Bridget Apfeld has been a volunteer reader for Carve for over a year, and she is a member of the Carve Critiques team. She joins the staff as an associate editor this spring, deciding which stories move from circulation among the reading committee to review on the editor’s desk.
Bridget was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her previous and forthcoming work can be found in various literary journals, including Brevity, So to Speak, Able Muse, Midwestern Gothic, and the Alaska Quarterly Review. She currently lives in Austin, Texas where she writes and works as a production associate and editor.
How did you come to fiction? What’s your relationship with reading or writing short stories?
Fiction has always been present in my life, to the degree that there was really no before or after moment for me. I grew up in a home where every room had bookshelves packed to the brim, so there was always an opportunity, and the encouragement, to take down a book and read. Fiction was the natural end to every day: Before bedtime, you read.
I wrote stories, but not extensively—I was more interested in cartooning, which now I recognize was very much a way for me to engage with narrative and voice. It wasn’t until I went to college, though, that I was really exposed to the short story form. I can remember reading Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” in an intro fiction workshop and knowing, with complete certainty, that I wanted the rest of my life to be centered on fiction. Even after a lifetime of reading every book I could get my hands on, I’d rarely experienced anything that packed such a complex, emotional punch in such a short space, and I had to try writing that way.
That’s carried on for me today, too: The best stories I read are the ones that make me want to put them down and go write, the ones that make me think I wish I’d written that. At this point, a few novels have snuck their way into my writing life, but short stories occupy most of my mind and imagination.
As a reader, what excites you? What kinds of narratives or craft elements are you hoping to see more of in Carve’s submissions?
I’m excited by stories that have a strong sense of place and setting, high moral stakes, and a developed, authentic and authoritative voice. What I look for most, in my personal reading and for Carve, are stories in which something surprises me, whether that’s a character who shows us a new side of themselves, dialogue that zips and flies, or action that strides forward in a direction I couldn’t have anticipated. I want my expectations to be subverted, though not tossed out the window: For me, the perfect story is one in which the ending is surprising but inevitable—it could not have happened in any other way.
For Carve, I’d like to see more stories that take risks in voice and style, and those that play with chronology. I’d invite more stories about families, or stories about parents with younger children; pieces that catch my eyes are often those about change (previous or forthcoming) and movement.
How does your day job interact with your reading and writing life?
I work as a production associate in a live television studio at a university: I spend my day in a studio several layers inside a building, beaming out classes that thousands of students watch synchronously on their laptops (or phones), often alone, in individual rooms inside their dormitories. The disconnection can be extremely strange, and I’m curious about how these isolated-yet-plugged-in experiences inform what we think of as “real” connection, “real” communication. Some of my stories have begun to explore the intersection of technology, identity, gender, and relationships, and while I never draw immediately from my life to create, say, plot or characters, the themes I encounter at work—isolation and loneliness; communication and misunderstanding; identities formed online—are certainly present in my writing life.
What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?
In no particular order, some recent titles I’d recommend are Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley. I just finished The Overstory (Richard Powers) and was pleasantly surprised to have read a story that was so masterful on a formal level with its intricacy and slowly-building interconnectivity, but also unusual in terms of its basic premise: a book about trees!
My current reading includes Barry Lopez’s nonfiction Arctic Dreams, which is beautiful and begs for a careful, luxurious read, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, and a pile of the Sookie Stackhouse series for some variety.
How do you know if a story is a Carve story? What does “honest fiction” mean to you?
To me, Carve stories are those that are works of art in addition to being true stories about the human experience. They are stories that don’t become mired in an attempt to be only realistic, but rather understand that any story is necessarily composed of experience—the author’s external world, accessible and understandable to the reader—and, importantly, imagination. Carve stories are those that know how to torque the fabric of reality in just the right places to create a situation that is resonant, complicated, and speaks to our understanding of the human condition.
The idea of “honest fiction” is, to me, largely about a reader’s reaction to a story: Did the story engender a true, deep emotional reaction in us? Did its voice speak to something essential in us? Did it reinforce our truths, or make us question them? Do we believe in the story’s voice—its way of presenting the world—even if that world is not our own? “Honest fiction” also seems to me to be about whether a story seeks newness in its characters, ideas, voice, and forms, and if it can successfully re-imagine a familiar world. When a story surprises me with a vision that’s believable but unexpected, when a story combines urgency with authority of voice—to me, that’s honest fiction.