Sunday, April 25, 2021

Notice in Poets & Writers

In J.T. Bushnell's Poets & Writers article "The Thousand Pages," he reflects on something I said years ago: that I threw away a thousand pages of my first book, Down in the River, before I was done. Mostly he explores the writing process of his wonderful first novel, The Step Back

Check out an excerpt from his Poets & Writers article below. This article is available in print only, but please order the May/June 2021 copy at Poets & Writers. See link below. Very grateful for this shoutout.

“About a decade ago I had the notion that I'd like to tackle the novel again. I had written a couple of bad ones just after college and then applied to MFA programs with the goal of figuring out how to write a good one. Once there, however, I discovered the power of short fiction--both as a literary form and a workshop tool--and so for several years I cut my teeth on it, assuming I would one day return to the novel better prepared to meet its demands. When that day came, though, I found that I'd grown comfortable in the story's cozy dimensions and that the novel had become a terror of open space. Stepping into one was like stepping into the vast concavity of a sports arena, or staring up at the dizzying heights of a skyscraper. The solid ground seemed to sway beneath me, and I clutched at whatever was nearby. In this fashion I made three or four novel attempts that crumbled after about ninety pages, and they produced such a sense of loathing in me that no amount of willpower could induce me to continue or revive them. It was one of the hardest periods I had been through as a writer, and I wondered if I was capable of writing a novel at all, let alone a good one.

“Around this time a friend, Ryan Blacketter, sent me the manuscript of what would become his own first novel, Down in the River (Slant, 2014). I knew he had written only short stories until then, so I was impressed at how well built his novel was--how sturdy its foundation, how varied and efficient its architecture, how high its pinnacle. When I told him how much I admired it, he thanked me, then said, ‘I've thrown away a thousand pages, but none of them were wasted.’

“At first I thought he meant the number as hyperbole. Kill your darlings and all that. But he meant it literally, and when I understood this, my reaction surprised me. Rather than feeling intimidated by such a gargantuan number, I felt heartened. All I had to do was write a thousand pages? I might not know how to build a novel, I thought, but I knew how to put my butt in a chair and words on a page. . .”

Thanks so much J.T., and congratulations on your book.

Thursday, May 21, 2020



A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Ryan is the author of Down in the River: a novel (Slant Books) and Horses All Over Hell (Wipf & Stock). He has received a literary grant from the Oregon Arts and Culture Council and a teaching grant from the Idaho Humanities Council.

For five years he volunteered as a writing mentor for PEN America's Justice Writing Program, and served on the 2020 awards committee. He has taught "High-Risk Fiction" at several colleges and universities. His short stories appear in Antioch Review, Crab Orchard Review, Eclectica Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Image. Interviews and reviews have appeared in Paste Magazine, the Rumpus, Fiction Writers Review and elsewhere.

He has been a Tennessee Williams Scholar, a Tin House slush reader, a teacher at Portland WITS, and an online mentor for ninth graders working on fiction theses in a Georgia classroom. He has worked in Alaska fisheries; the Oregon woods; the Pittsburgh post office; on a barge on the Ohio River; in state offices; and in college classrooms around the country, most recently at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

In Atlanta he taught at an international school for college-bound high school graduates from South America, Africa, China, Japan, France, and Saudi Arabia. In Greece and Spain, he taught ESL to children. He has written a book draft exploring his days in Greece. 

Ryan's distributors include Powell's and Strand Books, Barnes & Noble, Broadway Books, and Prairie Lights. In library news, Harvard and Yale recently purchased Horses All Over Hell.


contact: ryanblacketter (at )

Friday, May 15, 2020

Praise for Ryan Blacketter's Fiction Titles. "Fiction Writers Review" Writeup Below.

Image result for ryan blacketter


Praise for Horses All Over Hell (Wipf & Stock). 

“With a forceful grasp of character and pitch-perfect dialogue, Ryan Blacketter brings us a deftly woven collection of stories about love and survival in a troubled, yet enduring, American family . . . Horses All Over Hell is a heartbreaking new book from a master of modern American fiction.”
—Ernest Hilbert, author of Last One Out, book critic for Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Dust jacket blurb.

"Horses All Over Hell is an enthralling collection of interrelated stories."
--David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy

“The eleven intricately woven short stories of Horses All Over Hell  portray a family caught in an ever-deepening spiral of damage and despair while bound together by ties of love in a Western landscape that comes to life on the page. The deep flaws, the beauty, and the bravery of these richly imagined characters will linger with the reader long after the last page.”
—Mary Clearman Blew, author of Jackalope Dreams and Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin, Professor emerita, University of Idaho

“Reading Horses All Over Hell I experienced a stark, poetic American realism in a manner I haven't in a long time. Blacketter's prose calls to mind Joan Didion, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Flannery O'Connor, and Larry Brown, as he bluntly and beautifully lays out the saga of a family dealing with addiction and dogma.”
—Christian Winn, author of Naked Me

"[Ryan] has a marvelous eye for the emotional textures of the most commonplace experience, the kind that familiarity makes almost subliminal."
--Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping

"Ryan's writing is excellent. He often explores sympathetic treatment of characters when least expected."
--Chris Offutt, author of The Good Brother.

