The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury

book cover

I learned in school that blood has a memory. It carries information that makes you who you are. That’s how my brother and me ended up with so much in common, we both carried inside us the things our parents’ blood remembered. Sharing what’s in the blood, that’s as close as you can be to another person.

…I spent as much time as I could in the woods. To look at me, you might of thought, But you are only seventeen, and a girl, you have got no business being off in the wild by yourself where a bear could maul you or a moose trample you. But the fact is, if they put me and anyone else in the wilderness and left us there, you just see which one of us come out a week later, unharmed and even thriving

In the great north, snow and isolation can hide a world of secrets, but some will still bleed through.

Being a badass has certain advantages, particularly when one spends so much time in the Alaskan woods. It’s maybe not always an advantage in places with fewer trees, like school. Tracy Sue Petricoff is seventeen. She can handle herself in the wild. But she is not yet able to handle the wild in herself. You might even see her as half-feral. Her latest attack on a classmate, however justified it might have been, has resulted in her being cast out of the more structured world of public education, and left her to the somewhat less restrictive environment of home. Of course, home has not been an entirely safe place for her either.

description
Jamey Bradbury – from her site

Her mother had died when Tracy was fifteen, hit by a car while walking on the side of the road near their home. This left a huge gap in Tracy’s upbringing, as mom was the person who knew her best, who had taught her to recognize animal tracks, who had taught her to identify plants and their uses, and who truly understood her innermost self, an unspoken family legacy that is both a gift and a curse. Her father, Bill, a good man, a regular contender in the annual Iditarod, was rocked by his wife’s death, lost his focus, struggled to cope, but is trying his best to be mother and father to Tracy and her younger brother, Scott. This includes rules, but Tracy reacts to rules like a bear might to a trap. Her mother gave her one cardinal rule. Never make another person bleed. Sorry, Mom.

Returning home from the woods one night a large man slams into her. In the ensuing tussle, she is tossed hard enough against a tree that she loses consciousness. On waking she finds there is blood on her knife, and a trail where the man had gone. Her memory of the event is fuzzy. Did she cut the man? Why had they crossed paths? She tries to put it out of her mind, but when neighbors report an intruder having stayed in their cabin, and her father comes to the aid of a bleeding man emerging from the woods, she wonders if this is the man she had encountered, and will he be coming back, for her.

I felt the trail tugging at me, every acre of land behind the house yearning for me to roam its familiar hills and hollows. Any other evening, I might of stole away for a few more minutes, long enough to satisfy the craving in me.


But underneath that pang was my heart, stuttering, and my skin prickling. A pair of eyes, a hunched shadow, hidden by the night and waiting. Thoughts of the stranger made my breath stop, and it wasn’t a feeling I enjoyed. I wouldn’t feel settled, I realized, till I knew he was no longer a threat.

The Wild Inside is a riveting, genre-bending coming-of-age/thriller/mystery/horror novel with a dose of fantasy and a touch of romance. Tracy would like nothing more than to be left to her devices, hunting, setting traps, retrieving what she catches for food and fur and racing with her dogs. Her personal receiver is tuned to the call of the wild, as she feels a particular affinity with the animals of the forest, can perceive and interpret sounds, smells, and sights that most will overlook. She is as much a creature of the woods as she is a civilized human being. I was very much reminded of the character Turtle from My Absolute Darling, in her toughness and feel for the natural, not that other stuff. She is a woodland detective, as skilled as Sherlock Holmes at spotting clues, but with the nose of a hound and the night vision of an owl. And she is determined to unravel the mystery of her forest fracas. For reasons of her own, Tracy does not tell her father about her unfortunate encounter. (What a tangled web we weave) The secrets involved with that event lock her into a series of lies that make her life much more complicated than it needs to be, with tragic results.

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Image is from the author’s site

More complications ensue when dad hires a young drifter to help out. Bill trains dogs, has forty doghouses and a kennel on the property. That is a lot of shoveling, and other chores as well. As he takes on outside work in addition to bring in enough to provide for his family, Bill could sure use the help. How much do they really know about Jesse Goodwin, who seems to be particularly adept at gaining Bill’s trust? Can Jesse be trusted? There is something off about the new hired hand, an odd sort, whose CV does not always hold up to close, or even routine scrutiny. Trying to figure out the mystery of Jesse is part of the fun of the book. The tension of wondering if/when the mysterious man from the forest will return and wondering what he will want is another. The boogeyman just outside the frame is a device that works well to sustain the tension level.

