I’m at a loss at the moment, because I don’t have a cute How I Met Jeffrey Ricker story to introduce this interview. I haven’t met the man yet, and I can’t remember how I initially became aware of him. Was it in comments on Rob Byrnes’ blog? Perhaps. Was it word of mouth, while talking with another writer about other writers we know? Maybe. Did he contact us first? I wish I was better organized, and maybe I could confirm or deny that supposition.
In any case, it doesn’t matter much. Something compelled us to send Jeffrey Ricker an email and ask him to submit a story for Fool For Love, and I’m glad we did, because Jeffrey is a good storyteller. And not only is he a good storyteller, but he’s a professional. The story he submitted was compelling. It was well edited. It was formatted to industry standard. It was sent on time. It was accompanied by a polite and respectful email. Everything about Jeffrey and his story was an editor’s wet dream come true.
Unfortunately, as Jeffrey reminded me in the following interview, we rejected his first submission. But, because he was such a professional and a good writer, Becky and I had no trouble getting in touch with another editor who was editing an anthology more suitable for Jeffrey’s story and submitted it on his behalf along with a glowing recommendation. Then, we asked Jeffrey to try again. Luckily for us, he did. His second submission, a story titled “At the End of the Leash,” suited our needs perfectly and we were pleased to accept it.
While attending the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival one year I sat in the audience for a panel discussion titled “It’s a Business, People,” a class reminding people that writing is a business and how to treat it accordingly. At the end of our interview, Jeffrey told me that he’ll be attending Saints and Sinners this year. I’m looking forward to finally meeting him in person when I’m there. Because he’s a good writer who’s easy to work with and fun to talk to, I’ll have no problem grabbing him if he’s nearby and introducing him to everyone I know, saying, “Work with this guy. He’s great!”
Timothy J. Lambert: First “Dakota” and now “At The End Of The Leash.” I know you’re working on a novel. Is it about a dog?
Jeffrey Ricker: There’s a dog in it, but it’s not about a dog. And let’s hope the book actually isn’t a dog, either. I’ve got a couple ideas in the “I’ll get to this later” file that have to do with dogs, and one of them may or may not be a book. I don’t know. They’re waiting patiently for now. I love cats just as much as I love dogs, but for some reason I find them harder to write about.
TJL: You’re also a journalist. Which do you prefer writing, articles, personal essay, memoir, or fiction?
JR: Definitely fiction. One of the main reasons I didn’t become a working journalist is because I hate reporting. Loathe, loathe, loathe it with a hot, fiery passion. I love to interview people, though, when I’m interested in them or in what they do, but covering a city council meeting? Please, never again. Also, trying to get people to talk to you when they would rather give themselves a root canal is not a pleasant experience for either party.
TJL: What comes to you first when you’re starting to write fiction, a character, a plot, the setting, or…?
JR: What comes first? The urge to procrastinate. No, really, that’s my biggest problem. Maybe this is why I seem to find myself writing short fiction more often. As for ideas, the starting point varies, but usually it’s the plot, and the characters follow quickly after that. The former tends to reveal the latter in a Who would do that sort of thing? kind of way. That was the case with “At the End of the Leash,” as well as the first story I sent you, “The Visitor.” For me it seems to work best when I start with the plot. I can start with a character and then find no use for them, and then they tend to get mean and not leave me alone, so to speak.
TJL: We were extremely vague about what we wanted from you. Was that difficult for you? Or did you have an idea right away of what you wanted to do?
JR: I thought it would be difficult, but in the end, it really wasn’t. It helped knowing that “The Visitor” wasn’t quite what you were looking for, and then the other idea seemed to come out of nowhere. At least, as much as I can remember. It was a while ago. What really helped was the great feedback you and Becky gave to the first draft I turned in. I really think you helped make it a better story.
TJL: I forgot that we passed on the first story you sent to us, “The Visitor.” Did it bother you that we did?
