April 27, 2011

INTERVIEW with WEAVE Flash Fiction Contest Judge Bridgette Shade

WEAVE is pleased to announce our First Annual Poetry and Flash Fiction Contests. The judge for Flash Fiction is Weave's own editor Bridgette Shade.

Bridgette Shade earned her MFA in Fiction from Carlow University. Her short story “The Machinist's Son” won the Dana Award’s first honorable mention in 2010. Published works have appeared in The Oral Tradition, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Caper Literary Journal, Clapboard House, and Voices From the Attic: An Anthology among others. She is a lecturer in the English department at the University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University.

Bridgette took some time to answer a few questions for WEAVE. We hope you enjoy getting to know more about Ms. Shade as much as we did.

WEAVE: What is your earliest memory of writing?

Bridgette Shade: I remember writing a story called "The Red Spot." It had something to do with two girls: one who lived on Earth and one who lived on Jupiter (where the great red spot had some kind of power to turn people into the opposite of what they would be on Earth). Freaky science fiction stuff that I wish I could lay my hands on. It's in the attic, I'm sure, but there are likely to also be spiders in the attic, so ...

WEAVE: Do you have any writing rituals, such as writing with your favorite pen, pre-writing yoga, or sitting in your favorite armchair?

Shade: I have three typewriters. Two manual and one electric. I write poetry on these and letters. I love pencils above all and there are several pens which I keep hidden so that they cannot be absconded with. But ultimately, I write at the infernal computer, though some days I just play solitaire.

WEAVE: You have worked in the past as a journalist. What events lead you to write short fiction? Do you still write nonfiction?

Shade: Fiction and nonfiction are not so different, in my mind. But, truth, I think, is easier to get at in fiction. In nonfiction, truth is often strangled by the specifics of 'reality'. For example: In real-life, a boy who gets his mom to sign the paperwork necessary for him to enlist in the Army at 16 might tell the recruiter that he wants to become a Ranger so that he can shoot people who illegally cross over the border. The recruiter might tell him that he'll have to quit chewing tobacco while he's in basic training but after that he's free to do whatever he wants. The reporter taking notes might ask, "Can you get out of this contract? What if you change your mind?" The answer is No. He cannot change his mind but he doesn't care about shipping out before Prom; he doesn't have time for girls anyway. In nonfiction, the story ends with the interview. A journalist can paint the reader a picture, but she can only show you a fraction of the canvas. Grace Paley once said 'Every character - real or imagined - deserves the open destiny of life.' That's the long reason for my decision to become a fiction writer - because what I most love about stories is identifying with hidden truths, and fettering that stuff out requires imagination.

WEAVE: After listening to you read your short story “Posthumous Photography” on Prosody, it is obvious, through your animated reading, that a character’s voice and dialect, to some extent, heavily shape the story. Is this a conscious effort or does the voice emerge organically?

Shade: When I hear it, the voice always comes first. I never set out to write a story about a person with a particular vocabulary or inflection. I grew up listening to smart, opinionated people who very often spoke in slang and double-negatives. I think society unfairly equates regional dialect with lack of education or intelligence. Perhaps these voices come to me when I need to tell a story about a character who is more than what he/she seems.

WEAVE: Talk a little bit about your manuscript Cactus People.

Shade: Cactus People is actually not set in the desert nor are there any 'real' cactuses present in the story. Cactus People is a state of mind - a state reflective of the kind of people who populate my book. People who come to realize (often too late) that the things they blame for their unhappiness: a gay brother, a traveling salesman, or 'metal cactuses sticking out of the ground next to the catpee bushes when you don't live nowheres near a desert', are in fact, necessary as air.

WEAVE: Can you share some of your favorite writers and stories of all time?

Shade: Phew. Big question. My favorite overall story collection is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I love Barb Johnson's story "Killer Heart" and Tim O'Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story." My favorite line from a story comes from Grace Paley's "A Subject of Childhood". ("Then through the short fat fingers of my son, interred forever, like a black and white barred king in Alcatraz, my heart lit up in stripes." ) I also love Amy Bloom's "Silver Water" and Percival Everett's "The Fix." Jane McCafferty's collections: Director of the World and Thank You for the Music are among my favorites as is the story "Honey" by Anne Enright. Padgett Powell, Mary O'Donnell, Barbara Kingsolver, Eudora Welty and Benjamin Percy's "Refresh, Refresh." In terms of the classics, it's hard to beat Chekov or Katherine Mansfield, and I know as soon as I walk away from this screen, I will kick myself for not listing several dozen more.

WEAVE: What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t writing?

Shade: I am reading submissions to Weave, of course. Or teaching. Or taking the dog for a walk. Or listening to Selected Shorts on the ipod while walking the dog. Or reading while eating spaghetti in the kitchen after everyone has gone to bed - red wine near by. Or thinking/ telling someone about something I've read. Mostly reading, eating, drinking, and sometimes - on good nights - sleeping.

WEAVE: What are your current obsessions?

Shade: Well, I often have to get out of bed to check the stove and the locks (one more time). In the past I have been obsessed with making fleece blankets and baking the perfect batch of chocolate chip cookies. Obsession comes in waves, I suppose, but the things that remain constant are the need to check the stove and the need to write something that moves people closer to that moment of recognition. That's what really keeps me up at night - the fear of writing without substance.

WEAVE: If you had to choose a color, an animal, and a place to describe your work as an artist, what three things would you choose?

Shade: Red, definitely. The color of sauce. The color of my mother's hair. The color of our mouths.

A dog, I think, though if you'd asked me this question ten years ago, I would have answered differently. Dogs, I find, are representative of the duality of (wo)man. One minute they behave with such humanity - lovingly licking your face when you trip and are sprawled out on the asphalt, weeping and rubbing your split knees. The next minute, they're eating road kill and rolling around in dung.

The place would be a restaurant where the waitress already knows what kind of wine you like and how you take your salad (no cucumbers, please). Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington sing through the speakers about a time before you were born when everything you love was new. And it's the same sisters in the booth next to you as last week. And the old men asking for a kind of dressing that doesn't exist - again. And the babies slapping their fat fists against the tables. It's familiar and inviting and the spaghetti is great. But it's the way they surprise you, these people and things. The way they startle you, interrupting your comfort - sometimes with fierce kindness or quiet cruelty - that keeps you coming back.


For more information about WEAVE's First Annual Poetry and Flash Fiction Contests, please read our contest page.

For more info on Bridgette Shade, check out her brand new blog. Read her fiction at The Oral Tradition and Caper Literary Journal.

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