Write about what you know. Would-be writers are often given this advice. And Garry Ryan is proof that it works.
Ryan knows Calgary. He was born here and has spent the majority of his life in the city. So when Ryan wrote his first novel in 2004, titled Queen’s Park, it was set, naturally, in Calgary. Ryan was an English and creative writing teacher for more than 30 years at schools all over the city, including Lord Beaverbrook, Bowness and Forest Lawn High Schools.
“I started off with poetry and then the poetry worked into story telling. It just worked out that way,” says Ryan. “I was a pretty avid reader but I was always reading about other places and I thought there were some stories to tell here. I thought Calgary had a lot of stories that needed telling.
“If we only talk about New York and London and Stockholm – the Scandinavian novels are pretty big right now – we would just miss a lot of stories.”
Ryan’s novels are centered on Detective Lane, who works with other cops to investigate several missing people cases and other mysteries. The series, though, is about much more than police investigations. It delves into politics, human rights and equality and, according to the author, the series is really about family.
Detective Lane is a gay character and the novels follow him and his partner Arthur, along with their two children Christine and Matt. The first book in the series was published in 2004 when Ralph Klein was Alberta’s premier.
“Mostly these books are about family,” says Ryan. “During the Klein years, there was a lot of talk about how the LGBTQ community should be excluded from the rest of society and not be equal. There was that whole movement about family and it was a bigoted approach, that family had a certain makeup or flavour, it looked a certain way. But I thought family was really different than that so it’s centered on family and how family was a different concept than just the mother/father/two kids or whatever.”
Through the series, readers familiar with Calgary will get a kick out of the various places Detective Lane and others visit, be it vibrant communities like Kensington and Inglewood, the city’s bustling downtown core, well-known parks and, even, the Calgary Stampede. Ryan’s seventh book in the series, Glycerine, focuses on a potential terror attack on the famed Calgary Stampede.
Ryan’s work has been recognized by many, with the author receiving the 2007 Lambda Literary Award for the second book in the series, The Lucky Elephant Restaurant. The Lambda Awards honour the best lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender books and Ryan’s novels have also been short-listed three other times. In 2009, he was awarded Calgary’s Freedom of Expression Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the local arts community.
“It’s really all over the place, it depends on the person,” says Ryan when asked what his readers tell him about the novels. “Some people like the fact that it’s in Calgary, when they go through the story, they can see what’s going on and they have been to those places. I saw a guy reading my book on an airplane and I talked to him for a minute and he said ‘nobody writes like this’ and I don’t know what he meant by that but he seemed to enjoy it, whatever ‘that’ was he was talking about.
“It gets into politics as well, there are political reactions to it as well. I have seen people look at the book and see that it’s about a gay character and they’ll put it down really fast. And they’ll look around to see if anyone is watching. It’s all over the place.”
Through it all, Ryan has maintained a commitment to Calgary and Alberta. He takes pride in working with local talent when it comes to editing his work and creating art for book covers and Ryan has worked with local businesses to publish his books, including Pages Books on Kensington in Calgary and NeWest Press in Edmonton.
Though Ryan is best known for his work on the Detective Lane Mystery Series, he has written other novels, including his most recent book, Corporation’s First Annual Sausage Festival, which touches on the rural/urban divide that is quite prevalent in Alberta and how many people look past that divide and just get things done for their communities.
“It talks about the divide in Alberta and, yet, how people work together to solve problems to make things better. And we find those essential qualities in people that bring them together,” says Ryan. “If you look at the Calgary floods in 2013, how people came together, strangers showed up to help out. Those kinds of things. Those happen everywhere but, out here, it’s just an organic process. (Calgary Mayor) Naheed Nenshi went out to get volunteers and so many showed up that he didn’t know what to do with them. It’s something about the Prairies … it has a uniqueness to it.”
Ryan continues to write with the goal of making each book better than the last and believes there could be more in the Detective Lane series. His novels are available at small and large book stores throughout Alberta, online via Amazon.ca and can also be found at your local library. For more information, visit garryryan.ca