Today I am interviewing Ryan Habermeyer, author of the new short-fiction collection, The Science of Lost Futures.
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DJ: Hi Ryan! Welcome back again for another interview
For readers who aren’t familiar with you or may have missed our previous chat, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Ryan: I’m a professor at Salisbury University. I did the academic route in becoming a writer. MFA from UMass-Amherst and PhD from the University of Missouri. Scholar and fiction writer. As a scholar, my academic interests are in transnational fairy-tales and comparative mythology. I teach courses on folklore, myths, monsters, grotesques, etc. My fiction traverses some of that same territory, exploring that which is weird, bizarre, strange, otherworldly, cryptic, absurd, uncanny, spectral or otherwise inexplicable. A rather mundane personal life story, I’m afraid. Which probably explains why my fiction is so attracted to the surreal.
DJ: What is The Science of Lost Futures about?
Ryan: The book is a series of short stories I wrote over a thirteen-year period. Predominantly what we would call literary fiction, though the stories certainly have porous boundaries with genre fiction. There’s a lot of strangeness in these pages. Townspeople who discover a gigantic severed foot washed ashore on their beach. A woman collapsing inside the black hole growing on her shoulder. A former Nazi adopted as a household pet. I think of my characters on the fringes of experience: confronting circumstances alien and quotidian, absurd and grotesquely heart-wrenching; characters haunted by the pasts they can’t escape and longing for uncertain futures just beyond their grasp. That sounds eloquent, so let’s go with that description.
DJ: What were some of your influences when writing The Science of Lost Futures?
Ryan: There’s a kind of reciprocal influence between what I teach as an academic and what I write. So obviously cross-cultural fairy-tales and mythologies influence my work, albeit in indirect ways. I don’t write revisionist adaptations of oral narratives—like, say, Angela Carter (whose work is wonderful!)—but oral storytelling influences my writing style. It’s more of trying to capture that mood, that affect, that ambience of the folkloric tradition. Often there are allusions to old tales. Like stories within stories. With more contemporary fiction—my tastes tend to skew international. Kafka, Borges, Calvino, Bruno Schulz, Bohumil Hrabal, China Miéville, Nalo Hopkinson. And lots of Russians. I love the Russians. Bulgakov, Nabokov, Ludmila Petrushevskaya. Those writers challenge me, surprise me, provoke me. I suppose my brain has had an orgy with all those writers and my collection is their illegitimate love child.
DJ: What kinds of stories can readers expect in the anthology?
Ryan: I write my stories hoping they rest uneasily between genres. So there are echoes of science fiction, echoes of mystery (I think); elements of domestic realism mingling with fantasy. There are some pretty horrifying things that happen to characters, but not “horror” as a genre, per se. I’ve been told my stories are magical realist, but I like to classify my stories as fabulist, which I think is a more encompassing term as they evoke more antiquated modes of storytelling like I said before. Readers can expect a lot of absurdity, a lot of sudden and fantastical metamorphoses, but also trying to interrogate the reality of these intrusions of fantasy on everyday life. I suppose I’m trying to find the human moments within the absurd, the grotesque, the weird. I want to make you laugh, I want to make you cringe, I want to punch you in the heart.
DJ: Being an author, what do you believe makes a good short-story? How does it differ from wiring novel-length stories?
Ryan: I think the only way to answer this question is as a narcissist and say that the primary objective of a good story is to make the reader uncomfortable. Because that’s my primary objective. Defamiliarize the familiar. Make you squirm. Disturb the reader without succumbing to the cheap trick of spectacle and the sensationalistic. I want fiction that surprises, but then explores the dimensions of that surprise, or leaves me wrestling with troubling questions at the end. I want fiction that takes some kind of risk and is willing to annoy, piss off, offend, insult a reader. Otherwise, why bother reading? Flannery O’Connor has a quote somewhere (and I’m about to butcher it) saying something along the lines of how violence is inexorably important to her stories; she needed to depict acts of violence so that readers could understand who these characters were. For me, I try to do a similar thing only with absurdity. Donald Barthelme said in order to achieve the impossible you must be willing to attempt the absurd. I like that idea. To me the absurd is a portal into human anthropology. And I think a good story provides an uncomfortable reflection of the anthropologies we would rather ignore.
DJ: This may… this will be a difficult question to answer, but what are some of your favorite stories in The Science of Lost Futures? I don’t mean what you believe is the best, but perhaps some stories has a particular setting, theme, message, or character that you stood out to you?
Ryan: That is a difficult question….I’m not very good at pontificating about my stories, or even understanding what I’m doing half the time. I think there is something inherently mysterious about the creation of a story (or any work of art for that matter), and to talk too much about it ruins that mystery. I can say I’m fond of “The Foot” because I think it explores what I was saying before about the relationship between absurdity and anthropology. Human beings are ridiculous creatures (despite our grandiose sense of self-importance), and we try to find meaning and purpose within that ridiculousness, try to gain some proximity to tragedy, but really our efforts just create more layers of absurdity. A never ending cycle. I’m also partial to the story “The Fertile Yellow” because I’m a father of four kids and I like to think I know a thing or two about pregnancy (but let’s face it, I know painfully little). I pity the poor narrator of that story, but I admire him too, and hope the readers do as well. How couples confront and cope with the absurd is a recurring motif in the collection, and that story is probably the closest to home in that regard.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Science of Lost Futures?
Ryan: The relief of being finished with it. And I don’t mean in the sense that I’m tickled to have it published (which I am, naturally). Nabokov says in his afterword to Lolita that in starting any book project his sole purpose is to get rid of it as quickly as possible, by which I think he means getting that voice out of his head, getting that narrative told and that story out into the world so he can (like an insane person) start the process all over again. There’s a real pleasure conjuring up voices and characters and scenarios, living with them for so long, and now a nervous anticipation that someone else might be interested in these imaginary creations. But I’m happy to be rid of it, so I can focus on new projects and get those out of my head.
DJ: Now that The Science of Lost Futures is released, what is next for you?
Ryan: I’m trying to finish up a novel, or something that vaguely resembles a novel. A bit in the experimental vein, a novel-in-vignettes. Fragments. Anecdotes. Sketches. Most of them a series of visions of an afterlife where the dead are stuck in a hotel simmering in an existential soup. A satire of sorts. Hallucinatory micro-fairytales, I might call them.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** The Science of Lost Futures is published by BOA Editions and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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The Science of Lost Futures is a prize-winning collection full of quirky humor and intelligent absurdity. Ryan Habermeyer is a yarn spinner of the first order. Drawing on urban legends, internet hoaxes, and ancient medical folklore, these stories go beyond science fiction and magical realism to create a captivating collection of fabulist stories that revel in the alien and the absurd.
About the Author:
Ryan Habermeyer is a native of Los Angeles. He received his M.F.A. from the Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. His award-winning stories and essays have received two Pushcart Prize nominations and been published in Hotel Amerika, Cincinnati Review, Carolina Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, and Phoebe, among others. He lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where he teaches creative writing at Salisbury University.