Q: Your book, Dogwalker, features twelve individual stories, all told by a somewhat simple-minded man with a great love of dogs and other interesting creatures. Which story is your favorite and why?
Bradford: Well, Laura, I like “Catface” the best because it was the first story I wrote with this narrator. I think it’s funny. But I like all the stories in “Dogwalker.” I really do.
Q: Of course you do. Dave Eggers wrote the following in his blurb on the back of Dogwalker: “Why is Arthur so fascinated with mutants: The scarred and the severed? Why is he so cheerful about their plight? How can he be so nonchalant when describing chainsaws touching skin, small men birthed by dogs? How can these stories be, still, so funny, so full of something like joy? These are questions we may never, ever answer.” Can you clear this up for us here, now?
Bradford: Okay, I think I can clear this up. I happen to believe that whenever you see a person who on the surface appears to lead a fairly sad, depressing life and then you get to know that person, things won’t be as awful as they at first seemed to be. In fact they might even be sort of uplifting. That sounds cheesey, I know, and sometimes it’s not even true, but often it is. People like to tell their stories, so when you write about someone’s wacky life, if you do it with honesty and compassion, it is an overall uplifting experience, I think. Some people say “Dogwalker” is a dark book, but I see it more as a celebration of how strange and diverse life on earth really is.
Q: Good answer. I’m going to have to test that theory on some depressing people I know. Here’s another thing that I wondered: I noticed in the story “Six Dog Christmas” that when the narrator gets the six puppies home, he feeds them cans of ravioli and cereal and milk. These are things you and I used to eat a lot growing up. Why did you have this guy feeding it to his dogs?
Bradford: It’s true we used to eat that a lot when we were kids. In fact, I think you ate only those three things — ravioli, cereal, and milk — for an entire year. You really liked that ravioli in a can, didn’t you? Do you still eat it?
Q: Not much. It isn’t very nutritious — think about that meat sitting in those cans for years. What was mom thinking? But this is about you. Do you think you are a better writer than me? Why do you think this?
Bradford: Well, when we were in school, you always got better grades than me, so I had to resort to whatever tactics I could to compete. I wasn’t as good at math or science, or reading. But I could write stories! You were more into musicals as I recall. You memorized every line from Annie! And Grease! You also wore strange wigs on the bus to school, so that no one knew who you were. This was on a public bus. Where did you get that idea?
Q: I can’t believe you just said you think you’re a better writer than me to my face. And then made fun of my wigs. Just because I was born without hair. Actually, ok, I have hair. I don’t know why I did that. It didn’t even seem strange at the time, to me, anyway. Now, several people have mentioned that there is a twin sister character in your story “Catface.” In fact, the twin sister has a weird skin condition that makes her look like a cat, just like her twin brother Catface, a.k.a. Gerard. What are you trying to say about me in this story that you find difficult to say to my face?
Bradford: When you asked this question I remembered that you have always been a devout “cat person” while I have tended more towards dogs. Our house was overrun by cats when we were little. Your cat had like sevty-five kittens, seriously! As far as the faces go, I think you and I do have similar faces, maybe even more similar than most non-twin brothers and sisters. I’d like to point out that although Maria has a catface, she is considered very beautiful by the narrator, and her twin brother, Catface, is a pretty cool guy, too.
Q: That’s not how you spell “seventy” you story-telling half-wit. You loved those kittens, by the way. You liked to push their noses into their faces. But, yes, it’s true, we had a lot of animals in that house. You had a cat too, named “Pincher,” because that’s what you thought it felt like when he scratched you. Why isn’t Pincher in any of your stories?
Bradford: Well as you might recall Pincher was born without a tail, an odd mutation which I found interesting. There are many mutants in “Dogwalker” so in a way, ol’ Pincher did have an effect. He was a nice cat. It’s too bad you had to go and kill him.
Q: I did not kill Pincher, you liar. But on the subject of your strange sense of humor, most of your stories are funny in a tender, childlike way. Do you think fiction has to be funny to succeed?
Bradford: No, in fact I think if fiction tries to be funny it usually fails. Humor in fiction has to be really subtle, like barely leaning towards humor at all. That’s my feeling anyway. Non-fiction can try a little harder, like David Sedaris. Now there’s a funny writer.
Q: Hmmm, I think he said something nice about you too somewhere. Anyway, you often play guitar while reciting your stories aloud at readings. Since we are reading these stories at home without you there to play the guitar, is there any music you would recommend that we listen to while reading the book, just to get that extra flavor?
Bradford: I am a big fan of hard rock, like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. One current band I like a lot is The White Stripes, but they are so good it would be hard to read while listening to them. I also like Peter, Paul and Mary. Do you remember their children’s record, “Peter, Paul and Mommy”? That’s a good one. Listen to that one, if you can find it.
Q: It wasn’t called that, was it? Really? You liked that song about the toy that went “zip!” when it moved and “pop!” when it stopped. Yeah, that would be good with the book. You also have a documentary movie, How’s Your News, that will be shown on HBO/Cinemax, on January 29. The movie features five disabled adults traveling across the country in an RV doing man-on-the-street interviews. Are you disabled in some way?
Bradford: No, not by the strict definition of that word. I don’t think so.
Q: Some people have expressed reservations about the portrayal of people with disabilities in the film. Is it true that you beat these individuals and refused to provide food unless they went out and performed interviews for the camera?
Bradford: Ha-ha! Hoo! That’s a good one. My funny sister. No, that’s not true. They very much wanted to be part of the movie. They loved making it, and so did we.
Q: Okay, whatever. I have a theory that I’d like to test out. Ready? Ok. You are left-handed and as a result write in kind of a freakish, childlike scrawl. Did growing up that way, when you had a right-handed sister who wrote in perfectly normal penmanship make you feel kind of disabled? Did you especially have this feeling while writing?
Bradford: That’s an interesting theory. I think it has some validity, actually. I had a lot of trouble with penmanship in those younger years. I remember one time I wrote an entire story backwards, like you could hold it up to a mirror and it would read right. The teachers all laughed at it. So perhaps I did feel sort of insecure and goofy as I wrote. You also exploited this handwriting problem when you wrote all over the walls of our house, but made most of the letters backwards so that our parents thought it was me. You tricky girl! But, justice prevailed. You were discovered.
Q: Is good writing important in the post-September 11th world?
Bradford: Right now it’s not as important. That’s how I feel, but hopefully things will go back to the way they were.
Q: That’s interesting. Why do you feel that way?
Bradford: I honestly think everything has shifted a little bit. Writing fiction seems a little trivial to me right now, but maybe that will change. I sure hope so.
Q: Do you think that you will go down in history?
Q: Really? As what?
Bradford: An obscure writer. And also as the twin brother of Laura Bradford.
Q: Oooh, thanks.