A place where we’re all terrible...

Very Special Newsletter by Iain Ryan | Ep 13

Karyn Kusama’s DESTROYER (2018) doesn’t quite work but it’s a concept I’ve experimented with:

hardboiled noir doesn’t have to be about toxic masculinity. It can be a place where we’re all terrible.

When spurned by society — or dislocated by the traumas of war, family, church or the police service - the hardboiled loner always finds the violent loose ends of a story. It’s a dangerous place, but a free one.

At one point in Destroyer, Nicole Kidman’s Detective Erin Bell sits in a sunny park and tells her daughter’s deadbeat boyfriend that he should be afraid of her. Why? ‘Because I don’t care what happens to me.’ Which is it, in a nutshell. A frustrating movie — Kidman didn’t need the terrible make-up — but also an acknowledgment of something, I think.

Similar vibes can be found in Season 3 of TRUE DETECTIVE (2019). A return to form, it’s concluding episode was much stronger than the finales of either season 1 or 2.

(I feel like Nic Pizzolatto is much better at starting than stopping.)

But in one five second scene, the whole story of season three collapses into a stark reminder that Detective Hays never really came home from the war. Every season has felt like a downward spiral leading to sharp centre but it hasn’t alway been there.

This time it was.


Destroyer has a scene soundtracked by Gardenia so I’ve been revisiting Kyuss and loving every sweaty dumbassed moment of it. If you’ve never heard them, they sound like something Bevis and Butthead dreamed up on a long bong-toke, except — by some miracle — actually good.

(Also: the band’s singer sounds like Danzig. No one ever mentions that.)

I’ve watched this Portishead live track on YouTube about 30 times in the last fortnight:

I’ve also been circling back to Tim Hecker’s 2018 record Konoyo. Dreamy.


THE PLOTTERS by Un Su Kim. Excellent. I didn’t think I needed a literary novel about assassins, but I did. There are discrete chapters of this book that are so tightly assembled that this thing could be a short story collection. And, of course with that title, there’s a meta element to this. This is a book about writing crime novels as much as an admirable execution of one.

THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H Winters. The premise is an A+ (a detective works a case while comet is coming to destroy the planet) and the first two acts of the novel itself are super strong, but by the end I wanted to be out in the streets with the looters and the chaos rather than cooped up with the protagonist. That said, great sentences and completely recommended.

Cal Newport’s book on DIGITAL MINIMALISM is a good primer on why I’ve been withdrawing from social media lately. Jaron Lanier’s TEN ARGUMENTS FOR DELETING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS RIGHT NOW may be an easier, more entertaining read but Newport’s book is a bit more actionable. It’s less argument, more deleting.

It’s true though, delete everything.


PS: You can buy my books here.

I'll Never Work With Him Again

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 12

It’s been a minute since my last letter so allow me to present you with a brief update on my life:

The good news is that I sold the follow-up to my 2017 novel The Student to the publishing industry and it is now beginning its journey into print.

The bad news: it’s slated for release in 2020.

That’s it, actually.

Look, I’m a novelist, not a journalist. For novelists, only one thing of merit happens every 2.5 years.

Onto the main event:

"I’ll Never Work With Him Again”

In person, Terrence Malick (director of Badlands and The Thin Red Line) has a bit of a rep for being am aw-shucks nice guy. Everyone likes him it seems, everyone except Christopher Plummer, hahaha:

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

I don’t think I’m going to do a Year End list of books. I’ve tried my best to remove as much obligation from my reading as possible. These days, I read whatever the fuck I want to read. And yet for some reason, I read this Booker-nominated graphic novel and spent days thinking about it.

SIDE BAR: The best thing I read in 2018 was Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion — who I had not read before. Everything else was good but not as good as the TV adaptation of Sharp Objects, which itself was better than the book.

Sex Machine by Tegan Elizabeth Webb

Every now and then, I just want to read about someone fucking a robot. The only time it’s ever been a bad idea — in fiction — is Solo: A Star Wars Story. But here, this short horny story opens in Melbourne’s rock pub The Tote and involves a robot rock star hooking up. What? You need more?

The Best Christmas Record got Re-Issued

It’s this. And it’s also on Spotify. And the bonus live re-working enclosed is brilliant.

(I’ve listed some of my favourite 2018 releases on Instagram. Go to the Story Highlights, they’re in there. If you don’t know what Story Highlights are, be sure to congratulate yourself on living your best life.)

