Around the Writers’ Table

Skateboarding onto the page.

"Skateboarding" — Kate Feiffer

While trying to decide on what to write for this week’s Writer’s Table, I received an email from Walker Ryan, a professional skateboarder and the author of two novels, “Top of Mason” and “Off Clark.” Ryan moved year-round to the Vineyard just a few weeks ago with his wife Whitney Swolinzky, who grew up on the Island.

We set up a time to talk, and in a phone conversation, followed up by an email, Ryan explained that he’s an avid reader, and hadn’t found any novels about skateboarders working in the industry. He saw an opening. “My protagonists are aging, which in the skateboarding world means late twenties, who have either made careers in the industry as professionals or have failed at doing so,” he said. “The experiences I’ve had in my career through traveling and navigating a bizarre industry directly inspire the characters’ experiences in my novels, along with the plots.”

He wanted to write fast-paced, fun books about a sport that has had a shapeshifting influence on fashion and music, and noted that while he hadn’t found books focused on the professional side of the sport, there are a number of coming-of-age novels about skateboarders, most notably Nick Hornby’s bestselling “Slam,” and Michael Christie’s “If I Fall I Will Die.”

When asked what skills he had to master as a skateboarder that translated into skills he needed as a novelist, Ryan responded, “Failure and delayed gratification.”

Failure made sense. But delayed gratification?

It turns out there’s quite a bit more to the world of professional skateboarding than shooting into the air off the side of a ramp. A lot of what he does, in addition to actual skateboarding, is produce videos for his sponsors.

“In my new novel, I wanted to bring to life the experiences of a nomad, professional skateboarder who travels the world filming videos, which I spent most of my twenties doing,” he said.

It seems to me that you have to be fairly fearless to be a professional skateboarder, so I asked him how that fearlessness translated to his writing. Ryan replied, ”The fearlessness involved with being a skateboarder is very different from the fearlessness required to be a writer. When I’m skateboarding, it’s usually only my body I’m putting at risk. With writing, there’s a scarier vulnerability. It’s your thoughts and feelings that you’re sharing, and there are other people in your life who may not like what you have to say, or agree with how you think. Potentially hurting or offending others can be much scarier than physically hurting yourself.”

The fear of offending others provides a seamless segue into the second writing-related email I received over the weekend. This one was from Mathea Morais, director of the Literary Arts Program at Featherstone Center for the Arts. She was sharing information about writer Emily Bernard’s upcoming workshop. The workshop, “Writing the Self through Others: The Ethics of First-Person Narrative,” is scheduled from June 26 to 29, from 4 to 5:30 pm, and costs $275. Bernard is an essayist whose work has appeared in magazines including the New Yorker, New Republic, and Harper’s, and is the author of “Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine.”

Nora Ephron famously said, “Everything is copy.” But copy comes with complications, hurt feelings, rifts, and even lawsuits, whether you’re tackling personal essays or a memoir, or creating fiction.

Bernard’s workshop will grapple with issues such as, What do your friends and family think about your writing? Is it possible to write about people you care about without offending or hurting them? How can I tell the stories I need to tell without sacrificing my relationships?

The workshop will include “short readings, prompts, and exercises that will enable us to explore fully the moral heart at the work that we do. Above all, this workshop is a judgment-free zone where openness, honesty, and a delight in creative wildness are the only requirements.”

This is Bernard’s second time facilitating this workshop at Featherstone. There are still a few spaces available. To register:

“Around the Writers’ Table” is a column about writers and writing on the Vineyard. Please email with your writing-related news.