This guy can write
Self- published author can tell a good story
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.
Vancouver’s Ryan Morris wrote his ambitious novel, Molt, as a challenge to himself, ‘ just to see if I could do something like that.’