Cobain: Montage of Heck (dir Brett Morgen)

There’s a moment halfway through this film about the mythology of Kurt Cobain where a choral version of Smells Like Teen Spirit plays over footage from the music video that changed rock. It’s such a cheesy/obvious move — a wretched play for pathos — that it pays off, circuiting straight to the reptile brain and screaming All this success is a nightmare. In 2018, this is the unfiltered Nirvana experience. I don’t buy it. But I’m as surprised as the next person that I can still feel it.

Is Forensics junk science?

I don’t put forensic detective work in my novels (or haven’t so far) for two reasons: (1) that stuff is about 10x slower than it is on tele and, (2) from what I can tell, it’s not how crimes are solved, which is the drama of crime fiction. In reality, police mainly use forensics to substantiate their cases. They still solve the things by talking to people. Anyhow, this piece from Crime Reads calling the whole thing into question is pretty interesting. It’s terrible but a small part of me read that and thought, I hope it really IS garbage simply so my work won’t date.

Ahhhh, the pettiness of writers is endless, yes?



PS: You can buy my books here.

Kurt , Ottessa and Miami Vice

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 11

An Indefensible Top Ten

I will not pretend there is a through-line for this list.

(Life is chaos.)

#10 - Miami Vice by Michael Mann (film)

A friend of mine recently made a good case for this film: this is what digital cinema could look like in 2018. This could be the aesthetic template. This same friend posed a wild hypothetical: maybe cinema will return to Miami Vice as a beautiful, grainy path-yet-taken.

#9 - A Single Tear (Live At St Vitus) by Converge (clip)

A student of mine alerted me to this live version. Be sure to wait for the startling mid-section where singer Jacob Bannon lets it all hang out. That pained look on his face is the only instruction on fatherhood a person needs.

#8 - Scientists Gave Octopuses Ecstasy to Investigate Our Shared Past of Social Behaviour (ABC news item)

In a motel room somewhere in the American midlands, Thomas Pynchon reads this news piece (from a hardcopy newspaper) and thinks for the hundredth time: I predict the future with my fiction.

#7 - Rachael Kushner on Charles Willeford (interview)

After praising Jean-Luc Nancy, Celine and Dostoyevsky, Rachael Kushner finds The Pick-Up almost by accident and reads it much the same way: “I found this…in a library in Italy a couple of summers ago, and read it because I saw that it takes place in San Francisco, where I’m from.” Willeford is always out there, lurking.

#6 - Anti- Social: Justin Broadrick’s (Godflesh, Jesu) Parent’s punk band (article)

This insane rant by a UK record collector documenting the UK band Anti-Social is hard on the eyes (yellow text!) but gives a lot of context for Justin Broadrick’s life. The photo of Broadrick surrounded by his punk mum and step-dad is particularly wild.

#5 - Intermission (excuse)

Couldn’t really think of ten and #5 is where you hide a dud on Side A of an album. Unless you’re Sonic Youth, in which case you put the Lee Ranaldo song here and they’re all good songs. They’re ‘always hugging the label’ as Mike Watt once put it.

#4 - Rhiannon 76 by Fleetwood Mac (clip)

It’s spring here in Melbourne (Australia) and the only thing I want to know about in the coming months is John McVie’s ‘jorts’ in this video. This is my summer look.

#3 - Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day by Joel Selvin (book)

One of the best rock books I’ve read and I wrote my PhD on rock books so recommending them may be the only thing I’m truly qualified in. There’s a lot to recommend here — too much — but my favourite anecdote concern's Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart taking his horse-riding-on-LSD hobby to the next level by also dosing the horse with a ‘a proportionate amount of acid’ during these riding adventures. The horse loved it.

(I bet when you opened this email you didn’t expect there to be a horse on acid inside. But there is.)

#2 - Bottle It In by Kurt Vile (album)

I’ve noticed that, to the uninitiated, Vile’s work scans as croaky repetition and scattered nonsense. But dig in and you’ll find that Vile’s philosophy is one seldom proffered by rock bands: you can cope with the world by holding your cards loosely.

#1 - My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (novel)

A book about a total asshole who decides to sleep for a year. It’s so wry, well-observed and mean — and the topic is so ‘now’ for sad lefties — that Moshfegh could have easily coasted on concept alone. Instead, she reveals a measured human pulse and I felt things. Excellent.



PS: You can buy my books here.

Three Rules VS The Void

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 10

I’ll start with this quote:

“There are three rules of writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.”

— W. Somerset Maugham

I saw this the other day and couldn’t shake the feeling that it might be the piece of writing advice under which all other writing instruction is filed.

