Friday, June 5, 2020

Joe Ricker, Author of Some Awful Cunning

Joe Ricker is a former bartender for Southern literary legends Barry Hannah and Larry Brown. He grew up in southern Maine and has lived in Alabama, Mississippi, New York, and New Mexico. Ricker spent several years travelling the country with his dog and working as a cab driver, innkeeper, acquisitions specialist, professor, lumberjack, ranch-hand, and strip-club bouncer. He lives in Reno, Nevada, where he hikes daily with his four-legged partner in crime. His new book is Some Awful Cunning, from Down & Out Books.

One Bite at a Time: Tease us about Some Awful Cunning. One hundred words or fewer.


OBAAT: Ryan Carpenter works the flip side of witness protection and helps prospective convicts slip off the radar. Where did you get the idea for this unusual occupation?

JR: I’d gone through a bunch of personal and professional setbacks that were really frustrating. I thought a lot about just saying “fuck it” and dropping off the grid, so I moved back to Maine and started working in the woods cutting timber. I worked all winter and decided to take it up a notch by taking a road trip from Maine to the west coast because I’d never been west of the Mississippi except for some Army stuff in Fort Lewis. I was camping in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and there was a crew of prisoners cleaning up the campground. That was the start of it. From there, the idea took shape and it went from wanting to disappear to writing about a guy that helps other people disappear. At first it was a character who helped people escape persecution, but evolved into him helping anyone who wanted to escape. Battered wives, prostitutes, bikers, etc. Basically, Ryan Carpenter helps anyone who needs to get away from where they are or the situation they’re in and start over.

OBAAT: As your bio shows (I will have included it above) you are the quintessential “well-traveled author.” Was it your intent to move around so much, is that just how things worked out, or is that Witness Protection you’re not supposed to talk about?

JR: After that first road trip, I was hooked. I loved being on the road. I went back to teach at Ithaca College for a couple more years, but after continually being turned down for a full-time position, I decided that life would be better on the road. I thought about how fucking stupid it is for colleges to encourage people to take out student loans to get a degree so they can hire you to teach and those same colleges pay dog shit. And then I realized that I was fucking stupid for continuing to teach, so I went back on the road. I picked up work along the way and I did some freelance writing, so I made enough money to survive, which is a lot easier when you don’t have to pay rent. I loved the road. When I got sick of a place or I didn’t like it to begin with, I went somewhere else. It was insanely liberating, and it gave me more to write about, so it certainly became my intent to move around as much as possible. I did that for two years until I settled in Reno.  

OBAAT: Who are the primary influences on your writing? Were they people you set out to emulate, or was it a matter of looking back one day and realizing they’d had more of an impact than you thought?

JR: I’ve had some amazing people influence my writing – some authors I’d only read and a handful of writers I met while I was bartending at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver were probably the two authors I tried to emulate the most when I first started to make an attempt at crafting a story. I fell in love with Carver’s prose, and I really liked how dark O’Connor’s writing could be. When I started to focus mostly on crime fiction, Jim Thompson, Craig Clevenger, and Will Christopher Baer became the guys I really looked up to. Jonathan Lethem, too, was big for me. I walked out of a job at L.L. Bean just to finish Motherless Brooklyn, which I did while sitting in my car in the Bean parking lot.

In Oxford, I was fortunate enough to have some really great people who not only influenced my writing, but showed me enough patience for me to have the courage to get things on the page. Shay Youngblood and Cynthia Shearer were instrumental in helping me discover my strengths, which were few and often sparse. Tom Franklin and Ace Atkins took some time to help me figure out what I was doing wrong and how to make those adjustments. And Barry Hannah and Larry Brown were gentle enough to throw in a kind word here and there when I asked a dumb fucking question about writing. My time in Oxford is always a point of reflection, especially now that I’m getting things published.

OBAAT: We’re both Down & Out Books authors. How did you get hooked up with Eric and Lance?

JR: That’s kind of a sad turn of events. My first book Walkin’ After Midnight came out with another publisher. Jonathan Ashley, another author with the same publisher, reached out to me at some point, and we started talking crime fiction. When that publisher went under, Jon went to Down & Out and hooked me up with Eric. Unfortunately, Jon died shortly after that, so I never got to thank him for linking me up with them.

OBAAT: The classic final question: What are you working on now?

JR: Other than getting better at coloring in the lines, I’m doing some edits to the next two books I have coming out with Down & Out and finishing up the prequel to Some Awful Cunning.

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