All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
About All the Ugly and Wonderful Things:
As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It’s safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.
By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy’s family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. Kellen may not be innocent, but he is the fixed point in Wavy and Donal’s chaotic universe. Instead of playing it safe, Wavy has to learn to fight for Kellen, for her brother, and for herself.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a book that was very challenging for me to read due to the content. The title is nothing short of absolute perfection in describing the book. I went into the book completely blind and didn’t read much about it besides liking a few reviews. I had no idea what was in store.
There were a few times in the book I wanted to stop reading. What supported me finishing the book was reminding myself about the fact that this story, no matter how hard it is to accept, is very real. This is a book of fiction, but there are dysfunctional lives comparable to this and they’re very true. Just because they’re out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. The author could have written it differently, but then it wouldn’t be what it is. I don’t think by reading and finishing the book, you’re necessarily celebrating the events that take place.
The controversy with people is the relationship. I get that the relationship Wavy chooses is wrong, but just look at her life. Her parents, exposure, and experiences are not what most would consider “normal” and she’s not able to enjoy her childhood as it is. Instead, she’s having to live like an adult and she experiences adult situations at a very young age. Because she has nobody, a nonexistent family and no support from anyone, Kellen becomes her family and they fall in love.
After all, it’s just a story. To me, it was captivating. The book is written very well and I loved it. I’m delighted to have discovered this author and I’m looking forward to reading more. I’ll leave it at that. 🙂
About Bryn Greenwood
Bryn Greenwood is a fourth-generation Kansan. She earned an MA from Kansas State University in Creative Writing and continues to work in academia as an administrator. Her novels include All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Last Will, and Lie Lay Lain. Her short fiction has appeared in “Chiron Review”, “Karamu”, “The Battered Suitcase”, and “Menda City Review.
You can find Bryn Greenwood on Goodreads
Interview with Bryn Greenwood
What inspired you to write this book?
Bryn Greenwood: It started the way most of my books start. I saw something that set off a series of thoughts that turned into a story. I saw a man riding a motorcycle on a dirt road through a hay field. I immediately began to wonder who he was and where he was going. When I got home I started writing. Kellen wrecked his bike, Wavy saved his life, and everything followed on from there.
Do you think your writing will stay in any specific genre(s)?
Bryn Greenwood: I actually write in several different genres, including literary, fantasy, science fiction, and historical. So far, only my literary books have found an audience and a publisher.
Do you read a lot? What are some of your favorite books, genres, and authors?
Bryn Greenwood: Not as much as I’d like to. That’s the trade off for writing. It takes up some of my reading time. I will read very nearly anything without shame, but close to my heart are Anthony Trollope, Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Emma Donoghue.
What was the most difficult part of writing the book? Was there anything that you deleted or altered?
Bryn Greenwood: All books are hard in their own way, and this one was no different. There were moments where I didn’t like how the story was going, and I tried to write my way out of it. I hated seeing Wavy suffer. I hated some of the decisions that Kellen made. The heart wants what it wants, though, and every time I tried to write around it, I kept getting tripped up. As a result, a lot of things got deleted. That’s what happens when your first draft is over two hundred thousand words, and you write a hundred thousand words of an entirely different version of the story.
Did you have to do much research for the book?
Bryn Greenwood: I mostly found myself having to do memory checks. Because I grew up in the rural Midwest in the 70s and 80s, I personally knew most of the things I wanted to write about, but I had to check certain things like exact dates on music, movies, slang terms, and various other pop culture references. For example, I had to check that Poltergeist really would have been in theaters on the night of Kellen’s twenty-sixth birthday, and that “gag me with a spoon” would have been in common usage in Tulsa later that same summer.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Bryn Greenwood: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Writer’s procrastination, yes. If I find myself struggling with a project, it’s usually because I’m avoiding it. Either because it’s difficult or because I’m not that interested in it. The way around it then is simple: work harder or move on to something else.
Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a favorite “writing” atmosphere?
