Meet B. L. Aldrich-Author Featured In Vintage Love Stories
Blunder Woman Productions, with the help of eight talented authors and nine equally talented narrators, will be releasing a remarkable volume of short tales set before the age of the internet and cell phones. Vintage Love Storiesfeatures B. L. Aldrich’s story, Second Best.
We were able to chat with Brenna, and we’re excited for you to get to know her, too!
What inspired your story?
I wrote “Second Best” after watching a music video about a woman who was fixated on a lover she’d lost in wartime; halfway through the video, a shot of her in bed with a different man appeared, and I thought, “Well, what about that guy? Does he care about you? Is this a fling? Why are you with him if you’re still fixated on the dead one?” My story, “Second Best” resulted from my attempt to answer the swarm of what-ifs generated by that image.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Do. Not. Teach. Don’t feel obligated to teach. Don’t channel your writing energy into any other profession than the kind of writing that you want to do. Because no matter what kind of writing it is, journalism, blogging, freelance of either, teaching writing, it is all writing, full stop.
Writing is work. Writing is difficult. Writing is draining. Fiction writing is not some errant hobby compared to the rest, no matter how our parents feel because it takes years or never for fiction writing to become lucrative. No matter how society views it because only a dedicated or privileged handful ever become successful by the standards of a non-writing majority. Story telling is not easier and lesser because we as writers enjoy it. It’s still hard. It still requires revision and discipline.
So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must employ your skill at writing as your breadwinning means.
In fact, as a fiction writer, that’s foolish because you limit your access to people. You plant yourself in a bubble of other writers and have to rely on unreliable experience won imagination to “invent” characters. If you have a small circle to draw from, all your characters will be the same. Instead, find a day job that exposes you to a variety of people. You’ll be happier and better at what you do if you stop guilt tripping yourself for wanting to write fiction but spending all your energy in unproductive spaces.
Which character in your story would be worst to take on a road trip? Why?
Azalea’s mother. She’s a criticism factory who thrives off wounding other people and wielding power over them by how miserable she can make them feel. To be trapped with that woman in a small space for hours and miles at a time would be a circle of hell unto itself.
What books have most influenced your life?
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. A Separate Peace, John Knowles. To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee. The Chosen, Chaim Potok. The Memorial, Christopher Isherwood. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. The Crow Road, Ian Banks, and The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, most specifically, Never Mind and Some Hope.
Can you tell us about your current project(s)?
I have two projects to which I’m devoting the most attention. One is a sequel novella to a novel that had a publishing deal with a small independent press, DreamFusion, that sadly fell through because of illness in one of the founding publishers’ family. My prayers and thoughts are with them in this difficult time.
The original novel, The Whisper of Souls, follows a trio of ghost hunters, consisting of a psychic empath, his pet Newfoundland, and an independent spinster. It’s set after the American Civil War during the Spiritualism craze which follow that bloody conflict.
The sequel novella I’m working on is set at Christmas and follows my trio (Grahame, Theo, and Lynette) as they try to rescue the holiday from a mass invasion of ghosts summoned by a set of haunted hand bells that were used during a local church’s Christmas concert. The draft is finished, but I still have several revision runs to do.
My second project is the third in a series I’ve written set in 1940s New York and focused on an Irish American family with ties to the Irish Mob. That series is a generational family saga that spans from the 1890s to the current project which is set in the 1960s. It’s a project I’ve pursued for years, and I never imagined it expanding the way it has, but I’m in love with the characters. It’s one that will likely evolve with me my whole life.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
All of my stories begin with curiosity, and typically that curiosity is about a person. What if person A encountered/ did X, Y, Z? Because I have a strong academic background, and my upbringing was fairly sheltered, I wonder about people and their motivations, and I write to learn about them or imagine solutions to the questions they inspire in my mind. For example, the ghost hunter series I mentioned first came from my stumbling across an article on psychic pets and wondering, “Who would know they had a psychic pet or even want a psychic pet? What would they do with them?”
From there, I imagined the most logical answer would be another psychic, perhaps a lonely one in search of a friend because their abilities might isolate them. So, I developed Grahame Auden. Grahame is a psychic empath who feels the emotions of other people. His pet Newfoundland, Theo, is clairvoyant, so has visions. If Grahame touches Theo, he shares the visions, which makes them an effective ghost hunting team. From there it was easy to fit them into a classic mystery story who-done-it-let’s-investigate plot structure. But all these tropes and characteristics developed from curiosity regarding questions inspired by a random internet article.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story. or do you feel like you hold the reins of the story?
While my characters can and do hijack the story in early drafts, I manage to retain the reins because I have excellent peer reviewers. My twin sister is my first, best, and closest reader. If a character is acting out of character, she’s the first to notice, and if she’s displeased, I rewrite. My aunt, who being ten years younger than my mother and ten years older than me, is also one of the most discerning fiction readers I’ve ever known, so is wonderfully candid and sharp when it comes to peer review. She knows what works and what doesn’t. Whenever she’s incredulous, or enthusiastic, I respond accordingly. For any author struggling to retain the reins on their work, invest in good peer review. Trust the reader’s reactions. Be big enough to respond accordingly.
Would you call your main character to hang out? Why or why not?
My main character in “Second Best” that is appearing in the vintage love story anthology? Absolutely. Azalea is sweet and thoughtful, but inexperienced, so hanging out with her would be fun for me. But I’d also be able to help her set foot outside her bubble and see more of the world than her sheltered life has here-to-fore offered. She wouldn’t be an attention seeking jerk who’d suck up all the oxygen in the room. She’s funny and sweet, so she’d be pleasant to hang out with, and she’d enjoy herself because she’d be doing something new.
