An Interview with Tatiana Ryckman

TWO TWENTY-SOMETHINGS TALKING ABOUT TATIANA RYCKMAN’S TWENTY-SOMETHING

In this interview, Michener Fellow and Issue 2 author Vincent Scarpa talks to The Austin Review's Managing Editor Tatiana Ryckman about her new chapbook Twenty-Something published by ELJ Publications.


Vincent Scarpa: Tell me a bit about how this collection came to be. How long had you been sitting on these stories? Did you gather them feeling that they were in some way, even indirectly, in conversation with one another? What was the process like of getting the manuscript accepted and published?

Tatiana Ryckman: I was very lucky because the press approached me and asked for a manuscript, so getting it published was disorientingly easy. In its final draft, this collection is the best possible version of my master's thesis, but initially, once accepted, I kept thinking about Woody Allen at the beginning of Annie Hall saying, "I wouldn't want to be in a club that would have someone like me for a member.” I reread the work I'd sent in with complete horror and started to slash away at stories and lines, writing new stories, replacing and revising. Imagining someone paying money for the book (and actually reading it) made me feel a little ill and slightly more objective about the the whole thing.

VS: One of the thematic elements at work here, at least to this reader, is the relationship between disguise and vulnerability. The protagonist in "Getting to Know You" asks her lover to put on a mask, saying, "It's easier this way." The mask is a disguise, of course, and yet this feels like a way in which this couple can be transparent about their needs. Similarly, Clarice, in the title story, is a nude model for a community art class, something that could easily—and quite rightly—be interpreted as the height of vulnerability. And yet, by taking her clothes off in front of strangers, she is also made able to hide certain other parts of herself from those who know her. [I'm thinking here of the great tableau vivant scene in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth.] I wonder if you could talk a bit about that duality between concealment and exposure--what about that seems interesting to mine in your fiction? And do you think it at all mirrors the process of writing itself?

TR: ”The relationship between disguise and vulnerability" sounds much more attractive than my sister's reaction to the manuscript when I asked her if it was too “man-hatey." She said, "It's not man-hatey, but it does seem like you are harboring some gender identity issues." Which I admit is a reaction I sort of enjoy. I suppose I believe we're all wearing disguises most of the time, to the extent that a literal mask can sometimes feel like a more accurate representation of who someone is than the way they present themselves to lovers or friends or family members. Learning to filter one's thoughts and expressions is a pretty basic part of audience awareness, of growing up, and of communicating. The story “Twenty-Something” specifically attempts to embody this the idea of dual selves. Of becoming an adult without feeling like it. Of being told you can be anything you want to be and then being disappointed by your own choice.

VS: One of my favorite sections in the book is the pseudo-fan-fiction that reimagines the relationship of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. What prompted that? [Beyond creating the conditions wherein we could imagine Richard Burton having "the enormous cock of a horse."] 

TR: There was a reading series in Austin called "Five Things,” where the organizers would select five writers and a theme and give each writer an assignment the week before. I happened to be in the "Elizabeth Taylor's Husbands" edition, and was lucky enough to get Richard Burton as my assignment. Most of what I remember from the reading is Lesley Clayton saying, "Diamonds are forever," over and over, to great comedic effect.

VS: Talk to me about the origin of "Heat Bringer," which is both the collection's strangest and most recognizable story at once. Do you think it's true that, through the evocation of the surreal, the writer is presented with an opportunity to achieve an even more precise human truth?

TR: The origin of “Heat Bringer” is a t-shirt I stole from my high school boyfriend, which a coworker of mine was incredibly envious of. One fateful day I didn't turn it inside out before tossing it in the laundry and the Heat Bringer washed off forever. This story is a sort of tribute to that t-shirt. Maybe I should have lied to sound more intelligent? Should have said something like, "Through the absurd character of the Heat Bringer I explore our natural fear of death and the true significance of self immolation. The scorpions represent religion's role in secular media and the virgin clearly represents the afterlife, where we will all be born as furious Bringers of Heat."

But ultimately, yes, I do think a writer can sacrifice reality for truth. Some to greater effect than others. 

VS: Which writers do you admire? Which writers do you turn to for instruction? Which writers do you avoid?

TR: I adore and aspire to write like Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, and James Tate. I choose to believe that I am just the right kind of obsessed with The Great Gatsby, and I learn something new every time I read that book. I've also been hugely influenced by Miranda July, Dawn Raffel, Clarice Lispector, and Micheline Aharonian Marcom. I tend to avoid bestsellers with the belief that anyone famous enough to sell books probably doesn't get edited enough.

VS: What are you working on now, and where can anyone interested in reading Twenty-Something go to purchase the book?

TR: I’m currently writing poems and reading nonfiction. A palate-cleanser, I guess. If someone wants to read Twenty-Something they can steal a copy from my trunk, find it at Farewell Books in Austin, or at Powell's in Portland. Of course it's also on the internet, so no matter where you live it's available at Amazon and on the press's website.