When I first began reading “Willafred’s Body,” by Teresa Milbrodt, my first thought was of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, which mixed a tale about an androgyne and ruminations about dislocation (Greeks from what is now Aegean Turkey). I also recall a fascinating read in Scientific American, some years back entitled, enticingly, “The Five Sexes,” which concerned the varieties of biologically apparent gender in human beings and the rather heavy-handed approach of the mainstream medical community to “correct” nature’s presumed boo-boos. One had/has to be either a boy or a girl—period. Not as humorous as Middlesex, but absorbing all on its own many merits, Milbrodt’s tale seduces us right to the very end. What’s more it is but a sample of a whole novel, Unusual Girl Parts.
Very briefly, I received the following responses from the author, which we joyfully reprint here:
BM: In general, how do you begin writing?
TM: The way I begin writing is closely akin to demonic possession. I hear a voice, it won’t leave me alone, and I have to get it out of my system. The process is more gentle than most forms of possession and tends to involve more coffee than contortions and speaking in tongues (though depending on the novel or story in question, I wouldn’t necessarily exclude them from the process).
BM: The rather pedestrian question, we fear: do you plan out the entire novel or is your approach more intuitive?
TM: When beginning a novel project I tend to draft notes for the entire novel, but as I work through those ideas, flesh out the story, and develop my characters, the unexpected tends to happen. In other words, I like to plan out the road trip, but I figure I’ll take detours and probably won’t end up exactly where I thought I’d be going. On this kind of prolonged adventure, you have to let your characters do the driving.
BM: what inspired your beginning this particular novel?
TM: Bodies, especially bodies that exist on some sort of border or marginalized space, often play a role in my writing. Usual Girl Parts, which begins with this chapter, had its genesis because I’d been reading about intersexed children and how surgeons had tried to surgically “correct” their bodies, which lead to more complications than if they’d waited before undertaking those measures. I’d also been reading about women with beards who refused to shave and remain “closeted.” I thought that was such an admirable and daring act that I wanted to explore a character like that in my writing. I’m drawn to strong female protagonists, and Willafred felt like she had quite a bit to say about herself.
BM: What are your literary and other influences (a waggish colleague just sent me an email regarding that question posed to another writer–“…and other influenzas”)
TM: In terms of literary influences, I particularly like Sherman Alexie, George Saunders, and Louise Erdrich. My creative process is also influenced by coffee, daily walks, and the ability to strand myself in places where I have a notebook or my laptop but no Internet access, and my cell phone is off. As much as I love communication technology, I need moments when I can leave it behind.
BM: One quick thought: if you had to go back to authors of another era, who would you list as a intriguing or a favorite?
TM: I’d like to have coffee with Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain, either singly or together.
Dear Reader, we offer you an intriguing tale by an equally intriguing author.
Teresa Milbrodt is the author of a short story collection, Bearded Women: Stories (Chizine Publications), a novel, The Patron Saint of Unattractive People (Boxfire Press), and a flash fiction collection, Larissa Takes Flight: Stories (Pressgang). Her second novel, The Unicorn Maker, will be released by Break Away Books in spring of 2017. She is addicted to coffee, anything by Sherman Alexie, long walks with her MP3 player, anything by George Saunders, and frozen yogurt, in that order. Read more of her work at: http://teresamilbrodt.com/homepage/