I’m actually pro-advice. I’m a teacher. I don’t subscribe to the idea that creativity can’t be taught. That ephemeral/spiritual design of creativity overlooks the fact that the genius teaches herself something, at the very least. Genius usually has a teacher, or an ally.

But the Maugham quote gets to something else: we all want there to be some sort of ordering principle with writing. And there isn’t any.

I’ve been reflecting on this lately because I’m outlining. I’m hatching a plan. This is a period where I seem to have the most latitude with what I write. And in this phase, I always seem particularly sensitive to clickbait, Guardian articles and scholarly theory about how I should comport myself as ‘the author’.

It’s all the same advice: be a good person.

It’s all well-meaning. But it’s all garbage too. Unfortunately no one can agree on what a good person is either.

All the writing advice in the world (good and bad), will never break your fall.

I went with this intro on advice because I thought it would be funny to couple it with this haughty screed I knocked out the other day, on my lunch hour.



1. Burn the negative of 'Almost Famous':

Source: Noisey.

I’m not sure how a generation of music critics have subsumed the story of Almost Famous into a reason to become a music critic, but they have. The film is cited shockingly often and without shame.

Of course, I’m tempted to demand a revision of the film, to demand that critics re-see it as the appalling miasma of nostalgia and self-obfuscation it can be, but humans can’t be trusted with this film. We have the evidence now.

We have to burn it.

2. Develop some semblance of self-respect:

Source: Pitchfork.

In a world where Beyoncé can reach her audience via social media, she moves to bend the traditional media to those same dictates.

This perversity in media strategy tracks elsewhere, everywhere now.

  • Shitty memoirs instead of critical biographies.

  • The band as ‘producers’ on their own bio-pic.

  • Brands instead of personality.

  • Content instead of any attempt at journalism.

  • “…did not respond immediately.”

It’s not a trick. Music criticism, as Greil Marcus reminds us, is fiction. The writer makes the connections and creates the meaning, as she sells us the story of an artist’s work.

The problem with what we have now is that few of these musicians are good writers. To my mind, Beyoncé has no eye for character development at all.

We used to think everyone would be their own critic but while we were rushing out our free opinions online — to our friends — our own superstars stepped into the breach and now they’re free to become perfect seamless self-creations or outright fabrications and both of these things are without dissonance and noise.

Which is a fancy way of say, they’re fucking boring.

— Iain


The Drill VS The Hole

Drainland by Iain Ryan | Ep 9

I do whatever I want with this newsletter. There’s no template. No format. No central idea or topic. The platform is relatively open.

So this newsletter is just whatever I’m thinking about at the time I sit down to work on it.

At the moment, I’m scattered.

I have a new novel out to ‘submission’ (i.e. my agent is trying to sell it) so this is a time of great uncertainty. Will I or won’t I have a book out next year? Did I waste my time or not?

So this fortnight, all I can offer is a list because my head is everywhere and nowhere:


I saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and thought it was pornography but about other action films instead of sex. It’s all about the details, the granular inner workings, the vibration and movement. Nonetheless, I liked it.


I teach a bit of marketing at work and we tell the students, People buy a power drill because they want the hole, not the drill. And then: Permission Marketing guru Seth Godin’s podcast episode Hitsville connects this to creative products. His thesis: people buy bestsellers because they want community. End of story. You can’t manufacture products (books, songs, films) for this audience because the core product they’re looking for — the hole — is ‘joining in’ not your fucking page-turner.


The NOTHING record came out and I’m a little disappointed by it, if only that the best two songs on it are the previously released singles (here and here). Upside, they’re both great singles. NB: ‘I Hate Flowers’ is pretty good too.


Absolutely no one in my feed seems excited by this article on the late Peter Temple but it is — hands down — the best thing I’ve read about a crime writer this year. Peter Temple used to write to his editor Michael Heyward (Text) in character, as his own agent. Exhibit A:

My dear Michael, I trust you will not be offended if I say that my client is beginning to wonder if you have any staff left, and, more importantly, any money. Yours in disappointment, Orange

5 This trailer for Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood looks preeeeeety interesting. They really had me at the CGI-recreation of the hollywood ‘fuckpad’ (to use the parlance of James Ellroy) but damn, the guy who made this doco is a ex-journalist and he claims the more he investigated Scotty’s stories, the more they checked out. Wild.


I switched this newsletter to Substack. So far so good. TinyLetter RIP.

Keep on keeping on,


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