We recently caught up with Ramsey Beyer, the author of
Little Fish: A Memoir from a
Different Kind of Year. Little Fish tells the story of Ramsey’s journey from her small-town life in Paw Paw, Michigan, to a year of firsts at art school in Baltimore, Maryland. Ramsey filled us in on what her life is like today, the details that didn’t make it into the finished book, and where her friends from Little Fish are now!
Zest Books: Hi, Ramsey! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ramsey Beyer: Hi, Iâ€™m Ramsey Beyer! I grew up in a farm town in Michigan and I currently live in Philadelphia, PA. I spend my days working as a nanny for toddlers, and spend my nights drawing, going to house shows, spending time on my porch with my dog and my boyfriend, and generally feeling pretty content. Oh, and Iâ€™m the author of Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year!
Zest Books: How did you start writing zines and comics? Was it something you studied in art school?
Ramsey Beyer: Nope! I never studied illustration or anything related to comics in school. It was something I got into through the punk and DIY scene in Baltimore, where I went to college. I just did it from time to time as a hobby because I liked to read comics and zines.
The funny thing about drawing is that you start out not being very good at it, but if you keep going, you get better. And when youâ€™re better at it, you start to want to do it more often! Thatâ€™s basically how I started drawing comics. I drew pretty bad and silly drawings often enough that they started to be less bad and silly drawings, and soon I realized I had gotten pretty good at drawing comics without actually trying to get good at it. It was fun the whole time, even when I couldnâ€™t draw very well! I guess because I never took it too seriously or worried about learning how to do it â€śthe right way,â€ť I never got frustrated or discouraged by any missteps.
Zest Books: It’s probably at least a little bit weird to see your own life story written out as a memoir. When you started making these lists and LiveJournal entries did you ever think it would become something like this?
Ramsey Beyer: I never thought that my lists and LiveJournal posts would end up in a hardcover book, thatâ€™s for sure. I think because I never intended for these expressions of myself to have such a large audience, it made it easier to be really honest in them and put it all out there. But I always wrote for an audience of sorts, even if that audience was very small. My LiveJournal was public online, and I put my lists in a zine that I would photocopy and leave around my campus or mail to other zine readers around the country.
I love the person to person aspect of sharing true stories with others. Iâ€™ve always had penpals, even ones who were strangers, and I love to read memoirs and narrative fiction stories. I even love movies with narrators, as cheesy as they can be. I like telling stories like the ones in Little Fish because itâ€™s such an easy way to form a connection with someone else.
Zest Books:How did you go about taking all the events of your first year of college and crafting your story into the narrative of one year? Was there a lot that you left out? Or did you have to go back in and add a lot of information?
Ramsey Beyer: Figuring out how to craft the story was actually a strangely intuitive process since the entries in my LiveJournal provided a pretty literal outline to follow. Those touchstones made it easier to remember specific events and the different emotions I was experiencing as that first year progressed. Going back over my LiveJournal entries, certain things stood out in my memory and knew I wanted to include them, but other things I didnâ€™t remember at all!
When it came to editing, the hardest part was deciding what to leave out so that the story didnâ€™t get too confusing. I didnâ€™t want to have too many characters for readers to have to keep track of, so I left out a lot of shorter-term friendships I formed during my freshman year of college. I also left out a lot of little crushes I wrote about in my LiveJournal, haha.
Zest Books: Who or what are your artistic influences?
Ramsey Beyer: I get a lot of inspiration from women who create autobiographical comics, like Nicole Georges, Emilja Frances, Julia Wertz, and Suzy X. I also love the work of my friend Liz Prince. Sheâ€™s been published several times, so her advice and critical eye were really helpful during the process of writing and editing my book.
Zest Books: How do you spend your time when you arenâ€™t writing or drawing?
Ramsey Beyer: I work full time as a nanny for small children, usually from newborn to age three. Kids are really fascinating and funny to be around. I love that I can be silly all day and get to participate in a really formative time in someoneâ€™s life.
When Iâ€™m not nannying, I actively participate in my punk scene in Philly. Each month I put together a DIY show calendar to keep track of all the cool stuff happening in Philly. We have a different artist do the artwork for the calendar every month so itâ€™s unique each time. I also just joined a band for the first time in 10 years. Weâ€™re an all lady punk band called Heavy Bangs and I play guitar.
Beyond that, I go to house shows a lot, ride my bike most places, watch bad TV or movies with my roommates, and work on home-improvement projects like gardening, building furniture, and painting, I also have an amazing dog named Rover (see the sketch below). Heâ€™s the greatest and has been my best friend for eight years.
Zest Books: What advice to you have for people who are transitioning from high school to college?
Ramsey Beyer: Take risks! Donâ€™t be afraid to open up and really go for it. I was a shy kid most of my life and I held a lot of things in, but when I started to be more open and communicative about how I felt about things, I became a much happier person and it made my friendships even stronger. I also used to measure my self-worth in how many people were around or how many friends I had, but once I figured out how to be content when I was alone, I felt much happier with myself.
Zest Books: Iâ€™m dying to know: Whatâ€™s going on these days with your friends from the book? Do you keep in touch? Is Daniel still around?
Ramsey Beyer: Iâ€™m still in touch with many of them. The internet obviously makes staying connected so much easier than it used to be.
My hometown friends are still my best friends, even though we only see each other a few times a year. Frances is married and living in Cleveland. Erin is married and has a son in Chicago. Katie is engaged and living in Kalamazoo, MI, and Merry just got engaged this month and lives with her fiancĂ© in San Francisco. Theyâ€™re all happy and doing well.
Iâ€™ve kept in touch with most of the college friends mentioned in Little Fish. My roommate Katya is married and works for a publisher in New York. Â I donâ€™t know a lot about my other roommate Olivia, except that she joined the army at one point after college and sheâ€™s moved around a bit. Nat and Cory ended up getting married and still live in Baltimore. Nat works at a graphic design firm and Cory does IT work at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where we went to school. Ben lives in New York doing design work and just got married. Joe is a photographer and art handler and lives in New York. We still talk a lot.
Daniel and I ended up being in an exclusive relationship for five years, and then casually dating for three more years. I was pretty sure we were going to get married! After living in Baltimore for a while, we moved to Chicago together, where we eventually ended things. We had been together for so long but we were still so youngâ€”only 24. We knew we needed to try something else to continue to grow as people. I moved to Philly three years later. Weâ€™re still best friends and see each other often. Heâ€™s a successful artist and photographer and just moved to New York so now weâ€™re able to see each other more often. Daniel is teaching photography and sculpture this fall at MICA.
Zest Books: Rumor has it that someone wrote a song about you. Do tell!
Ramsey Beyer: Haha! An acquaintance of mine, Evan Weiss, wrote a song about me just after I moved from Chicago to Philly. He had moved from Philly to Chicago and always jokingly tried to talk me out of moving away, since he was sure that Chicago was better than Philly. Eventually he admitted I made the right call because I seemed much happier in Philly, and thatâ€™s what that song is about. I was pretty surprised when he wrote it because we donâ€™t know each other that well.
Zest Books: So, whatâ€™s next for Ramsey Beyer?
Ramsey Beyer: Great questionâ€¦ I donâ€™t really have a master plan. I try to take things as they come and not think too far ahead. Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll get started on another book within the next year, but I havenâ€™t quite figured out what it will be yet.
Zest Books: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Ramsey!
Click here to order your copy of Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year. Learn more about the making of Little Fish in this behind-the-scenes photo essay, which includes pictures of her beloved dog, Rover. And read what other bloggers and reviewers have to say about Little Fish by following the Little Fish Blog Tour.