Ray Degraw (MFA Literary Nonfiction ’15) interviews Brooke King (MFA Fiction ’14).
Ray Degraw: Where do you find the inspiration to write?
Brooke King: One of the ways I find out how to write is by reading. I know it sounds weird, but most times, by reading, I find inspiration in a subject or area. Other times, it just comes to me. I don’t really have a rhyme or reason behind it, but mostly, my writing comes from my war experience and so, most of my inspiration comes from my own experience or the experience of those that I served with.
Ray: Is there a particular genre you find appealing that you use quite often in your own writing?
Brooke: Well, I am a war writer, so war literature, whether it’s poetry, nonfiction, or fiction is interesting to me, but I also find (I can’t believe I’m admitting to this) cheesy mystery novels interesting and often wonder if it’s something I can actually use in my writing, like the buildup of suspense and the rising and falling of action within a story.
Ray: Can you give me a writer that may inspire or influence your writing?
Brooke: Well, I’ve always been really fond of Hemingway and how he uses terse language and brevity in his fiction, but I am also quite fond of, and it’s cliché for me to say this, but Tim O’Brien is a huge influence in my writing. Just recently, I’ve gotten into Gunter Grass and find that his to the point writing is right up my alley.
Ray: What do you find particularly hard about writing, in an MFA or at home leisurely? Or rather, how do you find the time to write and balance your daily life?
Brooke: The hardest part about writing is finding a space and a place to write. With children, it’s hard to balance the time, but I guess if you love something enough, you’ll make time to do it. I also find it sometimes hard to get writing and so I’ll free write for about 10 minutes to get the juices flowing. I highly recommend What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It usually helps me get into the mood to write and sometimes getting started is all you need to kickstart your writers block.
Ray: What writing project are you working on now?
Brooke: Well, I’m working on my thesis for the MFA, but my thesis include a good chunk of my first novel. I am also working on my memoir, which also centers around my first deployment and the aftermath of coming home.
Ray: Can you tell me your writing mantra or maybe your favorite writing quote?
Brooke: It sounds corny, but I have two phrases that have always kind of stuck with me no matter what and one is by Hemingway. “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” The other one is by William Faulkner “If a story is in you, it has to come out.”
Ray: Is there some sort of goal you work towards when you sit down to write or do you just write and see where it takes you?
Brooke: As a writer, you tie down your creativity if you sit down with a plan of how you are going to write a story. For me, I just sit down and write and see where the story takes the characters. You cannot limit your imagination to the confines of a set goal, and it is often times when I don’t know where a story is headed that makes the journey to the end that much more exciting as a writer. For me, finding where the story unfolds is more interesting than how it starts, but as a craftsman of words, you have to be invested in every part of the work, beginning, middle, and end.
Ray: As MFA students, we’ve been told time again to write to an audience. Who do you feel is your audience and what do you hope they get from your writing?
Brooke: I don’t think per say that I have an audience, but I have a reader to whom I write, and that person is my Nana. Whenever I write a story, I write as though I am writing it for her to read and that usually helps me figure out where the story is going and ends up. It also helps to have a reader in mind because it will give you an idea of diction and structure, and how the words flow on the page. Most times, I find it helpful to write have a picture of her near, so that I remind myself who I am writing the story for and why.
Ray: In closing, is there anything else you would like to share about you, as an author, or your writing that hasn’t been explored yet?
Brooke: I know my work is heart wrenching and at times quite graphic, but I think it brings light to women in combat and the reality of what they truly went through, as well as myself. Too often the women’s perspective is lost in the war genre and I hope to give voice to the women in a field that is predominantly ruled by male writers. Hopefully, my writing will help in bringing together the gap that has been created in my genre, but if my writing helps or touches even one person, I’ll be content. Either way, I think I’ll be writing in this genre for awhile and that’s okay by me.
Brooke King served in the United States Army, deploying to Iraq in 2006 as a wheel vehicle mechanic, machine gunner, and recovery specialist. Her combat experience has led her to focus on the involvement of female soldiers, giving perspective and insight about how women have fought in combat and war. Her work has been published in the Sandhill Review and Press 53’s fiction war anthology Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand with a forthcoming nonfiction publication with University Nebraska Press. Currently, Brooke is attending Sierra Nevada College’s Master of Fine Arts program and is working on her first novel.