"Ryan Blacketter is an exquisite craftsman. In Horses All Over Hell, he deftly creates psychological characters who inhabit a landscape recognizable as an Idaho gone wrong, a remembered Eden poisoned by its gardeners."
—John Rember, author of Traplines and 100 Little Pieces on the End of the World


Praise for Down in the River (Slant Books). Oregon Book. 

“A heartbreaking, macabre pilgrimage.” –Paste Magazine

“Even as Lyle runs toward trouble and danger, his youthful optimism, however delusory it might be, flickers in these pages, compelling the reader to journey deeper into night, in search of hope and redemption.” --The Rumpus

“Dark and grisly, it’s a novel that holds both popular appeal and deeper intellectual pleasures, one you can recommend to friends who read only an occasional Stephen King novel or those who read the most lauded literary fiction.” --Fiction Writers Review

“Ryan Blacketter's Down in the River is an impressive debut novel that effectively tackles themes of mental illness and grief.” --Largehearted Boy

"A remarkable, darkly startling and endearing debut novel . . . It’s rare to be transported so vividly and convincingly into a cold, broken world like Lyle and Rosa’s, but Blacketter does it for 208 wise, tight, beautifully dark pages. And as Lyle’s quest unfolds with messy inevitability, I am rooting for this young man, I am living as this young man, I am learning to feel as skewed and caring as Lyle does. And what a pleasure this is, and what great inspiration to a fellow writer the experience of Down in the River is. I cannot recommend this novel enough."" --The Quivering Pen

"A strange, haunting journey across the shadowy landscape of grief and longing. To our good fortune, Ryan Blacketter is a heroic guide into this exploration of the mysterious workings of the human heart . . . This is a brave first novel from a writer to be watched." --Mitch Wieland, author of God's Dogs

"I can't remember when I've liked a character as much as I like young Lyle Rettew, or when I've cheered one on so hard, despite the fact that he's clearly crazy and his quest is doomed." --Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy and Other Stories

"Blacketter's prose is paired with the torque of a plot that lives and moves like an indomitable engine. This difficult and necessary story is inbreathed with a ferocity that leaves the reader shaken." --Shann Ray, author of American Masculine 

"I was completely enthralled by this haunting, page-turning novel. The disturbing events, the evocative landscape, and the chaos of mental disorder self-medicated by drugs and rebellion are all rendered in humanizing, beautifully-rendered realism."
--Wayne Harrison, The Spark and the Drive

"Down in the River is a startling, disturbing, and ultimately entrancing novel, a fever dream that astounds and never sits still for a moment, breathlessly played out in the sad twilight between the innocence of childhood and the despair of age, life lived on the last edges of love and loyalty strained to their limits."
--Ernest Hilbert, author of Caligulan 

"Blacketter has created an outsider story of adolescence that left me wanting to travel more with his characters; I felt connected to them as they opened my eyes to new forms of chaos."
--Max Wolf Valerio, author of The Criminal: the invisibility of parallel forces

"Set in Eugene, Down in the River is both a sympathetic depiction of bipolar disorder and a macabre take on youth culture."
--Eugene Weekly 

Click for Review of Down in the River in Fiction Writers Review

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Ryan's Observer Essays--Repubished in Arts & Letters Daily and Elsewhere.

My favorite people are contradictory, guided by subjective scruples to land on their own moral ground every time, without respect to any party or movement. Christopher Hitchens comes to mind. At any rate, I'd like to be more like him, more multifarious in viewpoint, more fiercely educated. 

Christopher Hitchens (Author, Journalist and Orator) - On This Day

My Observer essays:

From my Hemingway essay: "Though I have my own reservations about the macho, photo-op persona he embraced in middle-age—machine gunning sharks, swilling from a bottle, grinning next to a conquered marlin or lion—the younger Hemingway, in his early twenties, had a kid-like vitality and art-loving exuberance that were enormously appealing."

From my Milo essay: “I support anyone's right to speak and publish. But my own feeling is that Milo was often thin stuff—he was one-dimensional, neglecting to locate any other personality trait that might mitigate his constant judgments about people on the left . . . His rhetoric was absent goodwill that might truly persuade, and therefore he lacked complexity and depth on the stage. In short, too much stupidity issued from his pretty mouth.”

From my essay "The Rebel Left is Dead" (Arts & Letters Daily): "I occasionally despair of the loss of the 1960s rebellious left in American life. Many 60s writers refused a total allegiance to their politics. They found singular voices through dissonance, ambiguity, and contradiction—as individuals often do. It’s not surprising that Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, and Hunter S. Thompson explored free expression on so many of their pages."

The Rumpus "Albums of Our Lives" essay on Guided by Voices: "The songs were rattling, disturbing, life changing. 'I want to start a new life/ With my valuable hunting knife.' I wanted to run away from everything that wasn’t mine anymore. I wanted to be guided by my own voices again."