The Iditarod features large in this landscape, Dad having been a regular contestant, Tracy having competed in the Junior Iditarod, with her final Junior race and the full-on Mush-mania, for which she will be eligible for the first time, both on a near horizon. Tracy loves to race dogs as much as she loves to run, to hunt, and to breathe in the fullness of the woods. It provides motivation for some of her decision-making, both the good and bad sorts. Although she is basically a good person, she is no paragon. In fact, she can be a pretty self-involved teenager and if you count on her to always do the right thing, your totals will be off. There is a dramatic, dark twist near the end that some readers will find discomfiting. I thought it made sense under the circumstances, and how Tracy handles it is consistent with what we have seen of her up to then. It’s a pretty daring move by Bradbury to steer her tale in that direction. Whether you approve or not, it will definitely jangle your senses, and makes for an outside-the-box ending.

There was one item in the story that jangled my senses a bit. I did not understand how Tracy thought she could get away with paying substantial entry fees for races without having a well-prepared explanation for how she got the money. A solution is found later but Tracy’s presumption seemed a bit much, even for a teenager. In another instance. I thought it a stretch that one character was far too ready to try talking with another who had already confessed to some pretty dire deeds. A more reasonable range of choices would seem to be either lock and load or stay the hell away.

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Image is from the author’s site

Bradbury’s love for the landscape comes through loud and clear (and, I expect, played a role in her decision to live in Anchorage for the last fifteen years, having been born and raised in Illinois) in her lyrical, beautiful writing. The cold, the woods, the severe beauty of the landscape all serve as a wonderful backdrop for and echo of the harsh challenges Tracy faces.

Tracy Sue Petricoff’s physical DNA is known, but if I were checking her literary DNA markers, I would be looking for signs of Mowgli, John Clayton, and Katniss Everdeen. Jamey Bradbury’s freshman novel is a triumph, a coming of age tale set in the borderlands, interior and exterior, where the wild meets the world. Her struggle to understand and gain some control over the urges she experiences makes her relatable, even though our adjustments might not have been so daunting. It is riveting, tear-inducing, and jolts through such sudden turns that you will need to make sure your feet are firmly planted on your sled, and your team is exceptionally well-trained. You would hate to tumble and be left behind. This is one ride you will want to mush through to the end.

Review posted – January 26, 2018

Published – March 20, 2018

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram and FB pages

Here is extra material that did not make it into the final version of the book A Dead Darling– from Bradbury’s site

Bradbury works as a freelance writer. Here is a stack of her writings for the Anchorage Daily News

The author reading an early excerpt from the book at a Gathering of the Tribes on May 15th 2011

Quiet Works, a collection of short stories, was submitted as Bradbury’s 2009 MFA thesis

=========================================INTERVIEW

I sent Jamey Bradbury a message inquiring into whether she would be up for answering a few questions. She was extremely gracious, and, as you will see, very forthcoming.

On Writing Process
Was the structure of the book the same from the time you first decided to write it to the point of times up, fingers-off-the-keyboard? If it changed, what was removed, added?

JB – The biggest change between early drafts of the book and what readers will see was the structure of the book. The Wild Inside was inspired, in part, by a 1961 horror novel by Theodore Sturgeon called Some of Your Blood; the book is told piecemeal by a colonel, a military psychiatrist, and their patient, called George, who writes his own story in the form of a journal. I structured The Wild Inside similarly, with early chapters dedicated to a grown-up Scott seeing some of his sister, Tracy’s, behavior playing out in his own daughter. I threw in some epistolary storytelling in the form of letters between Bill and Scott. And finally, Tracy got her say in the form of her own journal, which she wrote at the encouragement of a school guidance counselor.

Ultimately, though, after feedback from some early readers and after getting to know Tracy—who says things in her own very distinctive and determined way—I realized this was a girl who didn’t need any help telling her own story. Her story was hers, and everything was someone else’s interpretation. So I let Tracy take the reins.

How is your writing time structured? Do you have a set number of hours a day, or per week, that you devote to book writing, to other writing? Maybe a target of a number of pages or words per day?

JB – In addition to being a fiction writer, I also have a full-time job:  I write copy and do storytelling for an Alaska Native nonprofit social services organization. That means, in order to get any fiction done, I have to deliberately set aside time for it—and it can’t just be any old time because after spending eight hours of my day at a computer, the last thing I want to do when I come home is stare at a glowing screen for another couple hours. So I get my fiction writing done first thing. I keep what my friends lovingly refer to as “grandma Jamey hours”—I often go to bed around 8:00, 8:30 so I can get up around five a.m., guzzle some coffee, squint at my email, then get writing. I don’t have a target number of words or pages; some days I struggle to get through a single scene, others I fly through a dozen pages of revision. But I work a pretty solid two hours more most mornings before it’s time to shower and join the world.

I often have ideas pop into my head about a review I am working on at times that are not conducive, such as when I am just about to drift off to sleep and if I stay up to write the thing down in my bedside notebook, I won’t be able to get back to sleep for an hour. Grrrrrr. How do you record the random thoughts that pop to mind when you are away from the desktop, say, while running? 

JB – All I can say is thank Our Lord Steve Jobs for the iPhone, which I started taking with me when I was training for my first marathon and realized it might be nice to be able to listen to music, not to mention be able to call for help if I twisted an ankle or got mugged. The added bonus is that whenever I get those random ideas and have those “aha!” moments—which always seem to come as soon as I hit my stride—I can text myself. Usually I’ll stop to stretch and type out a text, but sometimes I use the voice function and get texts from myself that look like, “Railroad GASP getaway WHEEZE car…”

Was there any one scene in particular that was the most difficult to write?

JB – How to say this without spoiling things? There’s a particular mistake Tracy makes at one point that I didn’t see coming for a long time. Once I realized that she was going to make this mistake, though, my heart broke. I didn’t want to write the scene, I didn’t want to go through the fallout the characters would experience afterward. Some scenes are technically hard; it’s difficult to get the mechanics of the plot working. Others are hard because you can’t find the right words. But this one was emotionally hard:  I was wrecked, working on it. But it also afforded me an opportunity to write what would become one of my favorite parts of the book—a glimpse into the life and history of a character readers wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know in that particular way.

Was there one particular plot element that gave you the most grief?

JB – Figuring out what, exactly, the history of two characters was before they appear in the book was one of the more irksome elements I had to work through. Partly because the relationship had to be both loving and antagonistic, and also because that part of the relationship would be revealed by a third party, in an unconventional way. Boy, trying not to spoil things has me feeling like Tracy!—as she says, some things you just don’t talk about, except to talk around them.

Was the ending you chose always the way you wanted to go, or did you consider other endings before settling on the one in the book?

JB – By the time I got to the ending, it kind of wrote itself. The way I write, I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite the first part of the book, gradually getting to know my characters as I rework the same material over and over. By the time I get to the last third or quarter of the book, the writing actually gets easier—and, with this book, the momentum of the plot, and the way Tracy’s mind works, kind of pointed the way toward the ending.

Sources and influences
How long did you work for John Irving? How did you get the gig? What can you tell us about the experience? What did you learn from him? Did he offer useful advice, support, connections?

JB – At a post-reading party at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where I got my MFA, my workshop teacher, Craig Nova, came up to me and said, “My friend John Irving is looking for a new assistant. He lives in Vermont. I thought you’d be a good candidate, since you’ve lived in Alaska and you know how to drive in the snow.” A few weeks later, I flew to Vermont from Greensboro to interview with John and his wife, Janet. And at the end of that summer, I moved to Vermont to be John Irving’s assistant.

Working for John was a little like winning a spot at a very exclusive writing fellowship. I worked at an office in his home, and I did a good amount of your typical office work—answering phones, talking to his publisher, opening mail, filing contracts. But the bulk of my day was dedicated to typing up the pages of the manuscript he was working on at the time, the novel that would be titled In One Person. John still writes mostly by hand, so I would update a computer file on my Mac every day with his new pages.

It was a firsthand look at the daily life of a working writer, his habits, and his way of writing a first draft and revising. One writer’s method doesn’t necessarily work for another, but I learned a lot watching him work through plot and character development. Plus, I got great insight into the process of publishing a book, thanks to working with John’s editor, copyeditor, publicist, and others.