JR: Not at all, because you passed it on to Greg Herren, who liked it enough that he chose it for an anthology he was editing, which, sadly, did not get published, but the vote of confidence from yet another successful writer was a big boost.
TJL: What do you like to write?
JR: I tend to bounce between a few genres, and sometimes in the same story: gay, mainstream, and science fiction. Usually, there’s an element of humor in all of them, and when I’ve paused to consider recurring themes, the perception of home comes up a lot.
TJL: What do you like to read?
JR: Some of my favorite writers are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Michael Cunningham, and C.J. Cherryh, but really, I’ll give almost anything a shot. My stack of books to read is approaching dangerous heights. No, it’s really dangerous. It’s on my nightstand and I’m afraid it will topple over on me in the night. I just finished reading Mansfield Park followed by The Art of Racing in the Rain–there’s that dog thing again. Now I’m reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics. And I’m forever trying to catch up on my New Yorker subscription.
TJL: One of the reasons why I liked “At The End Of The Leash” was because it was simple “boyfriend fiction.” Guy and guy meet cute and–oh, yay!–it works out. That may sound extremely simple, but it’s difficult to do well. You did well. Were there any difficulties in writing the story?
JR: I have a tendency to pull my punches. Some of my characters I tend to like too much, and I think that was the case with Brian, the main character in that story. Luckily, I had some good guidance in revising, and I found my inner bitch and made things uncomfortable for him. I never really had written a boy meets boy story that had a happy ending, so thanks. I’m glad it turned out well.
TJL: Do you have people who read your work and give you honest feedback?
JR: I’m very lucky in that regard. My other half, Michael, is a very honest critic and will tell me when he doesn’t like something. At the moment, he’s not all that fond of the direction I’m taking with the third draft of the novel, but I have to give it a shot. I also take part sporadically in a local writers group, Writers under the Arch, that has a number of members willing to rip my stuff to shreds when necessary. And I’ve been lucky to develop relationships with a handful of other bloggers–yourself included–who’ve given me especially valuable feedback.
TJL: Isn’t Michael a writer, too?
JR: He is, but he won’t let me read what he’s writing.
TJL: How do you know which advice to ignore and which to heed? Are you willing to take risks, potentially “wasting time” making a bunch of mistakes and revising them later?
JR: Sometimes it’s trial and error. Occasionally, my reaction will be, No, I’m so not doing that, but then I have to examine why I reacted that way. Is it because I know the characters and the story well enough that instinctively I know the suggested change is just wrong, or is it because it’s going to require a lot more work, take the story in a direction I didn’t want to go, or some other excuse. Every so often it’s because I absolutely am right, but often I have to try things out to know for certain. This is why I end up with several drafts of the same story in my folder. Thank heavens I’m good at filing.
TJL: Do you have a career path? How do you see your writing career going forward?
JR: My first instinct is to say, “God, I wish I did.” But I think that the best thing that’s been happening for me in the past three to five years is that my writing is getting better, even if my output hasn’t increased all that much. I do have a career that pays my bills and keeps me in decent clothes, mostly, but writing is the thing I do on the side. The funny thing is, I didn’t want to be a reporter because I didn’t like the rejection, but as a fiction writer, I actively seek it by sending my work out to magazines. I don’t know why the latter doesn’t bother me the way the former did. I don’t know if I will ever have what might legitimately be called a writing career, but I think you could say I have a writing life, and that’s pretty fulfilling already. That said, one of my goals this year is to send out a story a month in hopes of getting something else published, so I’m not about to give up on the career side of it either.
TJL: Your writing is being published and you’re planning to submit more work to potential publishing outlets. I hate to break it to you, but you have a writing career.
JR: Is that what this is called? Ah. Let’s just say I’m glad this isn’t the only thing I know how to do, because otherwise I’d be starving.
Fool For Love: New Gay Fiction, which includes "At the End of the Leash" by Jeffrey Ricker, will be published in January 2009–any day now!–by Cleis Press. Click here to order it from Amazon.com.
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