Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York. Her debut novel, The Brittanys, was published with Vintage in June of 2021. She lives in Los Angeles. Her piece, “blonde”, can be found in EPOCH Issue 03: Roots, available to purchase here.
Why do you write CNF, and do you explore other genres in your work?
I started keeping a diary when I was very young, after watching the movie Harriet the Spy (it aged well, by the way, and still holds up!). I loved the idea of documenting everything that was happening around me and trying to better people by means of writing about them. One of the things I’ve come to find since then is that I actually tend to learn mostly about myself through my writing. I always joke that my CNF is “about my family, but actually is really just about me.” Even in my fiction, while every character I write is some amalgamation of a person I’ve known, it’s also a projection of myself, or something I’m lacking, or something I wish I’d done or handled better. It’s my way of re-writing my past, my past selves, no matter what form or genre I write in. I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of creation that happens in creative writing and the self-expression that leads to a greater understanding of how the world expresses itself to me.
Did you have a piece already written when you learned about Epoch’s theme, or did you write a new piece? If so, how did you approach the theme of Roots in the creation of your work?
Back in the summer of 2019, I had taken a nonfiction class at UCLA’s Extension program. One of our writing prompts was “What does your hair say about you?” I immediately thought of my mom and her condition and wanted to find a way to tie that into the plight of growing up and dying my hair blonde though the years. I felt that the two ideas could lyric together and create a sort of manifesto about women and hair and generational trauma, etc. I had also just finished a book tour for my first book, a collection of essays titled The Perpetual Motion Machine (Red Hen Press 2018), and wanted to write about that experience as well, how the traveling and all the events and keeping up appearances affected me both positively and negatively. So, I’d already written this draft when I saw the call for pieces about “Roots” and felt that my work fit into this theme because of its literal meaning as well as metaphorically. The literal roots of female genealogy and the roots of our hair as the color grows out over time mixed with the metaphorical roots of the relationship between mothers and daughters, the roots we plant in the craft of writing, how the work is rooted in pain, in love.
What is the biggest challenge when writing CNF?
The biggest challenge can be translating my idea for a piece into the appropriate form. I get ideas for pieces all the time—memories that come into view, things I’m working out in therapy, moments in time that I can’t get out of my head once they enter my brain. But it’s often difficult for me to find a structure for the words. I love the David Lynch quote about ideas, “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.” Sometimes the idea I’m working with is too small, too simple, and I have to “go deeper” in order to let it expand and grow into its truest form. It’s our task as writers to take our ideas and cultivate them into something meaningful. David Lynch also says that we don’t make the fish, but as artists, it’s our job to catch the fish. I think another challenge as a writer is to be open, at all times, to the possibility of story.
What’s your favourite piece of art in your home?
Going to cheat here because I have a few, and they were all wedding gifts. First, from a family friend, Bonnie Gowing, a painting of our flower arrangement from our engagement party. Second, a black and white photograph from our dear friend Kai Saul. Last, a LEGO portrait of my husband, Carl, and I on our wedding day to commemorate our indestructible love.
(I’d also be remiss not to share the one year paper anniversary gift I gave my husband—a framed print of David Lynch smoking.)