Interview: Robyn Bradley

Interview: Robyn Bradley

Robyn Bradley is the author of  Support Our Troops – A Short Story , just 99 cents for Kindle.  So far all the reviews are five stars, so I’m not the only one who thinks it’s quite good.  The characters are strong and well drawn, the dialogue is crisp and engaging.  The story drew me in immediately.  The only problem with it is it’s very short!  Definitely leaves you wanting more.  And luckily, more is on the way.

Before I get to the interview, here is the description of the book from Amazon:  When Koty’s husband volunteers her to visit Jamie, a quadruple amputee who lost his limbs while serving in Iraq, neither Koty nor Jamie is happy. Jamie resents being “babysat” every day. Koty resents her lot in life: almost 30, mother of four, married to an abusive alcoholic. But in one pivotal moment that brings Koty and Jamie together in a sexually-charged situation, all that changes.

Welcome, Robyn Bradley, thank you for coming over and answering my questions!

1) What was the impetus for this story?  What first sparked it in your imagination?

I wrote the short story in 2007 after seeing a news segment on a soldier who’d lost both arms while serving in Iraq. The segment was about how he was assimilating back into his home life and doing well and living a full life. But I had a question that wasn’t answered in the segment: how would someone with no arms take care of some basic human sexual needs like masturbation? Reporters don’t talk about those sorts of things on the news, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with that question. From there, I started thinking about this character — and the characters who would surround him. The story developed from there.

2) Did you have fears and concerns about the very charged subject matter?

Believe it or not, no. I realize war and sex are two hot-button issues, of course, but, in my mind, the story wasn’t about these things: it was about two human beings connecting under unusual circumstances.

3) What do you hope your readers will take away from Koty’s story?

I always knew that this short story wanted to be a full-blown novel and that there was more to the main characters’ stories, especially Koty’s. It pleases me when readers reach out to tell me they want to know what happens to Koty and Jamie because they’ve become invested in their stories. I want people to see all of my characters (in any story I write) as real people, flaws and all, because, let’s face it — we’re all flawed characters in real life.

4) Was it difficult to decide to use a character with a disability as dramatic as Jamie’s?

I never thought twice about using a character with a disability. That said, I was concerned with accuracy and “getting it right.” The story is fiction, but the details I provide about Jamie’s disability needed to ring true to the reader. I did some research online with a focus on finding images of people with similar injuries so that I could accurately describe what Koty saw.

5) What research did you do to portray the disability?

It will help for me to provide some back story before I talk about the nitty gritty research part. This short story went through a few iterations. I wrote the original in 2007. In 2008, I worked on it some more, and it became part of my graduate school thesis (I have an MFA in creative writing). In 2009, the story was accepted for publication with, and I had to edit it some more, per the editors’ requests. In the fall of 2009 and winter of 2010, I wrote the draft for the full-blown novel. I did more research at this time and discovered news stories on Brendan Marrocco who was, at the time, the only surviving quad amputee from the wars (Todd Nicely is the second, I believe — I discovered his story in July when my dad sent me a video of Todd learning to drive, which was really cool, since I have a scene with Jamie driving in the novel).

When I was penning the short story, I don’t think I realized how significant an injury a quadruple amputation was. I quickly realized that I’d need to address the severity of Jamie’s injury in the book. I debated for a long time about reaching out to Brendan, but I decided against it in the end, only because I worried that I’d be prying. It’s funny — I used to do some stringing for my local newspaper, and the part I hated the most was calling people and bugging them for interviews. I tend to be a little shy at times so that was my reason for not reaching out.

However, fate had other plans for me.

A woman who read “Support Our Troops” recently reached out to me; she enjoyed the short story, but she felt some of the details I provided weren’t authentic. She’s married to a double leg amputee who lost his limbs in Iraq, so she knows what she’s talking about. She agreed to review some of the scenes from the novel so that I can get it “just right.” What’s funny is that I’m not shy at all now about asking my questions since she reached out to me. I consider this a gift. The good news? Much of what I’d written and imagined was pretty on target. I need to make mostly minor changes. I’ll be updating the short story as well to reflect these changes.

6) What challenges were there in writing a character who is disabled?

I want readers to see Jamie as a person first, because that’s how I think about him. His disability is simply one thing about him, but it doesn’t define him as a human being. He’s still very much a hot-blooded guy who falls for an unavailable woman. The conflict in the story has nothing to do with Jamie’s injury…it’s about whether Koty can leave her family to be with this man. That’s a tale as old as time, I think. Jamie’s injury adds a layer of complexity to his character, of course. But so much more makes up this man than just that.

7) Who do you see as your audience for this story?

The audience for the short story is probably a literary audience (and those who like short stories…not enough people read this form!). As for the novel, it’s geared toward a general/mainstream audience. We actually talked about this in my writers’ group (they read the full-blown manuscript for the novel). One member said that while my first novel, Forgotten April, is geared towards women, he thinks both men and women will be drawn to this book, this story, and these characters. I’m hoping he’s right. 🙂

8 ) Have you written any other stories that feature characters who have disabilities?

I guess it depends on how we define disabilities. If we’re talking physical disabilities, then no. But if we’re talking emotional disabilities, then yes. My short story, “A Touch of Charlotte,” involves severe postpartum psychosis. My short story “Crush” involves a woman who becomes obsessed over the way her only child dies. I deal with suicide and depression in “The Object,” and in “Orange Pineapple,” I write about a consensual affair between a sixteen-year-old girl and a guy in his late 30s. As you can see, I’m drawn to “taboo” subjects — my goal is to make them less taboo and to get people talking about the subjects in rational and productive ways.

9) What work did you do to capture Koty’s voice?  What about Wayne’s?

I love getting into my characters’ heads. Koty’s story is extremely relatable: life hasn’t turned out how she had planned. I bet that’s familiar to most of us. I know it is to me. So, for me, I capture my own disillusionment with life — how it feels, what it looks like — and then I riff off of that by thinking about Koty, her world, what she must be thinking and feeling. Writing from a male point of view is challenge, but one I love to take on. In the short story, Wayne comes across as a bit too flat, I think, simply because I didn’t have the space too fully develop him. In the novel, I think people will find that he truly becomes a fully developed and highly complex character. It’s fairly easy to hate him in the short story. Not so much in the novel.

10) Tell us a little about your future projects and plans.

The full-blown novel based on “Support Our Troops” will be released in October 2011, and I’ve renamed it What Happened in Granite Creek. I’m finishing final edits now. I’m also in the very, very early stages of my third novel, which I’ll be releasing sometime in 2012.

By the way, I love connecting with readers and invite people to join my Facebook page, where I’ve got a fun, vibrant community of story-lovers:

Thanks so much for having me stop by, Ruth. This has been fun!


My final thoughts:

A lot of back story is hinted at, I’m particularly curious to learn more about Koty’s deceased brother-in-law.  Of course I also want to know the future of Jamie and Koty and how they help each other.  There is a lot more here to explore.  One of my favorite elements is the other people who show up to “babysit” Jamie.  They do it because they think it’s a patriotic duty and they feel good about themselves for doing something nice for the “poor dear” but the tables get turned on them when he turns out to be a human being and not a cute pet project.  That was really well shown.

I think you have a great, wide audience for the novel.  I agree with your friend that it will probably appeal to both men and women, more so than most love stories.

I completely understand the difficulty of reaching out to people to provide information.  It can feel like you’re invading privacy and not giving enough back or something like that.

I can appreciate your desire to explore taboo subjects and make them less taboo by bringing people close to them.  I’m quite interested to read your story about the mother who loses her child.

So, October 2011 I will be poised and ready to buy the book! UPDATE: It’s here… What Happened in Granite Creek

1 Comment

  1. Gay
    Aug 28, 2013

    You’ve wonderful thing at this point.

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