Interview with Jamieson Ridenhour: Author, Scholar, and Musician

Super pumped today to publish my interview with my good friend and fellow author, Jamieson Ridenhour! Read on to find out about some of his current projects involving Victorian zombies, werewolves, and aging punk rock musicians.

Bio: Jamieson Ridenhour is the author of the werewolf murder-mystery Barking Mad (Typecast, 2011), the short horror films Cornerboys (Best Animated Fantasy, 2010 Fargo Fantastic Film Fest) and House of the Yaga (Best American Short Film, 2012 Nevermore Film Festival), and the ghost play Grave Lullaby. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons, Mirror Dance, Architrave, and TheNewerYork, among others, and his fiction has been podcast at Pseudopod, Cast of Wonders, and Radio Unbound. He lives and writes in North Dakota.

1. Like me, you’re both an academic and a creative writer. How do you switch gears from scholarly writing to creative writing? Do you find that your academic mind enriches or stilts your creative work?

I love crossing the line between teaching and writing. I don’t do as much academic writing nowadays (though I did publish a book and two articles in 2013), but I do teach British literature, creative writing, and some basic introduction courses. Reading Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, Austen, Forster, Heaney--all these powerful and influential writers—certainly inspires and pushes me forward. And the act of responding to students’ writing is a good way to stay engaged with craft. I have smart writers who keep me connected to the practical act of writing.

2. I know you were influenced by authors like P.D. Wodehouse for your Barking Mad mystery series. What other authors influenced you?

Lots of writers in ways that I’m probably not even aware of. Dickens, surely. Peter Straub’s novels taught me a lot about how to develop plot and suspense without sacrificing elegant prose. I think fiction writers can learn a lot about economy of language—Heaney, Keats, and Yeats are favorites. Lots of fantasy writers from the 70s and 80s, people like John Crowley. More recently, my favorite writers are people like David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters, Joe Hill, and Neil Gaiman. Kelly Link and Karen Russell write short fiction that I’d kill small animals to be able to pull off. I’ve been reading a fair amount of YA fiction lately as well, and particularly love Courtney Summers, Kendare Blake, and Holly Black. I don’t consciously think about these writers as influences, but they can’t not be.

3. Also, you’re working on some young adult books. Do you want to tell us about your projects?

I’ve just finished revisions and beta response for a YA novel set in Victorian London, which features reanimated corpses, mad scientists, secret agents for the Queen, and a 15-year-old maidservant as protagonist. The manuscript is with an agent right now, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

I’m working on a new play right now about an aging punk rock musician and a young woman who tries to interview him. It’s non-supernatural, a first for me, and deals with fame, aging, suicide, and punk rock. I’m hoping to get that drafted by the end of July.

4. Do you feel like there are any unique challenges in writing for a young adult audience?

Not really. The sort of things I write—fantasy and horror, mainly—don’t change tremendously across those categories. My London Dead book has a fifteen-year-old protagonist, and obviously her age shapes her worldview and reactions, but other than that, it’s not radically different than the same book written for adults. I think one of the reasons so many adults read and write YA is that it’s not really that far removed from any book in a given genre.

5. You’ve recently written and directed a play, Grave Lullaby. Can you talk a bit about that experience?

Yeah, I not only wrote Grave Lullaby, I got to direct a wonderful cast in its debut as well. I learned quite a bit—writing for the stage is shaped by dialogue in ways that other writing isn’t, and I feel like I sharpened my understanding of character speech. Having been primarily a fiction writer, it was a grand and surreal experience to see my characters walking around on a stage, and to have actors insert their own interpretations and suggestions on motivation and delivery. It was probably the best, or fullest, artistic project I’ve been involved in. Grave Lullaby is being considered for production by a theater company in SC right now; like most writing projects, it’s reached the hurry up and wait stage. And in addition to the play I’m working on at the moment, I’ve got two others planned.

6. And now, for the most important question: what do you think of the Twelfth Doctor—Peter Capaldi?

I think he looks fabulous! I would have preferred a woman or POC, because it’s just time, for crying out loud, but I am quite happy to see an older actor playing the part. I’ve been really disappointed in the writing during the last season—Clara’s plot effectively erased any development or agency for her character, and the Doctor merely retread old ground. I was losing faith in Stephen Moffat. I think Moffat is great for one-off ideas (“Blink” or “Girl in the Fireplace”), and with focus can sustain a long narrative, but I don’t believe the show is going to recapture the sorts of things Russell Davies was able to do during the 2nd or 4th season. But the 50th was pretty brilliant, and the Christmas special, though not as good as the 50th or parts of Amy and Rory’s arc, was solid and well-done. I do have high hopes for the future.

That may be more than you wanted. I’m fascinated by serial storytelling, and tend to watch shows in those terms. We’re big Doctor Who fans at my house. Can’t wait to see Capaldi in action.

Jamie's short film, Cornerboys, rocks! It's haunting, creepy, and beautiful. I always show it to my British lit classes when I teach Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market."