Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, author Ryan Graudin grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales and music, and attended a high school that strongly encouraged creativity, often featuring cello recitals in the hallways and impromptu poetry slams in the cafeteria. It was there that Graudin decided to become a writer. After graduating from the College of Charleston in 2009 with a degree in Creative Writing, Graudin and her husband traveled the world, spending time in numerous countries including South Korea, New Zealand, Peru and Kenya.
In February of 2014, Graudin published her first novel, All That Glows, a clever, electric tale of forbidden love. She followed that up in November of 2014 with The Walled City, a dark, gritty and hauntingly-beautiful thriller in which three characters try desperately to escape from a lawless labyrinth.
To learn more about Graudin and her work, visit her online at www.ryangraudin.com.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
I grew up in middle-class white, Southern surburbia. A world of shelter and privilege. I received an extensive education at the entire gamut of schools (private, public, home-schooled). My parents provided a safe, incubative environment for my creativity. I had my own library card, I played in the woods behind my house, I thirsted for adventure. I longed for a life that was not contained to minivans and vinyl-sided housing. This desire to go beyond my world only grew as I got older. I fed it in two ways: writing and traveling. As soon as I graduated from college, I pursued both of these things full throttle, moving to South Korea to teach English while working on what eventually became my debut novel All That Glows. I’m forever grateful to my parents for providing me with a safe, happy childhood, but I know I’ll never be content with a 9-5 job or a life spent standing still.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
T.S. Eliot’s poetry has always been a big influence for me. I’ve always admired the way he uses so few words to evoke such huge emotions. His poems have always spoken to me in a way that others haven’t.
I was a huge reader growing up, and so I have many, many authors I can credit as being my forebears. Garth Nix, Brian Jacques, Laurence Yep, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien. There are also more contemporary writers whose works I admire. Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor and Victoria Schwab always bowl me away with their ability to write stunning, impactful novels. Whenever I read their books, I always come away challenged with new ways to hone mine.
Music is also a huge source of inspiration for me. If I’m working on a manuscript, there’s a 99.99999% chance I have my headphones on. Naming specific artists is difficult, since I listen to such a huge variety. (My music playlists change for every book!) Florence + The Machine was an artist I listened to a good deal while writing All That Glows and the Yoshida Brothers played a huge part in my The Walled City playlist. Zack Hemsey is another artist who shows up on many of my novel playlists, both in his rap and his soundtrack work.
In what ways have your travels influenced the stories you tell in All That Glows and The Walled City?
All That Glows is set in modern-day London and features British royalty, as well as fairy mythology based off of folklore from the United Kingdoms. It was inspired by my very first trip abroad at thirteen. I went to London on a choir tour, where I got to tour Buckingham Palace, ride the London Eye and see the ravens at the Tower of London. All of these places later played significant roles in my book. I’ve been to London since, and researched it extensively, but it was that very first trip that planted the seeds of a story in my mind.
The Walled City is based on a real-world neighborhood that existed in 1980s Hong Kong called the Kowloon Walled City. It house 33,000 people in its 6.5 acres and was the most densely populated place on earth. The reason so many people moved there was because it was a no-man’s land in terms of the law. The fourteen-story shantytown was brimming with unlicensed dentists, tax-evading noodle-makers and Triad gang members. Its buildings were crammed so closely together that the sunlight could not reach the streets. Although the neighborhood itself got torn down in 1994, I was fortunate enough to visit the park built in its place. Taking in the food and smells and sights and atmosphere of Hong Kong was amazing. Parts of The Walled City’s story were also heavily inspired by my time in Cambodia and South Korea. I find that traveling plays a huge part in my overall creative process. Meeting new people, learning new languages, eating new foods, learning new mythologies… I stash all of it away into my imagination bank, and it usually comes in handy.
Does writing come easy to you? If so, has it always?
If anyone tells you writing comes easy to them, they’re probably lying. Or an alien. I will say that writing has always come naturally to me, but even with this advantage there is nothing easy about it. 50% of my days are spent staring at a blinking cursor and gnashing my teeth. 25% of them are spent forcing out words and the other 25% are spent doubting the words I did manage to produce. Writing a book is hard, hard, hard. And it only seems to get harder the more I do it.
What does your writing environment look like?
I have a desk, complete with scented candles and coffee mug stains. I use it whenever the mood strikes me. Working off of a laptop means I can take my office anywhere, and I find sometimes that a change of scenery helps jog out words if I’m stuck. Other favorite places to write are: my bed, my couch, my dining room table and my local coffee shop.
When you’re in need of inspiration, where do you turn?
While I’m working on a novel, I usually collect all of my inspirations for the story in a single place. All of the images go onto a Pinterest board (I have one for each project I work on). All of the music I listen to goes on a specific playlist. If I’m every felling sluggish or stuck as some point in the story (which is inevitably bound to happen), I’ll go scroll through the Pinterest board and listen to the music. If the writer’s block gets VERY bad I’ll go for a run or go get coffee with a friend. Sometimes getting outside of the story and the writing process helps give me perspective on it! If you’re curious, I usually post links to my Pinterest boards and playlists on my website, to give readers a taste of the inspiration behind the text.
How were you affected by Amazon’s 2014 dispute with your publisher, Hachette Books?
At the time, The Walled City (my novel with Hachette), had not yet released. Pre-orders are always incredibly helpful to authors and the success of a book, and one of Amazon’s tactics was to take away the pre-order button on all Hachette books. I had many people approach me asking why they weren’t able to purchase the book off of Amazon, and several other authors experienced delays with their Hachette books being shipped (up to 3-4 weeks!). The most frustrating thing from my standpoint was feeling so helpless about the situation. Authors want to get their books to readers! I’m thankful Amazon and Hachette were able to resolve their differences and go back to business as usual.
Do you have a favorite Doctor Who episode?
You’re making me choose? One of the reasons I love Doctor Who so much is because each episode is so diverse by nature. The storyline can literally happen any time, any where. One of the episodes that had the biggest impact on me was the two-part story “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit,” where Ten and Rose find a group of explorers on a planet orbiting a black hole and unleash a great evil there. The soundtrack for that series is so haunting and beautiful. The episode I always recommend to first time viewers is “The Doctor’s Wife,” which was written by Neil Gaiman. It’s a very clever episode with a self-contained storyline that give non-Whovians a good taste of the series as a whole.
What game show do you think you would be good at?
I think I would be pretty good at The Amazing Race. I love traveling and getting into overseas predicaments in general, so I’d hopefully fare pretty well at the show. Although, I suppose a lot of it does depend on how well you work with your partner. I would probably take my husband — he travels everywhere with me and we have a pretty good system worked out.
If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Read extensively. Write fearlessly. Don’t give up.
What are you working on next?
I’m juggling quite a few things. 2014 was a busy two book year with All That Glows and The Walled City, and 2015 is looking to be just as busy. All That Burns, the sequel to my fairy book, is coming out February 10th. I’m also gearing up for a release of a book in Fall 2015 that I’m not supposed to talk about yet because it’s still a secret (shhhhh). I’m also supposed to be writing the sequel to that secret book. So yes. I’m keeping busy.