The Bridge – An Interview with J.S. Breukelaar

Meera and her twin sister Kai are Mades—part human and part not—bred in the Blood Temple cult, which only the teenage Meera will survive. Racked with grief and guilt, she lives in hiding with her mysterious rescuer, Narn—part witch and part not—who has lost a sister too, a connection that follows them to Meera’s enrollment years later in a college Redress Program. There she is recruited by Regulars for a starring role in a notorious reading series and is soon the darling of the lit set, finally whole, finally free of the idea that she should have died so Kai could have lived. Maybe Meera can be re-made after all, her life redressed. But the Regulars are not all they seem and there is a price to pay for belonging to something that you don’t understand. Time is closing in on all Meera holds dear—she stands afraid, not just for but of herself, on the bridge between worlds—fearful of what waits on the other side and of the cost of knowing what she truly is.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this speculative fiction treat on its worldwide blog tour.

AN EXCERPT FROM THE BRIDGE

“After I wrote the story in Marvin’s notebook, I wound my hair into a bun, pulled on a skirt and my thin coat and raced toward the bridge. I balked at the spot where the spiked claws—neither human nor animal—had crooked themselves around the rail. They were not there now—but I knew better than to trust either my faulty imagination or my crappy memory. Best just to pretend they never were. My feet kept moving and if my racing brain calibrated two dark smears at the lower edge of the railing, it stored the image for a rainy day.

I did not slow until I got to the other side.

A velvet mystery hung over the cobbled streets of Wellsburg, and it wrapped around me like a cloak. My whole being leaned into the history lurking around the corners, behind the walls, the listing road signs. My soul dipping into a cool clear stream of a reality that I could steal and make my own. I breathed in the truth of this place—smells of coffee and expensive perfume, and sounds of music and peals of laughter—and felt the cracks inside me fill with possibility.

I smiled.

Backlit water tumbled in the fountain at the center of the Quad. It was warmer on this side of the river, similar to September in the Rim, balmy yet with an edge to the breeze. The fickle nature of the weather had revved up my cough, and a few people looked up as I passed, curious maybe about what kind of weak constitution could be unwell on such a night as this? One look at me, at what I was, told them all they needed to know: cult survivor—endangered species. Their faces glowed with health and flawlessly applied makeup—lipstick that never smeared, mascara that never ran. Their expensive, casually assembled couture clung like a second skin. I felt like a plucked bird, a bad joke with my war paint and kohl-black wings, and I kept my head down.”

INTERVIEW WITH J.S. BREUKELAAR

  1. Unlike science fiction set in the future, and historical fiction set in the past, The Bridge envelops both genres within an alternative present. How did you work on the narrative through multiple timelines and genres?

With great difficulty! I knew that was what I wanted, as you say, a collision of genres that somehow sets the present off on an alternate path. So there was a lot of time spent exploring this self-generated place, working out those things that were the same as our present but slightly slant—like Halloween and college programs, and those things that were either futuristic, like the Augmented Reproductive Technology, or historical, like persecution of witches and medieval obstetrics. The timelines seemed to take care of themselves, although with multiple revisions—cuts and pastes, basically—some aspects did get a little tangled, and needed my editor’s expert eye to fix.  

2. Technological advancement, persecution of witches, patriarchal societies, cults – you have covered contemporary issues from different points of time. Was this a deliberate attempt to create a story addressing societal issues across centuries?

No. These issues are close to my heart and seem to figure in most of my work whether I want them to or not. The story always comes first.

3. The Bridge occupies different meanings throughout the novel – the bridge separating different categories of people, the bridge connecting the twins, bridges between past, present and future. What symbolism does it hold for you as a writer? Why that title?

I knew I was a writer from forever, but I really knew it standing on Blue Bridge at Reed College when I attended the Tin House summer writer’s workshop in 2012. That was a transformative moment for me in a transformative experience. Over that week of workshopping, we crossed Blue Bridge over Reed Lake multiple times—drunk, sober, rushing, dawdling, chatting crying. It connected us to friendships formed in a moment that would last forever.  It formed the backdrop to readings. It was where I stood along with a group of new friends and fellow travelers, like Meera, making beaver jokes and wanting that moment to last forever. I guess in a way, it has.

4. As a byproduct of the Forever Code, the Mades do not have memories and cannot lie, and Meera enlists Narn’s help to create stories for her college course. As a writer, how do you bridge the gap between memory and imagination? How much do you use stories from your own life, where does creative thinking take over, and does research play a role?

Creative thinking takes over pretty much from the beginning—like many creative people, I’m a resident alien in my own life so I have to make up what I don’t understand. But also research plays a huge role because I am a writer of speculative fiction, so the speculations have to be based on concrete reality. The question “what if?” implies difference—difference from what? To sameness. So you need to know your way around the sameness to be able to imagine difference.

5. Although a secondary character, Narn’s importance as a storyteller is constantly mentioned. What are your thoughts on the art of oral storytelling versus written stories?

Like you say, it’s an art. And there is always something both lost and gained in the transition from oral to written, and that’s the bridge that Meera stands on.

6. The cover art is stark in its depiction of the bridge itself and someone walking with wings. What’s the story behind the cover?

My extraordinary publisher managed to get the brilliant Luke Spooner to do it. I don’t know how. He’s very much in demand. I don’t ask. I just say thank you and back out slowly trying not to bow too low to the ground. I love the cover.

7. Who are your literary influences? Any favorite books or authors you would recommend?

My literary influences are wide and change with every new book that wows me. Or film. Or series. Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley. Aeschylus and Angela Carter and Henry James and Emily Dickenson and Poe and Leena Krohn and David Cronenberg and Kathryn Bigelow and Phoebe Waller Bridge and Vince Gilligan and Michaela Coel. I cannot recommend the other Angela—Slatter’s—book, All the Murmuring Bones, highly enough. It’s savvy and sassy and baroque. Paul Tremblay is a household name, deservedly so, but if you haven’t read his early short fiction, or a Headful of Ghosts, you’re missing out. William Gibson absolutely. Stephen Graham Jones is a huge inspiration and always has been. Kaaron Warren does horror like no one else working today. Kathe Koja and Sarah Read and Sarah Langan are all essential as are Brian Evenson and Michael Cisco and John Langan and Laird Barron and of course, Nathan Ballingrud. My friend Seb Doubinsky and I have had many conversations about writing out of place, and the (re)created dystopian world of his City States cycle is extraordinary.

THE BRIDGE by J.S. Breukelaar

RELEASE DATE: June 22, 2021

GENRE: Speculative Fiction / Dark Fantasy

BOOK PAGE: https://meerkatpress.com/books/thebridge/

BUY LINKS: Indiebound |Amazon Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY: $50 Book Shopping Spree!

GIVEAWAY LINK:  http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd827/?  

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