The other part of the experience that was incredibly valuable was my own writing time. Whenever I didn’t have stuff to do from John, I was able to work on my own fiction; in fact, I started The Wild Inside while still working for him. Once I got a first draft done, John was gracious enough to take a look and give me feedback that helped me tremendously (as did Craig, the teacher who referred me).

Was there a specific seed or seeds from which The Wild Inside sprouted?  An image, a phrase, a news article? An experience? Several?

JB – The earliest idea for The Wild Inside was an image:  a house, its windows lit against the heart of Alaska’s winter darkness, at the edge of a wood. I knew that inside that house, there were two men—brothers? a father and a son?—waiting for a third person to come home. Whoever that third person was, though, I knew she wasn’t coming home soon. How did I know this? Why wasn’t she coming back? I had no idea, but the image intrigued me enough that my mind kept chewing on it for months—more than a year—before I finally sat down to write what would eventually become Tracy’s story.

What were your sources for character and pooch names?

JB – I don’t have a pooch, so I named a lot of the dogs after my friends’ dogs. Zip and Stella are named after two real-life pooches I regularly dog-sat for (the real Zip, sadly, died a few years ago; the real Stella is my dog soulmate and if I could steal her from her owners, I would). I went on a sailing trip with the real-life Homer and Canyon and their owners. I had a lot of fun just coming up with other dog names. Here’s a fun fact:  Some mushers will give litters of dogs theme names, so they’ll have the “famous authors” litter, or like musher and writer Blair Braverman, the “bean” litter (including dogs named Fava, Hari(cot), and Refried). So Tracy’s dogs include a “bear” litter (Panda, Grizzly, Teddy) and a “words that convey movement” litter (Chug, Zip, Flash, Pogo). Old Susitna, though, is named for my favorite mountain visible from Anchorage:  Susitna, the “Sleeping Lady.”

Was there a specific seed or seeds from which The Wild Inside sprouted?  An image, a phrase, a news article? An experience? Several?

JB – The earliest idea for The Wild Inside was an image:  a house, its windows lit against the heart of Alaska’s winter darkness, at the edge of a wood. I knew that inside that house, there were two men—brothers? a father and a son?—waiting for a third person to come home. Whoever that third person was, though, I knew she wasn’t coming home soon. How did I know this? Why wasn’t she coming back? I had no idea, but the image intrigued me enough that my mind kept chewing on it for months—more than a year—before I finally sat down to write what would eventually become Tracy’s story.

What were your sources for character and pooch names?

JB – I don’t have a pooch, so I named a lot of the dogs after my friends’ dogs. Zip and Stella are named after two real-life pooches I regularly dog-sat for (the real Zip, sadly, died a few years ago; the real Stella is my dog soulmate and if I could steal her from her owners, I would). I went on a sailing trip with the real-life Homer and Canyon and their owners. I had a lot of fun just coming up with other dog names. Here’s a fun fact:  Some mushers will give litters of dogs theme names, so they’ll have the “famous authors” litter, or like musher and writer Blair Braverman, the “bean” litter (including dogs named Fava, Hari(cot), and Refried). So Tracy’s dogs include a “bear” litter (Panda, Grizzly, Teddy) and a “words that convey movement” litter (Chug, Zip, Flash, Pogo). Old Susitna, though, is named for my favorite mountain visible from Anchorage:  Susitna, the “Sleeping Lady.”

How much of your characters, or elements of characters, is based on people you know or have known?

JB – These characters really aren’t based on people I know, but Tracy’s voice—her particular vernacular—sort of came from a combination of the way my dad (who is from small town Ohio) and my grandma (who grew up in the rural Midwest) talk.

Other
What drew you to move to and remain in Alaska?

JB – I came to Alaska thinking it would be a temporary gig. I was an AmeriCorps volunteer who landed a position working with the American Red Cross doing disaster relief—I’d done one year in my home state, Illinois, then came north to do an additional year in Anchorage. And, what can I say, I fell in love. Not with a person, but with the state:  After more than 15 years living in Alaska on and off (I left to do the Peace Corps, then left again to do my MFA and work for John), I still don’t get tired of watching the Chugach Mountains change with the seasons, the weather, and the way the light hits them. I love all the different ways snow tumbles out of the sky. I love the endless, languid days of summer and coming home pink-cheeked from a winter run on the Coastal Trail along the Cook Inlet. For the first time, I traveled to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and my breath was snatched from my lungs, the beauty was so overwhelming—yet you don’t even have to travel that far in Alaska to find that kind of awe-inspiring landscape. It’s in my back yard, too. Maybe I’ll get tired of all the trees, bears, mountains, beaches, moose, and aurora and head south one day. But I don’t see it happening soon.

Why was the title changed from The Killing Drink, and were you ok with that?

JB – I hate coming up with titles. In high school, I used to turn in essays and short stories for College Prep English with titles like, “This Is Where the Title Goes When I Think of One.” My autobiography will probably be called, “No Title: The Jamey Bradbury Story.”

So I was pretty pleased with myself when, in the middle of a run (which is always when I do my best thinking), not only did the understanding of what would happen when Tracy used her unique gift at the time of a person (or animal’s) death occur to me, but the title of the book came to me, too. I like The Killing Drink well enough to slap it on the first pages of the file when I started shopping around for an agent, but I also wondered:  Did “The Killing Drink” sound too much like the title of a pamphlet for Alcoholics Anonymous?

No one else seemed to think so, but when the marketing folks at HarperCollins/William Morrow said they thought the title skewed a little to thriller/horror and that the book might appeal to a broader audience with a different title, I was simultaneously cool with it, and bummed:  I didn’t wanna come up with another title! Fortunately, my editor, Kate Nintzel, and my agent, Michelle Brower, tossed around a few ideas before landing on The Wild Inside, which I think beautifully reflects Tracy’s struggle with her feral impulses and her devotion to her family and home versus her need to run wild in the forest.

If you were a DC or Marvel character what would be your superpower, and why?

JB – Is sloth a superpower? My ability to do absolutely nothing sometimes astounds me. The other Avengers might not be too impressed with Super Sloth, but at least I’d provide snacks while we all sat around doing nothing…

What are your all-time favorite books, and/or faves from the last year or so, and why?

JB – There are two books that I’ve recently read that I cannot shut up about:  The first is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. Recently, I was talking to a friend about this book, and we focused a lot on the effortlessness of Ng’s writing—that is, reading the book, you simply do not feel Ng working hard; her prose seems to have materialized on the page, exactly as it needed to appear, stunning, whole, flawless. But, especially as a writer, I know getting the prose to seem like that did take effort. That’s the beauty of really great writing, though:  You don’t see Ng sweat. You just see her gorgeous writing and storytelling. And what a story! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone conveys the paradox and pain of parenthood in such a moving and accurate way—Ng completely gets how even as you are working to raise a child, you are simultaneously always letting her go, bit by bit.

The other book I can’t stop talking about is Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, an in-the-not-too-distant-future dystopian-ish novel in which abortion is illegal in America, in vitro fertilization is banned, and the stories of four different women affected by these laws intersect in a remote Pacific Northwest town. The novel is gorgeously written and finely crafted and incredibly timely.

My wife and I have a herd of cats, but I doubt they would take well to being harnessed. How many cats do you have and have you tried mushing with them? Just kidding. 

JB – Fifteen cats! My dream! A friend of mine thinks it’s hilarious to joke about mushing with an entire team of Shih-Tzus. I think if you tried it with 16 cats, you’d end up with 16 piles of snoring fur and get nowhere pretty fast, if my two cats are any indication. I have a twelve-year-old ball of fluff named Dr. Noisewater who likes to sit on my lap and keep me writing (I should probably dedicate my next book to her), and I’ve got an eight-year-old Manx named Pill, after a character in David Schickler’s short story “Wes Amerigo’s Giant Fear.”

What are you working on now?

JB – I’m deep in the sludge of the first draft of my second novel, which is inspired by two things:  the Winchester Mystery House, and Homer, Alaska, a small fishing town located at the literal end of the road—Homer is famous in Alaska for being home to the Homer Spit, which features the longest road into ocean waters in the world. In my book, at the end of this road, a woman has built a massive house with doors in every surface—large doors, tiny doors, doors within doors, doors in ceilings, doors in floors. Every door she opens gives her access to a different point in her own life—and, possibly, to points in alternate versions of her life. It’s a book about memory, time travel, history, dementia, and family.

Wow, sounds like a fun book. I can’t wait to read it.

Thanks so much, Jamey, for being so generous with your time in answering all these questions. It is very much appreciated.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Interview attached, Reviews

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