Drawn to storytelling since she was a child
Grand Prize Q & A
Anchorage Daily News
While waiting her turn at an Anchorage bank last year, then-27-year-old college student Jamey Bradbury glanced up lazily at one of those overhead security-camera monitors — the kind designed to let everyone know they’re being watched — and was surprised to find herself missing.
After a moment, she realized she simply wasn’t looking at the right monitor. Another camera had her dead to rights.
“But there was a second when I was like, 'Oh my God! I’m not there,’ ” Bradbury recalled this week.
Instead of forgetting the whole thing the next second, Bradbury (who’d just been admitted to a graduate fiction writing workshop at UAA) kept thinking about it — that sensation of vanishing — and eventually turned it into a story.
One so good that judges this week selected “Her Least Favorite Word, Souvenir” as the grand-prize winner in the 2007 University of Alaska/ Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest.
A resident of Alaska for the past five years, Bradbury has been writing stories nearly all her life. Growing up in a small rural town in southern Illinois, she won a national writing award in a USA Weekend magazine contest for high school students. Later, as an English major at Southern Illinois University, she won a couple more literary awards as well.
But it wasn’t until last year — after graduating from college and coming to Anchorage as an AmeriCorps volunteer, then working here for the Red Cross, then traveling to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer — that the idea of being a writer returned.
Q. What led you to take a class in creative writing?
A. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’ve written (stories) probably since I could hold a pencil. By the time I got to college, I knew that writing was really important to me. There was a brief period where I was an education major, but I decided after a while that if I really wanted to be a writer I should focus more on writing. So I got the degree in English (at Southern Illinois) and a minor in creative writing.
Q. After returning to Anchorage from the Peace Corps, what happened to you next?
A. I worked a couple of odd jobs, then I ended up working where I am now as a receptionist (for a mining corporation). … I actually applied to three or four graduate schools and didn’t get into any, but I got on a couple of wait lists. So I decided at that time, 'Well, OK, I’m not in school yet, but I have to write. I have to focus on what I want to do.’ So that’s how I ended up becoming a nondegree student at UAA. … I took the (fiction) workshop for both the fall and spring semesters.
Q. You said this story was the first one you handed in. … What inspired it?
A. Actually, it was an experience I had which was actually identical to the experience the woman had in the first scene of the story, where she’s standing at the bank in line and she looks up at the security camera (monitor) and doesn’t see herself. That actually happened to me. … And it stuck with me and I just kept thinking about it. For a long time, as I was writing the story, I did not know why she was disappearing. I didn’t know if she really was or if it was just in her head.
Q. Apart from the bank, were there any other autobiographical elements in the story?
A. Not really. I mean, like everyone, I’ve experienced the loss of a loved one in my life. … But one of the things that helped — the thing that clued me in to what might be happening to the main character — I had just read, not long before writing the story, Joan Didion’s memoir (“The Year of Magical Thinking”) about her husband’s death. And I actually ended up looking through that book a little bit when I was stuck in the story, and I came across something that Joan Didion said, and I’m not going to get this right, but it’s something along the lines of: 'People who are grieving think that they are invisible. They think that no one can see them because they’re disappearing in their grief.’ And I kind of took that literally for my story. That helped me figure out what was going on with the character.
Q. As a writer, how do you work?
A. I try to push through a first draft of a story when I’m really grabbed by the idea. And a lot of times, much like this story, I really don’t know what’s going on with it. I’m just writing. I see scenes in my head. There are people doing things, and I just kind of put it on paper. I actually hate the first draft of anything. I feel so lost. And it’s usually in revisions that I figure out what the focus is and who the people really are. I got a lot of very good advice from people in my workshop.
Q. What do you plan to do next?
A. I just finished up the creative writing workshop at UAA, and I’ll be attending the University of North Carolina creative writing program in the fall. … I would have liked to have stayed at UAA (which is currently turning its on-campus graduate writing program into a low-residency online format). But I feel like I want to be in a full-time program.
Q. What will a degree in creative writing lead you to?
A. I’m not really sure yet. I’m interested in editing and copy-editing. I’m kind of a grammar nerd. And I’m actually kind of delving into the world of ghostwriting right now. … I’ve been contributing articles to a blog about open-source technology. Which is really strange, because I’m not that tech-savvy. … But I don’t really know. I used to be really sure that I wanted to do like 'A, B, C …’ But now, with every passing year, I feel like I’m less sure with what I want to do. I’m kind of open right now.