Were I twice as prolific as Alice Bradley, I’d still be only half as good a writer. She’s already managed more than I’ve begun to puzzle out—namely, how one writes a blog, multiple columns for various traditional media outlets, a humorous book, and serious (not to mention award-winning) essays, while somehow retaining one’s unique voice ubiquitously. And all this on top of managing a real, honest-to-goodness family—who seem to like her, no less? If I hadn’t been on the receiving end of her graciousness and generosity more than once, I’d have written her off as a myth. Uh, no pun intended. Not surprisingly, she has much to say about truth and its place in writing.
When did you decide to become a writer?
When I was little, it seemed that there was something dark and frightening hiding behind everything I knew—that there was a thin veil separating my daily reality from what really was. I don’t know where I got this idea, but I have some ideas. I overheard a lot, when I was little. I eavesdropped, and I got scared. I wanted to make sense of it, of what little I understood, so I wrote it down, and made it my own. My teachers were alarmed, I’m sure. Why is this little girl writing so much about death and murder and alcoholism? But then, I was also funny, or tried to be. So pretty much I just confused everyone.
When was this, though? Hmm. I think right from when I started writing anything, I was writing things that were different, and I had a sense that I was the only one of my peers doing that. I was an oddball right from the start. I wasted many years trying not to be.
Who was your favorite teacher?
My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Reilly, would let me do my own thing when it came to any writing project. My parents just moved, a few months ago, and I went through a huge box filled with stories and poems I wrote in sixth grade. Every one of them had an encouraging note on it. Always something specific: he didn’t settle for smiley faces or gold stars. He treated me like a writer, not a kid writing cute stuff.
Mr. Reilly even let me pursue an independent year-long project, which was supposed to be this graphic novel (although of course back then we called them “comic books”), and every day I was allowed to go to the library BY MYSELF to work on it. Unfortunately he never checked up on me, and I just didn’t do it. At the end of the year I had about five pages of doodles to show for my effort. I spent the year reading and watching filmstrips at the library. To his credit, he let it go. Besides, I learned a lot hanging out in the library then I would have creating “The Adventures of Dan Druff.” (Yes. I was going to write a book about a dandruff flake. You can maybe see how this idea could have fizzled out pretty quickly.)
What do you love to write about?
I used to be most comfortable writing fiction, and then my preoccupation was always with characters who were entirely deluded. They’d think they wanted one thing, when it was obvious to the reader that they really wanted something else. I loved the unreliable narrator. I still do.
Writing on my blog has been an interesting exercise in telling the truth. How do you do that? When your perspective is by definition entirely subjective? That’s something I enjoy exploring. When I’m not just sharing fart jokes.
What has writing taught you?
That you can’t be perfect, and anyway your imperfection is often what resonates with readers. That first drafts will always suck so terribly you want to cry. That the easiest thing to write is rarely your best work, but every now and then you tap into something and it flows out. That none of the rules need apply. From my blog, I’ve learned that a community will build up around you that reflects who you are, so you had better be the best person you can be. And no matter how weird you think you are, your feelings and idiosyncrasies are shared by more people than you can imagine.
How has writing made you stronger?
It’s shown me that I have things to say. I often assume that there’s very little in my head except for a dial tone, or maybe radio static, and then I make myself move my fingers around on the keyboard, and then I’m all, “Oh, look, I do have things. In my head. What do you know.” Also it’s shown me that I can deal with incredibly nasty criticism, and live to see another day. (And even eventually laugh at the remarks that once had me in tears.)
If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?
You’re weird. Stop fighting it. It’s not bad to be weird. Look at me when I’m talking to you! Goddammit. Also, don’t listen to people who tell you that you need something to fall back on. Someone smart once said, “If you have something to fall back on, you’ll fall back.” So you’re going to waste all your time being an editor and being miserable, when you’ll be far happier as a full-time writer. Would you stop rolling your eyes at me? Ugh, FORGET it.
What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?
The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic. I could read it once a month. I never get tired of this book.
George Saunders: everything he’s ever written, ever. He’s so funny, but never at the expense of his characters. I don’t think there’s a more compassionate writer alive today. Also he once replied to a fangirl email I sent him, and he was so generous. I even got the name of his book WRONG, and rewrote him to apologize, commenting that I had possibly drunk too much iced coffee and should cut down in the future. His incredibly kind response included the comment, “I say: get the large iced coffee, type what you like.” Oh, I love him.
The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor. I just think she’s such an interesting, bewildering character. She was so odd, so dark, yet had such a big heart. I cried when I got to the end of this book, which is a collection of her letters, and realized (again) that she’s gone.
The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara. He lived in the New York I wish I lived in now. Every poem of his cracks me open a little, but in a good way. He’s another writer whose loss can choke me up, if I really think about it, which I try not to. His writing is way too alive for him to be gone.
Kottke.org: I don’t know how Jason Kottke does it, but damn if he doesn’t come up with thought-provoking links every day. He makes the Internet a better place.
Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog, Finslippy. Her work has been featured in numerous anthologies, magazines, and Web sites, including The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2; Redbook; Good Housekeeping; Parents; Nerve; The Sun; The Onion News Network; and Fence. She has an M.F.A. in writing from the New School University and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in nonfiction in 2009. Alice lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, son, dog, and cat.