Hello Dearest Reader! Pints is back with a new EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative Person) interview. This time, I’m talking with writer Brontë Wieland.
I first met Brontë when I was working on the planning committee for UW-Madison’s very first literary festival (Madison Lit Fest). Brontë was only a freshman but was already getting involved on campus (maybe this is only surprising to the me, the queen of not getting involved). I remember being struck with how motivated he was as well as by the excellent ideas he brought to the planning table.
Because of this, I remained curious to see where Brontë ended up. He was writing, so I encouraged him to send me some of his stuff. He sent me a play at one point which I still think about years later. There was an originality and skill that I almost couldn’t believe. Later, I also read some of his short stories and was equally impressed. His writing was polished, engaging, and utterly original.
Since first meeting him, I’ve expected big things to come from him. And, I think, after reading this interview, you Dearest Reader will as well!
1.) When did you begin writing? And why?
Romantic version: I always had the heart of a writer and reader inside me and began writing short fiction in childhood. I had the insatiable urge to send a message and show the world my voice.
Real version: The first story I ever wrote was plunked out in all caps when I was ~9. A ship sailing through the Bermuda Triangle was wrecked on an island inhabited by fairies who saved the travelers and who many of the travelers eventually fell in love with. My second story was maybe a year or so later, written when I pulled a Pokémon book called Go West, Young Ash from my bookshelf and began copying it word for word, changing some words for their opposites so it wasn’t plagiarism. I stopped after about half a page. I was bored. The novel was called Go East, Young Klash. Luckily, it was never published. Then I didn’t write again until sixth grade when there was a short story competition my teacher forced us to participate in. I wrote about an average earthworm who always wanted to grow an afro. One day, he did grow an afro and eventually sacrificed himself to save life on Earth from a supervolcano. Mrs. Schroeder thought it was shit. Everyone’s a critic…
I didn’t start writing seriously until just before college. I’d always loved books, but that summer I read A Moveable Feast and learned to appreciate prose. I wanted to make something beautiful like that.
Why? Let’s go story by story.
Story 1: I had a tale to tell and it needed telling.
Story 2: I wanted to write something great.
Story 3: I wanted to have fun and do something that had never been done.
I think that accurate summarizes the motivations that keep my pen moving still.
2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.
Every story is a little bit different. Sometimes I see a scene, an image, or a character. Sometimes I sense a story, a plot, an arc. Or maybe I feel an emotion. The first step has always been to let it ruminate. Gestation period varies. Sometimes months, but occasionally just hours.
My second step is usually to scrawl endlessly in a notebook in a script I can barely read. I get clips and blips of words and phrases and I jot them all down. Later is when I reorganize and then sit in front of my computer to agonizingly hammer it out at 1wpm over the next couple weeks.
I think that’s the most common, but there’s a lot of variance. On occasion I do just sit down and type until there’s nothing left to say.
3.) You write a lot towards the speculative and fabulist realms of fiction, what draws you to those kind of story elements? What do you think is the most important aspect to get “right” in this kind of writing?
I do, don’t I?
To me, these types of stories have always been the most real, the most Ur. Storytelling, from its infancy, has often been fantastic, grander than life, stretching the boundaries of existence. What I’m trying to do is tell the truest story possible. Real life has never been necessary to do that.
I feel like there’s something special, reverent, and liberating to tell stories in a way reflective of how they may have been told 10,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago. It feels like connecting with the minds that came before me, joining the ranks of hundreds of previous generations and thousands of previous storytellers. We’re all cut from the same cloth. We’re all telling the same stories starring the same people. It’s magic.
Or maybe I’m just scared my depictions of real life won’t be sufficient.
4.) You also write drama, did you come to one genre before the other? What sort of differences do you find in your writing process for these two forms? Do you prefer one over the other?
Fiction came first by far. I don’t remember reading or seeing a play before high school. I didn’t write a play until college.
As it turns out, my process is exactly the same. The main differences is I don’t usually write plays in LibreOffice.
They’re both beautiful arts and, you know, I can’t decide. I’m trying to think of moments I’ve had writing each that would sway my decision and keep finding examples for both and flip-flopping. That said, I think playwriting has informed my fiction more than fiction has influenced my playwriting. Stage constraints that I faced in playwriting changed my perspective of fiction completely. I had to learn how to make magic with just bodies, I couldn’t do any prosaic handwaving and neither could I weigh myself down with overexplanation. And I learned.
5.) Could you describe what you consider your overall style?
I don’t think I’ve found that yet. I’ve been experimenting and I have a lot of experimenting to go. The best I can do is say that I usually write in 1st person and I think a lot about culture, identity, and change.
6.) In your story “Empty Head, Flat Nose” (which can be read HERE), you write a science-fiction story that seems both absolutely futuristic and, yet, somehow still rooted in today—it’s one of the most brilliant aspects of the piece, I think. How did you achieve that balance? What sort of world-building went into this story?
