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Last year, two friends had poetry and short-story collections come out in Aqueduct Press's Conversation Pieces series. One is Lisa Bradley (The Haunted Girl), whose works have appeared in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Mythic Delirium, among other venues, and who's been anthologized in Rose Lemberg's The Moment of Change and Sylvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey's Fungi, among other collections. I got to know her work through her poem-a-day on LJ. Those entries are mainly locked, but here and here are a couple of evocative short-form poems that she shared publicly. I loved The Haunted Girl (review here), and the other day I asked if I could interview her about it. She agreed!

The title of this collection, and of one of the poems in it, is “The Haunted Girl.” Can you talk a little about the different forms that haunting takes in this collection?

There are few, if any, see-through, rattling chains, type ghosts here. Most of the hauntings come from our ability to imagine other outcomes, to impose counterfactuals on memories.

The Haunted Girl in the title poem is an amalgamation of girls killed in horror movies. The narrator is haunted by the knowledge that this didn’t *have* to be the Girl’s fate. She imagines ways to help the Girl, but none of the counterfactuals work because our world IS the horror movie: it created and perpetuates misogynistic tropes. In “Teratoma Lullaby,” “Blood Is Thicker than Water,” and several other pieces, the true haunting is a yearning to fix broken families, to rewrite personal histories.

There are some curses in the book, too. Casting a vengeful curse is pushing your counterfactual into the future. If, on the other hand, you’re the one cursed, then much of your tragedy comes of imagining the beautiful life you’d have otherwise.

Family is terribly important in this collection, both as a support and a chain. (One of two poems that deal specifically with immobility and entrapment, “embedded,” links that sense of imprisonment to family.) What aspects of family do you find most problematic? What aspects tug at your creative strings most strongly?

I think most problematic are the secrets, the truths we obscure out of love or loyalty or self-preservation. We are rarely as clever at keeping secrets as we think we are, and the fallout can be devastating. But even in families without hurtful secrets, children tend to accrue debts for actions not their own, or find themselves carrying responsibilities that they’d never have chosen, and the unfairness of that flays me.

See, as children, we may think our family revolves around us. (If we’re lucky, that’s more or less true. It’s the experience I’m trying to provide my own child.) But in time we realize, or we should, that we’ve walked into a story already in progress. Looking back on family events, I experience a ghosting effect, like bad reception on the chunky old tvs I grew up watching. Superimposed on the way I remember an event are all the ways (I’ve since learned) my family members experienced it. The valence of events changes, and our actions are no longer strictly our own.

One of my creative instincts is to try to synthesize a narrative from this multitude of ghosts. Of course, sometimes my emotions impede that process. My aim then becomes to recontextualize events so I can sympathize with those I’ve cast as antagonists in the family drama.

Note, I only feel conflicted about family when I look back. When I consider my current, chosen family, I feel love and hope and the thrill of adventure. And worry, but that’s my own Eeyore-ish tendency.

I’m really intrigued by the humor in many of your horror stories (and some of the horror poems). I like it--it’s a piquant contrasting flavor. Can you share a little about flavors of horror, and how do you decide when to add in humor?

I’m so glad you noted the humor! This collection might sound grueling, but then that peculiar Mexican fatalism shines through--“Sure, we’re all dying slow, painful deaths, but there’s no reason we can’t laugh about it!”--and then it gets even worse. (Kidding!) Most of my characters know they’re in a horror story and are willing to concede a grim appreciation for the absurdity of their suffering.

Then there’s the “Laugh so we don’t cry” humor. I have cousins who can tell hilarious stories about their run-ins with the Border Patrol that have you laughing ‘til you pee your pants. It’s only later that you think about how terrified they must’ve been in the moment, what a razor’s edge they were walking. As much as we need the horror stories for self-preservation, we also need those emotional speedbumps so we don’t go screaming into that good night. I’ll never be able to make you laugh like my cousins could, but at least I can give you a snort or snicker.

I hope the world will one day get to see your novels, as I have a powerful love for the one I’ve read. As a writer of poetry, short stories, and novels, do you find one or another of those formats more amenable to some topics or themes than others? Are you driven to write in a particular format, or is it a conscious choice--or does it vary?

I can’t imagine writing a whole novel about family, not the way I do in poems and short stories. That kind of emotional intensity and self-reflection would probably kill me. (Current “me,” that is. Never say never, right?) Family usually sneaks its way into the novels, but it’s not the focus.

In my mental shorthand, poetry is for ideas, stories for character, and novels for action. I realize this differs from current genre expectations, which may explain why my poetry has been more outwardly successful than my fiction.

Thank you so much for this interview! Your description of a curse--“pushing your counterfactual into the future”--as well as your insights about family, especially about the sense of walking into a story already in progress--have really given me food for thought, as has your neat system for what things become poems, short stories, and novels.

You can read more from Lisa on Twitter or here on LJ.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2015 02:20 pm (UTC)
They sound intriguing.
Apr. 14th, 2015 03:31 pm (UTC)
Lisa's work is imaginative and creative on all levels--form, content, expression, ideas--everything.
Apr. 14th, 2015 04:14 pm (UTC)
Sounds interesting!
Apr. 14th, 2015 04:25 pm (UTC)
I think you'd like "Mouth to Mouth" (the last story in the collection) a whole lot.
Apr. 14th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
Okay, noting this down . . .
Apr. 14th, 2015 05:06 pm (UTC)
Also, I had no idea I could italicize parts of entry titles and it looks really cool in the font on my friends page.
Apr. 14th, 2015 05:07 pm (UTC)
It didn't used to work for me, but now suddenly it does!
Apr. 14th, 2015 05:20 pm (UTC)
Hmm, maybe it's a new thing they added.
Apr. 14th, 2015 08:28 pm (UTC)
Then there’s the “Laugh so we don’t cry” humor. I

I really relate to this.

In my mental shorthand, poetry is for ideas, stories for character, and novels for action.

Interesting! I always like seeing how other people understand and treat forms.
Apr. 15th, 2015 02:37 am (UTC)
Me too with regard to that last thing. Like what colors people associate with what numbers, or what moods with what seasons, and so on.
Apr. 15th, 2015 12:10 am (UTC)
Great interview! I'm especially enjoying mulling over the comments on family, and the ghosting of memories.
Apr. 15th, 2015 02:39 am (UTC)
That was beautiful, wasn't it: the way Lisa spoke of the ghosting of memories. And I know what she means; I've had that experience.
Apr. 15th, 2015 12:13 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. Thanks.
Apr. 15th, 2015 01:39 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! So happy that Lisa agreed to do it!
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 15th, 2015 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad! Each time I go back to your stories and poems, I find new things. It's really great, though, to not be left alone with my own thoughts--to actually have yours!

I look forward to Sonya's answers too.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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