Interview With Author John Ryland
John Ryland is an author with a unique southern flare wrought from his humble beginnings in rural Alabama. His natural, unencumbered prose and shadowy southern style have made him a fan favorite. His work has been called “In the vein of M. Night Shyamalan and Alfred Hitchcock.”
Tell me about yourself
I was born in rural Alabama. The 6th of seven children, we were raised by a single mother. Things weren’t easy, but it taught us resilience. Looking back, I’m thankful for the youth I had. We were “free range” kids who played in the woods and were allowed to explore. After I graduated high school, I did a short stint in the US Navy, where I travelled extensively. Afterward, I returned to Tuscaloosa. I’ve worked in construction/painting for over 30 years. Today, I live in Northport, AL (30 minutes from where I was born). I’m married and have two boys.
What do you like to read?
When I was younger, I read everything I could. I loved Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Now, my favorite authors are Anthony Doerr and Ken Follett. I love Doerr’s prose and the way he writes. 'All the Light we Cannot See' was phenomenal. I also love Follett’s historical sagas. Other than that, I read a lot of indie authors who tend to write on the darker side of things.
What do you enjoy about writing your chosen genre?
The thing I like most about writing dark, southern work is the ability to give life to characters who don’t get a lot of attention like waitresses and sawmill workers. Most of my characters are everyday people who find themselves in unusual situations. Also, we are surrounded by horror every day. With a few strokes of the pen, a mundane situation can become horrific. One example is a story I wrote about a girl who doodled a stickman on her arm during class. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital. That’s what I like about the genre.
Tell me about the first book you published
'Souls Harbor' came out in March 2020. I’ve always loved to write but stepped away for a long time due to a personal situation. In early January 2019, I just felt compelled to write this story. I knocked out the rough draft in 2 weeks, then spent the rest of the year refining and editing the story. In the end, I think I came up with a very poignant, yet dark tale of two very different, very strong southern women.
Tell me about your latest release titled ‘The Unkindness of Ravens’
“Ravens” is my favorite book to date. It’s dark and creepy, which I love. But it’s also very gut-wrenching, like watching someone you love fall down a flight of stairs. In the story, a young girl sort of falls through the cracks as her parents deal with the loss of their infant son. One day she follows a raven into the woods and finds the body of a dead kid and decides that she has to protect it from a nearby flock of ravens (called an unkindness). One reader said, “This is unlike any book I’ve ever read before”, so I’m taking that as a compliment.
What inspired it?
All of my work either starts out as a question that I ask myself, or something I see. Ravens started as a question. What would happen if a girl found a dead body in the woods? I wrote the original short story over a weekend, but it didn’t feel complete. I worked on it for a while and ended up with a novella.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on a collection of short stories entitled “Children of a Despicable Fate”. The title comes from a conversation in one of the stories in which one man asks, “Do you believe we’re condemned to our fate or can we change it? Are we just children of a predetermined fate, no matter how wonderful or despicable that fate may be?”
Which of your characters would you best get along with and why?
Anniston Rainier from 'The Girl Who Made it Thunder' in the collection Southern Gothic. He’s an Afghan war vet who lost a leg and then took over the family farm. He is gruff and not very sociable, but he is a champion of justice (even if some people don’t like his version of justice) He finds himself helping a beautiful young woman who has been denied a license to open an art gallery because her work is deemed too risqué for the small town they live in. Together, they definitely end up leaving their mark on the town.
What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
The general idea of the plot comes first, then the characters. But I will say that it is the characters who drive the plot. Sometimes the story changes and grows based on what the characters do. It sounds strange to some people, but I don’t know exactly how a book will end when I start, or how it will get there. I build the characters and let them determine that.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever been given?
Just to write. And to never give up. The whole “You can edit a bad page, but not a blank one” is huge for me. I tend to write fast when a story is brewing, thus I do a lot of revisions. Sometimes I change a character’s name half way through a book, but I just go with it, telling myself I can fix it in revisions.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
For a great many years, I coached youth baseball and basketball. Something like 19 seasons (Spring and Fall). It can be very rewarding. Unfortunately, this last fall was my last year to be a head coach. Between work and writing and my other responsibilities, there just isn’t enough time. I’m proud to have coached both my sons and my granddaughter in baseball and my youngest son in basketball.
I also love to garden. Flowers, not vegetables. Our backyard is our oasis from the world. I grow plants from seeds all winter and plant them in the spring. Being more in tune with nature is always a good thing.
Thanks to John for chatting to us on the blog. If you would like to check out John's work, click on the links below: