Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Brittany Hailer
Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: This piece is beautiful in the way it shares details sparingly about the deceased. What more can you tell us about the mysterious God’s Poet?
Brittany Hailer: God’s Poet was very much a mystery to me, too. Her health declined significantly after I moved into the apartment above hers. We used to talk a lot when I first moved in, but as she got sicker, she stopped leaving her house or coming outside. She was a deeply religious woman, she would sometimes say homophobic things, so I vacillated between pitying her and judging her. Our real connection was her love for my cat. She would ask if I would bring her down and I would. We would talk about the weather, or our potted plants, or recipes.
I was much younger then and didn’t know how to deal with death or illness. Watching someone decline at that early age was very scary. I carried a lot of guilt. I distanced myself when she was struggling.
RR: You wrote about a very deep subject in a small piece. Can you talk about your process and any challenges you faced while writing it
BH: I wrote this piece in the middle of the night many years ago. I kept dreaming about that old apartment. After God’s Poet died, all the cockroaches moved from the downstairs to the upstairs. I moved out shortly after because of this. I kept dreaming that I had abandoned her. I kept dreaming about the cockroaches. She haunted me. So, I wrote this piece and left it in a folder on my desktop for over five years.
Then Rappahannock Review solicited me for a piece and I didn’t have anything! I came across this story and did some intense editing. I felt really sick to my stomach until I wrote the line “I want to show her pretty things can come from this. I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry for never coming down the stairs, for smoking on the porch as she died. For sending the cat, when really, she was asking for me.”
I think I needed to admit that I had failed her.
RR:Was writing this piece cathartic to you in any way?
BH:Definitely. I think I’ve finally told her I am sorry.
RR: What draws you to the nonfiction genre?
BH: What a question. I’ve never been able to write fiction. I come from a family of Irish storytellers. All we do is sit around and tell stories. I am also a journalist, so I get paid to go out into the world and ask people to tell me their story. I am just so fascinated with humans and their capacity of love, destroy, create, and survive. I’ve also always turned to writing as a way to figure things out. I honestly didn’t know I was feeling all this guilt until I opened that Word document again. Nonfiction is history. It is philosophy. It is casting a spell. It is dreaming. I love making my experiences new again by reshaping them and examining it. I love adding a little bit of magic, too.
RR:Do you have any advice for writers who have yet to be published?
BH: Oh, don’t worry about that. Write like you’re never going to get published. That’s when you write your best stuff. And submit blindly after you do. Just exercise that muscle and after a while it will be as easy as breathing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Just tell a good goddamn story. Pretend we’re sitting on a porch and drinking a beer.
Brittany Hailer’s work appears in Issue 5.3 here.