Debut Author Snapshot: Brianna Wolfson

Posted by Goodreads on January 29, 2018
Brianna Wolfson
Brianna Wolfson's debut novel, Rosie Colored Glasses, tells the story of a mother's opioid addiction through the lens of her daughter's love as well as flashbacks to her parents' romance that once held so much possibility. Wolfson mines her own history in this look at the forking roads that lead someone to addiction.

At first a kid's-eye-view of a divorce between two mismatched people, the book deftly incorporates other voices and moments in time to reveal that addiction and mental illness, not incompatibility, ripped the family apart. In her parents' divorce, 11-year-old Willow knows where her loyalties lie: with her freewheeling mother, Rosie, and not her rule-bound father. As Rosie sinks deeper into addiction, Willow almost can't admit to herself how comforting her father's sternness is starting to become. As the family's crisis deepens, the gap between what Willow knows and what her parents hide from her creates a heartbreaking tension. Wolfson talked to Goodreads about using her life as inspiration for her first novel, finding her voice, and her influences.


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Goodreads: You've said that your debut is largely autobiographical. What challenges did that pose?

Brianna Wolfson: When I sat down to write this novel, I thought I knew the story I was going to write in and out because it was based on personal experience. As a result, I thought I knew the characters and their strengths and their shortcomings and the way they saw the world. But in reality, I didn't. People are complicated and dynamic beings. In order to write the story I wanted to write, I knew I would have to translate the people I knew into fictional characters and allow myself to be more playful with other story elements like plot and setting. At first, it was really challenging to tease apart the real from the fiction, but I came to really enjoy that aspect of writing Rosie Colored Glasses.

GR: Many of your previously published essays also deal with issues from your parents' divorce. Has writing this book changed your perspective on your own past?

BW: Definitely. Throughout the events of my childhood, I was, well, a child. Writing this novel allowed me to reconsider the events of my past and reexplore my relationships to my family members as an adult. This new lens offered a more sophisticated and empathetic perspective. Relatedly, this is why I love the title Rosie Colored Glasses so much—it reminds me of my own journey writing this novel and consciously peeking out from behind the rose-colored glasses that I was wearing in my perception of some elements of my past.

GR: You've honed your storytelling chops by telling personal stories at live venues like The Moth as well as writing essays. How did that work in nonfiction and performance prepare you for writing this novel?


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BW: I first started writing as a form of catharsis. It was a way to introspect and process a set of experiences. That writing came out like a diary entry of sorts. There was a lot of raw emotion and loose ends and complexity. The Moth and other storytelling forums were extremely helpful to me in honing my narrative voice because they apply constraints to the mess of the story that is an individual's reality. The Moth, for example, asks storytellers to talk on a specific theme for no more than five minutes. Those constraints forced me to introduce focus and narrative into what was otherwise a jumble of thoughts and feelings at the outset.

GR: You've chosen to tell your story through 11-year-old Willow's perspective as she's dealing with her parents' breakup as well as examining her parents' earlier relationship in flashbacks. Why did you decide to structure your novel in this way?

BW: This is another example of how readers of Rosie Colored Glasses unknowingly gain some insight into my own journey as a writer. A meaningful part of my experience writing this novel was revisiting the events of my past. Through that process, I realized that there must have been a lot to the story that I missed because I was so young as the events unfolded. I began thinking much more deeply about what those events must have been like for the other people involved in them—specifically my mother and father. It felt simultaneously very challenging and very comforting to consider my past experiences in a new way. Most importantly, and most meaningfully, it helped me to build more empathy for my parents. I wanted the reader to enjoy that same journey.

GR: Over and over again, Goodreads' early reviewers of your book describe it as "heartbreaking." What is it that you hope readers take away from reading your book?

BW: I hope that Rosie's story reminds readers that we all give and receive love in different ways. One of the most fun aspects of talking to readers thus far has been hearing about their interpretations of the characters. I had some expectations about which characters would be favored, but I was totally wrong! It's just another reminder of how we each have our own unique view and understanding of others.

GR: What writers are you influenced by, and how do those influences show themselves in Rosie Colored Glasses?

BW: In writing fiction, I always strive to bring a bit of magic to the world the characters—and readers—live in. Aimee Bender is one of my favorite authors and, in my mind, a true master at this. She delves into the magical elements and surrealism more than I have the guts to, but I strive to give readers that same tingly feeling I get from reading Aimee Bender's work.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

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BW: I've also been spending a lot of time reading female authors who are writing about the experience of womanhood. I've recently really enjoyed Outline and Transit by Rachel Cusk (and have now reread both several times) and some of Elena Ferrante's earlier works, The Lost Daughter and The Days of Abandonment. Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up and Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart were two of my favorite books of 2017. I am also a perpetual superfan of everything Roxane Gay produces.

I also absolutely love fairy tales and mythology—I grew up on them and return to the classics often. I've found that they're often not the first thing that friends reach for on the shelves, but I always like to recommend giving the genre a try. I have been so pleased with the recent resurgence in mythology in contemporary fiction with collections like Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties and xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer.

GR: What's next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

BW: Yes! I'm putting the finishing touches on a second novel that also contemplates family dynamics from multiple perspectives. Something that Rosie Colored Glasses does not touch upon, but remains a very important part of my personal story and relationship to my concept of family, is my stepmother, step-siblings, and half-sister. This next work explores how blood ties families together, or doesn't.

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