Artistically Declined Press (2011)
Prize Winners is a provocative, humorous and vulnerable collection of eighteen stories that delve into sexuality and obsession with all the fantasies and disappointments. These stories move fluidly through compulsive characters: a boy whose fantasy girl is haunted by the lack of Tom Selleck’s moustache, another who wants to rid the world of hair and another his girlfriend’s vibrator. Bradley presents us with a man frozen by his daily routine and a wife whacked-out on religion. He gives us fast-food blowjobs, screwing Tinkerbell and “Prize Winners”, the title story, in which a girl watches her grandparent’s humongous lettuce grow overnight while her breasts remain as close to non-existent as possible.
These characters, and the situations they find themselves in are so authentic and familiar that I found myself snorting with laughter and recognition, if for nothing greater than the humiliating circumstances we all blast ourselves into, ready or not. I read this book from cover to cover the first time I picked it up. It is straightforward, brutally honest–exactly what I lust for in a book.
Bradley’s stories are narrated by both men and women who explore the human condition with hilarity and humanity. As one of Bradley’s characters states, “Sometimes you have to act like every moment is the goddamn last.” That’s exactly what Bradley does in his writing. This is an outstanding collection that everyone should get a copy of if they haven’t already!
Thank you, Ryan, for a damn, great ride!
Ryan W. Bradley interview with Meg Tuite
Wow! I really enjoyed “Prize Winners,” Ryan! Did you write these stories with thought of putting them together as a collection at a later time?
Thanks so much, Meg!
I think I knew along the way that many of these stories shared a vibe. I had lots of fleeting thoughts, thinking that there was no way they would work in a collection unless it was just them. For instance, even though “Prize Winners” is set in Alaska it would never work in the Alaska-themed collection I’ve put together because it’s a different kind of story. At the same time I felt very aware that putting all these stories together in one place could be potentially overwhelming. I’m aware that not everyone wants to read 18 stories about the human relationship to sex. I had to decide that it was okay to put together a collection that would be for people who wouldn’t be turned off by such a thing.
I love how you work so well with both genders. Any thoughts on this as a male writer getting inside the female’s head?
I really hope my undergrad writing professors read this question, because there was a time when I wrote nothing but male characters. I never felt like it was my place to write from a female point of view. I had a feeling of “Well, who am I?” I was barely capable of speaking from a male point of view, although I wasn’t aware of the deficiency at the time.
I think two things really helped me break down this wall within myself. One was getting married to a woman who within days became the best and closest friend I had in life. The connection I shared with her pretty much, from the first time we started talking, really opened me up to accepting myself rather than hiding aspects of my personality, which I think I did for a long time.
The other was studying with Pete Fromm in my MFA and reading his books. Fromm is a master, in my opinion, of writing the female point of view as a male writer. To see that a guy, who like me, was more blue collar than academic could write the stories and characters he writes, I felt like I owed it to myself to work at it. And the breakthrough came for me while working on a story called “Glaciers,” which is the title story in the aforementioned Alaska collection I’m sending around.
I love the compulsive component that keeps coming up in many of the stories? We all have our tics. Any you’d like to share with us?
Oh, man, there are so many! I have a whole slew of compulsive behaviors when it comes to books, so many that I recently wrote an essay about them. For me, compulsions tend to come out of finding comfort in something. If I do something in a way that feels comfortable, or eases my mind, I will keep doing it that way for the rest of time. And if I have to diverge it makes me very uncomfortable and sometimes ill. Everything from the thickness of fabric I will wear in T-shirts, to how I say goodnight to my wife every night before we fall asleep.
You have a clean, no-nonsense prose that jumps right into the action and dialogue. Who are some of the writers that are your biggest influences?
To be honest, I’m probably just too dumb to write more elegantly. I admire writers who write in ways I can’t. Like Michael Chabon. He writes in glorious sentences, long and eloquent. I can’t pull that off. I’m a nuts and bolts, no frills, straight to the point kind of guy. This makes it hard for me to write longer things, because I tell the story I want to tell as directly as it can be told. I get 1,500 words out of something other writers could get 10,000 words out of. I don’t know if that is necessarily a skill. Sometimes it feels like the opposite.
All that said, I do take immense pride in writing clean, direct prose. Hemingway is undoubtedly the reason I write (as is the case with so many of us). It’s easy, though, to tell you the classics that inspire me. More modern inspirations are people like Pete Fromm, Jack Driscoll, and Bonnie Jo Campbell all whom I had the good fortune to work with during my MFA. And people I am lucky enough to consider friends such as Gary Amdahl, Ben Tanzer, and xTx.
The title story, “Prize Winners,” is the one we are publishing and quite a powerful and memorable story. What was your inspiration for this story?
To me it feels shamefully obvious that I was reading Aimee Bender when I wrote this story, but it probably wouldn’t necessarily come to mind for others, so I’ve ruined the romance of it now. I don’t remember much about what spurred the story other than that when I read something I really like I often have an urge to write my version of that story. So, in this case I had read some Aimee Bender and thought, “what would my version of an Aimee Bender story be?”
Originally it had a much more Bender-esque ending (which I just now re-read for the first time since it was changed), but in revisions the ending changed to its current version, which is much more consistent with my style, if I have what can be considered a style.
Who are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Mel Bosworth’s FREIGHT and I’m trying to decide what to start next. TJ Forrester’s MIRACLES, INC. is a frontrunner. And Neal Stephenson’s latest opus, REAMDE is due at the end of September; he’s one of the few genre writers I really get into, and this has been a relatively quick turnaround since his last, which is exciting.
Meanwhile I’m very impatiently awaiting the next story collection from Jack Driscoll. Last I heard it will be called THE WORLD OF A FEW MINUTES AGO and is due sometime from Wayne State University Press. Sadly the release date has been eluding me, but if there were one book I could make materialize in my hands at this very moment, this would be the one.