jim-ruland-photo1Jim Ruland is the host of the L.A.-based reading series, Vermin on the Mount, and the author of the short-story collection, Big Lonesome.

(Meg Pokrass) What story or book do you feel closest to?

Ulysses by James Joyce. I grew up in an intensely Irish-Catholic household and my parents had a copy that I remember trying to read at a fairly young age. Its heroic title appealed to me. At the time I was following the advice to underline every word you don’t know, and I must have underlined a dozen words on the first page. It bothered me how little sense I was able to make of it. When I got out of the Navy and went to college I had an excellent teacher, Jolanta Wawrzycka, who took me through the book. My Irish-Catholic upbringing finally started paying dividends. For a while my ambition was to be a Joycean scholar (!) and I presented papers at a few conferences, including the James Joyce International Symposium in Dublin. I ended up pursuing a career in advertising instead, but I keep going back to Ireland and I’ve never stopped reading Ulysses.

Do you have a mentor?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have many. Over the years I’ve worn many hats and in each arena there were people who showed me the ropes: The Navy, college and graduate school, and the advertising agency where I worked for a number of years. The biggest influence would have to be the teachers I had in the honors program at Radford University: Tim Poland, Louis Gallo, and Jolanta, who I mentioned above. They were the people who put books in my hands and said “Read this and we’ll talk.”

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”

In advertising, we have a name for writers who get stuck: unemployed. I have a pretty workmanlike view of the creative process. You take what you’ve got, even if isn’t the “big idea” you’re searching for, and develop it and until your crappy little ideas turn into somewhat better ideas, and so on. Eventually you get there, but it’s all about putting in the work. I’m squarely of the school of learning by doing. You don’t learn to shoot free throws by riding your bicycle or eating ice cream or even by doing lay-ups. You have to stand at the line and put the ball in the air again and again and again. That said, I’ve come to appreciate that writing is a process, and there are some aspects that can’t be muscled through or hurried. This has been a difficult and sometimes painful lesson to learn.

What are some of the other ways that working in advertising may have influence you as a writer?

I guess the biggest thing was simply earning a living as a writer. That had a huge impact on my confidence. Working in L.A., I learned early on that everything is written. Movies, television, radio, billboards, magazines, websites, bus graphics, soda cans, matchbook covers, and on and on and on, and they need writers for all of it. Also, L.A. copywriters are less likely to get a big ego about their “work” because everyone is trying to break into Hollywood. The stereotypical copywriter is the hack with a whiskey bottle in his desk drawer. In L.A. it’s a TV pilot for Jim Belushi.

What are your favorite websites?

I’m spending more and more time at Goodreads. I really like how it has all the bells and whistles of a social networking site, but those aspects are ancillary to the books, which is how it should be. People don’t talk about books in social situations anymore; they talk about television. Goodreads is a great place to find cocktail-party length blurbs of books new and old. Goodreads lets you indicate whether you’ve read the book, are reading the book, or would like to read the book. Clicking “to read” is a nice way of capturing the book’s details. Investigation without commitment! Also, changing a book’s status from “to read” to “currently reading” or from “currently reading” to “read” is immensely satisfying. I try to say something about all the books I read, even if it’s just a few lines. I wish more readers would do the same.

What are you favorite games?

If they play it at Vegas, where the photo was taken, I’m interested. I like gambling on pro and college football. I like betting on horses, real or otherwise. I like slot machines. I like the new video blackjack games where you sit at a virtual table and are dealt cards by a virtual dealer. I like all of it. Sometimes I like it too much.

What are the addictions you have that are productive ones.

Coffee, Facebook, and fantasy football. The coffee keeps me stimulated. Facebook puts me in touch with a lot of people I otherwise wouldn’t be in touch with, and I’m in the black with my fantasy earnings this year. I have other addictions that I no longer indulge, and that’s made me a much more productive member of human society.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m doing a lot of legwork for my reading series, Vermin on the Mount. The next reading is on January 10 and will feature Vanina Marsot, Goodloe Byron, Porochista Khakpour and Vicki Forman and promises to be a great night. The following event will be held on March 14 and so far I’ve got Jamie Attenberg and Jennine Capo Crucet. And then in April I’m taking Vermin on the road to AWP in Denver. This one is very much in the planning stages so I can’t say too much at the moment other than it will be held at a sex shop called Hysteria and will be sponsored by Keyhole.

Writing wise, I’m working on a number of freelance assignments and completing the third draft of a novel about addiction, advertising, epilepsy, gambling, and ghosts.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

  1. Matt DeBenedictis

    This was a great interview. Feel the stress of getting “unstuck” like in advertising all too much.

  2. scott mcclanahan

    This is great.

  3. larry strattner

    Very astute. I talk to younger writers about writing. Jim hit on everything I tell them. I also believe there is no writer’s block. I worked in both advertising and newspapers. Both can occassionally put up with merely adequate work; neither countenance writer’s block. I enjoyed this conversation immensely. I printed it and will use it as corroboration in my young adult work. I will leave out Jim’s addictions, however I wish him good fortune in fantasy football and craps – two games a player can win.

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