Jeffrey Ricker is the author of Detours (2011) and the YA fantasy The Unwanted (2014), both published by Bold Strokes Books. His writing has appeared in Little Fiction and in 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. Keep up with his work at www.jeffrey-ricker.com.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us, how did you become a writer?
Jeffrey Ricker: I’m still trying to figure that out. Seriously though, I don’t think I could map out a route that I followed from point A to point W(riter). Writing stories has always been something I’ve done, and getting them published has been a combination of luck, persistence, and the kindness of strangers who aren’t strangers anymore.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know circumstances that led you to write your first novel, “Detours”?
Jeffrey Ricker: It started out as a short story I wrote for a workshop back in 2002. When I turned in the story, it didn’t feel finished to me, and everyone in the workshop pretty much agreed and said “there’s more story here.” After that I just had to figure out what the rest of the story was.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you secure a publisher for your book, “Detours”?
Jeffrey Ricker: Networking, networking, networking. Also, just trying to be nice helped. I was a pretty regular blogger at the time, and some of the people who became my friends through blogging were also writers and/or editors. My friends Tim and Becky were editing an anthology of stories and asked me to submit. The story I gave them wasn’t right for the anthology, but they asked if they could pass it along to another editor they knew. That turned out to be Greg Herren, who accepted several of my stories for anthologies he was editing. Eventually, he said, “So tell me about this novel you’re working on.” Things went from there, and pretty soon I had a contract with Bold Strokes Books, which has been a wonderful publisher to work with.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “Detours”?
Jeffrey Ricker: Off and on, it took about eight years.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “The Unwanted”?
Jeffrey Ricker: I read a lot of young adult fiction, so it was probably inevitable that I’d write some myself. As far as the story itself goes, I’ve always been interested in Amazons since I was a kid watching the Wonder Woman TV show. Fast forward to adulthood; I’m flipping through the cable TV schedule and see that My Stepmother Is An Alien is on one night. In my head I change it to My Stepmother Is An Amazon and think, “There’s a movie I’d like to watch.” After that, it was a big game of what-if: What if your mother was an Amazon? What if you’d never met her, had always been told she was dead, and then one day she shows up on your doorstep? Things went from there.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you often write for?
Jeffrey Ricker: Not really. Those considerations tend to come later. When I’m writing the story or the book, I’m just trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you often write on?
Jeffrey Ricker: Kind of like audience, this isn’t something that I consciously think about, but when I’ve had to look back and describe my work, I can see certain things emerge: I write a lot about questions of home and what it means to be “home” someplace. I think that comes from moving around a lot as a child. My friend Taylor once called my writing something like a trifecta of love, longing, and loss, and I like that description.
Geosi Gyasi: How difficult is it to write a novel?
Jeffrey Ricker: Really difficult. Not digging-a-ditch difficult, but it makes my head hurt sometimes.
Geosi Gyasi: You were a 2014 Lambda Literary Fellow. Could you tell us anything about this?
Jeffrey Ricker: This was one of the best writing experiences of my life to date. I went the summer after finishing graduate school, and I was looking for something that would maintain the momentum I’d achieved in my MFA program at the University of British Columbia. This was an intensive week spent with a group of other queer writers who just blew me away with their skills and their passion and drive. Lucy Jane Bledsoe was a phenomenal workshop leader and I just felt so fortunate to get the opportunity to work with her.
Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to go to the University of Missouri School of Journalism?
Jeffrey Ricker: When I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I knew I wanted to write. My parents said, “Well, do something practical with it, though. How about journalism?” This was in 1987, and it seemed practical at the time. We didn’t really envision how the journalism landscape would change over the next 30 years. The Mizzou J-school is one of the best in the country (I think it’s the best, but I’m probably biased), and once we started exploring it, it seemed that everyone we talked to knew about it and how good it was. The decision was a no-brainer after that.
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any vast difference between journalism and fiction writing?
Jeffrey Ricker: Yes, but I think my journalism training has had an impact on my fiction writing, which has been described as spare.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult aspect of writing?
Jeffrey Ricker: Getting started. Second most difficult: finishing.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?
Jeffrey Ricker: Taxes.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us the work you do as a graphic designer?
Jeffrey Ricker: That’s an outgrowth of my journalism training. My journalism degree was in magazine editing and design, and so I’ve always been a print designer. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to do print design for everything from newspapers and magazines to display graphics, signage, that sort of thing. Even a few books, which was a lot of fun.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you reconcile graphic designing and writing?
Jeffrey Ricker: I don’t really have to. I find both pursuits fulfilling in different ways.
Geosi Gyasi: As an editor, do you edit your own works?
Jeffrey Ricker: To a certain extent. I try to submit my manuscripts as clean as possible, but there’s always going to be something else to fix or change, and sometimes you’re just too close to your own work to be able to see the parts of the scaffolding that need to be shored up or the ones that are no longer necessary. A good editor is your best friend.
Geosi Gyasi: Are there any writers that inspire you?
Jeffrey Ricker: My editor Greg Herren, for sure. He’s such a prolific writer. My friend ’Nathan Burgoine inspires me; we’re sort of like each other’s writing big brother. When it comes to writers I don’t know personally whose work I love (and would love to be as good as): Tayari Jones, Beth Revis, Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Alice Munro.
Geosi Gyasi: You teach courses in creative writing for the Continuing Education Program at St. Louis Community College. How different is teaching from writing?
Jeffrey Ricker: So different. It’s hard in different ways, but it’s also inspiring because (I hope) I get to help people and encourage them to be the best writers they can.
Geosi Gyasi: What did you do as a Contest Manager for PRISM International?
Jeffrey Ricker: Wow, working for the magazine was really a glimpse behind the curtain of how magazine writing contests go. I was in charge of managing the magazine’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction contests, which meant everything from publicity to lining up readers to keeping track of submission payments. A lot of paper cuts were involved.
Literary contests tend to get a bad rap, but there’s really no conspiracy where people are voting for their own best friends. It’s just a bunch of underpaid, overworked folks who are passionate about great writing and who are looking for the best stories, poems and essays. We were really happy when we came across a gem.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you hope to achieve with your writings?
Jeffrey Ricker: I just hope that people who read my work consider the time well-spent. Beyond that, I don’t have any lofty goals.
Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently working on?
Jeffrey Ricker: True confession? Lately, not much. I’ve got several stories in process, as well as two novels, but in the past month or so, I haven’t really done a whole lot of original writing. I’m going to a writing residency in Vermont this May, and I’m hoping to get a lot done then. In the meantime, I need to learn to say no more often so I can keep some time to myself for writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything more to share with us?
Jeffrey Ricker: One more thing! If people are interested in reading something of mine, my short story “Looking for Bigfoot” is available for free from Little Fiction (http://www.littlefiction.com).