Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Five Questions with Shawna Yang Ryan

I’d like to welcome Bay Area author Shawna Yang Ryan to The Leaf Blower. Her book, Water Ghosts, a finalist for the 2008 Northern California Book Award, will be released in April by Penguin Press. Shawna was nice enough to sit down with me (over email) and answer a few questions:

-You’ve had a very successful debut. How did you get your break?

I've been very lucky. And by lucky, I mean, I've been lucky to have had great support during the long road to publishing this book. I began sending it out in 2002--7 years ago! It was first published in 2007 as Locke 1928 by an independent press called El Leon Literary Arts. My editor and publishers lived just a few blocks away and were generously transparent about the whole publishing process. It was a great learning experience for me. Then, somehow, a reviewer for the site Shelf Awareness got ahold of a copy and reviewed it favorably. An agent saw it and contacted me. The initial printing was nearly sold out and the rights were about to revert back to me, so the agent ended up selling it to Penguin Press. Working with my editor there, too, has been a very positive experience. I can't take credit for my "break," but one good move I did make was not giving up, even as my rejection binder was filling up.

-Name one writing book you would recommend to all new writers.

William Zinsser's On Writing Well. The title says it's for writing nonfiction, but his advice applies to any kind of creative writing.

-You’re obviously interested in history. Other than Locke in 1928, which time period and place do you wish you could visit?

I wish I could just be Orlando and live through all the ages, but if I could choose only one, it'd be the US in the 1960s! The world was in flux--there was a global shift in culture and politics, and a sense of possibility and hope amid the violence. The "Flower Power" thing has become such a stereotype--I would have liked to have seen it when the ideals were genuine, not spoof-worthy. And I'd love to have kicked around Haight-Ashbury in a fringed vest and beads. Groovy.

-Your prose has an almost musical quality to it. If you were forced to give up reading, or listening to music, for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

This is funny, because I'm pretty tone-deaf and I don't think of myself as musical in anyway. Yet, I just recently realized how inextricable I find writing and music--I make playlists for my books, and have to listen to certain songs during certain scenes. I'd love to embed some audio player in my book. Alas, my true love is words, so the books would definitely have to stay.

-What’s next for Shawna Yang Ryan?

Short term, I'm staring at a stack of bluebooks. Long term, I'm working on a couple of writing projects, and gearing up for the Penguin release of Water Ghosts in April. Hopefully, whatever I can do to sustain the writing life is what's next.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation Brian. Having just moved back to Fresno after 15 years in that area I'll be sure to pick it up to read in my spare time! Good luck with your book.

  2. Thank you for a new author recommendation. If she is good enough to interview, she must be good enough to read. I look forward to her book.

  3. Aaaaach!!! We feel really old! So Shawna would have liked to have lived in the 60's? We were teenagers and 20-somethings during that era. I guess we missed out because we really weren't into the "flower power" thing. However, we did listen to the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, and the Stones. We also wore frayed bell-bottoms (wish I still had those)not that I could get into them. Does that count?

    I would like to read your book. I have been to that area and have found the history to be fascinating.

    Thanks for your author recommendation, Brian.