The Best of 2013 List…

In Descending Order (links to the reviews included):
  1. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart
  2. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  3. Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy
  4. Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
  5. The Time Between by Karen White
  6. Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan
  7. Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey
  8. Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano
  9. Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer
  10. The Scabbard of Her Throat by Bernadette Geyer
  11. The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, translated by Carolina De Robertis
  12. Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More
Here are my honorable mentions for this year, in descending order (links to the reviews included):
  1. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
  2. Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent by Beth Kephart
  3. Joyland by Stephen King
  4. Seduction by M.J. Rose
  5. Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
What books made your list of favorites this year?

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is stunning, absorbing the reader into the lives of her characters — animal and human — and forcing them to contemplate wider questions of what it means to love, change, and grow.  The collection melds nature and human nature flawlessly as Ryan explores the parallels between the natural world and the human world.  For an example of this, please check out my short story spotlight of the story “Greyhound.”

There are moments when characters connect with animals in ways that are astonishing, like a goose that follows a human who never feeds it in “Migration,” and the love between a woman and an an octopus in “A Sea Change.”  But each of these stories is more than a moment in time, and in some cases, they examine a lifetime in just a dozen or so pages.  Ryan has a gift for creating characters and relationships that are realistic, without leaving the reader wondering what’s next by the end of the story.  Encapsulating the right moments and memories, she demonstrates her short story creating skills in a way that ensures readers remember her characters vividly.

“She had read that many Canada geese were no longer bothering to migrate, particularly those in populated areas.  The margins between people and wildlife were beginning to blur, and there was something unnerving about the intersection:  pigeons living on dropped French fries; raptors nesting on sooty skyscrapers; geese, sated and lazy staggering through city parks.  How many generations would pass before their wings grew stunted and useless?  Fly, she thought, staring at the flock.  Fly before it’s too late.”  (page 69 ARC)

There are so many well written and emotional stories in this collection, and it’s clear that Ryan is a observer of not only nature and how it operates, but also how humans have shown similar attributes and skills.  But these characters are more than just studies in how they interact and resemble other animals in the wild, they live and breath the calm experiences of the world around them, sometimes without even realizing its influence.  There are subtle messages about slowing down, enjoying the moment and loved ones while they are here, but there are also calls to action.  Act on that love or that need for change, do more than just survive, which is interesting given that one of the stories is called “Survival Skills.”

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan, which will be published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press on paper from Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certified sources, is a highly enjoyable collection that will get readers thinking about their own lives, the nature around them, and even their own pets, but most of all, readers will be entranced by these stories.

***If you haven’t read novels or short stories from Ashland Creek Press, you are missing out on some really great finds.  Might I suggest you start with Ryan’s collection?***

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.

This is my 17th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Short Story Friday: Greyhound by Jean Ryan

Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan is a slim volume, but each of the stories packs a visual and analytical punch as she draws parallels between what it means to be human and the behaviors found in nature.  While I’m still absorbing these stories at a slow pace, I wanted to share a bit about the short story, “Greyhound.”

The narrator seeks out a gift to cheer up her significant other, and finds herself at a greyhound rescue.  These dogs are retired from dog racing after just a few years and mostly due to injury, but Clara’s Gift is special because she chose to stop running at a young age.  While she is like the other greyhounds, shying away from human touch and affection at first, there is a certain intelligence in her eyes.  She meets her new owner, Holly, and the home they will all share, but coaxing does not win the dog over. Ryan paints a cohesive picture of this new family and its tentative steps around one another, but she also draws parallels between Holly and the dog — both wounded and unsure — and how they need to be approached to come out of their shells.

“…she rarely imparts information about herself; most of what I know about her I’ve had to piece together.  If she has fallen short of her goals, if she yearns for something more than me and this house we’re constantly mending, she doesn’t burden me with it.”  (page 10)

Wounded animals generally have a couple of base reactions — lash out or retreat — and in the case of “Greyhound,” retreating seems to be the best option.  While the narrator enjoys fixing things, like the house, there are some things that cannot be fixed, but must heal on their own.  The experience with the new dog teaches her to back away, to patiently wait on the sidelines, something that she’s clearly not accustomed to doing.  Even her role as a homeopathic seller imparts to the reader her desire to fix things, to offer comfort to others, and to provide aid where needed, even if it isn’t.

Ryan’s subtle style builds with each page of this story, and her links between nature and humanity become stronger with each connection.  “Greyhound” is just one powerful story, and I look forward to finishing this collection.

