Recently, we’ve been catching up with former contributors. This week, we spoke with Teresa Milbrodt, whose fiction appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review 38. Check out what she had to say about sideshow acts and extra limbs, as well as where you can find more of her work in the near future.
Hayden’s Ferry Review: Tell us a little bit about “Bianca’s Body,” your story about a woman with a second torso growing out of her stomach. Where’d the idea for the story come from? What intrigued you about it?
Teresa Milbrodt: When I got the idea for this story, I was reading books about the sideshows of the 1800s. In particular, I was intrigued by a photograph of a woman who had a parasitic twin attached to her side. Like Bianca, this parasitic twin was a lower torso and set of legs, but it was much smaller than Bianca is described in the story, about the size of a large doll.
The reading I did on the lives of sideshow performers made me wonder what would happen to such people in contemporary times, since that sort of exhibition isn't socially acceptable anymore (except perhaps on reality TV shows, which I consider to be a form of contemporary sideshow). “Bianca’s Body” was one of the first stories I wrote exploring the daily life of a woman who might have earned a living as a sideshow performer, but was born one hundred years too late.
The story is the first in my collection, Bearded Women: Stories, which focuses on characters who might be considered “freakish,” but who have very common social, economic, and relationship problems. Many of the stories in my book also question the contemporary definition of the “normal,” and why some people can be considered “normal” while others are considered “freakish.” Ultimately I wanted to break down that dichotomy, revealing the normal in the freakish, and the freakishness that exists within the normal.
HFR: Tell us a bit more about how that book that came about.
TM: “Bianca’s Body” was one of my first stories exploring what would happen to so-called “freaks” in contemporary society. I wrote a number of other stories with a similar theme, including ones about women with beards, a woman with four ears, a woman whose mother was half of a set of conjoined twins, and a woman who is considered a giantess. Over the course of five years, many of these stories were published in literary magazines. Once I had enough published works to constitute a book manuscript, I began submitting a draft of the collection to small presses. ChiZine was an excellent fit, because they specialize in fantasy, sci-fi, and slipstream fiction, and they also appreciate the literary bent of my work.
HFR: What else have you been up to since publication in HFR?
TM: I’m an assistant professor of Creative Writing and English at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. I’m working on a couple of novel projects, including a series of middle-grade novels, and an adult novel that expands on my story “Cyclops” which is in the Bearded Women collection.
HFR: Any upcoming publications we should know about?
TM: I’m going to have work coming out this summer in Indiana Review, as well as Denver Quarterly and the online magazine Exterminating Angel Press.
HFR: What are you reading these days?
TM: I just finished The Gift by Louis Hyde, which is an excellent book about gift economies and how creative artists fit in to that structure. I’m about to start reading an anthology of slipstream short stories called Feeling Very Strange, and I want to re-read Louise Erdrich’s fabulous novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.
HFR: If you could have an extra body part, what would it be and why?
TM: Definitely an extra arm. It would be nice to type and sip coffee at the same time. I briefly considered an extra head so that I could write and sleep simultaneously, but I’d probably argue with myself too much and so it wouldn’t end up being terribly efficient.