If you ever meet Ryan Turner, watch out for his little tan notebook. The Moleskin pad has a spine barely half the width of your pinky, but it holds the secrets to many of Turner's characters---and one of them might be a piece of you. "Once in a while, someone will say something that I feel is like a little gem that needs to be held onto," says Turner. He will later work them into a story.
Turner's new collection of short stories, What We're Made Of, published by Oberon Press, is the first book publication for the local author. The stories are built on what Turner calls the vulnerabilities and insecurities of his characters---some purely fictional, while others have traits that are bits and pieces of the people he knows. What We're Made Of is composed of 11 snapshots of protagonist Benjamin Wallace's life, pieces Turner insists can be read either in succession or randomly---they're not presented chronologically.
"It's almost like getting away from that novel convention of an arc," he says, of choosing not to follow a timeline.
Each short story is a window into Benjamin's life, with most panes centred on his relationships with female characters. Turner's molding of Benjamin into his full-fleshed self reveals writing filled with humour and sex that can only be found through an open sketch of who we are, as people, when stripped down. While there are no marked plot points to move you through the collection, Turner's skill at walking the reader into Benjamin's world and attaching to his humanness is an exercise in meeting Benjamin multiple times---forming his character along the way.
"I wanted people to approach the stories almost like you're meeting someone," says Turner. "When you meet someone, you don't start at the beginning and work your way through to the end. You kind of start in the middle, and then find a little bit more that makes you go back and re-evaluate what you already knew."
Talking with the author is like discovering those little bits and re-evaluating what your definition of a writer might be. Turner, originally from Moncton, hasn't been writing for what he considers a long time. "I wasn't interested in books really as a kid at all," he says. "I did a math degree, I was much more interested in statistics."
His obsessive nature had his 15-year-old self jotting down daily activities in a journal, which bloomed into a writing career. He went on to get a master's in English, and when he's not writing he's heading a business called Mad Science that runs after-school and lunch programs in the city.
Turner has had short stories published in magazines and journals, and What We're Made Of was also shortlisted for the national 2008-09 Metcalf-Rooke Award for unpublished manuscripts (the award was won by another Halifax writer, Amy Jones). But Turner's still uncertain of his writing future.
"I have about 40,000 words written on my new project, but every once in a while---and I'm in one of those periods---I feel like it's not any good," says Turner. Something nags at him, asking, "If I can't make it go any further, where am I going to go from here?"
When the box of books arrived a week before the launch, Turner's excitement got the better of him. He grabbed a screwdriver to tear the box open because he didn't have a pair of scissors handy.
"I'm excited and anxious," he says, re-evaluating. "I'm doing my best to stop and enjoy it."