Swoon founder Ruth Daniell caught up with Jeffrey Ricker online to find out what he’s been working on since he moved away from Vancouver, and to find out what he’s doing for Valentine’s Day this year. Read on for more about writing, love, and chocolate!
Ruth Daniell: Hi Jeffrey! We miss you here in Vancouver! What are you working on over in St. Louis?
Jeffrey Ricker: I miss you too! (No, seriously, I really miss Vancouver.) Here in flyover country aka the American Midwest, I’m working on the sequel to The Unwanted, the young-adult fantasy novel I wrote that came out last year. (The sequel is tentatively titled The Flesh Trap.) I’m also working on a number of short stories and—deep breath—I’ve started writing poetry.
RD: So excited to hear about an Unwanted (very much wanted!) sequel. And, obviously, I’m thrilled about the possibility of Jeffrey Ricker poems coming out into the world. How is your poetry process different from your fiction process, or is it? And out of long fiction, short fiction, and poems, which is your first love?
JR: Oh, it’s so different. I’ve had to put the training wheels back on, as it were. Although most of the things I’ve written haven’t followed a formal structure, I’m spending a lot of time trying to learn form and what works and why you’d pick one form over another. It’s fascinating. (Here, though, I have to say that one of the first poems I wrote, at Sugar Le Fae’s prompting, was a villanelle. I think he was pleased that I dived into the deep end right off the bat.)
The other thing I enjoy about poetry—and here I don’t want to imply that a fiction writer shouldn’t put a high level of care into all of the words they put on the page—is that in a poem the difference one word can make can have such an impact on the whole piece.
My first love will probably always be short fiction. It’s what I started out writing, and I love the challenges it poses, which are so different from novels although I do have a hard time articulating them. I usually resort to the (somewhat tired) metaphor of the difference being akin to sprinting vs. marathoning.
RD: I know you agree with me that love, sex, and chocolate are three of the best things in life.
JR: Well, obviously. 🙂
RD: How have those themes played out for you in your work?
JR: One of my colleagues in grad school said—accurately—that my work revolves around the themes of love, longing, and loss. (I would add the meaning of home to that list.) Also, one of the ways that I make sense of the world is by writing about it. So writing about love (and its frequent companion, sex) is my way of trying to figure it out for myself. I’m still trying.
And chocolate is just essential. Like coffee, I really can’t function without it.
JR: I’m a coffee-in-the-morning, tea-in-the-afternoon type of caffeinator. I love a good lavender Earl Grey.
RD: I love the way you say that writing is a way of figuring stuff out (that’s certainly true for me, too), and I think you’re doing an admirable job of it. I always say my writing is preoccupied by the three Ls: love, loss, and loneliness, but I like that you’ve used the word “longing” instead of “loneliness”—it’s almost the same thing, but speaks more directly to that desire for connection. And I love, too, that you add “meaning of home” to your list, too. What do you think is one thing that you’ve figured out—about love or about writing—since you started writing?
JK: I think love will always be a mystery. When it comes to writing, though, I’ve learned never to throw anything out. I don’t necessarily mean old drafts—there’s something satisfying about cleaning out old paperwork once a story is done and out in the world. But I keep a file labeled “Abandoned” where the not-so-successful or incomplete stories live. There was one in it that I wrote in 1990, pulled out in 2010 or so and revised, and was published a couple years later. The final version bore almost no resemblance to the original (frankly awful) draft, but it sparked an idea that became something else. So I’m glad I kept it.
RD: Your YA book, The Unwanted, is part-action-adventure, part-fantasy, and part-romance. How important was the romance for you, as you built your characters?
JR: I didn’t start out with the romance in mind, but in the process of building the plot and developing the characters, it evolved on its own. I was really reluctant to incorporate it because, well, it complicated things, and I was worried about treading too close to cliché. But I like a challenge, and complicating things for your characters makes for (I hope) interesting reading. From what readers have said, they seemed to like it.
RD: The Unwanted made me cry! So good! So many emotions. And speaking of emotions… Chocolate is good for all kinds of emotions. What’s your favourite kind of chocolate?
JR: That’s easy. The Sea Nymph, which is a dark chocolate, sea salt, and toffee candy bar that was made by Cocoa Nymph. It was a sad day when they closed up shop.
RD: I agree! Cocoa Nymph is the best. Rachel is super talented. Okay, another question: If you were a chocolate truffle, what kind would you be?
JR: The dark chocolate (notice a theme?) blue-cheese filled truffle from Koko Monk.
It combines my two favourite foods in one. It sounds bizarre, but it really works.
RD: The Blue Moon truffle! Yes, I love that truffle. I hadn’t thought about it before, but that is an apt comparison for you. You can be kind of a salty character sometimes, but you’re ultimately very sweet. 🙂
JR: Aw. 🙂
RD: What are you doing for Valentine’s Day? or What would your perfect Valentine’s Day look like?
JR: This may not sound terribly romantic, but my partner Mike and I are going out to lunch with one of my oldest friends, Tamara, to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, and I’m really looking forward to it. She and I can put away a lot of sushi! I’m convinced that, much like chocolate, sushi is the sort of food that after you eat it, you will be in a better mood.
I think it’s the rice. I love rice.
RD: Alright, Jeffrey! Thank you so, so much for letting Swoon catch-up with you and find out what’s keeping you busy all the way in St. Louis. We can’t wait until you can come back for a guest appearance at Swoon again. In the meantime, what stories/poems/books do you recommend our Swoon audience, if they’re looking for more swoon-worthy reading about love and sex (and desserts)?
JR: When it comes to books that have a strong love story component, the first one that comes to mind is always The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It was an Orange Prize winner and it’s just phenomenal. Also, I’ve been reading a lot of YA over the past couple years, and two very moving books areTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. So, so good.
RD: Thanks again, Jeffrey. Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I hope you get just as much sushi as your heart desires.
The next Swoon event is forthcoming on April 25, 2015 at Trees Organic Coffee, 450 Granville St, Vancouver. Save the date!
Jeffrey Ricker’s first novel, Detours, was published in 2011 by Bold Strokes Books, followed by The Unwanted, a young adult fantasy novel, in 2014. His writing is forthcoming in Little Fiction and has appeared in the literary magazine Collective Fallout, the anthologies Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, A Family by Any Other Name, Men of the Mean Streets,and others. A 2014 Lambda Literary Fellow, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia. He is a former host of Swoon Vancouver and their current graphic designer.