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Pat Ryan, LISP 2023 Short Story Finalist, 'The Days of Devil's Stew'

LISP 2023 Short Story Finalist 'The Days of Devil's Stew' by Pat Ryan

- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?

An ideal start to my day is a brisk morning walk along the history-laden, irregular sidewalks in Old Deerfield, just minutes from my house. Then back home to emails, texts and a calendar check, followed by my special coffee concoction and either writing, editing or submitting stories.


- When and how did you get into writing?

After college in Washington, D.C., I worked as an editor at the Folger Shakespeare Library (The Shakespeare Quarterly) and the National Academy of Sciences (Biographical Memoirs) before beginning a long career in journalism.


After working at newspapers in my home state of Massachusetts, I was hired by The New York Times and moved along editing positions on different “Desks” to my last (and favorite), the Culture Department, where I also wrote reviews and features on movies, music and literature.


My features for The Times have explored the lives of Marilyn Monroe (https://bitly.ws/YdEj), Edith Wharton (https://rb.gy/lryht), Julia Child, Helen Gurley Brown and others, as well as the fictional worlds of Pippi Longstocking, Holly Golightly and Damon Runyon’s guys and dolls. (My New York Times topics page: nytimes.com/by/pat-ryan).


My husband, Tim, and I left The Times and New York City when we retired and moved to Deerfield, Mass., where we’ve been involved in community activities and town politics, and I try to be an active advocate for culture, books and libraries.


My journey to fiction writing has been challenging. I twice attended the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at UMass Amherst under the instruction of the author Joy Williams, and later the Disquiet International Literary Program in Portugal.


My short stories have appeared in the literary journals Chautauqua: Boundaries 2020 and Chautauqua: Moxie 2019; The American Writers Review 2018 and 2022 (San Fedele Press); The Ghost Story; The Hopper (Green Writers Press); and Cleaver Magazine; and one was long-listed for the Disquiet Literary Contest.

- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?

I keep a few stories churning on my MacBook desktop so that any day, any time, I can work on some aspect of my writing: idea bursts, research notes, getting it down, turning it upside down, rewriting, line editing, polishing, letting go. Reading always inspires me. One advantage of writing workshops is that there is usually talk about books other writers are reading and authors they recommend. I live for my book lists.

- How does it feel to have your work recognized?

Being published is extremely satisfying, but at the least, I want to know that my stories are being read, so I have a small readership of friends and writing mates. I had some fun recently with a fable-like story, “Sweetheart Muffins,” which has an ambiguous ending. I won’t reveal the plot, but it involves a single woman, a former beau and a roaming bear. The story is unpublished so far; meanwhile, my friendly readers have been urging me to explain the outcome, which of course, I won’t do. Let the reader decide. (The muffin recipe, however, will be sent on request.)


- What's the best and most challenging thing about writing a Story?

Purely personal: Try not to write too much and save some of the characters’ secrets … while still allowing the reader to have inklings.


- How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?

In “The Days of Devil’s Stew” different themes fell together by chance over a year: fortunetellers and soothsayers, the desire to see the future, youthful life choices, absent and adopted mothers, the howling coyotes in my backyard and recipes for Fra Diavolo Sauce.


- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?

From my journalism days, I learned to first gather all the facts, so I still do that, and then I set the story’s parameters — e.g., timeframe, location, significant events, “color” — in the manner of writing a short news article. Then I take a deep breath and begin developing the characters. All novels, Virginia Woolf wrote, begin with “an old lady in the corner opposite” on a train.


- What’s the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?

To know what the publication or group might be looking for and how its competition differs from the many others.


- Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit to LISP?

Yes, definitely.


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