A Few Bookish Questions With J. Ryan Stradal
The Lager Queen of Minnesota was easily one of my favorite reads of the first half of the year. Given the numerous references to my hometown of Hastings, I had to know more about the author.
Turns out, J. Ryan Stradal also grew up in Hastings.
I immediately emailed him and basically said, “Ahhh! A fellow H-Townie!” and he responded, “You betcha!”
Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea.
J. Ryan graciously took the time to answer a few questions I had about the midwest, his latest book, and some literary influences. Enjoy!
1) What inspired the beer-y theme in The Lager Queen? Did you know much about brewing before diving into the writing?
I enjoyed beer, but I didn’t know the difference between a lager and an ale, to be honest. While I was touring the Midwest for my debut novel in 2015, I was blown away by the craft breweries I frequently encountered, some in towns much smaller than Hastings.
When I spoke with the owners of these craft breweries, and learned a bit about the brewing history of my home state and region, I felt that I wanted to tell this story, but from the perspective of unlikely narrators. I created a handful of characters who I introduce at a point in their lives where they know nothing about beer, so their education can take the reader on a journey and not merely be didactic.
2) There are a few great Minnesota breweries mentioned in the book. Do you have a personal favorite? Surly gets a lot of hype (deservedly), as well as Fulton, Bauhaus, Bent Paddle . . . the list goes on!
Tough question — but I’d have to say BlackStack, who made (and canned) Blotz lager last summer. They’re great guys and their beer is consistently marvelous.
3) How 'bout your favorite pie?
Again, a tough one, but I’ll go with blueberry.
4) The sense of place and of culture is what I love most about The Lager Queen. It oozes midwest from literally the first page, which is not a setting you find very often in contemporary fiction. Do you have any favorite midwest novels? Midwestern authors?
Too many to name! I’ll start with Louise Erdrich, Tim O’Brien, Christy Clancy, Gretchen Anthony, Peter Geye, Lorna Landvik, Nickolas Butler, Sarah Stonich, Beth Dooley, Kathleen Rooney, Andrew J. Graff, and, right now, Chuck Klosterman and Lillian Li.
5) The three women — Edith, Helen, and Diana — are the stars of The Lager Queen. Why focus on midwestern women, specifically?
Originally, many of the male characters also had POV chapters, but their chapters weren’t strong enough to make the cut. These three women, meanwhile, were indispensable. There’s a lot of my mom in them. I write to keep her alive, which is why my primary characters are usually women.
6) You live in LA these days. What is it that brought you out to California, but keeps you writing about the midwest?
I initially came out to the LA area as a career move — I worked in TV for a while until I could make a living as a writer — but my community of friends keeps me out here.
I still write about the Midwest because I’m writing for the teenage kid in me who was starving for more representations of my home region in fiction. Minnesota forged me as a writer and a person, and not only do I want to converse with that history, I want to honor the people who helped me along the way. One way I attempt that is by representing them in my characters. Pat Prager and Edith Magnusson are two flagrant examples.
7) What would we find you reading on an average day? Fiction or non-fiction? Any particular sub-genres or topics you especially gravitate towards?
A mix, but mostly contemporary literary fiction.
8) What are you reading and enjoying right now? What’s next on your list?
Right now I’m reading Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant and Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties. Not sure yet what’s next after that, but there are a few books I’ve been dying to read, including Brad Listi’s latest and Pete Hsu’s upcoming collection.
9) Are there books you find yourself referencing, thinking about, and/or recommending over and over again? Basically, do you have any all-time favorites that have shaped your life and your thinking?
Great question. The books that keep coming up for me in this regard are Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer Stories by Ben Katchor, and pretty much anything by Alice Munro. But my favorite novel of the last ten years is The Sellout by Paul Beatty.
Thanks so much for reading! If there’s someone you’d like to see an interview from, let me know!
I'll throw Michael Perry's name out there for great midwestern authors. He's from New Auburn, Wisconsin, and sort of unofficially represents the Chippewa Valley along with Bon Iver :-). His books are mostly non-fiction and stories about himself or other real-life, Midwestern characters. I've loved every one of his books that I've read, but I'd start with Population: 485, it's sort of his personal memoir and gives you an idea of his writing style and subjects. He has a book titled "Montaigne in Barn Boots," which sort of sums up the kind of person he is and who he might appeal to.
Thanks for all you do Jeremy!
Jeremy: Some time ago, prob last yr, you shared the link to another guy's bookish site or newsletter where he is on a quest to read all the classics. Can you link me to that again? I lost the link.