- For somebody unfamiliar with the fiction of Jason S. Ridler, how would you describe your work, and which story do you think are the best introduction to your work?
I guess YA/fantasy/crime writer fits the pistol best, even if you have to load two or three shots. I tend to jump around, genre-wise, but there are some constant vibes in my work: noirish dialog, premium on grit and action with dollops of humor and realism even if the setting or premise is fantastical, and an unyielding love for the underdog. I consider myself to be a character oriented writer, and that’s the element most people respond to. So, if you want tales of the fantastic with an emphasis on the human condition under extremes, you’d probably dig my work.
A story that taps all these notes would be “Billy and the Mountain”, from the Tesseracts Thirteen anthology, a YA tale about friendship, comic books, and the dangers of not growing up.
Online, I’ve gotten the most feedback for “Buzzard’s Final Bow”, a tale of gladiators, regret, and redemption that also taps a bit on my Baltic heritage (I’m half Latvian). You can catch it at the best literary adventure fantasy magazine in the world, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, here!
You have a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. How has this field of study impacted your fiction?
Oddly. My historical work requires incredible amounts of research and precision. When I was at grad school, the last thing I wanted to do with my free hours away from the dissertation was to write anything that had to do with my thesis, military affairs, or required tons of research. My brain needed a break from such things.
I pushed my fiction to do what history couldn’t: be creative and imaginative and utterly personal, writing about other facets and interest in my life, from pro wrestling to punk rock to old cartoons to comic books and junk culture to personal themes and experiences and emotions I wanted to explore. Occasionally I’d write about a soldier, or a military subject, but it was rare.
My friends who write military fiction hate this, of course. They think I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth since I’ve got all this data and knowledge in my head about the nature of warfare, the soldier’s experience, etc. and I don’t use it much for fiction. That’s starting to change some. It bleeds in, whether I like it or not. If you write horror fiction, you will find no more chilling accounts of the dark edge of life than soldier’s memoirs. Having knowledge of certain cultural and contextual moments all help, too.
I’m at a different place now, as a young professional historian as opposed to grad student. I’m starting to find places of coalescence in the fiction I want to write, and the historical knowledge I’ve accrued and keep accruing.
The best case for this was “Iron Horse in the City of Stone”, available for free in The Homeless Moon Chapbook 3. It’s about the end of the Great Game in Central Asia, set after the First World War, where the city of Tashkent has become a steampunk utopia and a Tsarist soldier confronts his now Bolshevik wife for control of the city’s technology as the Russian Civil War rages.
I tried to combine a heartfelt story of a soldier suffering from his experience in the Great War with a fantasy theme. I was very happy with the result, and the feedback has been so good I’ve kept on working in this vein at novel length (but that subject is COSMIC TOP SECRET!)
You have an affinity for professional wrestling, and have written fiction involving this sport on more than one occasion. What is it about wrestling that appeals to you?
Heh. What little reputation I have in short fiction is likely a result of writing about pro wrestling so much. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, but that love has changed shape: I love the carney atmosphere and it’s strange history of being a real combat art that turned into a performance art; I love the hyperbolic drama and amazing athletics; I love the seedy and ruinous backstage life of sex, drugs, and insane touring schedules; and I’m fascinated with the tragic truth that many wrestler in the pros die before they’re fifty.
Every aspect of pro wrestling is compelling, really. It’s a form of fantasy fiction, one that slips into reality like a Philip K. Dick story, and muddies the water between the real, the fake, and the difference between them.
I’ve published about five or so stories on wrestling themes, including “Showing Light” in your 2020 VISIONS anthology, which deals with a cyperpunk pro wrestling future. My fave, though, is a historical one, set in the 1920s when pro wrestling became fake. It used the myth of the minotaur and the life of Ed “Strangler” Lewis to explore the value of fake violence instead of the real stuff. And I still get a kick out of the title: “Skulduggery at the Junction“!
I also released a thriller novel on kindle, called DEATH MATCH, about how a friend’s death at an indie pro wrestling show drives a former punk rock star to find the killer. It’s a madcap novel that crashes a lot of my favorite cultural interests, including punk rock.
Tell us a little about your former life as a punk rocker.
