Ryan Robert Mullen is a Wisconsin-based author born in 1981. His work has appeared on a number of online literary magazines and in the Word Riot 2003 Anthology. During my tenure at Word Riot, Ryan’s writing has particularly stood out in my mind as insanely original and powerful—one of my favorite writers online and off, small press and giant publishing corporation. I feel incredibly privileged to be releasing his first paperback—Naughty Sweet Boy, a collection of short stories—this month through Word Riot Press.
JC: It seems like being a writer from the Midwest has its share of advantages (i.e. perspective) and disadvantages (i.e. you don’t get to play the run-around literati game in New York that makes it easier to get published). Do you get that feeling, or am I being just too damn cynical? How has growing up in Wisconsin influenced your writing?
RRM: I’m really grateful for communications technology being what it is so that it’s even possible to get your writing out there without having to live in a major metropolitan area. Sure—it’s really cold here most of the year. Otherwise, I do really dig living in the Northwoods of Wisconsin—I think it’s one of the few beautiful places in America that hasn’t gone to the tourists. What you have is basically a giant forest with various granite and quartzite peaks here and there dotted by streams and lakes until you hit the Great Lakes and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s not really like Alabama where practically everyone has a pickup and a Nascar jacket (here it’s fluorescent snowmobiling jackets) and lives in trailers and eats squirrel. When I was younger it was like, “get me the hell out of here”—I was the guy with wingtips and huge sideburns amongst these kids who kept screaming stupid shit like “fuzzynuts” in the hallway and laughing their dumb asses off. Everybody pretty much suspected I was gay, I think. I’ve been other places but have kinda grown into Wisconsin—there is an utter lack of pretension here (except in Madison). People drink beer and eat red meat—but generally decent beer and good meat. The beer thing is a big thing in Wisconsin—you can get practically any brew. I was just reading this review of Pete’s Wicked Schnozberry Brew in Brian’s Belly and how hard it was to find in NY—and I’m like shit, they sell that stuff at gas stations here.
I’m really not into all the fashion bullshit and “hipness” factor associated with living in a metropolitan area and here I pay $425 a month for an awesome two-bedroom in the nicest area in town. It’s cool to travel though—I really hope to get out a lot for readings, etc. But YES, there are networking disadvantages involved in living in a somewhat remote location but, then again, not everyone and their brother is trying to be a writer/thespian/producer/musician here.
However, I may end up being a hairy naked man often mistaken for yeti.
JC: You’ve been quite involved with the literary e-zine scene through our site, Get Underground, Pulp Bits etc. What do you see as the role of online literature in the years to come?
RRM: Eventually electronic publishing will supersede all but the most entrenched and established of lit-mags. Many of the existing magazines may cross formats and become more like MAXIM or GQ. Already a massive amount of quality content is available, free of charge, for readers. An advance in technology that allows for online reading to be comparable in comfort and ease to reading characters from paper will be necessary to complete and concrete this transition.
The internet is good for writers because any published work becomes immediately available to an international audience. However, we are seeing fewer and fewer full-time writers that don’t write commercial material. That is what inspired me to write Beyond Justin From Kelly: An American Romance—available from Dell in Spring, 2005.
JC: Literary readings are given quite a bit of flack, but you kicked some massive, East Coast ass when you read at the Philly 215 Festival in October, 2003. How can writers make the most out of literary readings or other means promoting their work?
RRM: A lot of writers are very weird people with personalities which don’t translate to real life well. I’m probably the biggest dorkus I know but I try to avoid being pretentious. But what can I say? I’m just good.
Kicking ass was pretty easy, for me. First I had a PBR, then a tall whisky and Coca-Cola. Now, you may have heard the saying, “Beer and whisky—mighty risky,” but that’s a typo. It’s supposed to read “frisky”. Get as frisky as possible—recite the clever lines you devised on the ride over. Then proceed to blow the audience away with oratory talents gleamed from your long and victorious high school debate team experiences. Act like you do this al the time. Afterwards, mildly attractive women will distract you from talking to people who you actually wanted to talk to. Drink more, then leave without saying goodbye. People will think you just kicked their ass.
JC: How much coffee do you drink and how many cigarettes do you smoke when you’re on a writing bender?
