This guy can write

Self- pub­lished author can tell a good story

Vancouver Sun - - WEEKEND REVIEW - RE­BECCA WIGOD

Ryan Mor­ris self-pub­lished his novel, Molt, so it has re­ceived lit­tle pro­mo­tion and found few read­ers. Books edi­tor Re­becca Wigod read it and says it de­serves to be bet­ter known.

Our books pages usu­ally tell of lit­er­a­ture and non­fic­tion pub­lished by huge in­ter­na­tional houses, such as Ran­dom House, HarperCollins and Pen­guin, and ma­jor lo­cal houses such as Dou­glas & McIn­tyre. But there are loads of tal­ented un­sung writ­ers out there and, ev­ery so of­ten, a self-pub­lished book that re­ally de­serves at­ten­tion comes along.

Molt, an am­bi­tious novel by Van­cou­ver an­i­ma­tor Ryan Mor­ris, is as good as most fic­tion I’ve read lately, so I think you should know about it, too.

There’s a feather on the cover of Molt ( avail­able as an $ 18.95 pa­per­back and a $ 6 e-book from iUni­verse. com; on­line book­stores also carry it). That’s be­cause the story’s pro­tag­o­nist and nar­ra­tor is a Que­bec or­nithol­o­gist who, at the ten­der age of 29, is not only teach­ing, but head­ing a depart­ment at a sci­ence uni­ver­sity in Bos­ton, Mass.

She’s a highly sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter, this Is­abelle Rochelle Don­helle. (“ If you can be­lieve it, that’s re­ally my name. My par­ents ab­so­lutely adore it, and not sur­pris­ingly, I de­test it.”) But, al­though Bella is whip-smart, ac­com­plished and pretty, she lives alone with only a one-winged ma­caw for com­pany.

Af­ter her col­leagues take her out for a lack­lus­tre birth­day din­ner, she boards a bus for home. There, a brash young man with messy hair and dirty hands strikes up a con­ver­sa­tion. Rat­tled, she gets off and, on a whim, en­ters a funky diner called The Strangest Feel­ing.

Within min­utes, the guy from the bus walks in. She’s an­noyed, but his con­ver­sa­tion is suf­fi­ciently di­vert­ing that Bella soon gets ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with Tem­ple­ton Rate.

It’s a bad idea be­cause he may be a stu­dent of hers ( though pre­cise when it comes to birds, she’s vague about in­di­vid­ual stu­dents) and be­cause he will turn out to be a ma­lign ma­nip­u­la­tor on a grand scale.

Sus­pense stokes the story, which be­gins with a flash-for­ward show­ing Bella im­pris­oned in a metal box. She’s in­jured, des­per­ate and run­ning out of air.

This week, I met Ryan Mor­ris, who had been po­litely pes­ter­ing me about Molt for weeks be­fore I be­gan read­ing it. He’s a Van­cou­verite in his mid-30s who grew up in Lad­ner and, hav­ing done an­i­ma­tion work ( mostly for Mer­cury Film­works) for 10 years, is now study­ing to be­come a li­brary tech­ni­cian at Lan­gara Col­lege.

I expressed sur­prise that he chose to give the novel a fe­male main char­ac­ter, make her an or­nithol­o­gist and set the story in Bos­ton. That calls for a huge amount of re­search.

He laughed. “ It was kind of a chal­lenge to my­self, just to see if I could do some­thing like that.”

He picked Bos­ton be­cause his friends tease him about al­ways favour­ing New York City when he writes screen­plays. He’s never been to Bos­ton but said Google Maps with Street View helped im­mensely.

The name Tem­ple­ton came to him be­cause he’s a reg­u­lar at The Tem­ple­ton diner on Granville Street.

As for the plot, “ I came up with the idea I wanted. I had the whole end­ing in mind from the be­gin­ning. But I knew it was go­ing to re­quire a lot of re­search to get into this char­ac­ter’s head.

“ I don’t know any­thing about birds. So I would do a bit of writ­ing and then I would do a lot of time in the li­brary, re­search­ing or­nithol­ogy. I started to find it a lot more in­ter­est­ing than I thought I would.

“ It al­most turned into me do­ing 100 per cent re­search and no writ­ing. When I re­al­ized I had about 20 pages of story and about 60 pages of notes, I put it all aside.”

Later, when the re­ces­sion and a high Cana­dian dol­lar caused an­i­ma­tion work to dry up, he re­turned to the man­u­script. And al­though he claims he’s al­ways had “ an is­sue with fin­ish­ing” projects, he re­mained at the key­board un­til he had crafted a co­her­ent re­al­is­tic story that takes a dra­matic turn to­ward the sur­real at the end.

Be­cause it didn’t get pro­fes­sion­ally edited, Molt con­tains small er­rors. “ Lay” is con­fused with “ lie” and “ peak” with “ peek.” The irk­some “ be­tween you and I” ap­pears sev­eral times.

Yet there are many fe­lic­i­ties. When Tem­ple­ton tells Bella that some­thing he ate at The Strangest Feel­ing made him “ sh--like a goose,” she re­flects:

I’m unim­pressed by his lan­guage, but I’m a lit­tle more as­ton­ished by his on-the-spot avian sim­ile. Geese spend most of their wak­ing hours con­sum­ing mass amounts of veg­e­ta­tion, but their di­ges­tion is rapid and in­ef­fi­cient. As such, they ex­crete fe­ces al­most non-stop.

And later in the story, there’s a riv­et­ing scene at a ceme­tery in nearby Salem — the all-time best place to spend Hal­loween, ac­cord­ing to Tem­ple­ton. Bella goes with him, not­ing as they ar­rive that

[ m] any peo­ple still as­so­ci­ate it with the Salem Witch Tri­als of 1692. . . . But even if that’s not all that the city has to of­fer, they do a good job at mak­ing it ap­pear oth­er­wise. Salem po­lice cars have witch lo­gos on their doors.

Ryan Mor­ris has done his re­search and, more im­por­tantly, wo­ven it into a re­ward­ing novel — one that, thanks to his back­ground, has a cin­e­matic feel. Check it out.

BILL KEAY/ CNS

Van­cou­ver’s Ryan Mor­ris wrote his am­bi­tious novel, Molt, as a chal­lenge to him­self, ‘ just to see if I could do some­thing like that.’

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