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Brontë Wieland: The Interview

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!

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1.) When did you begin writing? And why?

Tough question.

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?

Two things.

  1. That I’ve stuck with it.
  2. 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. 

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2013 Wrap-up (and a mini-rant as well)

As the end of the year draws near, it is time now for Pints to look back on the year that was. I just completed my first semester of an MFA program. An MFA program has been a dream for a while, but did it live up to expectations? Yes and no.

It’s great to be around other writers. That’s something that will always be true. But, I didn’t really have any writing intensive courses. I wrote about 8 short stories and several dozen poems, but didn’t get to experience any sort of workshop arena for these pieces. The people who read these works, were the people who I always trust as readers and  who would have read them—regardless of whether I was in an MFA program or not. Next semester I’m taking more workshop-based classes and so I think I will end up being quite pleased.

What I have discovered this semester is how much I enjoy teaching. It’s a new way of thinking out problems. I love finding new approaches to engage students in the material. The days when students actually seemed to be thoroughly engaged in activities were wonderful. Hearing several students admit (begrudgingly) that now they kind-of-sort-of-do-now-like-writing was even better.

Which brings me to a sore point. I heard (several times and from varying sources) that MFA students should be writers first and teachers second. This is something which is irritating me to no end. The thought is that one shouldn’t give teaching their all because it might make your writing suffer?? Like, um, what? This idea is infuriating on so many levels. Not the least of which is that the students we’re teaching are in college to be, oh I don’t know, TAUGHT. More importantly, a disengaged teacher who just gives out “B’s” to pass students along so that they don’t have to actually help students is doing a huge disservice to not only their students but also to themselves. Teaching can be frustrating. It can be. But, so is writing. And there is joy to be found in teaching well, in engaging with your work, and in finding new solutions to problems that you face in the classroom. In fact, any and all of these things will probably help make you a better writer in the long run. Writing isn’t (and shouldn’t) be about taking the easy path.

Now after that wee rant (apologies, dear readers) a few end of year things pleasing the blog-writing cupcake maker.

1.)    Winter break will be the Time of the Cookie. I plan on baking cookies, cookies, cookies (plus other delicious things).

2.)    It will also be the Time of the Book. I have a huge stack of books to read which I’ve gotten behind on during grad school. There are biographies of stage magicians, Icelandic mysteries, food histories, short story collections, and Japanese folktales. It’s going to be a happy reading spree.

3.)    I am a good way into my novel writing revisions. This just might get done eventually, people.

4.)    Throughout the last year I’ve had writings featured at some lovely places. Here now is a round-up of that

Check out my story “People You May Know” in Luna Station Quarterly:

http://lunastationquarterly.com/issue-016/people-you-may-know

Check out my story “You Told Me to Write You a Way Out” in Cease, Cows:

http://ceasecows.com/tag/you-told-me-to-write-you-a-way-out/

Check out my story “Who Walks Beside You” in Issue 25 of Supernatural Tales: http://suptales.blogspot.com/2013/10/25-and-not-out.html

I also have some work forthcoming from some lovely places such as Sleet, The Menacing Hedge, and more, so keep a look out.

 

On that note I say peace, good tidings, have a lovely rest of 2013, and may 2014 be a good year!

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10 things-October 2013 edition

I haven’t done one of these in a while. But here are 10 things that are currently keeping me sane (which is a heavy task between writing a novel, taking my MFA classes, teaching college composition, and maintaining the high levels of self-AWESOME that everyone is accustomed to from me).

1.)    Donna Tartt has a new novel out (and I’ve ordered it). Ms. Tartt is basically a flat out badass. The Secret History, her first novel, is often cited as being her best. And it is amazingly brilliant. But, her second novel The Little Friend, is one of my favorite novels of all time. In the years since it was first published, I have read it five or six times. It is exquisite and sublime and if her new novel The Goldfinch comes anywhere near to its wonderfulness than I am going to be one happy clam. Here’s a conversation between her and her editor that was up on Slate.

2.)    Daniel Alarcon has a new novel coming out this month, too! Like, what? It is a bountiful month indeed. Alarcon’s first collection, War by Candlelight, was filled with gorgeous stories including one of my top 100 “A Strong Dead Man.” His novel, Lost City Radio, is on my list of best first novels. So basically all I have for this one is ridiculously high expectations. Here’s some more info from Alarcon’s website.

3.)    The Pinocchio lizard, believed extinct, was recently spotted. Gorgeous, no? Here is an article up on National Geographic!

4.)    I have been getting back to baking. I was thrown off by starting school up, but, now I am into pumpkin scones and deliciousness full speed ahead. This weekend will be chocolate-stout cupcakes!

5.)    I am hard at work on the novel. Stage magicians are in this. STAGE MAGICIANS. That should just make everyone happy.

6.)    I have a prose poem coming out soon from Cease, Cows and one of my favorite ghost stories that I’ve written will be in the winter issue of Supernatural Tales. These are both wonderfully fantastic publications. So, I’m doing the happy dance of writerly acceptances.

7.)    I started a new interviewy project of Extremely Brilliant Creative People and so far have had the chance to interview the fabulous Dan Pankratz and the amazing ean weslynn. Next month, there will be a pretty awesome poet being interviewed too, so stay TUNED.

8.)    I have found out that the town I’m now living in not only has a shop with a pretty kickass puppet collection but that there is also a store that carries treacle. Treacle tarts will be made. I have wanted to make them since I first read Harry Potter and I could never find proper treacle. Until now. Sound the freaking trumpets!

9.)    Squashes are out. And squash season means one thing: ravioli. From scratch.

10.) My people continue to be amazing and as always a moment of thanks for having them in my life. Plus, then I have someone to make food for. It is win-win.

So, not all is bad in the world of Pints and Cupcakes. This seems a good time to remind all you, Dear Readers, that if you want more daily updates and rantings than consider following me on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

 

Happy October!

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