Bryn Greenwood: I typically write while sitting on my couch with my dogs. It’s not my favorite place to write, but the dogs seem to like it. I will write almost anywhere, and in fact, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was written while I was camped out in a friend’s spare bedroom.
Do you have any advice for other novice or aspiring writers?
Bryn Greenwood: Read as many books as you can. Reread the ones you love most until you understand why you love them. Then write the things you feel most passionately about.
I read online that your father was a drug dealer at one point. Does this in any way connect to All the Ugly and Wonderful Things?
Bryn Greenwood: Because I knew quite a bit about that life, it was easy for me to place the events within the meth culture of the 70s and 80s. Some of the events and people in the book are the product of my personal experiences, but there are no direct correlations. Liam is nothing like my father, and Val is not my mother. Did I know some people who were a bit like Butch and Dee and Sandy? Yes, but I don’t think any of the actual people I know would recognize themselves in the borrowed traits of my characters.
Did you have many supporters that helped you to get this book published, and at any point did you feel like it was a risk due to the content?
Bryn Greenwood: Obviously, my agent and my editor at St. Martin’s Press were my strongest supporters for this book. My agent loved the story enough that she took it to auction. My editor loved it enough that she bought and published it. Neither of them ever suggested to me that I should change it. As for me, the riskier something is the more likely I am to try it. I wrote the book with my whole heart and it never occurred to me to be afraid to send it out into the world. I would rather write books that are problematic but passionate than something I feel lukewarm about.
How have you dealt with the controversy of your book?
Bryn Greenwood: I’ve tried to focus on talking about the issues that I think are at the heart of the book, most especially consent. People frequently look only at Wavy and Kellen’s relationship, but there are so many other places in the book where the question of Wavy’s ability and right to consent or to refuse consent comes into play. So many adults want to “do what’s right” by forcing her to do or be something other than what she is. As much as we may not approve of the choices Kellen makes, he’s one of the only adults in the book who doesn’t violate Wavy’s consent. It’s important to me to get people talking about that.
Did you plan the controversial age gap between Kellen and Wavy, or is it just something you had to write?
Bryn Greenwood: I don’t plan much of anything when it comes to my writing. Characters tend to walk into my stories as they are, fully formed. I met Wavy and Kellen at the same time they met each other: by the side of the road next to a wrecked motorcycle. They were who they were–an eight-year-old girl and a twenty-year-old man–and I didn’t try to change them. I didn’t know they were going to develop such a strong emotional bond, but when they did, I just kept writing.
Have you ever been in an abusive relationship, or dealt with the victims of such, since the mindset of the victims were captured so accurately?
Bryn Greenwood: I worked for many years at a domestic violence shelter, so I’ve met and talked with many victims of DV, both adults and children. It’s a situation that so often appears in fiction and film for sensationalist purposes, so it was very important for me to try to show what abusive relationships look like when they’re not dramatized. In fact, it was only after I’d worked at the shelter for some time that I realized one of my previous relationships was verbally and emotionally abusive. Abuse that doesn’t include physical violence can be so invisible in our society.
Will there be any other books that will include the characters from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things?
Bryn Greenwood: Probably not. If people are interested in deleted scenes, including bonus scenes that are outside the timeline of the book, they can sign up for my newsletter via my website.
When can we expect another book and will it contain the same level of controversy?
Bryn Greenwood: Certainly there will be more books. I have no idea whether they’ll turn out to be controversial.
How do you deal with negative book reviews?
Bryn Greenwood: I mostly avoid them. After all, it’s too late to revise the book to please anyone else. Plus, I remind myself that not every book is for everybody. People who don’t like my book, it’s not for them.
Are there any social media platforms or websites that readers could connect with you?
Bryn Greenwood: My website is www.bryngreenwood.com.
I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @bryngreenwood. My Twitter feed is mostly politics, and my Instagram feed is mostly pictures of my boxers. Readers can also find me on Facebook:http://www.facebook.com/bryngreenwoodwriter/
Thanks for reading my review and interview!