Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: In “Pebble Linings,” your relationship with nature drives the narrative in a beautiful way. Can you talk about your choice behind the imagery of stones? 

Laura Adrienne Brady: I sort of feel like the stones chose me! My first big experience in the Methow Valley (the land that inspired this body of work) was a rite of passage ceremony near the Methow River, which involved spending three days and three nights alone in the woods with only a sleeping bag and a tarp. I slept at night in a dry river bed, surrounded by stones, and passed my days contemplating the cliff face and watching the river running over rocks. Much like cloud-gazing, I began to see shapes and creatures in the cuts of granite or smooth curves of stone. They kept me company, and gave me permission to just ‘be’ for a while, without doing. 

Those stone visions now form some of my most vivid recollections of the three days. And when I returned to the valley years later to live in a remote cabin, it was from that very open, listening place that stones started to turn up in my writing. Upon noticing the trend, I embraced the symbolism in a more intentional manner, which led to the creation of vignettes like “Pebble Linings.” From my current vantage point, I can see more clearly how stones provided a much-needed sense of stability and presence during a period defined by a lot of loss.

RR: We understand the essay is part of your forthcoming collection, The Pink Stone Companion Book. According to your website, writing collections of essays is a common practice for you. What do you think publishing essays in a themed collection brings to your writing, rather than publishing pieces separately?

LAB: This will actually be my first collection of essays (I’ve worked as editor on one collection, and had essays published in two collections, but never written my own). That said, as a songwriter with two previous albums out, I do tend to operate more naturally within ‘themed bodies’ of work. My writing is often fairly personal, inspired by specific periods and places of my life, and each of my previous albums has a very clear concept.  Certain landscapes have a way of getting under my skin, and it can take quite a bit of time, and many creative attempts, to feel like I’ve done the place justice, and written the story I want to tell. I like to think that this collection is a way of showcasing those attempts. Each element, and each different media (whether essay, lyric, letter, journal entry, etc.) is a window with a different view on the same time, and taken together, they hopefully create something three-dimensional, an experience with some weight. That’s the goal, at least!

RR: Mixing different media is always exciting to see. You call your writing a companion to your music; how do you see them influencing one another? 

LAB: I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to define myself within a standard career. When I started songwriting in my early 20s, I remember thinking that’s what all that writing and poetry up till now was for! And then when I started my MFA in creative writing last year, and had less time for songwriting, I thought maybe all that songwriting was actually to get me here, and I’m really just meant to be a writer! 

Of course, those are quite limiting beliefs. I’m beginning to see my life now in terms of seasons. There are seasons for creation, and others for lying fallow. And within those creative seasons, sometimes I’m writing songs; other times, words for the page. My Pink Stone Project represents this broader, more synergistic approach. It began with a song, “Come Back River,” but every other part of the process has been a conversation between media. Some songs were born indirectly from journal entries; in other cases, I wrote essay vignettes in response to a song, when I wanted some way to convey elements of the experience that didn’t fit within the lyric form. 

As a result, this project has been very wholing for my creator self, as it has allowed me to see how each form of expression is essential to the others. I’m a writer and a songwriter. And both are better as a result of the fusion. Spending the last decade primarily focused on my career as a singer-songwriter has changed my writing for the better, attuning me more to the musicality of language (no pun intended). And though I haven’t written a new song in months, I sat down last week with a series of poems I’d been working on, picked up my guitar in a quiet moment, and began to sing the lines. What emerged, melodically, was completely different than the songs I normally write, and I became freshly excited to see how page poetry might influence my music.

At the end of the day, to get back to your primary question, I’m still calling my writing for this project a companion to the music. I suppose that’s because I was defining myself primarily as a songwriter at the time the concept came to me, so I saw the companion book as an extra, ‘bonus’ collection of content for the serious music fan. I’m still not sure if the book can stand alone as a unit of writing without the music. You’ll have to let me know what you think! Pink Stone is a first attempt at this kind of multimedia experience, and I highly doubt it will be my last.

RR: Before your time at Moose Lodge, did you have the same appreciation of quiet and nature? How did this experience impact your writing?

LAB: I’ve had a lifelong appreciation of nature, and from a young age, it has featured heavily in my writing. Growing up in a city (albeit a beautiful one like Seattle), as soon as I left home I wanted to experience more open spaces, so I worked on farms and studied sustainable agriculture and permaculture in Canada and Spain. Prior to developing health issues, I was a very go-go-go person, over-committed and chronically busy. Nature was a balm to that side of my personality, but falling ill in my mid-twenties was pretty devastating to my sense of self all the same. My time at Moose Lodge opened my eyes to the beauty and potential of a slower-paced life. I experienced nature very differently with my unwell body, and was more able to meet it on its own terms (though there were certainly new challenges as well). 

I also suddenly had a lot more time to write. Since my illness can affect my brain function quite a bit, I had to embrace a more sensual way of being and creating when my mind wasn’t as sharp. My time at Moose Lodge showed me the kind of life that is best for my nervous system, and what is possible when I carve out quiet, reflective space for myself as a creator. I’ll always be grateful to the friends who invited me to house sit in their cabin, as I think I needed a nudge to prioritize my creative work. And while Moose Lodge is no longer my residence, I can still pull on the energy of that time like a comfortable sweater when I need to remember a slower, more contemplative way of being.

RR: Are there other singer-songwriters who inspire you?

LAB: I am inspired by the likes of singer-songwriters/artists like Mariee Sioux, Bon Iver, Kate Rusby, James Taylor, Enya, Sufjan Stevens, Loreena McKennit, and Moira Smiley, though this is by no means an exhaustive list—just the folks that come to mind right now, or have been on repeat of late.

In the process of working on this project, I also stumbled across the work of Carrie Newcomer and Krista Detor, two singer-songwriters who have (independently) released albums that pair with books. While I’m sure that there are other companion books out there, I didn’t get my hands on any but these two, which made for a lot of fumbling around in the dark to create what was for me, a new ‘form.’ Even though my concept was different from both of theirs, in that it had a prominent visual component with lots of illustrations and photos, their companion books showed me that the idea was possible, and that there are no rules. Also, as a fan of both of their music, I got an outside perspective on how wonderful it can be to see into a singer-songwriter’s process through a companion book, which was good motivation to keep pushing through even when I became overwhelmed (a frequent occurrence, because self-publishing a book is hard!).

Laura Adrienne Brady’s work in Issue 8.1: 

“Pebble Linings”