Brad Eddy is a fiction writer who earned his Master’s in Fine Arts from the University of Montana. His work has appeared in literary journals such as Subtropics, The Normal School, Southern Indiana Review, and others. Eddy’s story “Impervious to Ambush” was published in issue #63 of the Potomac Review in Fall 2018.
Earlier in Spring 2019, former Potomac Review intern Guido Ambasz spoke with Brad Eddy about how the dysfunction between his family members in his childhood inspired him as a writer, the desire to be transformed through traveling the world, and creating stories that focus on the universally shared experience of childhood.
What projects are you currently working on? Any short stories or novels?
Right now, I’m working on a coming of age novel that begins when the narrator is seven years old and ends when he’s eighteen. It’s loosely based on a few stories I’ve published over the years. The main theme, I suppose, is belief and religion with the primary conflict being the difficulties that arise when raised in a household that’s especially faith-based while living in a secular world.
I’m not currently working on any short stories, but I do have a list of story ideas I hope to revisit. Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but I’d love to be finished with the novel by the end of 2019.
What are you currently reading? Are there any books you’d recommend?
I’m reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, who is one of my favorite writers. It’s a book that I never got around to reading, and then I saw it at a bookstore in Silver Spring and picked it up. In general, I love the way Patchett seems completely devoted to story and characters. She’s a brilliant writer on the sentence level, but I don’t feel like she’s ever embellishing her language or showing off to impress the reader. When I read her work, I often ask myself: does the sentence you’ve written accomplish something or just it does sound good? I also get the sense that she does an incredible amount of research for each novel, and that’s something I appreciate. I always learn something when I read her work.
Would you say there was a particular moment in your life that drove you to become a writer, or was it something that you always did? When would you say you realized that you wanted to do it for a living?
That’s difficult to answer. As a young child, maybe eight or ten, I was really interested in what motivated people and what caused them to act, particularly when it came to big emotional displays. I come from a family with several volatile personalities, and people were always blowing off steam by yelling or arguing. In most cases, the triggering event seemed really small and routine. At an early age I knew their anger was really caused by something else, and I found myself trying to backtrack, to discern what exactly had put someone in a bad mood. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what had happened days or weeks ago that had festered and manifested itself at that moment. In a way, I suppose I was trying to arrive at some level of empathy for the family members screaming at each other for dropping an ice cube or sneezing too loudly. As a writer, I think that’s a big part of what we do—we try to find empathy for characters who initially don’t seem to deserve it.
I didn’t try to write a story or essay with any real gusto until I was an undergraduate, and at that point, I think I found that my propensity to overthink situations and analyze motivations had given me a pretty good foundation for writing. I had always read quite a bit, so that helped, too. As for doing it for a living, I’m not sure that day will ever come! I work at a non-profit by day and try to write in the mornings, evenings, and weekends.
As many other writers, you went to graduate school in order to further develop your creative writing skills. Would you encourage students and beginner writers to follow in the same path, or do you think they should be encouraged to seek new experiences and learn from traveling?
That’s a good question. I think both routes have value. If someone has the means and opportunity to travel and gain experience, I would suggest they do that first. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and for me, school really was travel—it was the only way I could conceive of getting out of those small towns. Of course, there are other ways, but I’d not seen anyone take them. Heading off to school was how I saw people leave, and when they occasionally returned to visit, they seemed transformed.
I do feel like I had less to write about in graduate school than older students who’d traveled and seen more of the world. In general, I think my mid to late twenties would have been a perfect time for an MFA program. I’d probably have appreciated the time to write more, as well as having a community of writers. I’d probably also have had more adult experiences to fuel my writing. I do think that MFA programs are a great place to get into the routine of writing, and it gives you a good sense of the audience (i.e., your workshop peers) who you’ll be striving to reach. To this day, I think I’m still largely writing to those same peer groups.
A graduate program also gives you access to a group of talented and devoted writers, which can be difficult to find elsewhere. Even now, I have utterly failed to find a group of talented writers where I live in Pittsburgh for mentoring and workshopping. Lots of people like to write, but I think graduate work in writing forces you to take your writing seriously.
What advice would you give to a student or prospective writer in the beginning of their career?