What are your thoughts on short stories?  Do you find them as powerful as novels?

About the Author:

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California.  A horticultural enthusiast and chef of many years, Jean’s writing has always been her favorite pursuit. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Blue Lake Review, Damselfly, and Earthspeak. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister.  Visit her Website.

Guest Post: Betting on Books by Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan’s Survival Skills is a collection of short stories published by Ashland Creek Press, which will be available beginning in April.  While I’m not crazy about the cover of this one, I’m enjoying the short stories very much so far, and will have a review of one from the collection this Friday.

Today, Jean will share with us her experiences marketing her collection, especially as the publishing world is evolving constantly and social media becomes nearly all-consuming.  She originally posted this on her own Website, but I’m re-posting it here for your enjoyment.  I hope that you’ll leave a comment, ask some questions, and begin a dialogue about these important topics.

Betting on Books

Next month is the long-awaited launch of my short story collection, SURVIVAL SKILLS. Soon I’ll be joining the ranks of all the other authors who are hoping their newly published books will find an audience.

In the past several months, many of us have been doing what we can to get the word out, mostly through social media: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest. How successful these marketing venues have been for us remains to be seen. All we know is that exposure is key, and the more we like and follow, tweet and retweet, post and share, the greater our chances for recognition. For those of us who were not brought up in the electronic age, learning the tricks involved in setting up blogs and author pages is challenging to say the least, and it doesn’t help that technology is constantly jumping ahead of itself. Writers of any age would rather be writing than cyber networking, but we enter the fray and do our best.

The most daunting reality I’ve experienced thus far is the sheer number of us. Racing toward the same goal, we are teammates competing with each other. After all, there is only so much recognition to go around, only so much money to spend on books. It’s a selling frenzy and a buyer’s market, with books selling for less than a dollar, or being given away, by the thousands, in hopes of actual sales. Publishers in this country, electronic and otherwise, churn out 800 books a day. In this galaxy of productivity, what sort of odds does one book, my book, have?

And where do buyers begin? With self-publishing having eclipsed conventional forms, how do readers determine quality? Can we trust bloggers and reviewers? Stars and likes? Considering the many ways a web presence can be manipulated, does 15,000 Twitter followers mean anything at all? The internet is a monstrous game of chance and everyone is placing bets.

I’ve no idea how one separates the wheat from the chaff. And of course, one man’s chaff is another man’s wheat. I have zero interest in vampire novels, however well written, but who can dispute their  popularity? I like literary short fiction, a genre not known for blockbuster sales (which is ironic when you consider our tight schedules and short attention spans). I’ve asked people about this and they tell me that short stories don’t deliver, that they just don’t have enough meat on the bone. Well, I think there are plenty of meaty stories out there, stories that amuse and amaze, stories that will break your heart. You just need to know where to look.

So what can I say about SURVIVAL SKILLS? What bare truths can I give you? I can tell you that this an honest offering, that these stories evolved over several years and required my best effort. I can tell you that most of them originally appeared in reputable journals. I can tell you that my publisher, Ashland Creek Press, is committed to promoting quality literature that explores our connections with the natural world.

The characters in SURVIVAL SKILLS are not heroes. Like you and me, they are just trying to outlast the perils that surround them, taking what comfort they can on the way and often acquiring some strange companions. You won’t come across any vampires in these tales, but I’m betting you’ll enjoy them anyway.

Thanks, Jean, for sharing your thoughts with us.

Mailbox Monday #209

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Lori’s Reading Corner.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I receive:

1.  Survival Skills by Jean Ryan, which I received for review from the author.

The characters who inhabit Jean Ryan’s graceful, imaginative collection of stories are survivors of accidents and acts of nature, of injuries both physical and emotional. Ryan writes of beauty and aging, of love won and lost—with characters enveloped in the mysteries of the natural world and the animal kingdom.

In “Greyhound,” a woman brings home a rescued dog for her troubled partner in hopes that they might heal one another—while the dog in “What Gretel Knows” is the keeper of her owner’s deepest secrets. In “Migration,” a recently divorced woman retreats to a lakefront cabin where she is befriended by a mysterious Canada goose just as autumn begins to turn to winter. As a tornado ravages three towns in “The Spider in the Sink,” a storm chaser’s wife spares the life of a spider as she anxiously waits for her husband to return. And in “A Sea Change,” a relationship falls victim to a woman’s obsession with the world below the waves.

What did you receive?