Photo of Amanda Baldeneuax

Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: “Space Camp” is strikingly honest about the process of healing from trauma. How did you approach balancing such difficult subject matter while staying true to Sadie’s character?

Amanda Baldeneaux: This story is more personal than others because it started with a free-write on the memory of being a “late bloomer” in middle school, and how staying childlike at an age where we were still all children despite having hit puberty or not, became a source of ridicule. I experienced ridicule for not growing up fast enough, but other girls were ridiculed and sexualized in negative ways for growing up “too fast.” There was no winning, and the message seemed to be that being a girl was wrong and shameful as soon as a threshold of age was crossed, maybe around eleven, if not before. I took parts of that free-write and grafted it onto the character of Sadie, then tried to write her into a whole person distinct from myself. I took the moments I could remember where I felt shame or embarrassment at that age and tried to condense them into an amplified fictional occurrence that would let the reader experience years of young girlhood in a paragraph. I had to carry Sadie into adulthood, because I think that’s when a lot of women can reflect back with the realization that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be a girl. That same sense of developing “wrong” came back after having a baby and having a new, postpartum body, which was a lot like a second puberty in terms of sudden and bewildering changes. I wanted to show that parallel in writing as best I could.

RR: We’re drawn in by the language of the story, especially in the resonant images of movement and stillness, and folding and unfolding. How do you approach writing these images, especially as you explore the heavy topics of abuse and body confidence?

AB: Images are how I first came to writing; I was a poetry major in school because I liked creating chains of linked images to explain a thought or feeling. Most of the feedback I got back during workshops said that I mixed my metaphors too much, which was accurate. I still see chains of images when I write, but I graft them onto characters now, which lets me go deeper in exploring a feeling or idea when I’m writing, rather than trying to stay confined to my own experiences (this is also why I’m no good at writing in the first person). Sadie let me safely explore the memory of what it was like to still be very young and desiring to live up to some sort of ideal girlhood, and how that leads to the revelation – many years too late – that such a thing doesn’t exist. I don’t know if many girls still go through this – it’d be nice if girls are gaining self-confidence earlier on – but I’ll probably find out when my own daughters are older.

RR: What made you choose space as the subject of Sadie’s fixation?

AB: I used to watch TV all the time as a kid – hours of Nickelodeon every day. They aired commercials advertising the NASA space camp and I really wanted to go, though my interest was more rooted in the desire to go in the spinning chair (Google tells me this is called the Multi-Axis Trainer, or MAT, chair), rather than actual outer space, which terrifies me. I started with that piece of my own childhood and wondered what would make someone want to be so far away from Earth, because I see space travel as the opposite of safety, but the idea of space and distance is very safe and comforting, especially when thinking about body autonomy. It feels different to think about space as safety now, though, after months of physical distancing – the first few because I’d just had a baby who doesn’t have much of an immune system yet and I couldn’t take out, and then because of Covid-19. Now we’re all sort of floating out in our own little ships for physical safety, but it is lonely. I think that’s part of Sadie’s story that gets bypassed by jumping forward in time to her being married and having a child of her own – the ability to find proximity and grounding in conjunction with safety. It’s a good life when these things can coexist.

RR: Like Sadie, many of us are trying to find inner strength as we navigate the adult world. What has finding inner strength looked like for you?

AB: I’m still working on this one, and writing fiction is certainly a vehicle for that in terms of finding an avenue to be more open and honest with my own thoughts. In this story, the idea of unfolding relates to realizing that you don’t have to make yourself small to deserve your place in the world. I try to tell my four-year-old this all the time and I hope it is sinking in on some subconscious level: she matters just because she was born and she doesn’t have to do anything to earn or deserve the space she takes up. That’s true for all kids. And it’s true for me, which was a hugely freeing and fortifying realization. Once you stop trying to “earn” your place in the world by being good enough or right enough, it’s easier to try to just be yourself and respect yourself. Who you are is good enough and always was, and I hope this story shows a character coming to that realization.

RR: Any new projects that you’re working on that you can share with us?

AB: I’m working on a novel I started drafting about a year ago after visiting my grandmother in Arkansas and driving up through Missouri – the story is heavily rooted in homesickness and place. My second daughter arrived in January, and between recovering from birth and then having to quarantine with an infant and a preschooler, my writing has slowed down significantly. But, I’m still trying to sit with the draft whenever I can. After finally getting a moment to come back to it last month I realized the outline wasn’t going where I wanted it, so I completely rewrote that and the novel’s beginning, and now I’m excited to work on it again.

Amanda Baldeneaux’s work in Issue 7.2: 

“Space Camp”