Brandi Wells’s story Instructional is not an easy story to read in all the best ways. Today, she talks with us about overcoming prudery, the tedium of applying to MFA programs and the fortunes to be won playing Texas Hold ‘Em on Facebook.
1. Your story, Instructional, is the kind of story people will either love or hate. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you deliberately try to shock?
I didn’t write the story intending to shock anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything hoping to elicit shock. I try to write things that make ME uncomfortable. Otherwise, it’s boring. No one wants to read about me sitting on the couch and petting the cat while I watch reruns of cops. That’s boring. If I write about something that makes me uncomfortable, it keeps me out of a rut. Otherwise all my stories are about dead cats and mommies that don’t love their kids.
2. I’m particularly intrigued by the interrogative aspect of this story, which I love. How did this story come about?
I wrote this thinking about Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies,” and the different ways she turns rape around. I had a conversation earlier that day about writing literotica for money and how I thought I would be incapable of it. I think, in person, I come across as prim and you wouldn’t expect to hear anything lewd come out of my mouth. Somehow, putting the words on paper erases their inappropriateness. It’s a chance for me to make fun of myself for being such a prude.
3. A lot of your writing is very grounded in gritty realism. How has your aesthetic developed?
I wish it wasn’t. Lately, I’ve been more drawn to things with elements of fantasy or science fiction or (and I hate this word) magical realism. But I think I feel more comfortable writing realism, because when I try to do otherwise, it doesn’t always sound believable. So sticking closer to the truth (but it’s all fiction right?) is easier.
4. Poking on Facebook. Tool of the devil?
I think I might have poked someone when I first joined Facebook, but I haven’t done it recently. If someone pokes me, I usually just ignore it. Seems like a worthless feature. I’ve been playing Texas Hold’em though. Facebook tells me that Timothy Gager is very good at Texas Hold’em. He has millions of fake dollars.
5. How are things going at the Brandi Wells Review?
I’m posting a chapter of Shya Scanlon’s novel in a few weeks. It’ll be chapter 21. I was excited when he emailed me about it. I think Molly Gaudry publishes a chapter the week after that.
I still get submissions every now and then, but they have trickled off a bit. I think I have one or two sitting in my email box that I need to post.
6. What is your writing process?
I do most of my writing at work or during class. I normally write a big chunk, par it down, flesh it out, par it down and then flesh it out again. I’m trying to write longer things lately. I’d like something more substantial. When I’m editing, I like to print a story out so I can mark it up with a pen. Things look different on the computer screen and if I print it, I can carry the story with me places. Maybe at work a certain sentence will sound dumb or if I sit on the front porch I’ll throw away the last few pages.
7. How’s the MFA application process going? Why are you interested in pursuing an MFA?
It’s tedious. Narrowing my list of choices down, working on the portfolio, writing statements of purpose, retaking the gre, getting the rec letters. I’ll be glad when it’s done. Then I’ll check the MFA blog 27 times every day until I’ve heard from every school.
There are a lot of different reasons I want to get an MFA. I’d like some time to focus on my writing. I like the feedback I get in a workshop. I’d like a little bit of direction. I’d like to move out of Georgia. The economy sucks and right now and going to grad school sounds better than working a nothing job for nothing pay. I mean, I’ll write either way, but a (fully funded) MFA program would help.
And I’d like to offer a big thank you to the people who are critiquing my writing sample.