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New online instructor Teresa Milbrodt adds some welcome pepper to the faculty at Lighthouse. She’s a regular faculty at the MFA program at Western State, and we wanted to get her introduced to the community who might encounter her through her writing or through her online fiction or creative nonfiction courses starting this month. As is the tradition, we asked her a few ?s and got a few As. Please welcome Teresa to the online faculty!
1. It’s exciting to see your novel coming out next month, The Patron Saint of Unattractive People. Can we get a preview of what to expect from the book?
A. My novel tells the story of a thirty-seven-year-old cyclops woman who is a barista at her family’s coffee shop and wears a sunglasses shade to conceal the single eye in the middle of her forehead. The coffee shop houses a relic, a fragment from the staff of Drogo, an eleventh-century Flemish saint and patron of coffee house keepers and unattractive people.
When the shop is threatened with closure and patrons are allowed to touch the relic for a fee, Drogo’s staff is credited with performing several healings. The cyclops woman’s parents suggest that she take off her shade, reveal her single eye, and continue the publicity.
Terrified of exposure she leaves home to search for other cyclops people, yet worries she’ll only find the crotchety old men of Greek myth.
But Homer never imagined this kind of odyssey.
If you’d like to read some deleted scenes from the book as well as an “interview” with my cyclops protagonist, they’re posted on my blog which can be found at this link.
2. You’ve written a lot of stories that have been characterized as “strange” by yourself and others. (Featuring, for example, women with beards, satyrs, and forgotten saints.) We love strange! I also read somewhere that you had to endure years of rejection before you started getting the publications you now regularly get. How did you keep up your confidence about your writing while going through the rough period? Were you ever tempted to “conform” to what you thought was a more prevailing kind of writing?
When I was a kid I was a voracious reader and loved books by Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, and other writers who delved into the fantastic. I was also teased in elementary school, so naturally I cheered for the underdog, the outcast, and anyone else who didn’t fit into to prescribed “norm.” I think both those factors help explain who so many of my stories play on fantastical characters, but ultimately my work often ends up being about relationships and finding one’s identity or a sense of belonging (or a comfort with being different).
In terms of publishing, when I was in graduate school I had two very encouraging professors who firmly believed in honoring students’ different writing styles. I was never told to change my style so I could be more “publishable.” One of my profs, Wendell, compared the submissions process to standing in a long grocery line along with many other people who had full carts. He said the secret was to stay in that long line, and eventually you’d get to buy your groceries (and publish stories).
I think most successful writers have that sort of tenacity–if it’s good writing there has to be a place for it somewhere, you just have to keep trying to find that place.
3. You’re teaching online workshops in fiction and creative nonfiction at Lighthouse. What’s the most important thing the online community in your workshops can do for the writers who take the classes?
Participate faithfully in workshops and take them seriously, but also enjoy the fact that it’s great to be in a community of writers in which everyone wants to help their colleagues improve their work. I think it’s important to honor the writer’s voice while making suggestions to help that writer delve even deeper into the heart of the story.
My workshopping and editorial experience has had as much of an effect on my writing as any creative writing craft course. We learn so much from reading and commenting on the work of others, and the process is as helpful for the person giving feedback as it is for the person receiving it.
Check out Teresa’s and other online classes here.