About the author

Brief (70 words)

Ryan Gattis is the author of Safe, Kung Fu High School, and All Involved: A Novel of the 1992 L.A. Riots, which won the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Lire Award for Noir of the Year in France. He lives and writes in Los Angeles, where he is a member of street art crew UGLARworks, and a PEN America Prison Writing Mentor.

Longer (with links)

Ryan Gattis is a writer & educator. His most recent novel, Safe, is a heist thriller about a DEA safecracker gone rogue, ripping off gang-owned drug safes in order to help citizens hurt during the market crash of 2008. It’s essentially Robin Hood Noir. The book is set in the same world of South Central Los Angeles as his previous novel, All Involved: A Novel of the 1992 L.A. Riotswhich was grounded in 2.5 years of research & background spent with former Latino gang members, firefighters, nurses, & other L.A. citizens who lived through it.

All Involved won the American Library Association’s Alex Award & the Lire Award for Noir of the Year in France; translated into 11 languages, it has been called “a high-octane speedball of a read” by The New York Times & its film rights were acquired by HBO. Gattis is also the author of Kung Fu High School (out in the UK as Kung Fu).

He lives and writes in Los Angeles, where he is a member of the street art crew UGLARworks & a PEN America Prison Writing Mentor.

Read My Story

“I certainly wouldn’t write how I do, though, without having been a listener and an outsider in a lot of different places. I’ve lived in California, Australia, and England, & I’ve had two home-stays in Japan—one with a CEO’s family, and one with a cabdriver’s.”

I was born in Illinois, but raised in Colorado. I didn’t always want to be a writer. For more on that, read “My Nose” below.

I certainly wouldn’t write how I do without having been a listener and an outsider in a lot of different places. I’ve lived in California, Australia, England, as well as having had two home-stays in Japan—one with a CEO’s family, and one with a cabdriver’s.

I have a B.F.A. in Creative Writing from Chapman University (’01), and an M.A. in Creative Writing (Prose) at the University of East Anglia (’02) in Norwich, England, where I studied under the supervision of Andrew Motion, then Poet Laureate.

My first novel, Roo Kickkick & the Big Bad Blimp, was published in the UK in 2004. Kung Fu High School was published in both the US and UK in 2005; it was a Barnes & Noble Discover Selection, and its film rights were sold to The Weinstein Company. A film adaptation was ultimately never made.

I’m a member of UGLARworks, an L.A. street art crew. Read about how I came to join them here. Street art is an inapt term, but it seems it’s here to stay, so I suppose it’s safe to say that we’re that and a whole lot more. We paint murals as a Pre-Approved Mural Artist for the City of Los Angeles. Most recently: we have embarked on a mural project in Lynwood. We’ve also put on a show at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hillstaken over the PanMacmillan lobby in London, & done a one-night-only art show in London for All Involved, as well as creating a thematically linked mural in Paris for the book.

It was a long road from my early books to writing All Involved, & I discuss it in my TED talk here.

Since writing it, I’ve been extremely fortunate to travel the world in support of the book, appearing at the International Literature Festival Dublin (Ireland), Edinburgh International Book Festival (2015 & 2017), Hay Festival Querétaro (México), Hay Festival Arequipa (Perú), & others. I’ve even given talks at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in L.A. County, & Greenock Prison in Scotland.

I am a founding board member of 1888: a non-profit cultural center in Orange, California, dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and promotion of cultural heritage and literary arts, which has recently opened its doors!

I taught core courses in Creative Writing for 9.5 years at Chapman University in Orange, California, as an adjunct professor, and while there I pioneered a professional course in Writing for Video Games, which saw its students move on to full-time jobs at TellTale Games, Jumpstart Games (for Dreamworks’ IP), & Activision/Blizzard. I’ve frequently guest lectured on my pet topic, “The Five Essentials of Storytelling (Regardless of Medium)” at Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media using all-purpose elements I designed for all my courses.

In 2016 & 2017, I was part of the judging crew for quite possibly the most important taco competition in the world.

I currently live in Los Angeles, the greatest & most misunderstood city on earth, with my wife & two mischievous cats.

Latest update: January 2020

Read About My Nose

“You’d be amazed how much unseen cartilage you have, hidden high in your skull.”