RRM: I do drink massive amounts of coffee usually discussed in deciliters- it seems to have little effect anymore. I’ve been really into green tea lately because I am a afraid/paranoid of cancer. I am afraid of cancer because: cigarettes—I had nicotine stains on my fingers at nineteen. Smoked Bali Shag, Samson, and Drum tobacco which I greatly preferred to factory cigarettes. I am awesome at hand-rolling and did really enjoy it in a just out of the shower with a red silky bathrobe and fez sort of way. Smoking was great for writing—I can remember some great nights in a smoke-filled room with some hot coffee and just feeling like I could shoot lasers from my brain and getting like 5,000 words down in an all-nighter. Then I got bronchitis and realized cigarettes would kill me. Some people can handle it, but I had pneumonia when I was younger which left scar tissue in my lungs. I have quit smoking cigarettes for some time but….well as you might remember in Philly I could like barely talk after that third night. I think I was sick for three weeks.
JC: A number of your stories in Naughty Sweet Boy center around children whose overactive imaginations shift realistic situations into the realm of the surreal. What kind of trouble did you get into as a kid as a result of your overactive imagination?
RRM: I was actually a very nice little boy. Was big into explosions though—I can do great and SUPERLOUD explosions of unreal obnoxious proportions and this sometimes got me in trouble. I was your typical early eighties daydreamer kid the teachers were trying to get on them brand new ADD pills. LEGOS were the greatest, ZAKS were cool too. They don’t make ZAKS anymore but once I won a ETCH-A-SKETCH from OHIO ART with my name embossed on it in gold for making little fishes out of ZAKS. I was a very scared kid- of aliens especially. Sometimes I would wet my bed because I was too scared to walk to the bathroom- but now I have a nitelite, so it’s okay.
JC: If you could hijack the brain of any writer—living or dead—for one day, who would it be and what horrendous crimes would said brain make you do?
RRM: I would be Jhumpa Lahiri and win a Pulitzer for writing lame stories which would convert well to screenplays for the Lifetime channel that exploit the fact that I have Norwegian relatives that suffered as refugees at the hand of the Swedish. I would then continue to write story after Norwegian-themed story about the suffering of my people which I have visited a few times even though I grew up in Rhode Island with a well-to-do family that sent me to get a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies at Barnard College. I would then be on the cover of Poets & Writers and land a Guggenheim Fellowship due to my originality, creativity, and overall brilliance. It’s good that she founded all those Lahiri Foundations to help the poor in India—so it wasn’t just like she’s using them.
JC: What’s logging time on your bookshelf?
RRM: I do own about a billion books and have read about 98%. This was mostly done between ages 12-20. Recently, I’ve been really anal about what I read because of some weird superstition that what you read has unconscious dramatic effects on one’s writing. There aren’t too many writers I really respect—I think this is because so much writing that currently gets published has to have some kind of gimmick.
What I do own is tons of Bradbury, Bukowski, Vollman, Hesse, Asimov, H. Miller, classical stuff like Rimbaud, Rabelais, Joyce, and other college-type material, Greek stuff, tons of “beat” stuff (which I am embarrassed of), along with lots of Eastern spirituality hippie-ass books.
My oldest books are probably “Animal Farm” and “1984”—Orwell blew me away when I was like 11 or 12…I’m sure I didn’t understand the political points but was into the stories themselves.
JC: You’re a NES/Super NES kid like many of us. First off, why is Bowser such a goddamn asshole? Secondly, who do you race with when you play Mario Kart? Thirdly, how far did you get in Mike Tyson’s Punchout?
RRM: Bowser is a perverted lizard man. He also shoots fire.
I am Toadstool because she’s the fastest.
Never beat Mike Tyson’s Punchout but watched a friend do it. That Hippo guy needs to lose some weight but has a nice sucker punch. That game never seemed that cool to me—I was more into Zelda and the original Final Fantasies that were actually difficult and came packaged with like 3lbs. of dungeon maps.
JC: You seem to harbor erotic feelings for office supplies. You, a handle of vodka and a tube of lube on a desert island: which office supply do you choose to share your palm frond bed with you and why?
RRM: This stapler:
JC: You’re in a Stanley Kubrick movie. What character are you and why?
RRM: HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is mostly because of his sexy voice. No really—I choose Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove because he has a great hat. Spartacus would be nice—but how humiliating to be born in Thrace! Actually, I am Lolita. We are both young, beautiful, and think heart-shaped sunglasses are so cool!
JC: Finally, when are you gonna make an honest woman out of your baby mama?
RRM: A lot of people have been asking me this lately. I thought I was supposed to like announce that I’m getting married and people would buzz about and suddenly relatives you don’t know that well are really drunk off somebody else’s tab and we get small appliances. It’s not that exciting at the moment because she’s VERY pregnant so it’s not like we can go to sunny places and drink massive amounts of vino and have loads of fun…which is really the only part I care about. She doesn’t think she looks as pretty as she used to either and isn’t thrilled about getting a wedding dress in maternity size. UPDATE: We are getting married Monday, February 16, 2004.