All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood had me hooked from page one. Not only does Greenwood immerse her readers into a rich, southern setting with beautiful, effortless prose, but she also challenges us to think about love and consent.
I was very fortunate to speak with Bryn about her writing process, her forthcoming novel, The Reckless Oath We Made, the nature of consent and the power we possess over ourselves.
Your beautiful novel, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, deals with issues such as addiction within the family, drugs and child neglect within this type of environment. It's also about an unlikely relationship between a young girl and an adult man. I read that one of the inspirations for this novel was your own relationship, at thirteen, with a much older man. People tend to be uncomfortable hearing about these types of relationships and want to label you a victim, even if you were consenting to it.
Was your own story somewhat of a motivation for writing this story?
I tend not to know what a story is about until I've written it, so it's rare for anything to consciously motivate me to write a story. It's more that my own experiences informed a lot of the details of the story. I cannot imagine writing a story like this without having experienced similar things.
How have you dealt with some of the backlash on your character's relationship?
I have a mantra that I use both as a reader and as a writer: Not every book is for everybody. That helps me remember that I cannot expect every reader to like my book. After all, I don't like every book I read. I also do my best to avoid reading negative reviews. The book is already published and can't be changed, so there's no sense tormenting myself.
This book has been described as a “provocative love story” although it could also be viewed as a coming of age novel. Why do you think the book was marketed this way?
I've always described it as a coming of age story, but once a writer sells a book, the publisher guides marketing and publicity however they see fit. My publisher wanted to market the book as a provocative love story, and the easiest way to do that was to label it that. I assume that the goal was to attract a broader audience from readers of literary and mainstream fiction, as well as romance readers. Additionally, because I was able to speak to the "provocative" elements from personal experience, I think they wanted to use that for marketing the book.
What do you want your readers to take away from this story?
Above all, I hope that readers will be encouraged to think about the nature of consent and personal sovereignty. Most of the time when we talk about consent, we only mean sexual consent. We rarely talk about all the other ways in which adults violate children's consent, whether out of necessity or convenience or a simple desire to control children. Many readers focus only on the question of consent and power between Wavy and Kellen, but there are so many other layers to be discussed as well.
I’m interested in your choice of point of view as Wavy’s story is told through multiple characters and perspectives. Did you start out writing the story this way? What did your writing process look like?
My writing process is chaotic and non-chronological. I don't outline and, rather than having a clear plot line, I start with characters and find out how they interact. My first drafts are more like investigations, so I tend to write from many different points of view to see what a story looks like from different characters within the story. Wavy's story was no different. As important as her narrative was, I knew that I had to show what her life looked like from other people's perspectives. I needed to give readers a broader understanding of the people around Wavy and the world she inhabits.
How has the success of your first novel, a New York Times Bestseller, impacted you as a writer? Or the way you are approaching your forthcoming novel?
Actually, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things isn't my first novel. Prior to its publication, I had two small press novels published. That said, the success of ATUAWT has produced two major changes in my life as a writer. It has allowed me to focus more on my writing, but it has also produced quite a bit of pressure in terms of expectations for my next book.
What can you tell us about your latest project?
The Reckless Oath We Made, which is coming in August, is a hot mess, but I'm so excited for people to read it, because it has so many things I love in it, including terrible life choices, dangerous promises, and lonely people finding each other. Plus dragons, knights, suitcases full of weed, oaths, betrayals, sword fights, gun fights, and girl fights.
Can you tell us about your writing journey? Did you always know you would be a writer? How long did it take to write your first novel?
Even before I learned how to read, I wanted to write books. There was something so obviously powerful about them that I wanted to be part of that. I wrote my first novel-shaped object when I was about 17, but it wasn't a real novel, it was just really long and was broken into chapters. I wrote a few of those, before I finally wrote a real novel in my mid-20s. That book took about three years to write and was eventually published under the title Last Will.
If you could speak to your younger self, what is some advice or tips about writing you would give?
The advice I give everyone who wants to write: Read what you love. Write what you love. Don't give up.
What are you currently reading?
Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova
Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R. Rendon
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Bryn Greenwood is a fourth-generation Kansan, one of seven sisters, and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University. She is the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Last Will, and Lie Lay Lain. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.