Funny you should mention it! For five years, roughly 1990-1995, I was a musician in the punk and alternative rock scene in Toronto, Ontario. I played guitar and sang with a handful of bands, most prominently one called Ragweed. We’d get paid in beer, play loud and fast shows at places like Sneaky Dees and The El Mocombo and a dingy joint near the looney bin and next door to the local police detox unit called Classic Studios. I have a thousand great memories of the madness of working in the studio, recording demos, making hilarious flyers that claimed Gary Coleman would be our opening act, practicing until my fingers ached, being drunk and dangerous and acting like an idiot on stage, and getting my first real taste of busting my ass trying to make a dream come true. I saw things you’d never see elsewhere, good, bad and snotty.
My love of punk rock has, I think, infused a lot of my work with a high octane pacing, and the experiences I had will fuel a lifetime of stories. Good times!
What writers have influenced your work the most?
These change daily, but the two writers who made the greatest sustained impact on me were Joe Lansdale and Gary Braunbeck. Discovering Lansdale was a boon. He wrote everything from westerns to horror to science fiction to just plain weird stuff, often mashing them together in his own way to create these wonderful hybrids (if you haven’t read THE DRIVE-IN, A FINE DARK LINE, THE BOTTOMS, or the Hap and Leonard series, do so. You can thank me later with a bear claw). The freedom of his imagination matched the strength of his chops as a writer, and the result was a heady brew. He wrote with a fearless joy that could take you to the depths of moral depravity to high humor and all points in between. Lansdale taught me to not be afraid to write about what you love, even if no one else loves. For a young guy who loved punk rock and wrestling, not exactly hot topics in genre fiction, that championing of freedom of the imagination sang true and strong. Still does.
Gary Braunbeck stands, I think, along with Lansdale, Steve and Melanie Tem, Jeffrey Ford, Norm Partridge, Margo Lanagan and Amy Hempel as one of the best short storiests working today. Gary’s has written some of the most compelling, heartbreaking, moving and rich fiction I’ve ever read. Stories like “Some Touch of Pity,” “Safe”, “Duty,” “The Marble King,” and his outstanding novella IN THE MIDNIGHT MUSEUM are some of the greatest pleasures I’ve had reading fiction. His novel, IN SILENT GRAVES, originally released as THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN, is a minor classic of fantasy literature, with the emotional power of UNDER THE VOLCANO and the surrealist punch of Lucius Shepard, all in a tragic and humane blue collar setting.
Braunbeck’s work instructed me to be fearless with the emotional content in stories, to bleed a little deeper, infuse a humane resonance with even the lighter or sillier stuff or more violent stuff, to always remember that Faulkner quip that fiction should be about the human heart at war with itself. And his ear for dialog is better than just about anyone.
What’s so amazing about both Lansdale and Braunbeck is that their careers, while substantial, have their best work ahead of them. As great as they are, there’s still more wonder to expect from each. Career wise, that’s a high water mark I’d like to reach for, too.
But everyone I mentioned here should be included, especially Steve and Melanie Tem and Norm Partridge, who have been defacto mentors and inspirations for me for years.
What are the projects you have coming up in 2012 that get you the most excited?
Tons! I was insanely busy last year, and the fruit is about to drop. I’ve got the sequel to DEATH MATCH coming up, CON JOB, another noir tale in which our hero, Spar Battersea, must find an old girl friend who goes missing at a science fiction convention! It does not go well, and the whole novel takes place over an intense day of bad luck, good intentions, and trying to do the right thing when you would really, really, really rather not. I also finished what might be the last Spar novel, DICE ROLL, about a cult stalking people like Spar who play role playing games, and is filled with more jujitsu than a Brazillian dojo!
An ebook short story collection should be up and running shortly, featuring an introduction from one of the good folks I’ve mentioned here.
My agent and I are primed to sell my first YA novel, which you could tag as being “Karate Kid with Wizards.”
I’m also working hard on a biography of an American soldier who served with the guerrillas in the Philippines.
Sadly, I’m losing time on short stories, but there’s a few anthos I’d like to submit to soon so I better start cracking. Not sure what the first novel project of the year will be, but the three ideas I’ve got all have me excited. I’m jazzed about all of it. 2012 may be the end of the world, but if it is, I’m going to go out with a BANG!