The big piece of advice I wish someone would have given me earlier is to allow my characters the freedom to be uncivilized. One of my teachers in graduate school said this to me once, and it was really transformative. I think a lot of us struggle with this notion where we want our characters to be polite and considerate. Most of us try every day to be decent to each other, and that’s perfectly fine, but stories occur when people are selfish, when civility breaks down to some extent.
What does your writing process look like? Do you write and work on your stories at a particular time during the day and have a strict schedule for yourself, or is it more flexible? Do you have word quotas that you try to reach per day?
In an ideal world, I’d write for a few hours every morning, but that’s not always feasible with a full-time job. I do my best to write for a half hour or so in the morning and in the evenings. I make the most progress on weekends when I have fewer commitments. I do try to write a little every day, and generally I set a goal for myself. This might be 500 or 1000 words (or anything in between). I’ve found that I really need to write every day, and if I miss even one day of writing, there’s a good chance I lose my inertia
Many students are taught that writing from a child’s perspective or dealing with children in general within a story should be avoided. In “Impervious to Ambush,” you write from the perspective of Max, a young child. Would you say the previous premise is wrong, or maybe just discouraged due to its difficulty? What would you recommend to those wanting to write from the point of view of a child?
You’re right that some readers and editors simply don’t care for stories with child narrators. At least a dozen editors have told me they like my writing but don’t publish stories about children. I think the general belief is that children have less at stake, that when you’re young it’s hard to completely ruin your life with one event. I don’t disagree with that, but there are countless works where writers have written successfully about children. A really great anthology I continue to return to is I Know Some Things Too: Stories About Childhood, which is edited by Lorrie Moore. It’s full of tremendously powerful stories, some tragic and some pretty quotidian.
In general, I’ve always been interested in the ache of childhood. I think it’s a terrifically lonely time, and in most cases I feel like children have very little autonomy or choice. Children are pretty powerless, and, at least for me, I was cognizant of being a burden for my parents. I also think childhood is something we all have in common; we’ve all been children, so it’s easy to sympathize with those narrators. On the contrary, not all readers have been, say, retired or college graduates.
For whatever reason, I’ve always found writing from a child’s perspective to be pretty liberating because people forgive children so easily. We expect them to be brash or selfish, to be petulant, maybe even violent. If a child throws a fit and gets in a fight, we forgive her. If an adult does that, maybe not.
When first developing a story, would you say that you begin with a plot in mind and develop your characters around it, or would you say you create a plot around the character you have in mind? Do you think there’s a proper method of constructing a story?
In theory, I try my best to find a “plot” first, which is to say a somewhat interesting or unique premise. In theory this leads to a conflict, and from there I find it easier to develop my characters. In graduate school, I had a professor who claimed that good stories work like old war movies; you shoot at characters, then see how they surprise you. That’s pretty much what I try to do.
What would you say is the biggest source of inspiration for your stories? Do you have any particular source of ideas for your stories, or do they just come to mind spontaneously?
Honestly, ideas often come to me from watching or listening to others. The story “Impervious to Ambush” came to me in a rather indirect way. I was writing a story about children selling candy door-to-door as a fundraiser. I was struck at how odd it is to ask children to knock on doors and fundraise for various causes, how the notion of it is antithetical to the adage of being wary of strangers. In the original draft, the narrator is accosted by a creepy man in a house. I was two or three drafts into that story when I realized it was remarkably similar to Ellen Gilchrist’s Victory Over Japan, a really great story I’d read years ago. I put my story away for a few years until I noticed kids shoveling sidewalks in my neighborhood last winter. Those children were older, and many of them were making pretty serious money. From there, I had the idea that I would write about a character trying the same thing, but I decided to put more trouble in his way. He’d be younger, unsuccessful, and for the first time in his life, have bitten off more than he could chew. Ultimately, I decided that it would be more harrowing to have Duncan—the bully in the story—as a specter in the past rather than a character in the present.
Do you possess any particular habits that you’d like to get rid of, some that could be hindering your ability to write or go about everyday life? Are there any habits you’d like to acquire?
Lately I’ve been trying to not be so concerned with word count. I’d like to write for an hour or two a day and be focused more on content than sheer volume. Right now, I find myself rewriting a lot, and I think I’d be better served to write better first and second drafts.