"I try to capture the sounds of their (the characters’) voices in the articles I write.”
B. Lynn Goodwin
An Interview with
By B. Lynn Goodwin
When I Started Asking Questions
What makes a debut writer shine? Originality, for one thing. Unique characters driven by exceptional motives and objectives are important. The writing should be tight and expressive, and the voice matters. Jamey Bradbury’s The Wild Inside: A Novel has all of these along with a tough, gritty heroine and a touch of magical realism. She’s created a genuinely unique story, and though I resisted a story about the wilderness at first, her narrator drew me in and held me.
Raised in the Alaska wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff loves tracking small game and running with her dogs in the remote forests near her family’s home. She feels safe until a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious.
The next morning, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure if she fought back with her knife or not. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin, a mysterious wanderer who goes to work for her father, and she worried about what these strangers intend to do to her family.
In the interview below, she discusses her writing approach and shares her insights.
BLG: When did you think you were a writer? What training did you have? When did you know you were a writer?
JB: I made a very conscious decision to be a writer at the age of nine, when my third grade teacher revealed an incredible secret: the thing I liked to do for fun was an actual job that some people had, and that’s where all the books I liked to read came from. So I thought I was a writer at a pretty young age. That confidence carried me through a lot of ups and downs as I enrolled as a non-degree student in graduate workshops at the University of Alaska Anchorage, then when I became a graduate student at the University of North Caroline Greensboro (UNCG). I don’t think I’ve ever not felt like a writer because even when I wasn’t getting paid for it, I was putting the work in. I was focused on bettering my craft even when only a handful of friends were my readers.
BLG: How did your previous writing prepare you to tell this story?
JB: In many ways, my day job helped prepare me to write The Wild Inside. At the Alaska Native social services agency where I work, I interview people who’ve used our services, and I try to capture the sounds of their voices in the articles I write. Having an ear for voice allowed me to hear my protagonist’s voice and to see the world from her point of view, which was the key to telling her story.
BLG: You have a most unusual protagonist in The Wild Inside. How did you discover her and develop her story?
JB: Everything that my protagonist, Tracy, became grew from her voice and her relationship with her mother. There’s a lot of mystery in that relationship, and when I started asking questions, the answers I began to find led me to Tracy’s unusual proclivities and needs.
BLG: What inspired the story? How did it change as you worked on it?
JB: My book was inspired in part by something I read—Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon, a 1961 horror novella. That book was narrated by a man and as I read, I kept wondering how his story would be different if it were told by a woman.The Wild Inside isn’t a direct retelling of that story, but it grew from that seed. As it grew, it became its own thing. In the beginning, this story was told through multiple points of view and through Tracy’s journals. Soon, though, it became apparent that this was Tracy’s story, regardless of her reliability as a narrator. The reader needed to see this world through Tracy’s perspective, so I dropped the other points of view and narrowed the focus on her.
BLG: Where/how did you learn to weave magical realism into a gritty story of survival and dog racing? And for those who don’t know or aren’t certain what the term means, how would you define magical realism?
JB: I’ve always been a fan of what I’d call “weird” writing; it’s almost always been a part of the stories I write, partly because I’m huge horror fan, and monsters and strangeness are a big part of the horror genre.
I applied to UNCG primarily because the writer Kelly Link had gone to the MFA program there, and I figured if they were okay with her odd and captivating stories, they’d be okay with my weird stuff.
I write what I want to read more of, and the thing I love reading best is realistic stories that have a strange, magic, or surreal element that allows a reader to ask difficult questions about the world. I guess that’s how I’d define magic realism—a vision of the real world that also allows for the magical to take place.
BLG: How did you find your agent? What’s the wisest advice you got from him or her?
JB: I found my agent in a pretty traditional way—by querying for months with a strong manuscript. I was so lucky to find Michelle Brower, who helped me see my story even more clearly.
The best piece of advice she gave me about this specific book was to compress the timeline. Originally, Tracy’s story took place over the years between her 13th and 18th birthdays and involved a significant time jump in the middle of the action. By compressing the timeline, I was able to develop more tension and keep the plot moving.
BLG: What’s the best writing advice you ever got from a professional editor?
JB: I’m not going to remember who wrote this, but I know I found it in some book or article written by an editor: Some brilliant person wrote, “A big part of editing is paying attention to your own boredom.”
I have a lot of Post-It notes in my writing spot with bits of advice on them, but while I revise, that’s the one my eyes go to most often. If I’m bored as I go through a scene again, odds are the reader’s not going to be too interested, either.
BLG: What did you get from your MFA program and what advice would you give to someone who wants to write well?
JB: The greatest gift an MFA program can give a writer is simply time to write. That’s how you get better at what you do—just sitting down and putting in the hours and writing really terrible stuff until it’s not terrible anymore.
The nice thing about an MFA program is that you’re surrounded by other people who also care about good writing; earning an MFA is one of the few times, as a fiction writer, you’ll be in the company of lots of other people who want to talk about the mechanics of a story, what good writing is, or how the structure of a novel works. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find one or two or several fellow writers whose instincts and advice you really trust. That’s another thing I got from my MFA—friends and fellow writers who serve as the first readers of what I write.
BLG: What are you working on now and how can we learn more about you?
JB: I’m at work on my next novel, another sort of magical realism-type story set in a seaside Alaskan town where a woman has built a house filled with doors—doors in walls, doors in floors, doors within other doors. Every door she opens takes her to a different point in her own life history. This story is about time travel, dementia, family, and the slipperiness of memory.
Readers can learn more about me and my writing by visiting jameybradbury.com or by following me on Instagram @jameybee.
BLG: The new work sounds fascinating. You have an excellent foundation and many years to write. Thank you for sharing with us. I wish you all the best.
The Wild Inside is Jamey Bradbury’s first novel. Her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review (winner of the annual fiction contest), Sou’wester, and Zone 3. She won an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.