"Bride School Girls"
October’s FLASH on the FIVE comes from one of the longest-running online lit journals. Hobart was established in 2001, and for two decades now has been one of the good guys, leading the charge of the online lit scene. Publishing everything from fiction to comics, from poetry to rejected modern love essays, the content you find on Hobart is always fresh and resonant. And as soon as I read the story—“Bride School Girls” by Amanda Churchill—I knew that I wanted to feature it here. Click the link below to check this powerful piece and then come back here to read how Amanda approaches the delicate balance of fiction and real life events.
Favorite line: Kiyo promised her mother that she was moving to America and was going to be a better American than the Americans already there.
Wow, tell me that sentence isn’t a whole short story all on its own! There is really so much to unpack in this piece, but I don’t want to take too much time away from the Q&A with Amanda. The one thing I will say that works so well here is that I love the individual stories we get. The specifics we are able to glimpse in these six mini stories, yet the overriding point-of-view is a collective “we” which gives us the sense of just how many women were in this situation. By doing this, the author is able to simultaneously zoom in and zoom out! It's a subtle nuance to the construction of the piece that really makes it so powerful. Check out what Amanda had to say about the process of writing this story:
1. I'm always curious about where stories come from, that first tiny seed. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for “Bride School Girls”?
Many years ago, before she passed away, I interviewed my grandmother about her life and she mentioned that while she was living on base in Tokyo--this is after World War II and she had just married my grandfather, who was a U.S. serviceman--there were classes for Japanese brides to learn about American culture. It was where they learned to be "more American," many leaving within a few years and ending up wherever that soldier had grown up before the war. My grandmother mentioned that many of the women were younger than she and that they were more idealistic about moving to the United States than she was. This fascinated me, so I did some research and found a few articles about these schools, run by the Red Cross and teaching everything from etiquette to how to make a casserole.
2. I love the structure in which you chose to tell this story, parsing it out in six mini stories with individual’s names, yet there also clearly a collective main character. Can you speak to your decision to tell it in this way and how you arrived at this structure.
To write this story, I took a few sentences from an interior chapter of my novel-in-progress and just let whatever happen, happen. I am a huge fan of Julie Otsuka and how she wrote within this chorus of voices in The Buddha in the Attic. In a way, this is an homage to her gorgeous work. As far as structure, a dear writing friend named Nay Saysourinho was reading this piece and felt that the individual stories of these women were also important, so I made the decision to bring them to the top of each section, so that the parts (the women) could be heard within the whole (all of those Japanese war brides with hard histories and high hopes). I would be nowhere without the gentle family of writers with whom I share work.
3. So much of the piece is obviously very heartbreaking, culminating in that beautiful last line – …until one day she stopped waiting and let this land swallow her whole – it’s such an impactful gut punch. Yet, there are moments when I feel a sense of hope about these characters. Do you see this story and these characters as hopeful in any way? And if so, where do you think that comes from?
I'm so glad you like that line because I went back and forth about including it! I am generally a hopeful person--realistic, yet hopeful--so I think that part of my personality seeps into the writing, for better or for worse! Also, I like to balance my images within a piece: for every image that is more difficult or ugly, I try to include one that is more beautiful. I'm not trying to trick the reader or make things rosier than they actually are, but it's more about truth in balance.
4. In your bio, you mention you are working on a novel inspired by your Japanese grandmother. How do you navigate that difficult balance of writing fiction based off true events and people, especially those close to you? On one hand you want to stay true to their story and capture those real emotions. On the other hand, you want to give yourself the creative freedom to let your story or novel be its own entity and go where it wants to go. Have you struggled with this dynamic? How do you know when and where to draw from real stories and when to fictionalize?
It has been such a wonderful challenge to have. When writing my novel, I've liked to start with little snippets of truth and to write around these moments without adhering to the straight facts. I started this early on, as I was very concerned I'd write myself into a corner. When I have done this a couple of times, I have "fixed" it by throwing in something totally unconnected, placing the characters in a weird location or made them try something new, just to see what transpired. It has kept the story fresh for me as I've written it and forced me to focus on the character development, not just the shards of memory that I have been carrying around with me!
5. How is the novel going and what else are you working on now? And where can we see more of your writing?
I'm hopeful (there's that word again) that the novel has found its footing! I've been working on it for five years, recently queried, and I would like to start the next part of this journey with an agent who can help me revise what needs to be revised and polish what needs to be polished! I have a few stories out, swimming in various slush piles, so if they could climb onto an editor's desk and make something of themselves, that would be fabulous. As for older work that's online, I still have a piece up at Witness (another wonderful publication) from 2019, and if you like flash fiction and Spanish cheese, it's there and it's called "Manchego."