Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Ryan Turner

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Ten Questions with Ryan Turner

Open Book talks to Ryan Turner about the ideal coffee shop, what he's reading, future projects and his new collection of stories, What We're Made Of (Oberon Press).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Ryan Turner:

What We're Made Of is a collection of stories all told from the perspective of Benjamin Wallace. It’s about a generation of twenty-somethings who don’t have the kind of template-for-life that past generations had: getting married, buying a house, having children, working the same job until you retire. I think with this kind of freedom comes enormous opportunity but also the fear of never doing enough with that opportunity, not knowing where to place your energy. Benjamin seems to always be a bit outside the world, hovering above it. It’s also a book about broken, but loving, families. About what constitutes family. Here, again, is another line that was once so fixed but now seems mutable.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

RT:

Me. In the past I’ve been my most consistent audience.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

RT:

Oh, I’m picky. I often go to a coffee shop, stand for a moment to assess the variables (lighting, temperature, noise level, ratio of patrons to seats, electrical outlet access…. I can actually size this all up quite quickly) and then head off to another shop to see if it might better suit my needs. I guess ideally I’m looking for a cool, dimly-lit coffee shop beside a window at sundown. I like to have people around me, coming and going. I like to be able to watch people. I don’t like to be too isolated. Writing is isolating enough.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

RT:

I published a short screenplay about seven years ago in an online American journal. My first print publication was probably in the Halifax weekly paper, The Coast.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

RT:

I went to a protest of a road-widening here in Halifax last summer. The City decided to cut down a long row of old trees and annex some front yards in order to shave a few minutes off someone’s downtown commute. I went less to save the trees than to object in principle, but the physical act of running those old trees through a grinder – destroying hundreds of years of growth in one minute – has been rattling around in my head ever since.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

RT:

The Big Why, In the Skin of a Lion and A Complicated Kindness.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

RT:

I just returned from a trip through Eastern Europe ending in Berlin. On the trip I was reading February, the new Lisa Moore novel. Now I’m going to start a book about the history of the Berlin Wall.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

RT:

What stands out for me is a conversation I had with Richard Cumyn when I first started writing. Richard mentored me through a program with the Writers Federation here in Nova Scotia. He told me that the apprenticeship would be ten years. Was I willing to put ten years into it? And I remember thinking that I’d better get started.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

RT:

As soon as you finish something, start something new. When I started, I forced myself to send out a new story every three months. You’re most likely going to have a ton of rejection before you get your first acceptance, so save your rejection letters. Share them with other writers. They’re what most writers have in common.

OBT:

What is your next project?

RT:

I never really know where my writing is going to end up. I like it that way. Right now I’ve got a guy traveling through Eastern Europe. He meets a Croatian girl in Germany and they travel south together. When they get to Zagreb she invites him to stay with her family while she takes a quick trip to the coast with a friend. I’m starting to think she’s not coming back and the book will be about the time he spends there with her family. We’ll see.


Ryan Turner is a young Maritime writer whose work has appeared in a number of the literary magazines, including Prairie Fire, filling Station, Qwerty, Front&Centre and The New Quarterly. Visit his website at ryannicholasturner.com.

For more information about What We’re Made Of please visit the Oberon Press website.


Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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