Brittany Chaffee is an author based in Minneapolis, MN. Her first book of poetry Wild Morning was published by Wise Ink. She is a regular contributor for Wit & Delight, covering topics ranging from lifestyle to health and wellness. Her newest book series Borderline, which will be released later this year, is a collection of essays about "memory, time, change, and wonder." Here, Brittany shares a glimpse into her world and discusses her fascination with capturing her surroundings through words.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your forthcoming book series Borderline!
Brittany: Borderline came to me on a walk. I live right next to the Mississippi River, and I spend a lot of time in the summer biking through the woods along its riverbank. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time in some woods near my home, imagining stories, creatures, and adventures. I'm fascinated by the vortex of time and memory, such as objects that remind me of resurfaced emotions and the past. And the forest by the Mississippi in my adult life took me directly into the memories of my childhood. The word "borderline" struck me as the symbolic "line in the sand" moment you can pass when seasons change, when certain sensory moments carry you back through moments in time. We are always straddling the past and the present, and it's so raw and beautiful to me that we can go back and forth between the two so painfully and joyously. That is what Borderline is about, how we pass through time and its seasons, whatever we carry with us along the way.
What is your creative process like?
My creative process is inspired by nature and small details. In 1927 Virginia Woolf wrote about a practice she called “street haunting.” Essentially, she defined this process as an act of observing her surroundings while walking and creating “a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.” She described a creative process I love best, which is wandering through the world and watching it. If I take a moment to be quiet and listen and observe, I'm at my best. I read somewhere once that writing helps us to be curious and precise about our own lives. So, I also like to think of my creative process as to best understand myself.
"Newborns have more bones.
What do you hope others will take away from your work?
I'm a very emotional person, so I always feel accomplished when others connect to the sensual parts of my work. I love details and sensory descriptions, the things that bring out vulnerable emotions through writing and moments people can relate to. When I read books, I often underline words on the pages. I always read with a pen to mark spots I love within, sentences I feel like I'm discovering for the first time, even though someone else already wrote them. I hope others keep a pen nearby with my work and read it slowly, waiting for a moment they can relate to and carry home.
Who or what inspires you creatively?
My mother. Tiny objects. Home movies. Old movies, their dialogue, their color palettes. Movie scores. The color descriptions on antique ash trays and vases. Trees. Stories from my grandmother. Flaws.
"Babies howl and scream for what they want or need, but they do not cry.
Who are some authors you look up to?
Currently, Brit Bennett, Durga Chew-Bose, Cheryl Strayed, Stephanie Danler, J. Ryan Stradal. My go-to favorites are Joan Didion, Marguerite Duras, Ann Patchett, Maggie Nelson, and Annie Dillard. I hope I'm not forgetting any! Authors are sacred to me.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. Read like hell. Write. Write like hell. Write an entire essay with no adjectives or adverbs. Write while looking in the mirror and don't use the word "I." Try somatic poetry. Write about what hurts. Tell the truth.
Q: Share with us a little bit about your background.
Nana: I am from Colombia. I think I started drawing since I could first hold a pencil. Drawing and writing became my go-to whenever I wanted to express my feelings. And I always felt the responsibility of communicating with that ability, to help my community to be heard. I think my identity has always shaped my work. I can't actually separate who I am from what I do. Constant topics in my pieces are being a woman, having divorced parents, being alternative, and now identifying myself as a Colombian and a Latina immigrant.
I actually did my major in communication design back in my country, but I always felt more driven towards art and drawing. It took me a while to decide to go in that direction because I wanted something more secure as a career, but in the end, I found a way to do what I love. I earned a full scholarship to study fine arts in Altos de Chavón in the Dominican Republic, and a year after that I earned another one to go to Parsons, The New School of Design in New York, where I studied Illustration.
How would you describe your work?
I can describe myself as an illustrator. Nevertheless, I think illustration is more of a particular line of doing work, although the general concept is more related to commercial production. I do comics, fanzines, and graphic novels as a way to share my stories. But I also have paintings and standalone pieces that I present in exhibitions and art galleries. Sometimes I show them with embedded QR codes, so people can actually get more access to my process, even the music that I listened to. On the other hand, I also like to make some wearables from time to time, like t-shirts and stickers, so people can actually wear the things they identify with.
Where do you draw inspiration from in your graphic novels?
I base most of my projects on personal experiences, but I also tend to listen to people in my surroundings and their way of living. I think I grab inspiration from everywhere, especially pop culture. I love music and I am always linking my favorite songs and lyrics to moments and scenes. I also love the narrative in certain movies and books. Sometimes I even pick color palettes from my favorite movies. And, of course, I read tons of graphic novels and comics. I particularly love the work of Craig Thompson and Brett Parson.
What is your process like writing the stories and creating the illustrations?
Part of the time I write everything first and then I start looking at what scenes or actions can be represented graphically and which ones should stay in text. Although, sometimes, I just imagine one image and no words. I have to draw it just like I have it in my head. So I jump back and forth with both types of process.
What motivates or moves you to create?
I think what motivates me is to get all my feelings out. It is a good way to do a personal analysis of certain things in your life. But I also really like to see how I am not the only one feeling those things; people identify themselves with my stories. Being a voice and representing others always move me.
What projects are you working on now?
Right now I have different projects going on. The principal one is a graphic novel called "Luna." It's kind of my alter ego story about a Colombian girl who arrives in New York with a scholarship to become a writer. It's kind of an excuse to talk about immigration, feminism, and my culture as a Colombian, topics that I felt grew more into me since I arrived in the USA.
Regarding my recent exhibitions, I am presenting a series called "Incertidumbre" ("Uncertainty"), where I explore the constant sensation of “in‐betweeness” as a foreigner, even in my own country. I use elements of nature such as water and thick vegetation to recreate the sensation of depth, darkness, and the unknown as the representation of an uncertain future. But these elements also depict my common surroundings since I come from a tropical country, showing how I miss my land and at the same time how, somehow, still immersed in the memory of it.
What do you hope to do in the future?
In the future I hope to publish more books like these novels, do more exhibitions, and keep communicating these ideas as I do now. I think teaching how to do this could also be in the plan, so anyone who is interested can be the voice of their own community.