Saturday, October 31, 2015
J. Ryan is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob for the scary month of October and he has written a delicious book called Kitchens of the Great Midwest and it really, really good and you are going to love it. I had the chance to ask J. Ryan some questions during his busy book tour, about his book, his life and his love of food and books. Read on.
Hi J. Ryan,
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Waconia, Minnesota, but I haven’t been there since, to my knowledge. My family at the time was living in Jonathan, Minnesota, which I believe has since been subsumed by Chaska. My parents’ neighbors at the time had just named their newborn son “Uriah” after the band Uriah Heep, so “J. Ryan” wasn’t even the most unusual baby name in Jonathan at the time.
My parents were readers and my mom taught me how to read when I was a pretty small child. I’ve been a voracious gobbler of text ever since, but I’ve had a few overriding obsessions. Growing up, I read everything I could about dinosaurs, Greek mythology, U.S. presidents, and baseball. My first novels were novelizations of popular movies, and they were my gateway drug to literature. On car trips, my younger brother used to provoke me by throwing my books out of the windows when we were on the highway. I now love my brother, and we’re good friends, although it was hard to envision this reality at the time. I’m close to my family. I live in California now but visit Minnesota at least a few times a year.
2. What inspired you to write Kitchens of the Great Midwest?
Twenty-two years of growing up in Minnesota and Illinois and feeling like the people I’d experienced hadn’t yet been widely represented in literature. That and a gnawing feeling that Midwestern cuisine is criminally underrated. I did my best to do justice to both the people and their food.
3. Usually an author puts some of his own life experiences in the book. Did you do that? Do you
Yes, somewhat. My mom died of cancer ten years ago and I put an awful lot of my feelings surrounding her death into the book. There were very few true-life situations that were adapted, however. Will Prager not bringing enough money to pay for a dinner date – I did that. Shooting a doe and then discovering it had a fawn – a relative of mine did that once. Bringing “free tasting” coupons to a winery and subsequently not buying anything – guilty as charged, several times over. That’s about it, though.
4. Can you tell us why you decided to become a writer? What other type of writing do you do?
I don’t know if I ever decided to become a writer any more than I decided to eat or get out of bed in the morning. It’s quite simply what I want to do, and I’ve never recalled thinking differently, although there have been stretches of time where I was reading more and writing less.
Besides novels, I’ve enjoyed writing sports profiles, short stories, and fiction that veers towards fake reportage. The latter was my prevailing form for much of my teens and twenties.
5. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
Absolutely. Recently I’ve been influenced and moved by the work of Meg Howrey, Amelia Gray, John Jodzio, Alice Munro, Barry Hannah, Bud Smith, David Ulin, Anne-Marie Kinney, Naomi Jackson, Erika Swyler, James Wright, Rob Roberge, and Jade Chang, to name just a few.
6. Name one book that you believe is a must read for everyone and tell us why?
I love this question. The book I’ve probably given away the most is Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. I think I’ve had to re-buy that book at least six or seven times, so I think I’ll go with that one. It’s a masterwork of a poet writing prose; his use of language, subjectivity, and sparse but assured detail is absolutely stunning to me.
7. Are you a foodie? Where does your love of food come from?
I’m an enthusiastic end-user! I’m not that much of a chef, but food is a pretty huge pre-occupation of mine. As soon as they let me have a driver’s license, I was going up to the Twin Cities with my girlfriend Stacy and trying out new and exotic cuisine. It may have been unusual for teenagers at the time, but it was what we did, at least a few nights a month. Enjoying new cuisine is a major motivation behind my adult travels as well. Malaysia, Iceland, and Argentina in particular have been highlights.
8. Do you cook? What is your favorite meal to cook for someone?
Sometimes – I like cooking breakfast, especially breakfast tacos. As I’ve said, I’m not that skilled or sophisticated as a chef. I tend to get overly excited about particular ingredients. Last year I drove to New Mexico and back in early September and came back with several pounds of green chiles. I put them in everything for months. It got annoying to everyone else.
9. Are you working on a new book? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes, and all I will say about it right now it that it’s also set in the Midwest, and so far there’s a character who’s really into rhubarb. I felt that rhubarb got short shrift in my last book, but much of Kitchens is set in the late summer / early fall, and that’s simply not rhubarb season.
10. In one sentence tell readers why they should read Kitchens of the Great Midwest?
I feel that book is a love letter to the Midwest; I laughed out loud and I cried while I wrote this novel, and there’s so much attention in every detail.
Thanks J. Ryan.
If you would like to win a copy of J.Ryan's new book, Kitchens of the Great Midwest (trust me, you want to win this one) please enter here: Kitchens of the Great Midwest Giveaway