Ryder Collins’s novel, Homegirl!, (click here to read an excerpt) is one of the best books you’ve never read. It’s intimate and obscene, profound and profane. The style mesmerizes. She writes in a voice solely hers. Living Wisconsin, she’s currently working on a follow-up to Homegirl! As a fan, I decided to ask her about writing, life, and her influences.
Tell us about yourself: what drew you to writing and when did you start?
I started writing in grade school; I’d always been an avid reader. I started out writing really maudlin poetry about unrequited love and death. You could say I was a very sunny child…As a writer, you have a distinctive, stylized voice. Was this conscious or did it develop over time?
It developed over time… I think I’ve always been interested in intensity and rawness. My experience in writing workshops in grad school, with their insistence upon the craft of writing, kinda took some of the rawness away for a while. It took me a while to find my voice again. This is not to disparage the experience as studying how to write did help me gain insight into structure and plot. Having begun as a poet, I had difficulty moving characters in time and space for a very long time…
You tackle some subjects some authors veer away from—sex, poverty, indecision, social stasis, and so on. How crucial do you feel blunt and brutal honesty is in writing?
Extremely. For me, I never want to produce complacent art or status quo art. I want to create art that burns and feels and rips into you and makes you want to fuck drink sing cry protest live and fuck the “normal” oppressive structures up. Or at the very least question what you are doing and why you are doing it. What stories you have bought into. Or just fuck, like Homegirl and Punkboy, up against all the bourgeois garage doors of the world. Because look at this world; look at this fucking fucked-up world. If all I did as an artist was create beautifully crafted narrative arcs peaking through epiphanies of white middle-class woes, I, well, what the fuck’s the point of art then? I feel like that’s what a lot of the better known short story and novel writers do. The literary artists. They hold a mirror up to an artificial view of the world that questions it a little but doesn’t question the whole fact that the frame holding the mirror is constructed from some white man’s wet dream once upon a time.
Why perpetuate suffering & oppression if I possess an ounce of imagination? If I know we can all do better? Be better?
How much of yourself do you bring to your writing? Does a novel like Homegirl! reflect who you are in any way or is it entirely a product of your imagination?
That’s a loaded question, like when I went out looking for love but it started raining bullets… I kid (sort of). It’s hard not to bring a little bit of one’s experience to one’s writing. When I was in my twenties, I guess I was naïve; I never understood why women who wanted to fuck were “bad,” why women had to pretend they didn’t like sex or they weren’t out looking for sex. Or why men had to pretend they were always only looking for sex & not emotional fulfillment. That fucking double standard definitely shaped both my life and Homegirl!, and it still exists.
Now, I have a real Punkboy who doesn’t make me veggie primavera but who does drunk wrestle and you know what drunk wrestling leads to… or, at least, I hope you do.
& by “you,” I don’t mean you, kind interviewer.
How much of your writing depends on your social life or vice versa?
Sadly, I think I write more when I’m alone. When I lived in Alabama, I got the most writing done I’ve ever gotten in my life + teaching full time + teaching part-time online. I kicked that shit out. It burned through my brain all the way down to my toes.
There was nothing else to do there.
Plus, the oppressive attitudes surrounding gender, sexuality, race, class, etc. well, that shit I couldn’t understand and I wouldn’t understand but I could write back to it and over it and across it and, I know I’m privileged as a white woman to be able to do this, speak back to it.
In my sequel to Homegirl!, I hope to address this idea of white privilege. Without being sanctimonious. Without being “white savior.” Without thinking I know everything. Without not adding anything to a social dialogue and without perpetuating the bullshit narratives that assist in hegemonic oppression.
Plus, I’m hoping to do this in a raunchy raw gutsy fuck-filled way.
Who do you count as your biggest inspiration?
Oh Jesus. Not Jesus.
Trotsky sometimes maybe?
Jean Rhys for her fucking beautiful every word counts Wide Sargasso Sea, which she honed and honed for years and years.
Zora Neale Hurston for her fucking beautiful every word counts Their Eyes Were Watching God, which she wrote in three months.
Suzan-Lori Parks for the beats and pauses and rests and stops, which inspire me to think about how to tell a story really.
Who are some writers and books—or even directors and films—that have influenced you?
Well, the three women I mentioned in the preceding question are definitely influences. Early early Gothic novels like Matthew “Monk” Lewis’ The Monk also… I am so influenced/inspired/fascinated/turned on by the Gothic genre’s two main principles: 1) what is repressed will be expressed and 2) what is repressed will be expressed, spectacularly.
& I’ve always loved film noir. I think that’s where the neo-noir of Homegirl! comes from. Joan Crawford in the alley shadows in Mildred Pierce or at least I remember Joan Crawford giving good alley chiaroscuro…
& Joan Crawford aka Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest will always always be an influence because white woman/mother as monster, not idol, not savior, not angel… I want to embrace the “badness” in womanhood; I want to interrogate it and expose it and show that women can be monsters, yes, of course, but many times monsters are just a spectacular expression of repression.
Gothic much, monster?
Or sometimes monsters just need understanding.
Just ask Barth’s Grendel. Lol.
What are you currently reading?
Currently, I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels/serials. Monstress is a beautiful one I’ve gotten into; Bitch Planet is a kick-ass one as well.
Octavia Butler for so many reasons! God, I should have said she was one of my influences, but I think she’s just so fucking brilliant, I didn’t even think of it… She foresaw all of this shit happening in the U.S. before it even happened. Read her Parables, if you haven’t already.
I’ve also been reading a lot of horror. I’d like to harness the transgressive power of horror to help interrogate the stories we tell and don’t tell about gender, class, race, and sexuality; I’d like to write the stories that interrogate the construction of the norm/the other, that fuck with dichotomies to show how they get inside us all and persist…
Do you have a routine when it comes to writing?
I’m hoping to get back to one… when I lived in Alabama, I used to get all my grading done early, then drink some wine and write into the night… During my brief breaks, I’d blog and/or tweet and sometimes make Twitter friends and sometimes get into some Twitter spats (no fights and no beefs, though, well, not that I can remember…).
Come this winter, I plan on getting back into the writing routine. I’ve got a desk in an office that looks onto my alley, and, with all the winter snow and grayness, I plan on not being distracted by anything other than some social media friends (no beefs) and my very own Punkboy bringing me a tallboy of PBR.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
I’d like to say change. If not, then at least making people feel a little tingly.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at lostitfunhouse [at] gmail [dot] com