ass in fall 2010, so I'm collecting the blurbs for that and other little things the author does in the pre-publication phase, but I'm done with their rewrites--both books are all set to go and under contract. But I have a memoir that I did and a few other books I've written and a ton of plays I need to send out. A lot of stuff in my back pocket.
6. What books are on your nightstand?
Nightstand? Well, really only one. The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall. But I always have Cult Fiction: a reader's guide and The Little Zen Companion by my bedside. They both inspire me--daily I skim the little biographies of my favorite writers and I like the inspiration of the quotes in the Zen book, stuff like Lenny Bruce's "Every day people are straying away from church and going back to God" and John Donne's "God is so omnipresent . . . God is an angel in an angel, and a stone in a stone, and a straw in a straw." Just great little quotes. In my car though I have Stephen King's Salem's Lot, John Irving's The World According to Garp, and part of Samuel Beckett's Watt (part, because the book is falling into pieces). And my bathroom book is Finnegans Wake, Joyce, which I only have about 50 pages left. I like to have a lot of books going at the same time.
Thanks to Ron Riekki for letting me do the interview.
Ron Riekki Bio-
R.A. Riekki's U.P. has been Ghost Road Press's bestseller in fiction for 34 weeks. National Book Award winner John Casey nominated U.P. for the Sewanee Writers' Series. Riekki has a three book deal with Ghost Road that includes the publication of his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Boogey Man and Hunger and the Ass both in 2010.