Interview: Chelsea Bieker, author of Godshot

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Godshot was your debut, tell me a little about the writing process.

CB: I wrote the book over the span of about six years, and during that time I had two children and was teaching full time as an adjunct. A lot of the process is a blur, sneaking writing sessions during naps, heading to the coffee shop on weekends for a few hours at a time. It felt like I was always piecing everything together. A lot of this book was written in that strange zone of exhaustion and determination. But the process of writing the book was a joy to me, and it was a place I could go and escape into another world. But it was anything but organized. This book was often written from a place of desperation. It’s never been an option for me not to write, though, so I did it even when it was very hard because it was such a source of light for me.

What inspired you to write Godshot?

CB: A lot of things: the Central Valley of California is a place I come back to again and again in my work, and the landscapes there remain the most charged for me. And then of course I wanted to explore a motherless coming of age and how young girls are often on their own to figure out things like sexuality, identity, consent, basic bodily information, etc. In the book, Lacey May goes on a real journey of self education and transformation beginning in a very oppressed and patriarchal state and ending with an awareness of feminism and autonomy.

I understand a lot of Lacey May was based on your own life. Can you tell Us a little about that.

CB: The fictional plot in a basic way is not my experience, but I would say there is a definite emotional truth that is mine. This experience of a mother leaving, I have endured. The feelings around that are true for the narrator and for me. The externals are heightened and transformed by my imagination. Fiction is the best way I know how to approach writing about these difficult emotional truths. It’s a place I feel I have control over the narrative in a different way and I can explore different possibilities. But in terms of growing up a child of an alcoholic and experiencing abandonment, Lacey May and I share that.

With so much of your personal life wrapped into Godshot, what was the hardest part for you to write?

CB: I think the interactions between Lacey and her mother were the hardest for me. I don’t want to give anything away but I rewrote a scene toward the end of the book involving her mother many times. I needed to get the balance between the truth and offering grace and wholeness to her mother just right. I never wanted to paint her mother as simple or one dimensional. I wanted her to be a whole complicated human because that is what she is.

On the opposite of that, what was your favorite part?

CB: My favorite part of writing this book was tapping into the voice of Lacey May and exploring the oddities in this town. There is a lot of humor in the book and the characters have their peculiar pleasures that I had a lot of fun describing. For me this is a very desolate world but it’s also a world of screaming color: neon green painted lawns, magenta hearses, golden sequined robes. I loved writing those two contrasting elements in the book.

What did you learn writing Godshot? And what surprised you the most?

CB: This book felt like it had to be my first book. I had to start at the root of things for myself and exploring a motherless coming of age for so long has been at my fingertips, always on my mind. I think for most of my life I’ve needed to understand why things happened the way they did, and writing this book is my only way of exploring that. Real life does not offer any such solution for me in an immediate way: I am no longer a child. My mother will never come back. These are just the facts. But in fiction I can continue to turn the prism over and over seeing it in different ways. By the end of writing this book I had more compassion and more love for my mother than ever.

Is there a message in Godshot?

CB: I hope readers can leave the book with a sense that our stories are always evolving. The end is not the end. The end is another open door. I hope it can be an inspiration in some way, that through unimaginable darkness the human spirit perseveres. We are much stronger than we know.

What are you up to next?

CB: I want to continue to explore motherhood and identity in my writing. It’s too soon to say what is it exactly I’m working on but I sense it could be another novel. I have always wanted to write a memoir but every time I sit down to do it, I want to write fiction instead. Or a short essay flies out and I come up gasping for air. I think it’s because I’m not quite ready to write the memoir, and I’m listening to myself and believe I will know intuitively when the time is right. I know I need more space and time than I have right now (especially in quarantine where I have zero of both with small children). I know it will require a lot. Fiction is so energizing as a process for me so for now I’m exploring the things aren’t talked about very much pertaining to the body and motherhood and I’m enjoying tapping into a different voice.

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Article originally Published in the June/July 2020 Issue Summer Reads Edition.

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