Quillette essay: In 2017 when I published "A Raft of Books" this magazine was still centrist and anti-Trump, a good match for my contradictory essay: "A Raft of Books" discovers that political correctness and social tyranny are very much alive on the right and the left. Despite the hype, the religious right is no freedom-loving bastion of First Amendment principles. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Ryan's Fiction Workshop Course Descriptions

           ZZ Packer

The Writing Life: A Fiction Workshop
In this class we’ll examine the writing life from the perspectives of six writers—Ernest Hemingway, Annie Dillard, Francine Prose, John Gardner, ZZ Packer, and Anne Lammott. They all seem to agree: Although the writing life is risky and impossibly difficult, it is nevertheless exciting and always worth the effort. 

Apart from discussing these authors’ books—A Moveable Feast, The Writing Life, Reading Like A Writer, On Becoming a Novelist, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, and Bird by Bird—we’ll commit to a daily habit of reading and writing.

Amy Hempel

High-Risk Fiction: A Writing Workshop
This class encourages fiction that, like all good writing, takes emotional risks. This riskiness sets literature apart from the dishonesty of bad books, TV, and movies. Workshop is not confession, but in the privacy of their writing rooms students might begin to tell personal stories that perhaps they have only told about other people. 

"Tell everything on yourself," Raymond Carver urged. Virginia Woolf would have agreed: "If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Yet we will never assume anything in a story actually happened to the writer. Rigorous storytelling, of course, evolves into fiction, blurring and even obliterating its source material.

We will read published stories as models. Amy Hempel writes of a woman who abandons a close friend dying of cancer, and confronts the aftermath of her choice. Thom Jones explores one soldier’s psychological territory of war, aggression, and epileptic torment, in which “illness” provokes dark illuminations of self and humanity. 

Hemingway: A Writing Workshop 
We will read the short stories of Ernest Hemingway as writers, applying his mastery of craft to our own fiction. Hemingway is still the most influential writer of our time. His literary principles are universal. He was no minimalist, nor a mere innovator of style. Writers around the world claim him as their greatest teacher, including such talents as Albert Camus, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Frederick Barthelme, and John Updike. 

To read Hemingway well is an experience of profound enrichment. He rendered human experience with such intensity and truth, creative writers will always search his prose for secrets. 

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway | National Endowment for the ... 

Check out Paste Magazine's "Drinks with Ryan Blacketter" Interview:

Friday, November 15, 2019

Selected Reviews, etc., of Horses All Over Hell and Down in the River

Notice for Ryan's story collection Horses All Over Hell:

"Antioch Review contributor Ryan Blacketter's new book Horses All Over Hell: stories, was recently released and endorsed/blurbed by a Wall Street Journal book critic." Click: Antioch Review

"Horses" included in Iowa Writers' Workshop publications page, in 2019 section:

Notice for Ryan's novel Down in the River:

Paste Magazine's interview with Ryan Blacketter: "The human story is a fairly dark one with painful and dangerous impulses that we all have. And that's coupled with a fortress-like psychology that most people have, protecting them from the awareness of the fact that they are part of this human experience." Paste Magazine

Fiction Writers Review: "What makes this novel so warm and heartbreaking despite its gruesome material is that all the characters are driven by their love and concern for each other." Click here to read the entire review: Fiction Writers Review

The Rumpus: "[Down in the River] casts us deep into a haunting, crystalline forest of ice-lit trees, broken streetlamps . . . a place where a kind of inner wilderness has crept back through the city, where the lights of passing trains, the reflections of windows and the 'cry of night birds' appear intermittently like forms of meaningless chaos or secret signs." The Rumpus

Largehearted Boy is one of America's finest sites for contemporary music and literature. Presented here is the narrated playlist Ryan made to go along with Down in the River. Ryan's LHB Book Notes Playlist

Quivering Pen Review: 

Monday, October 01, 2018

PEN Letter of Recommendation.

  6 writers withdraw from PEN America Gala; Salman Rushdie calls them  "pussies" » MobyLives

Letter from author and prison writing program manager, Caits Meissner, at PEN America, Updated by Caits December 2, 2020:

"My experience of Ryan Blacketter is one of great thoughtfulness and contribution. Working with three incarcerated aspiring writers as a mentor in PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, Ryan has leveraged his own life experiences to forge a bridge of connection, building trust in order to model and support each writer in their creative endeavors. Our mentees come to the process at stages of varying skill level and commitment to craft, and Ryan’s openness, excitement and adaptability all prove to be tremendous assets in meeting our participants where they arrive to our work. Attuned to the particular care and inquiry this relationship demands, Ryan has moved towards the difficult conversations prison shakes to the surface. Our work in this space requires a nuanced and open questioning of boundaries, personal limits and challenged philosophies. I’ve found Ryan to be an intelligent, open, actively engaged and thoughtful participant in raising and exploring the most important questions that drive our shared work.