Author Q & A with Helyn Trickey Bradley
August 4, 2022
This week’s Author Q&A is with Helyn Trickey Bradley. Helyn is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her patient husband, three children, and one dog of questionable character. When she is not on deadline, she tries to find zen in the general chaos by reading in coffee shops and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. She writes essays and articles for national publications including Oprah Magazine, CNN, PBS, and The Oregonian. Helyn has an MFA in creative writing from Portland State University, and she is hard at work on a novel. Her nonfiction essay “Backwards and Blind” appears in our 2022 Honeybee Prize issue.
We asked Helyn to tell us some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of her essay and share something it taught her.
Her response: “I think for most people, the idea of impending death is frightening. I know it is for me. So, the concept of putting my mother on hospice felt like a looming black cumulus cloud, and the weight of that was on top of some serious sorrow about having to move my mother into Memory Care and, due to COVID-19, not physically see her again for a year. Writing this essay helped me get more comfortable with the idea of my mother dying and my anger at precious time between us lost. Writing this essay helped me be more present for her in her final, beautiful moments, which I hold in my pocket like a love note. I write to sort my emotions. When, after a year of being homebound, I was able to physically race a scull across a wild, roiling river, the feeling of freedom and release was intoxicating. That moment felt very much like when I write something that feels true for me – the release and freedom of finally saying exactly what I feel, minus embellishments. It was cool to merge the release I felt with rowing with the release I get from writing out hard emotions.”
We asked her what part of the artistic process is the most difficult for her.
Her response: “Having a dedicated, daily writing practice is hard for me. I write every day for my 9-5 job but writing creatively is harder to fit into my life. Also, I’m a basher, meaning that I bash out a first draft of an essay in one sitting when an overwhelming urge to write and a clear vision of what I need to say overtake me. When my muse shows up, she’s carrying a club and wearing brass knuckles, and I don’t have much choice in the matter. I often drop everything else I’m doing to put pen to paper during these urgent moments, and I’ve come to trust my writerly instincts that calling in sick or moving meetings or foisting childcare onto my very supportive husband pays off. Still, I wish I could better muster a consistent and daily writing practice.”
And the flip side.. What is the most satisfying?
“There’s nothing like the feeling of being in the flow when the words in my head come faster than what I can get on the page. It’s a spiritual experience for me.”
We asked Helyn to share her biggest fear as a writer.
Her response: “I fear I will run out of time before I’ve written all the things I most want to get on the page. Leaving things unsaid haunts me.”
We asked her to tell us what the biggest influences have been/are in her writing.
Her response: “I believe Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is God whispering to us on the page. Morrison’s incredible talent leaves me breathless and ragged and transformed. I read “The Bluest Eye” for the first time when I was in high school, and it gave my young, scared self the courage to write my own words. After reading John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run” I thought to myself, you can do that on the page? – and I promptly decided to pursue an MFA in creative writing. I adore reading Alice Munro’s short stories as each is a full, satisfying meal that leaves me licking my lips. I had a hard moment of self-recognition when I read her short story, “Family Furnishings.” And Jacqueline Woodson’s novels-in-verse light me up, especially the heart-wrenching “Before the Ever After.” The incredible use of language in Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News” always reinvigorates me as a writer, so I re-read it all the time. And Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” has served as my north star ever since I first consumed it as a willful teenager and discovered a similar soul in its pages.”
So many wonderful pieces of writing! And lots of options, too, when it comes to defining what “The Good Life” is all about. Here’s what Helyn had to say about that:
“For me, the good life is a summer day near an ocean or sound or river or lake. It is toes dug into warm sand and the sound of seagulls fussing overhead. It is the piercing laughter and squeals of children playing nearby. It is reading a passage from a good book that stops me cold, forcing me to re-read the words, swirling them around in my mouth like a cold marble. The good life is having long, blank afternoons stretched out in front of me and plenty of books to read.”
Love that! Thank you, Helyn, for participating in our Q&A and being open to sharing more about yourself and your writing life. We are grateful that you gave us the opportunity to publish your essay!
~The Good Life Review Team