UMSL alumnus Ryan Trattles, MFA 2013

UMSL alumnus Ryan Trattles, MFA 2013, is a published writer and web developer for University Marketing and Communications. (Photo by August Jennewein)

It’s reason enough to celebrate when your fiction story is published in the summer 2013 issue of Indiana Review. But when University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus Ryan Trattles, MFA 2013, learned that his story “Helpful Products for Family Men: A User’s Guide” was also highly praised in Ploughshares, another prestigious literary establishment, it felt a bit surreal.

“It was very surprising and strange because even though I had gotten my story published, I had never really thought about people actually reading it,” Trattles says.

Not only was it read, but it earned a spot in, “The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week,” a blog posting for Ploughshares by Lyndsey Reese, associate editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. She praised Trattles for his experimental form and his carefully written main character.

Reese and John Dalton, director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at UMSL, are in agreement about the complexities of Trattles’ story.

“It’s really one of the very best pieces of work I’ve seen from a graduate student,” Dalton says. “‘Helpful Products’ is told in an unconventional voice and tone — that of a product guide — and it’s provocative and hilarious. But it’s also very knowing about the ways that middle-aged family men withdraw emotionally from their families and isolate themselves. It’s quite funny, but it has a compassionate regard for these kinds of men.”

The recent recognition of Trattles’ story did not come as a surprise for Dalton.

“I really did expect that ‘Helpful Products’ would get noticed once it was published. The Indiana Review is a highly regarded journal,” he says. “And now ‘Helpful Products’ has been recommended by Ploughshares, an absolute top-tier literary institution. All of this bodes very well for Ryan Trattles.”

This isn’t to say that Trattles didn’t pay his dues. He had submitted the story to more than 20 highly acclaimed journals (McScweeney’s, Tin House, Kenyon Review, etc.) and had received nine rejections before hearing of its acceptance at Indiana Review. Trattles also earned an MFA at UMSL, a process that helped him refine his craft and style in order to write a story he considered worthy of publishing. He credits his former faculty for helping him.

“John Dalton taught me to be an observer, to linger in the small moments,” Trattles says. “And Mary Troy (professor of English at UMSL) taught me that you have to write the story that only you can write. You have to be completely true to your own aesthetic and your own style.”

Trattles explains in depth what this advice meant for his recently published story.

“When I started, I was writing these very weird stories, but they didn’t quite work because I wasn’t being wholly honest in myself in those stories. That’s a very scary thing to do because you have to write about some very uncomfortable feelings that you have that aren’t nice to share with people and that generally people feel embarrassed about. But you have to put those in there. And my story that got published is very much that – very dark, very interior.”

Currently, Trattles’ story “Brave Brave Men” is out for submission at eight journals and awaiting reply. He works as a web developer in University Marketing and Communications at UMSL and continues to write fiction in his spare time.

Click here to listen to Trattles read a sample of his work at the spring 2013 MFA Graduate Reading.

Marisol Ramirez

Marisol Ramirez