Ryan Lieske is an award-winning writer and filmmaker who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is currently at work on way more stories than he has time for but is determined to tell them all. He loves cats, ice cream, reading books, watching movies, listening to post-punk and industrial music WAY too loudly for his age, and is pretty much interested in everything and is never at a loss for things to write about or obsess over. He doesn’t sleep well and thinks mornings should be outlawed. Fiction is his first novel, and was recently shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award. Ryan is eagerly awaiting the final ballot to see if his little baby made the cut.
Ryan, thank you for agreeing to this interview. You released your debut novel in January 2018 from Burning Willow Press called Fiction, a supernatural suspense that has received high praise from reviewers. What is the synopsis of this book? Should we expect a sequel or is it a standalone?
“Sometimes, a character is so strong, it refuses to be buried.”
Caitlin Frost, a young, ambitious writer, slowly realizes that these words, spoken by her overzealous mentor, Veronica, are more than a metaphor. The characters in her discarded and unfinished stories are coming to life, and one of them is a vicious killer, who photographs his victims as they die in the hopes of catching their fleeing spirits on camera. And his victims, now trapped between worlds, ache for vengeance…
Caitlin pens a story about the death of her friend and lover, Orson, but quickly decides to “bury” it in a box she keeps for unwanted stories. Moments later, Orson wakes up in a nearby cemetery, struggling with memories of a life he can’t remember. The killer’s victims begin using him as a conduit to reach Caitlin, whom they blame for their deaths. As Caitlin’s characters, and her forgotten past, begin to unravel her life, she discovers that she may not be the person she always believed she was, and her mentor, Veronica, may possess a terrible secret, as well…
Fiction is a standalone story. I have nothing against sequels and series (if they’re done well), but that’s not really my thing. I’m a big believer in the power of a standalone story that exists in an of itself, and allows the reader to imagine what happens next. I sort of feel like this idea has lost favor over the last decade or so. One book or movie is just fine. Sometimes that’s all a story needs. There’s something sacred about that, I think.
Fiction has a unique story riddled with suspense and horror. What were some of the references that you used while researching for this book? What was the hardest part of writing it?
A lot of religious texts and spiritual writings. It’s sort of an obsession of mine, and I transferred that obsession to the character of Richard, the serial killer in the book. I’m a seeker, and always will be. So it was fun to subvert that in the story. I was also very inspired by a couple of films — The Asphyx (1972) and Peeping Tom (1960). The former concerns a scientist who accidentally films someone during a near-death experience and captures the image of a spirit leaving the person’s body; he becomes obsessed with capturing his own spirit, believing it can lead to immortality. The latter deals with a man who murders people with a knife on a camera tripod; he films his victims as they die, in the hopes that he can capture the look of true fear on their faces. And, I was also heavily inspired by Stephen King’s novel The Dark Half.
The hardest part about writing it was keeping track of all the twists I wanted to work into the narrative, and making sure they were consistent, and that I had given enough clues throughout without really giving anything away. There are a lot, and I’m happy that readers have picked up on them. Many have read it a second time and spoken with me about all the little clues they missed the first time. I love that.
You clearly have a thirst for storytelling in any form. What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/etc.? Do you see the way we tell stories drastically changing in the next five to ten years?
Telling stories has been part of the human culture since we first huddled in caves and painted stick figures on the walls. It’s how we contextualize our world. It’s how we cross cultural and language lines. It’s how we express what we truly are and how we make sense of the mess of emotions and urges and dreams inside of ourselves. It’s essential, I believe. Without storytelling, we’d be lost. We’ve always done it, and we always will. The ways stories are told have changed for as long as we’ve been telling them. From cave paintings and oral traditions all the way to Kindles and emoji. Maybe fifty years from now we’ll be able to download stories straight into our brains or ingest them in pill form, but, essentially, it will still be the simple act of being told a story. And therefore we will always need people to tell stories.
I watched your black and white, short horror film, Remotion: Prologue, staring Rebekah Hughes and Joshua Burge, who I thought did a phenomenal job. For those who have not watched the show, could you provide a synopsis? What inspired you to make this film?
Thank you! Remotion: Prologue was a little movie we made back in 2013 as a “proof of concept” thing for a feature film we had hoped to make. It deals with a suicide drug, and right now that’s all I can really say. Alas, the production stalled, and I am now turning the screenplay into a novel, which I hope to have finished by the end of the year. Which means, that short may end up being a “book teaser” of sorts.
You wrote the script for Pony with a Broken Wing and Moonlight Fairy for Lighthouse Pictures. What can you tell us about the storylines and possible release dates?
Pony is out now on DVD and Prime. Not sure about the status of the other. These are scripts I wrote for a buddy of mine who is a producer and distributor. They are family films. I helped with crafting the stories and then wrote the screenplays based on the treatments we came up with. It’s fun getting out of my wheelhouse for a bit, and freelance screenwriting is something I do aside from my day job. I hope to do more in the future. It can be frustrating because I have very little say in the final outcome, but that’s just the filmmaker in me talking. I’m happy to collaborate with others on these projects. I just wrote one for a filmmaker in Hawaii that I really fell in love with as I was working on it, and I hope to have more news about that soon.
What can we expect from you in 2019? Anything else you would like to add?
I have a YA-horror book I’m finishing that will hopefully be published late in 2019. I also have various short stories in the works, plus finishing the Remotion novel. And probably a screenplay or two.
It has been a pleasure, Ryan! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Letterboxd. You can search for Ryan Lieske-author, or ByRyanLieske. You can follow me on Amazon and Goodreads, as well.