Ryck Neube is one of my (Jim) writing mentors. I met Ryck at the Cincinnati Writers Project Wednesday night critique group. Ryck has published novels, novellas, but is best known for his short stories. Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, for example, has published his work numerous times.
JMJ: You’ve been involved with the Cincinnati Writers Project how long?
RN: Since 1993 and according to my shrink friends it is a classic case of mental illness. I spend an incredible amount of time on it and the rewards are almost nil. So there is no sane reason I do this.
JMJ: And the insane reason is?
RN: A writer by the name of H.P. Lovecraft… After he died he ceased to exist. But in the sixties people he’d been involved with helping along as fellow writers…people like Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber…they went, “We wouldn’t be writers if he hadn’t helped us.” They revived his career. A guy in Texas bought his literary estate for $800 and in the seventies Lovecraft fiction was earning a $1 million a year…. So, I am counting on – if my noncareer never takes off – that thirty years down the line some of these people from the writers group of CWP in general will be going, “You know, we owe Neube. Now that I’m the new Stephen King; now that I’m the new John Irving, I can resurrect this guy.”
JMJ: So it’s all about you then, it’s nothing about them.
RN: Exactly. I like to think the universe revolves around me. It’s such a small universe and I’m such a big person. It’s either that or the shrinks are right and it’s just mental illness.
JMJ: So that explains how long and why you stayed—because you’re a sick puppy.
JMJ: I remember you saying that some people came to the critique group and fairly early on you knew they were going to do something, and there were other people that it would have been a kindness if you could have whispered in their ear that they should be doing something else. But we can’t quite do that because we’re willing to let people fail by themselves.
RN: And you never know. Possibly one of the worst writers I’ve ever known signed a $200,000 contract with Simon & Schuster. Makes my brain ache sometimes. But some people, like Corson Hirshfeld, the moment he came in…you could tell his work wasn’t good, but he was going that extra level.
JMJ: What is it you see in those people that clearly makes them different from the rest?
RN: It’s one part imagination and another part technique – and I’m not saying that the technique has to be good – but you can read in their words that they’re going that extra level. Even if they’re failing, they’re taking that big swing. One of the things I’ve noticed about people who write more for therapeutic reasons or for ego reasons is they don’t take chances. It’s all just pat.
JMJ: One of the things I said in a recent blog about voice was that there are people who you pick up their books and you don’t have to get very far into it and you know exactly who they are.
RN: Exactly. You can find one page and you know.
JMJ: I thought they were all people who found their true selves and didn’t really care about the rest of the world relative to their sound. Now, they did it in the context of the society and time they were in. They took the risk of doing what was unique to them and applied it to the current thing and they stretched the current thing. What you’re saying is that’s it’s similar to the taking risk you were talking about.
RN: It’s the same. I think there’s risk involved in getting your own voice. One of the big stylists of Science Fiction, Norman Spinrad, published scores of books and can’t be published now. His last novel, he shopped it everywhere and they said “No, you’re not going to sell enough.” So sometimes, having your unique voice can get in the way. Jack Kerley is a good example of that. A novel he tried to sell, The Gumbo King – a lovely voice; best thing he’s ever written. They didn’t want that. They wanted his buddy cop novel. And I’m sitting here saying Gumbo King is so many times better, but is better safer? Publishers these days are all about the lottery ticket.
JMJ: Have you had any surprises? Just no way in hell, but they were just really early on in their career that they didn’t have a clue and once they got a little bit of a clue it was like – ah ha!
RN: One of my pleasant surprises was Pax Riddle. He was laid off and had one year of benefits so he said, “I’m writing the novel I always wanted to write.” It was ponderous. And worse than ponderous, it was based on one of his great-great-great grandmas. It was a western. It moved like a snail. Quite frankly I couldn’t imagine it being sold. He listened. He learned.
He dumped the first 50,000 words of his novel. As a result of going through group, he ditched the first part and did some big time rewriting. He sold it to, I think, Tor. That was a real pleasant surprise because he was certainly deserving. He put the work in. I’ve never seen a harder working man. I’m not sure I’m capable of dumping 50,000 words. That’s quite the ego snapper.
JMJ: Stop by next week for part two of my interview with Ryck.
Please contact E. B. Davis at email@example.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. September Interviews 9/1 Carol Perry 9/8 Nupur Tustin 9/15 Maggie Pill 9/22 Veronica Bond 9/29 Rhys Bowen Guest Blogs 9/18 Mark Leichliter -----------------------------------------------------------------------------