Monday, January 2, 2012

Defying Genre

Someone in one of the lesfic Yahoo groups I am in recently said that there are not enough lesfic books that address alcoholism. Bridget Bufford in her novel, Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey, breaks from the crowd in this respect (and in lots other respects). That's Bridget in the picture below.

She is also big on writing workshops. I write solitary and don't think I'd do as well in a group. I don't feel the need for that sort of motivation, so it was interesting for me to hear about how workshops benefit her and how she runs them. One thing I really liked is that diversity in her workshops is important to her. I could not agree more!

I'm thrilled to have her here for a bit! :)


So, introduce yourself and your books.
I am Bridget Bufford, a writer and creative workshop facilitator in Columbia, Missouri . Much of my life has been spent in the Midwest , which influences my settings and characters. Both of my books to date have Missourians as protagonists.

My first book, Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey (Haworth Press), chronicles a lesbian woman’s first year of sobriety. Terry Manescu is a self-absorbed, sometimes violent drunk who manipulates women through her charm and physicality, but once the drinking erodes her self-control, she seeks help through AA. Her journey toward recovery is sexually charged and filled with both despair and hope. Minus One was a Lambda Literary Awards finalist and will soon be released as an ebook by Untreed Reads.

Cemetery Bird (Casperian Books) alternates between Midwest and Southwest as Jay Aubuchon, a US Forest Service Hotshot, reconnects with the family she fled in her teens. Upon her return, she helps to care for her brother’s son Brandon, a minimally verbal teen with autism. Recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Cemetery Bird is available through the publisher and online outlets.

I love the sound of your books! I write on gritty topics as well, and some people have given me flak for it. Do you get any criticism for the tough topics you tackle?
What some people find harsh, others find brave. For Minus One, I won a Catalyst Award from an LGBT group at the University of Missouri. The presenter's speech ran thus:

"I'm a very big fan of giving voice to the voiceless, of facing down our demons – both personal and on a larger level, of breaking silences, and this next Catalyst recipient has done just that. In her latest artistic endeavor she has fearlessly addressed lesbian drug and alcohol addiction and same-sex domestic violence, and the intimate glimpses into addiction and recovery can serve as both tools and inspirations for all of us. She says that this work was created as a love letter to 12-step programs, but I say it is more than that –  it is also a light for any who feel lost in the darkness. There are those that would say that our community silently endorses and encourages hiding our problems, out of fear that we will only be known for our pain and struggles, and not our strengths and victories. I say that we are sick to death of being silent, on all levels, including our problems, and that addressing them is both strength and victory. I feel that she would agree with me, and it is my honor and privilege to award Lambda Literary Award finalist, author of Minus One, Bridget Bufford, with a 2005 Catalyst Award."
    John Doerflinger, 2005 Catalyst Awards (used by permission)

That's great. So what kind of writer would you say you are?
 Primarily a novelist, and if I had to pick just one descriptor, I’d call my writing literary. My hope is that my books defy genre. The characters of Minus One are largely lesbian, but at heart it’s a book about addiction and recovery. The characters of Cemetery Bird are largely heterosexual, but it’s a book about finding common experience in the face of cultural difference, mental illness, disability. The protagonist of Rough Guidelines, the manuscript I’m currently pitching, is a lesbian social worker, and the story line revolves around her interaction with clients in her therapy group.

I put three to five years into writing a novel, and I can only do that when the story explores a compelling issue. My work in progress is a adaptation of Pinocchio, recasting the Blue Fairy as a drag queen and Geppetto as a gay man who can’t have kids in the conventional way, so he carves one. The central question there is “What is a real boy?”

Minus One asks: what happens when a woman becomes abusive? Do you shun her, or give her another chance? Do you stop caring about someone when they act like that? Though the book is about recovery, those are the questions that kept me invested.

With Cemetery Bird, the question became one of estrangement—once someone becomes so profoundly isolated from her own sense of family and community, what will it take for her to reconnect with her own life?

Three to five years is certainly a substantial investment. No doubt it shines through in the finished product. Do you write full time?
I hope the final quality reflects the number of drafts each piece goes through, which is at least three and more often five or six.

I work as a landscaper, and during the growing season I don’t get much writing done outside of workshops. For the past twelve years I have been leading weekly workshops in the Amherst Writers & Artist’s Method, so I do much of my first draft during our sessions. In the winter I’m laid off, so I type up those scenes, develop transitions and refine the story arc.

I really like writing in a workshop, for the same reason that I love working out in a gym. The energy in a group is higher and more sustaining than writing alone, and workshop writing tends to be more inspired than solitary writing.

So how is your ideal workshop set up? For example, are the writers all in the same room when they write?
 A good workshop can offer the best possible writing experience. Unlike an academic setting, where efforts are immediately judged, in a workshop the writings are supported and encouraged. In my workshop we do that by using the AWA Method, which creates an environment of support and safety.(http://www.amherstwriters.com/workshops/the-awa-method.html) I began leading groups in 1996 and took the AWA training in 1999.

We meet in the lower level of my home, which has a separate entrance into a small room with the coat rack and coffee/tea setup.  The next room resembles a family room, with plenty of seating plus tables and desks for those who prefer to withdraw from the group to write.

I give a prompt; we all write for twenty minutes, then reconvene to read and respond. By focusing our responses upon the strengths of the work, the group gives each participant a chance to build upon those assets and cultivate his or her unique writing voice.

Something I really prize in a group is diversity—in experience, education, age, genre, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, culture. We can all learn from each other. Diversity can be hard to achieve in this Midwestern college town, but when we do it makes a difference.

If a writer can't do a workshop, particularly an in-person workshop, for whatever reason, what are some possible alternatives?
AWA workshops have been a godsend to me in terms of my own writing process and also in acquiring a local writing community, but obviously they don't work for everyone. Other options include online critique groups and classes, or online writers’ groups like Golden Crown Literary Society and Virtual Living Room. With the advent of the internet, even the most isolated writer needn’t lack a sense of community.


My website, with links to both books:
http://www.bridgetbufford.com/index

Cemetery Bird press kit:
http://bridgetbufford.com/CBpresskit-Print.pdf

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