Interview with Jeffrey Ryan

Tell us a little about yourself and your background? 

I was born and raised in Maine. My parents loved travel and the outdoors, appreciations they passed on to me. I have spent most of my life exploring, which has informed everything I do and has filled me with a great deal of contentment and gratitude. I have hiked over 8,000 miles in the USA and am still out there poking around in the mountains and woods.

Which writers inspire you? 

When I was 15, my mother pulled a copy of Walden off the family bookshelf and said to me, “I think you are ready to really enjoy what this man had to say.” She was right. Thoreau opened up a new world to me. Writers who are able to express a heartfelt love of nature are tremendously important to me and the world. They have come from so many disciplines — forestry, religion, earth science — but they have a need to help people understand the importance of natural landscapes and true wilderness.

Thoreau, Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, Rachael Carson and the naturalist Bernd Heinrich come to mind. I also enjoy reading the work of adventure writers like Joe Simpson and Jon Krakauer.

Have you written any other novels in collaboration with other writers?
Not yet, but it’s on my bucket list.

When did you decide to become a writer?
I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a writer. I wrote my first book, “The True Story of Dogs in the Army” when I was five years old. The first job I ever wanted was to write the L.L. Bean mail order catalog. (My wish came true when I was 30 years old.)

Do you write full-time or part-time? 

Full-time every day. If I make it to the end of a day without writing at least something, I feel incomplete and unsatisfied.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? 

A little bit of both. For my first book, Appalachian Odyssey (a memoir about my 28-year hike of the Appalachian Trail), I wanted each chapter to be its own short story. That said, I wanted to make sure certain themes threaded through the book and didn’t get over played or under mentioned. So, I mapped out major themes on the wall using over-sized index cards. That worked out really well. I used them to mark my overall progress (I drew a big open circle on each chapter’s cards as I completed first drafts, then colored the circles green when they moved into “ready for editing” stage.)

My second book, Blazing Ahead, was about the history of the Appalachian Trail. It was so research intensive, that I had to read everything I could get my hands on, then see where the ideas were taking me. Again, some great themes emerged — the character’s personalities, their upbringings and the backdrop of the Great Depression all came into play rather prominently.

Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers? 

“Yes. I beg.”, he said kiddingly (mostly).

I have been extremely fortunate in getting book jacket testimonials from some influential sources and been modestly successful getting readers to review my books. I suspect that may be the opposite for some writers. For example, I was able to find a history professor that teaches a course called, “The History of the Appalachian Trail.” He was generous enough to review my manuscript and provide a back cover blurb.

Lately at book signings, I’ve asked people buying my books if they’d be willing to consider posting a review and that I’d appreciate hearing what they have to say. That has helped get more people to weigh in.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? 

I come from the “all feedback is good” school. I read everyone’s feedback, then I try to consider what they have to say as objectively as possible. While it would be awesome if everyone said, “I love your book” (and appreciate hearing it as much as any writer), I appreciate it even more if they share why. Same as if someone thinks it’s terrible or something in between. We can’t do much about “I hated it”, but we can do something about “I wish he had spent more time discussing x”. As creatives, we get to decide how we process feedback and how it informs our future work.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Please check out my website


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