INTERVIEW WITH BETHANY BRUNO
Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: In “Pregnant, Gland Problem, or Just Fat?” your boundaries are crossed multiple times, both physically and emotionally. How do you approach writing about such vulnerable situations?
Bethany Bruno: I consider myself to be a socially anxious person, even though I’ve worked various jobs that deal directly with the public since I was sixteen. A big struggle has always been whenever someone comes up to me and says something really rude. I always feel embarrassed and disappointed for not defending myself. One of the ways I’ve learned to cope with those kinds of uncomfortable interactions is by taking a moment that may have made me angry or sad, and completely transform it into something that’s either funny or at least enlightening. Whenever I write about those moments from my life, I like to imagine someone reading it and getting both a laugh and realization that we all deal with some crazy ass people in this world. That, above all things, brings me such a feeling of accomplishment and pride.
RR: The piece begins in the second person perspective before shifting to first. What influenced this choice?
BB: Whenever I write a nonfiction piece, I like to think of the first paragraph as a sort of voiceover or prelude to the actual story. Its purpose is to set up the thoughts, questions, and feelings of the piece before I really lay it down and tell you what happened.
RR: Despite the serious themes of the piece, the overall tone is light and comedic. How do you balance subject and tone as you’re writing?
BB: I’m a believer in the old saying “in all comedy exists tragedy.” I think we tend to view stories or jokes as something so literal, when in reality there can be tons of emotional weight behind it. For this particular essay, I took this one of many instances of body shaming and turned it into something more playful rather than just plain sad. I was able to take this negative interaction with an ignorant woman then mold it into the story I want to tell. Basically, it’s all about taking back control over my life’s many stories.
RR: In your bio, you mention that you are working on a novel. How do you approach writing in different genres, and what connections do you see between them?
BB: The novel that I’m working on, From the Passenger Seat, has been a real test for me genre wise because it’s a mix of nonfiction and fiction. One of the biggest challenges has been trying to describe the plot of the novel, and how it closely resembles much of my life’s story, but always ending my pitch with “but it’s going to be labeled fiction since I changed so much around!”
I think the lines between nonfiction and fiction are blurred sometimes. I think this is because writers tend to follow the philosophy of “it’s my job to create and I’ll use whatever I can to do so.” But also there are so many nonfiction books and stories that deal with only one side of the story. We’re only hearing one truth of an entire story, and that truth solely depends on their feelings and memories of what happened. Even with my story. Who knows what that woman was thinking when she questioned me about my body? So my piece is about my point of view of that encounter.
Luckily, thanks to research and fact checking, we’re able to determine a writer’s truth from fiction. I would never label something as nonfiction unless I felt that it was at least 99% close to the reality of what happened.
RR: What writers have been particularly influential in your creative nonfiction?
BB: Number one, without a doubt, is Cheryl Strayed. She’s the fairy godmother of nonfiction writing to my work and I’m forever grateful for all the vulnerable writing, like Wild or Brave Enough, that she has put out into the world.
Dorothy Allison and her novel Bastard Out of Carolina. That book helped me better understand my place within my family, as well as introduce me to the power of writing down my stories.
I like real, raw, and just honest as hell writers.
Bethany Bruno’s work in Issue 8.1: