Interview with Ryder S. Ziebarth


What is a current project you are working on?

It’s hard to choose just one project, as I have so many ‘pens in the fire.’ But here’s a sampling of what I’m working on now: I’m finalizing two, day -long nonfiction workshops for The Cedar Ridge Writers Series I host in October on my farm—a Submission Smarts workshop and Writers in the Garden Memoir workshop.  I’m plugging away on the sixth draft of my memoir, finally getting ready to compose my  query letters and memoir proposal so I can kick it out into the world.  I also help invite authors to The Nantucket Book Festival in June— I’ve been a core-committee member since its inception in 2011, and recently I began reading some pretty spectacular books by spectacular writers. After that, I’ll interview them for the Book Fest Blog- a favorite part of the job.

What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?

There are two things.

Firstly, a wise graduate professor once told me, “Write and read one thing every single day.” This was the best writing advice I’ve ever received, and I make it a point to follow even if I write only a short journal entry or read one essay each morning.

Secondly, always read your work out loud.  I urge my seminar participants and members of my own writing group to do the same. It’s an invaluable tool.

I don’t think I have ever gotten any bad advice. If I did, I hope I figured out pretty quickly not to take it.

What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?

My first great influence was journalism, especially New Journalism a la writers like Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese. Later, writers who incorporated research and travel into their work like Peter Mathieson, Tracy Kidder, and Helen Macdonald, who wrote H is for Hawk line my shelves.  Journalism was my major in college and I still get excited about mining for that one great story and putting myself out in front of it.  I worked for two small regional New England newspapers after I graduated, then moved into magazine editorial work and public relations, but I never lost that journalistic sense of curiosity and the urge to dig deeper into the work.

Another more recent influence is my writing adviser, business partner, colleague and dear friend. I would not be a living this rich writing life without her mentorship, advice and support. All writers should seek out a trusted mentor.

Lastly, I revere the work of E.B. White. His wit, style, and precision with the written word is unparalleled.

You mentioned this is the epilogue for your upcoming memoir, can you tell us more about it?

I didn’t have plans to write a memoir when I entered grad school in 2014. I only wanted to learn to be a better writer. But my father suddenly died during my first semester. It devastated me. All writing became about him, and especially his journey into death. During my final semester, Sue William Silverman, my adviser, thought I should consider turning my essay collection into a memoir. The resulting book-in- progress is primarily about place, family legacy, and the ways we come to terms with death. The first letter in the epilogue “written” on my graduation day is imagined, but my Dad whispered those words to me at my desk one warm spring morning as I looked out at the daffodils blooming outside my window—the very bulbs he and I planted together decades ago. I decided then that his ashes, buried directly into the earth behind our family church, would serve as compost and allowed him to always be a part of perennial life, like the spring daffodils.  It released my grief.

Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, rituals, inspirations, etc. that help you write best? 

I wake up pretty early—5:30 or 6:00 am—and write on a laptop propped on my knees in my comfy king bed, with a cup of coffee and my West Highland terriers close by. The house is quiet and nothing extraneous has entered my brain yet. I find it’s the perfect time and space to work. Late morning or afternoon walks also help me sort out my writing.  No music, phone, or podcast in my pocket, though.  Just quiet pondering on back-country roads.

Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, edited by E. B. White. It still holds many truths for writers today, even though some of its contents have been questioned lately for being dated.

But I am still a firm believer in using the term “more than” rather than “over,” dated or not.  That said, I still give older people and pregnant women my seat on the bus because I strongly believe proper manners should never go out of date, nor should proper writing.