What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
“Men don’t act like that.” I know in our current times, that sounds cliché or even small minded, but the critique was very contextual. It applied to the kind of men I was attempting to write who needed to at least lightly conform to a specific culture and time period, so the critique stung. But it did teach me to be more attentive to the men around me, to the way male writers write the inner monologue of male characters, and to apply the breadth of my own observation to the fashioning of ALL my characters in general.
What has been the best compliment you've received about your writing?
This is a quote from the acceptance e-mail I originally received about my ghost hunters novel: “We receive mountains of submissions and while some are very good, it is not very often we come across a writer of your caliber. It is even less often that said author has a such a well-developed character with potential for many successful stories.” After years of the submission-rejection dance, the idea that my story stood out of “mountains” of submissions was a welcome recognition of the time I’ve committed to developing my craft and a welcome confidence boost after recent demonstrations of incredulity about my chosen art from people close to me. It was particularly cheering because characters are my joy and my strong suit.
What is something memorable you have heard from your readers?
A male friend of mine who read an excerpt from the project I wrote as my grad-school thesis, told me he cried when he read it. The project was a reimaging of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening from the point of view of Edna Pontellier’s oldest son, Raoul. In one scene, a five-year-old Raoul overhears his parents fighting, and thinks it is his fault. My friend was currently going through a divorce, and said he cried because he suddenly imagined what his own children must be thinking while overhearing his arguments with his ex-wife. I have very few male peer-reviewers, and most of them have been skeptical or highly critical of my writing. The usual reaction is that I write “girly” fiction or that they just don’t like it. I was grateful to actually connect with a male reader, and double grateful that I connected with him on a personal level. I’m sorry I made him cry, but I’m glad the story resonated on an emotional level.
What do you love most about the writing process?
Discovery. I’m an outliner, a researcher, a pre-writer, and a planner when it comes to my writing, so during the composition process when I stumble on something I’d never thought of or that is spontaneous, I LOVE those moments.
What do you hate most about the writing process?
Of all the characters you've created, which is your favorite and why?
You’re making me choose between children. That’s mean. Okay, fine. It’s the chief protagonist of my Irish Mob series: Declan Whelan. First off, he’s not a cypher of me, which is a habit I continually battle. Neither is he an angsty bag of neurosis who constantly questions himself. He’s a streetwise kid who grew up playing caretaker to his baby brother, who remains his one Achilles heel. Otherwise, Declan’s a good cop, determined to keep his nose clean in a culture that rewarded graft and corruption. He’s funny, he’s a romantic, he’s smart, but not perfect. He’s loyal to his baby brother to a fault. When in all other arenas he’ll rise above the status quo with a Captain America-esque devotion to right and wrong, he buckles when baby brother comes begging for help. He’s infinitely human because of it. Keeping him likeable and human is a continual challenge, but he’s also a character to whom I always look forward. I love writing him. He takes buckets of revision and work, but it’s always rewarding.
Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
Yes. I work in my local hospital as a telemetry monitor technician. That means I interpret heart rhythms for patients whose condition dictates they require heart monitoring. The human heart’s electrical conduction displays as a specific pattern, the green line of lumps and spikes that people see in movies before a patient goes “flat line.” Incidentally, a true “flat line” never looks like the movies. Small rant. Anyway, I watch the patients, and I call their nurse should their rhythm display dysrhythmias, i.e. signs of illness or distress. Most monitor techs work in cardiac monitoring units removed from interaction with nurses and patients except via telephone. Because I work in a rural setting and, therefore, small hospital, I’m stationed in the ICU among nurses, doctors, patients, and patient family members. As such, I see power dynamics, skill levels, and human interactions that take place under extreme duress, but the experience is a microcosm of humanity in many ways. It’s a special privilege and one for which I’m grateful as a fiction writer. Even though I write a lot of genre fiction, much of which is set in eras and locations removed from me, I feel like I write very human people, and that my ability to do so has grown ever since I began my work as a telemetry monitor.
Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?
I see myself with a book on Barnes and Nobel’s New Fiction shelf in five years. Currently, I’m working on growing my Social Media presence and my readership. I’m stubbornly tied to the idea of publishing traditionally by submitting my work to editors and agents for acceptance rather than self-publishing. I’ve wanted to see a book of mine on a bookstore shelf since I was in kindergarten, so I can’t quite give up that pipe dream. And I don’t have the time or capital to market my own work the way self-publishing requires. So, I intend to keep writing and submitting over the next five years in the hope of landing a publishing contract with an agent and then a well-known press. I’ve honed my craft and my writing process over the last decade since grad-school so that producing, revising, and editing material are not obstacles. At this juncture, I need readers, which means get my work off my hard drive and into the public sphere. I’m grateful to Blunderwoman Productions and Tanya Eby for helping me to achieve that goal.
What would the main character in your story have to say about you?
Azalea would probably tell me I need to calm down and appreciate my present because it becomes the past in a blink. She’s a very present person, whereas I’m constantly looking forward. It’s useful in some ways for an ambitious being like myself, but I tend to look back and realize everything good about my “present” only once it has become the past and thus only interpretable through hindsight.
ABOUT B. L. ALDRICH
After composing her first novel at the age of five, B.L. Aldrich has been hooked on writing fiction ever since. Her published short fiction has since appeared at the online magazines LACUNA: A Journal of Historical Fiction, The Hoggle Pot, Black Lantern, in DreamFusion Press's anthology The Book of the Macabre, and is forthcoming from Blunderwoman Productions. A former English tutor at Chattahoochee Technical College turned telemetry technician, she received her Master’s in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University. Continually drafting, her work is marked by a fascination with characters who confuse, teach, and change her.