My dad is a real down-to-earth guy. He sees things like they are, no illusions, and in a lot of ways has always kept me rooted while encouraging me to push forward. My mom tells me ridiculous things constantly and she always believes really wholeheartedly in what she says. One time my mom told me she heard about a guy walking home on New Year’s Eve. So, this guy, he was just minding his own business when a stray bullet fired celebratorily across town smashed through his noggin and got stuck in his brain. The guy survived. He was otherwise unharmed. No permanent damage. Obviously, sitting in the airport, listening to my mom tell me that is where and when “Flat Nose, Empty Head” was born.
I wondered what the chances were of surviving something like that and figured, they’re a lot higher if you don’t have a brain.
Anyway, I feel like the present day, real aspects of the story are my dad. The strange, futuristic ones are my mom. In terms of how I went about creating and maintaining a balance between these forces, I knew instinctively that this story needed to be as close to the present as possible or it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing special about a mechanical brain in a future that’s infinitely advanced. If this were in 1000 years, people would be rockin’ empty heads all the time and our skulls would be more a fashion statement than a body part. I kept that in mind constantly. I put as much of 2011 into the story as possible and only let the future seep through slowly. Another important chore was to make sure Sunny and especially Matt (since it’s his voice we’re hearing) felt completely comfortable in their world except for Sunny’s surgery which was a shocking innovation. Anything can feel like the present if the people you’re listening to believe it’s the present.
Part of all of this, of course, was the world building. Because I needed to feel comfortable in this near-future too. To gather the rhythm of the world, I wrote about the doctors who performed the surgery and their marriages and vices. I wrote about the company who financed the research and their intentions. I wrote about the lab techs’ hating their jobs. I wrote a bit about Matt’s parents. There was also an accompanying story about the time Sunny killed Matt’s cat when they were toddlers.
7.) What is one thing you think every writer should know?
We should all know what Junot Díaz said to an Atlantic reporter about gender and representation.
“I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you’re fucked up, admit to yourself that you’re not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters. It’s so funny what people call inspiration. I have so many young writers who’re like, “Well I was inspired. This was my story.” And I’m like, “OK. Sir, your inspiration for your stories is like every other male’s inspiration for their stories: that the female is only in there to provide sexual service.” There comes a time when this mythical inspiration is exposed for doing exactly what it’s truthfully doing: to underscore and reinforce cultural structures, or I’d say, cultural asymmetry.”
What we should do with that knowledge is realize how broadly it applies and constantly question our cultural structures.
8.) Things you’d most like people to get out of your writing:
An elevated heart rate. Because they liked it, because it made them think, because anything. If my work makes someone question their assumptions, I’ve succeeded. If I ever found out someone felt a sense of wonder at my writing, I’d probably cry.
9.) In many of your pieces that I’ve read, you incorporate folkloric ideas, along with ideas about the nature of storytelling. What draws you to these themes? What are some of your favorite folklore tropes or stories?
The nature of storytelling is something I’m obsessed with. I always love finding a new story or a story told in a new way. Like I mentioned above, I’m fascinated with how folklore and storytelling link us to the past and how they create a connection between cultures and peoples. The only thing more astounding than the Aarne-Thompson classification system is that we, over thousands of years, developed a storytelling framework robust enough to support it. The similarities, the differences, they’re impossibly complex. It says to me that storytelling has been foundational in our development as a species.
In my writing, I’m often trying to learn more about these traditions and do my part to extend and continue them.
Favorites are so hard. I think in general, my favorites are always stories about deception. Either being deceived or deceiving others. I also like talking animals.
10.) Writer or writers you’d most like to meet:
China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Ursula K. LeGuin, Angélica Gorodischer, Junot Díaz
Sad fact: Could’ve met Miéville at Socialism 2012 in Chicago but I ended up not going. Terrible idea.
Then, there’s a list of writers that, because I follow on Twitter and occasionally interact with, I feel are people that could in some alternate reality be my peers. They’re doing the type of fantastic work I like to pretend I’ll be doing some day. I’d love to meet some of them.
They are: Sofia Samatar, Aliette de Bodard, Usman T. Malik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu
11.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing?
- That I’ve stuck with it.
- That other people have enjoyed it.
12.) Question you wish I would have asked?
Favorite thing I’ve read this year and favorite thing I’ve written this year.
Read: definitely Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon by Kirin Narayan, which I reviewed on my blog. It’s outstanding.
Written: a story that you and about three others have read so far called “Bilingual Cooking Night #1, Banana Bread.” I will optimistically say, be on the lookout for this one in the next year!
13.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.
Editing. Forcing myself to write. Not using the internet.
14.) What is up next in the world of Brontë Wieland?
A lot less writing than usual, actually. From now until June, I’m trying to live as much in the moment as possible. In June I’m leaving Spain, so I want to take in everything I can until then. In June I’m flying to Singapore, then Tokyo, then Manila, then Melbourne. So I’ll be trading writing time for experiences until August when I fly back to Chicago and work my way down to Iowa, where I’m starting in the Creative Writing and Environment program at ISU. From there, who knows? Hopefully fame, fortune, and glory.
To find out more about Brontë , visit his website here or follow him on Twitter @BeezyAl
Brontë Christopher Wieland is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Raised in Wisconsin, he’s living in Spain until August when he begins the Creative Writing and Environment MFA at Iowa State University.