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Powell’s Q&A: Ryan Boudinot

Describe your latest work.
Blueprints of the Afterlife is a novel about the following things: giant heads that appear in the sky, a mystical refrigerator in the desert that never runs out of food, a competitive dishwashing champion, a sentient glacier that wipes out various North American cities, aliens, the ghost of a dotcom-era CEO, hundreds of clones of an ancient pop star's backup dancer, a town that's infected with hallucinations, and a full-size replica of Manhattan under construction in Puget Sound.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Ice cream man. I drove a little truck for Joe's Ice Cream in Seattle for a couple summers while in college in the early '90s. Then I worked for a different, shadier outfit in Thurston County a third summer. It's really the perfect summer job for a college student. I got paid in cash every day, got to drive around in the sun, was a hero to children in cul-de-sacs.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I think people should read Trinie Dalton. She's an incredibly imaginative writer whose prose comes off as almost off-hand, deceptively casual. She works in a sort of fabulist vein, mulching fairy tales and adding a vicious kick of sex and drugs to them. She has a new one coming out called Baby Geisha that I'm keen to read, but I'd suggest starting with her novella Sweet Tomb. It's about a witch who grows up in a candy house, and it's an ass-kicker.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
This one comes from American master Cormac McCarthy. I have taught this sentence in workshops before, and it usually causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. The rhythm and specificity, the timelessness and Biblical cadence... damn. Behold:

A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniforms still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses' ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse's whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen's faces gaudy and grotesque like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

Why do you write?
I write because I'm supposed to. When I was six and understood I was meant to write, I set out to develop my craft. In school, I found that it was the one thing I did better than anyone else, while I was average or worse at everything else. So, I spent all this time in writing camps, conferences, and later workshops and retreats, graduate school, artist colonies, to the point where it became stupid to turn my back on it. As a young person it was my way of earning the admiration and love of other people, but now it comes more from a sense of responsibility to readers. I don't get much gratification from "being" a writer. I find immense reward in the act itself, when it's just me and a page, alone. Later, when other people read my work and tell me they like it, it makes me happy, but that happiness is fleeting, nothing compared to the bliss of nailing a scene.

Do you read blogs? What are some of your favorites?
I do. I believe I now have a sort of mental parasite/host relationship with The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan's blog. His opinions on politics have been the primary influence on my own for the past few years. I also keep an eye on certain literary blogs — (where I blog about film), HTMLgiant, EphemeralFirmament, occasionally TheMillions and MaudNewton.

Talk about your vision of the ideal life.
For about 10 years I was writing after hours and in the early morning while working for various demanding tech companies, and at one point I told my wife what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to teach in a low-residency MFA program, write, take the kids to and from school, and make dinner every night. After losing four jobs, that's exactly the situation I've found myself in. My ideal life involves writing a lot of books, getting to work with brilliant students, watching my children pursue their passions, and making my wife as proud of me as I am of her.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
One filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, influenced Blueprints of the Afterlife in a big way, particularly with his film The Holy Mountain.

I was stunned by the audacity and scale of that psychedelic Mexican masterpiece. There are frames of that movie that make my jaw drop. I feel like I've become something of an evangelist for that movie. Other filmmakers that inspire me include David Lynch (an early and continual hero), Dusan Makavejev, Federico Fellini, Guy Maddin. Each of these guys is someone who has stretched the conventions of the medium, making films that show how it can be possible to express the logic of dreams.

As far as visual artists go, I'm fascinated by these artists who employ staffs of hundreds and manufacture their art in huge complexes — Takishi Murakami, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst. Their methods of production both impress me and make me uncomfortable. And then there's Matthew Barney, whose Cremaster Cycle was one of my most treasured cinema experiences.

Five of the Weirdest Books I've Read in the Past Couple Years
As a kid, I never thought being called weird was an insult. Here are five weird books from five weird authors, and I mean that as the highest praise possible.

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilonovich
This one features teenage hobo junkie vampires. I felt like I was reading this novel with my spinal cord, Krilonovich's electric prose mostly bypassing my conscious mind.

Divorcer by Gary Lutz
The sentence wizard Gary Lutz is impossible to imitate, though that didn't stop him from trying. This new collection of stories about fractured relationships is even more verbally dense than his previous books, each sentence offering a surprise. You didn't know the English language could do this.

Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin
Russian novelist Sorokin imagines an underground society of chosen people who used to be beams of light responsible for creating planets. When they accidentally create the earth, these light beams become trapped in human form. To correct their mistake, they must fashion ice from a Siberian meteorite into axes which they pound into each other's hearts to awaken their true selves.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
I'm kind of cheating here, as I haven't finished this one yet, but so far so good. I appreciate how Murakami mostly keeps the otherworldly elements of this novel in his back pocket, revealing them at precisely the right narrative moments.

With Deer by Aase Berg
Swedish poet Aase Berg's prose poems are full of squishy biological processes, swamps, and feral hamsters. I'm entranced by how direct and forcefully she presents these phenomena, drawing the imagination to nature's menace and decay.

÷ ÷ ÷

Ryan Boudinot is the author of the story collection Misconception, and the novels The Littlest Hitler and Blueprints of the Afterlife. He teaches creative writing at Goddard College's MFA program in Port Townsend, Washington, and blogs about film at He lives in Seattle.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Misconception Used Trade Paper $6.95
  2. Littlest Hitler: Stories
    Used Hardcover $5.95
  3. Blueprints of the Afterlife
    Used Trade Paper $6.95
  4. Baby Geisha New Trade Paper $16.00

  5. Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books...
    New Trade Paper $19.95
  6. Divorcer
    New Trade Paper $13.00
  7. The Orange Eats Creeps
    Used Trade Paper $10.50
  8. 1Q84
    Used Hardcover $7.95

One Response to "Powell’s Q&A: Ryan Boudinot"

    Robert M. Koretsky January 26th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Why is it that realistic writing has no metaphors, or at least appears to be so tied to observations of the academic/professional writers real world, with it's literal, non- figurative descriptions, that fantasy is simply convoluted adjectival clauses, with no lived content, appearances rather than desperately lived truths? If modernism labored to completely describe human reality with language, and post-modernism gave up on that stupid dream, what is the literature of the future? As William Gaddis observed, America is ruled by ignorance and stupidity; maybe the quest to politically override what rules this country forms the basis of the what the next generation of writers must achieve.

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