For Christopher Ryan, education and creativity have always been intertwined, each feeding the other, driving him on, and defining who he is.
It started in elementary school, when he read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. It changed his life. “As soon as I finished reading it,” Chris remembers, “I ran out, bought a notebook, and began writing my first novel. It was a complete rip off of The Outsiders. However, it helped me realize novels just didn’t appear by magic; regular people wrote them. That meant that I, being a regular person, could share the stories in my head. That epiphany was life-changing for me and I’ve been writing ever since."
He wrote throughout high school, both for the school newspaper and lit magazine, and at home (“Lots of Marvel and DC clones, and lyrics that sounded amazingly close to the music I was listening to at the time,” Ryan says with a chuckle).
He contributed to his college newspaper, and covered the New York Legislature as part of a college journalism internship. And throughout, he wrote creatively.
“Tons of embarrassing poetry, overwrought short stories, and my first treatment of a novel,” he admits. “The only thing to have survived from all that writing was the name of one character, Mallory, who evolved into one of the detectives in my crime novels. Letting the rest go was probably a humanitarian act.”
He spent about eight-years as an award-winning local journalist in The Bronx and Manhattan, covering crime, politics, education, and entertainment. His column writing earned “Best Column” from the New York State Press Association, a Journalist of the Year Award from a Bronx organization, Children Are Precious, and the DeWitt Clinton Masonic Award for Community Service, among other distinctions.
Around that time he also earned honors for playwriting (from the Bronx Council on the Arts) and screenwriting (a T.W. Wharton Award, and nods as a top 10 percent, then top 100 Nicholl’s Fellowship finalist).
At about this time, Chris was introduced to Bronx Creative Arts for Youth, an organization that literally took kids off the streets and got them involved in theatre activities. Impressed, he wrote the plays “Billy Wizard and the Evil Eye” and “The Garden” for the organization.
This is also where Chris met Alex Simmons, a fellow writer and a comics industry veteran with whom he worked on projects for the three decades, during which time Alex has gotten Chris to write a Hardy Boys’ novel, a few comics, co-design creative writing curriculums, participate in Alex’s vaunted Kids Comic Con, make public appearances at conventions and other events, and generally mature as a creative (Thanks, Alex!). These days, the two can be found discussing all things creative on their TELL THE DAMN STORY podcast.
While Chris and Alex were becoming friends, Chris’ reporting was growing darker, and taking a toll. In response to covering the Crack Wars of the late 80’s and early 90’s where headlines read, on average, “12 Dead, 27 Wounded” on a weekly basis, Chris applied and was accepted into the NYPD, but was challenged to teach instead, and found himself entering a building full of living, breathing, thoroughly alive kids.
“One of the great rushes of my life,” he confirms. “Walking into a school has turbo-charged me for 25 years because it offers me a chance to connect with live teens in ways I never could when I was reporting on dead ones. The opportunity to connect with others, possibly when they need it most, drives so much of my life, from teaching to writing and publishing.”
While teaching, he also wrote 30 sketches for New York City’s Salsoul Comedy Troupe, performing in many of them “as the resident white guy” and doing some stand-up.
“I had done a few feature stories on the late Bronx comedian Rich Ramirez, and he kind of conned me into acting in plays for the local Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, and then got me to try stand-up,” Chris remembers. “From there, I studied stand-up, improv, and acting at The New School in NYC, and then co-founded Salsoul with Rich and Herb Quinones, where I wrote a bunch of sketches and, eventually, a sitcom pilot that temporarily caught the attention of NBC.”
Rich Ramirez eventually got sick and needed a new liver. He and Chris turned the ordeal into a one-man show called “You Want a Piece of ME?” and Rich toured it as well as continued his stand-up career until he passed fifteen years later. https://youtu.be/PT0g20I15tA
Soon after, Chris earned his Master of Arts degree and Rutgers University’s English Award for Highest Distinction in Literary Studies for his “master’s thesis” -- a first novel, City of Woe.
That version was 500 pages long but Chris edited it down over five more drafts to 352 pages.
“Nobody wants to read 500 pages from a first-time author, no matter who honored it,” Chris says. “I was thrilled that Rutgers thought so highly of my work, but taking it to market was another matter entirely. Editing it down taught me so much about following Elmore Leonard’s maxim that writers should ‘leave out the parts readers skip over’ and that less is definitely more readable.”
City of Woe attracted the attention of some 25 literary agents at a ThrillerFest event, Chris admits.
“It was like speed dating for authors and agents,” he says.
But, one by one, and each passed, with many suggesting he needed “a platform” and “track record” before his work would be marketable. So Chris sought to create both. He worked to establish a social media presence, and, after much deliberation, decided to publish independently through his company, Seamus and Nunzio Productions.
“If I was expected to create a platform, I was going to demonstrate that I can write engaging commercial fiction that is face-paced and written with humor and heart,” Chris says, “I wound up with ten independently published works that I am proud to offer to readers.”
City of Woe earned theBookcast.com’s first-ever “Book of Exceptional Quality” honors and the “Best New Voice (fiction) award from the Independent Book Publishers Association.
The “City Series” focuses on detectives Mallory and Gunner, who are featured in a prequel collection of short stories, City of Sin, as well as the novels City of Woe and City of Pain. Chris is currently planning City of Love, which will complete his modern urban re-interpreting of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”.
Next, he wrote an all-ages novel Genius High, and is currently working on its follow-up Perfect.
Additionally, he is producing a line of illustrated children’s detective books, The Ferguson Files, the first of which, The Mystery Spot, he has already published.
Chris' latest novel is A Simple Rebellion, a slightly dystopian look at a possible American future that has been described as both “Orwellian” and “a love letter to America.”
“Those are kind and generous words,” Chris says. “I like to think of it as a love story with the Idea of America at the center of the romance.”
For Simmons & Company, Chris has written several pulp adventures staring Alex Simmons’ African-American soldier-of-fortune Blackjack, including stories in the anthology Shooters, and the “Rapid Read” novellas Ransom for a Dead King, Driven, and Dark End of the Rainbow. He also wrote Revolt of the Red Star, which can be obtained for free at www.blackjackadventures.com.
Primarily a writer, Chris has also acted onstage with the Bergen County Players and in the Feenix Films movie projects Lock, Load, Love (which he also co-wrote and co- produced), Nicky Newark, and Clandestine.
For Clandestine, the Houston Broadcast Film Critics nominated Chris for a Best Supporting Actor award at the prestigious WorldFest Houston. The film received a total of five nominations, taking home a Best Supporting Actress Award from the Houston Broadcast Film Critics, and WorldFest Houston’s Gold Award for Best Crime Drama.
Always interested in supporting former students, he also acted in filmmaker Amanda Kaminsky’s horror short In Too Deep and Michael Erichello’s short film Presumed Strangers.
He also acted in his screenwriting/directorial debut Zombies of New Milford, a comedy that creeps closer to completion with all the speed of the shambling undead.
Over the years, Chris has studied writing at the South Hampton Summer Writers Conference, the New School, the Rutgers Writers Conference, and the Yale Writers Conference. He’s participated in public readings and performances, done book signings, and both participated in and served as moderator for panel discussions at cons and signings. He continues to pursue new experiences while building his online presence one new event and one new follower at a time.
He teaches at Hackensack High School, having served there as senior English, Journalism, Creative Writing, and Drama teacher, as well as president of the union for a spell. He has also served on his own town’s Board of Education.
And occasionally, he’s done some good in the classroom, even when he didn’t know it.
Chris lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, twin sons, and a growing collection of pets, none of which are his, all of which use him as furniture whenever they want.