Our branch of the Gattis family has always been an Air Force family. My father was a Captain, and my grandfather was a Colonel. In 1978, I was born on Illinois’s Scott Air Force Base. Before my first birthday, we moved to a house on a hill in Colorado Springs, Colorado—one that overlooked the Air Force Academy—where my father proclaimed to my older brother and I, “That’s where you’ll go.”

I might have, too, if an incident in high school hadn’t derailed me. By my junior year, I was at the top of my class academically, playing varsity soccer, and doing all the extracurricular activities necessary to apply to the Academy when I walked in late to my student council class & my whole life changed.

It was an elbow that did it. A football player who had dropped acid earlier in the day wanted to play-fight with me, and even though I told him no, I was stupidly turning away as he swung.

I shouldn’t have.

The blow ripped my nose out of my face, depositing it on my left cheek. It didn’t break my nasal bone, though. The force simply tore all the cartilage out. You’d be amazed how much unseen cartilage you have, hidden high in your skull.

Afterward, I needed two facial reconstructive surgeries: what’s called a closed reduction (in the Swedish doctor’s shared office near Colorado College, before the anesthesia had taken effect) & an open reduction (in the hospital, where they opened the skin on my face, pulled it back, and cut my nose into a series of horizontal pieces before stitching them back together & inserting it back into the nasal cavity).

Depression set in soon after I was told I had nerve damage & might never smell or taste again. With gauze-packed sinuses, I spent a lot of time reading during my recovery, and in so doing, I realized I was not alone. In fiction and in life, bad things happen all the time.

When I did finally manage to pick myself up, I found entirely new things interested me. I was still 17—a teenager in every self-involved sense—but I now listened to people harder than I ever had before, I paid more attention, and a strange thing happened during this process: my empathy grew by leaps & bounds. My curiosity did too. And as I slowly recovered my ability to smell and taste over the rest of that year & into the next, I found being a soldier no longer interested me.

I wanted to be a storyteller instead.

Ryan Gattis - Tatto

About My Tattoo

Ryan Gattis Tattoo
Showing my then 91-year-old grandmother Gattis
—who lived in Japan Post-WWII & once had tea with Eleanor Roosevelt in the Imperial Palace—
the progress of my back piece for the very first time.

Tattoo is the most honest art form on earth. Within it, there is no room for doubt. It gets done, or it doesn’t. There is no in between. When people see tattoos, they know instantly, viscerally, that the art was earned through pain & patience. They know it has been endured. My tattoo extends from the back of my neck to the middle of my thighs. I earned every centimeter.

While writing days 4, 5, & 6 of All Involved, I could sit for no more than 25 minutes at a time. After that I had to stand, walk, or lie flat on my stomach. This was because I was in the process of getting a back piece at the time. It took almost two months of 2 to 3 sessions per week, and I would often not be fully healed before we started back in again, but that’s the process, and that’s life, too. If something is worth accomplishing, one must keep going.

My back piece is part of “The 108 Heroes of Los Angeles” Project by Chris “Horishiki” Brand, a series of back pieces, wood carvings, & paintings adapting the bandit stories from the classic Chinese novel, Shuihu Zhuan (All Men Are Brothers/The Water Margin), written in 1592 by Shi Naian. In translation, this book also had a massive impact on Japanese culture as well. As the Suikoden, these adapted stories played a pivotal role in the evolution of the Japanese tattoo tradition, where it found popularity among the working class during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Chris’s pieces fuse elements of Japanese tattoo tradition with Southern California, Chicano-style single needle black & grey tattooing, which he learned while tattooing at Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland, an institution of the genre since 1975. In this way, he takes these timeless stories and transplants them in late 1970s/early 1980s Los Angeles. Each piece deeply reflects the cross-cultural spirit of Los Angeles and America as a whole.

In my back piece, the scholar-character Clever (no relation to the character of the same name in All Involved) stands on his patio late at night, reading an original copy of John Fante’s Ask the Dust & having a smoke, when a scuffle breaks out on the street behind him. It is a moment that will change his life by introducing him to new brothers-in-arms, but he is a patient man, and for now, he watches to see which man might win.

If you’d like to inquire as to Chris Brand’s availability, you can e-mail him here. He is also on Instagram.

Final Note: this piece was featured in “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World” exhibition for the Japanese American National Museum, and is currently traveling to other institutions.

Regarding the photograph: the above black & white image of my back piece is the copyright of the photographer, Sam Tenney, & must not be used in publication without first obtaining his permission.