Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Jamey Bradbury?
I’m a Midwesterner by birth and an Alaskan by choice whose cat, at the moment, keeps getting in the way of my keyboard. And I’m a writer who likes smashing genres into each other to see what happens. I have been, in the past, a receptionist, an actor with a dinner theater company, a volunteer, a CPR instructor, and a professional poop-scooper. Right now, I happily divide my life between writing fiction and doing storytelling for an Alaska Native social services organization.
Your debut novel, The Wild Inside, was published by William Morrow in March. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
It’s partly a horror novel, partly a suspense novel, partly a coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of sled dog racing in Alaska. Plot-wise, it’s about a girl with a love for hunting who has to contend with a pair of strangers who show up on her doorstep, one of whom is mortally wounded — something that may or may not have been her fault. At its heart, though, The Wild Inside is about whether it’s really possible for people to truly know each other.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The novel came from the combination of an image that popped into my head one day — a lonely house, its windows lit up against the Alaskan winter, with two people inside waiting for one more to come home — and a book I read: Theodore Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood [UK/US], a 1961 “vampire” novel that isn’t really a vampire novel. When I read that, I wondered how things would have been different if Sturgeon’s protagonist had been a woman instead of a man. The Wild Inside isn’t a retelling or reimagining of Sturgeon’s book, but it does take inspiration from some of the ideas in Some of Your Blood.
I get a lot of inspiration from other writers. When I’m in the middle of a project, I often find it hard to read because reading just makes me want to write — I get halfway through someone else’s sentence only to find that I’m thinking about my own project. Even if what I’m reading is completely different than what I’m writing (if I’m reading a epistolary romance while trying to write a sci-fi mystery, say), I still find that someone else’s good writing only makes me want to write, too.
How were you introduced to suspense fiction and reading in general?
My first love is horror, which usually has an element of suspense. I started young, reading YA ghost novels by Betty Ren Wright, before moving on to Ray Bradbury‘s creepy fantasy tales and Stephen King‘s books. I will forever be indebted to my hometown librarian who, out of concern that I would encounter something too mature for my pre-teen brain, forbade me to go into the adult section of the library — basically guaranteeing that I would expend all my energy trying to do exactly that. I spent many hours hiding behind chairs or grandfather clocks and reading books that were probably too old for me, that I only half-understood. That half-understanding, though, meant my imagination had to work overtime to make sense of things, which I think made the real world seem even more magical and strange and weird to me.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
So far, so good! Being in Alaska, I actually feel very removed from the publishing industry; my perspective is funneled through the contact I have with my editor, my publicist, my agent, and a handful of other people I communicate with. It’s been a pleasant experience, overall, as a first-time published writer. And I love being a writer — it’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do, the thing I’ve always done, even before anyone was paying any attention. I’m obsessed with storytelling in all its forms, and I’m happiest when I’m figuring out the most effective way to tell a story.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Since I’m a fiction writer with a day job, I get up around 5 a.m. to get a couple hours of writing in before I have to go to work. (I know if I put it off for the end of the day, I won’t want to do it.) My process is one of constant revision: I draft until I hit a problem I can’t solve, then I go back and rewrite everything — sometimes changing a lot, sometimes just retyping literally what’s already on the page — until I get to that place where I got stuck, and if everything goes smoothly, by that time I’ve figured out my solution. I find that this process allows me to spend a lot of time getting to know my characters, so that by the time I’m ready to revise an entire story or book, I know them down to their bones and can make decisions that make sense for each individual, story-wise.
Research for The Wild Inside mostly involved reading — books like Winterdance by Gary Paulsen and Yukon Alone by John Balzar. I also spent a lot of time on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website. Probably my most valuable research, though, was reading the blogs and Twitter feeds of mushers who record their lives on the internet. There are quite a few mushers who have great feeds or keep pretty up-to-date blogs, and that view into the everyday life of an active musher was super valuable.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
My first foray into writing didn’t even involve writing, but it was still a form of storytelling. I look back on it fondly, but my brother and cousins probably still think I’m a little tyrant: As a kid, I used to make up plays and cajole the other kids in my family — who were all younger than me — into performing them on the front steps of our grandmother’s house. (My grandma was probably happy to have us all occupied for a good hour or so!)
It wasn’t until I got to third grade, though, that I understood that being an author was a real job some lucky people got to do. My third grade teacher, Mrs. McMichael, was the kind of teacher who read aloud to us every day — Superfudge, and Charlotte’s Web, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. She gave all the kids in the class real, bound blank books and told us to write our stories. When I turned mine in, she encouraged me to write more, and nicknamed me “Judy Blume,” since the writer and I have the same initials. That was when I realized, hey, maybe this writing thing was something I could do all the time, get better at, and even do for a living someday.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I’m extremely excited about what’s going on in fiction today, especially when it comes to the way writers are experimenting with genre. I feel like writers have more freedom than ever when it comes to mixing so-called literary fiction with genre elements and inserting fabulism and fantasy into realistic stories to ask hard questions about gender, politics, identity, class, etc. I’m so interested in what writers like Leni Zumas, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and others are doing right now. When it comes specifically to horror, I’ve never been luckier as a reader — there are so many great horror writers and writers who mix horror with other genres putting out great work right now! I mean, my to-read list alone includes Grady Hendrix, Alma Katsu, Joe Hill, Josh Malerman… As for my work, I just hope I can be another voice in the ever-developing conversation.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m about 100 pages into the first draft of what I hope will be my second novel. True to form, I’m mashing up a couple genres again — this time, leaning on a favorite sci-fi topic: time travel. This project is set in a fictional seaside town in Alaska that’s home to the longest road into ocean waters in the world. At the end of this road, there’s a huge house that contains dozens, maybe hundreds, of doors. Doors in walls, doors in ceilings, doors in floors, doors within other doors. When the woman who lives inside this house opens the doors, each one takes her to a different point in her own life’s history. This story is about memory, dementia, family, time, and a one-eared cat named Shark.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’ve got a few books going right now. I just started Mira Grant’s Feed, a bloggers-meet-zombies post-apocalyptic novel that is deliciously fun. I just finished an advance copy of Lauren Groff’s short story collection Florida, which is luminous and smart and un-put-downable; seriously, there is not a dud among these stories. I’m reading Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, her posthumously published book about hunting the serial murderer she dubbed The Golden State Killer. And I’m about to start Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster, which I have been saving to savor.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Lately I can’t shut up about Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. My friends can’t even ask me what time it is without me saying, “Speaking of time, and clocks, have you read Red Clocks yet?” It’s about a not-too-distant future in which abortion is completely outlawed in the U.S., and the politics and ramifications of these laws are interesting enough, but what I find really compelling about the book is the lives of the five women it focuses upon. Each woman is so artfully, fully drawn, you feel their lives. And one character is an arctic explorer — so, you know, instant catnip for me.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I have eaten an entire barbecued sheep’s head on more than one occasion.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
There’s a lot to look forward to: At my day job, we’re gearing up for one of my favorite Alaskan events, the Native Youth Olympics, in which high school kids compete in events that are based on traditional Alaska Native games originally developed to help people survive in the wilderness. So there are events like the Stick Pull, which helps a person develop the grip strength needed for pulling seals from the water. Summer is coming, and that’s a glorious time in Alaska — hiking and biking and camping and fishing. I’m training for a marathon in May and a 16-mile trail race in beautiful Seward, Alaska, in August. And I’m looking forward to digging deeper into this second novel, getting to know my characters, and finding out what’s behind all those doors in that mysterious house.
Author Photo Credit: Brooke Taylor