A Conversation with Nick Ripatrazone

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This Darksome BurnNick Ripatrazone, a contributor for the current issue of Shenandoah, has immersed himself in many aspects of the literary world, writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, serving as a founding editor of The Susquehanna Review, and teaching English courses at both secondary and undergraduate levels.  His flash fiction piece, “The Cribbing Collar,” received honorable mention in this year’s Bevel Summers Contest.  Recently, we asked Nick to share some information regarding his newly published novella, This Darksome Burn.  Named a “great new read” by High Country News, here is what the author had to say about his latest published work.

Tell us a little about This Darksome Burn.

The novella is set in the shadow of Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains, and is focused on the splintered McGovern family. Aurea is raped by her ex-boyfriend, and though her overbearing father, Luke, gains revenge, the act does little to soothe her pain. Luke soon can’t control his vengeance, causing grief to those he is supposed to love and protect.

What made you decide to write this story in the form of a novella?

I love novellas–in fact, I recently wrote an appreciation of the form for The Millions, and although this book went through a few different forms (experimental play, novel manuscript, shooting script, and, finally a novella), its final form felt the most true. I think readers who like novellas appreciate that they are short enough to digest in a day or afternoon, but long enough to be revisited and make new discoveries.

Can you give us some insight into your writing process?

I have 5 ½ month identical twin daughters, so I write in short but focused bursts, and often late at night (and on through to midnight and the early morning hours during the weekend). The forms of the novella and short fiction are perfect for me, since I can keep them churning in the back of my mind during the day (I teach public-school English, then go for an afternoon run) but they can be refined and finished in a manageable amount of time. And I’m the type of writer who relishes revision. I’m old enough to know that drafts deserve to be torn apart, and this book is the product of cross-outs, margin notes, and the guidance of my editor/publisher, Erin Knowles McKnight.

How is this novella different from your previously published work?

My first two books of creative work were poetry (Oblations was prose poetry, This Is Not About Birds was more traditional, lineated poetry–both from Gold Wake Press), so it’s been nice to see early reviewers and readers appreciate this novella’s language. I’ve published a lot of fiction (and have another novella, as well as a short story collection, coming out next year), but poetry has taught me to write word-to-word rather than paragraph-to-paragraph. I credit the brevity of that form for helping me revise this book.

What unique aspects of your writing can readers expect to find in This Darksome Burn?

As a fan of slow-burn horror films (everything from The Shining to the more recent The House of the Devil), I definitely take a filmic approach to fiction. The book’s short chapters are meant to be snapshots rather than exhaustive narratives. It’s a book that shifts between literary and horror genres, but I lean more toward the psychological horror of “The Pedersen Kid” by William Gass than gore. This is a book about people losing their hearts and minds against the backdrop of near-constant snow.

Check out Nick Ripatrazone’s new novella This Darksome Burn, which is available from Queen’s Ferry Press.

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4 Responses to A Conversation with Nick Ripatrazone

  1. Taylor McPherson says:

    I always love to read about the writing process and how it’s so specific to each person. I think it’s interesting how for him, poetry has enabled him to employ more brevity in his other work; careful word choice is important!

  2. Rod Smith says:

    Nick’s essay in The Millions is a wonderful introduction to the novella. I’ll have to expand my to-do list to read some of the ones I’m not familiar with, and I’d like to add to his recommendations Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, but not for the weak of heart.

  3. Wow, 6-month-old twins and teaching public-school English and writing into the early hours – I’ll never complain about lack of writing time again!

  4. Thanks for the comments–Taylor, Rod, and Andrew.

    Taylor–for me, it’s always been instructive to shift between genres and forms. The switch lays bare my assumptions as a writer. I think all fiction writers and essayists should read a healthy amount of poetry (and I’m not alone in this opinion).

    Rod–thanks for your kind words about the essay. And yes, I think McCarthy’s awareness of the page as a physical space (and his love for white space) makes him particularly well suited to this form–if only he wrote more of it!

    Andrew–something about that late-night writing time, and the pressure of not having too much of it, that makes it feel just right.

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