Aspen Words’ executive director Adrienne Brodeur returns with the novel ‘Little Monsters’
When Adrienne Brodeur first came to town to participate in Aspen Words, she was an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the precipice of a major life change. Shortly after, she left her career as an editor to pursue a new path as a writer and as creative director and then executive director of Aspen Words, a post she’s held since 2016.
Since then, Brodeur has published two books; a memoir “Wild Game,” which documents her relationship with her mother while she was her teenage confidante during an affair with her father’s closest friend, and now, a novel “Little Monsters” which delves into complicated dynamics between adult siblings in a family living on Cape Cod on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.
On Thursday, Brodeur will appear at The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) in support of the book.
The Aspen Times caught up with Brodeur to discuss her transition from editor to published author, the differences between writing nonfiction vs. fiction, and why she chose to place the novel in 2016 on Cape Cod. The below excerpts from that conversation have been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Aspen Times: You’ve been executive director at Aspen Words since 2016, what initially drew you to the program?
Adrienne Brodeur: The very first time I came to town I actually came out to Summer Words as an editor to meet with writers. I realized I didn’t want to be a book editor forever and I just thought the program had so much potential.
Long story short, this opportunity presented itself and it was perfect. I haven’t looked back since taking this job. I think it’s the best job in the literary world. There’s something so wonderful about being in the world that you’ve been in but from a different angle. And in some ways, the other thing that Aspen Words has allowed me to do is write my books. Editing takes such a huge amount of your own creative time. You fall in love with the books and these projects and you get so invested in the writers and it’s a very personal relationship. It is very hard to have any space left over for your own creative inspiration. I’d written before and I’d always known that I wanted to get back to it.
AT: Your first book, “Wild Game” was a memoir how was it making that transition from nonfiction to fiction? What did you learn about yourself as a writer and as a creator?
AB: They say that there is a book that you have to write and “Wild Game” felt very much like that book to me. I expected fiction to be so much easier after diving so deeply into my personal story. But the fact is memoir nonfiction is easier simply because you already have a roadmap. Obviously, there’s a ton of room for creativity in memoir, but you know the point of view, the story, and the characters, you have the essential beats. With fiction, there’s nothing that’s out of bounds. It’s so huge and enormous, especially in the beginning. What are you writing? Why are you writing from that point of view? What are the themes? I felt like I almost was paralyzed by so many options. There’s so much liberty and freedom in writing fiction, but I think it’s more difficult.
AT: You ultimately set “Little Monsters” right before the 2016 presidential election, but the characters don’t know the outcome. Why?
AB: I love that kind of subversive act when the reader knows more than each of the characters at all times. I didn’t start the book till 2020, but I remember in 2016, just feeling this uneasy mood in this country and it was such a perfect storm. We all knew the ground was shifting. We didn’t know how the ground was shifting, but it just was so apparent that it was, so there was this uneasiness. Men didn’t know quite how to react to the thought that a woman might be in power. None of us really thought that Trump would be in power. I didn’t want to make it a political book. But obviously, all things are political and I did want to evoke that anxious feeling. It was a global inflection point and there was a collapsing of established social orders. And some people, as a result, reckoned with their history and privilege, and other people kind of went into deeper denial. I found the whole thing fascinating. It was fun also to have sort of this looming familial implosion happening within this looming cultural implosion. There was a lot to play with.
AT: Cape Cod is essentially another character in the book. Why did you decide that this was the right place to be the backdrop for these shifting dynamics?
AB: Cape Cod is a fascinating place in no small part. There’s the privileged class, some people live there and other people just vacation there. I really dove into the various towns of the Cape because they are so different. Provincetown is as different from Chatham as I would say Las Vegas is from New York. And the further out you go the wilder it becomes.
Really in the end, it’s the natural world. That does it for me. As soon as I head over the bridge and inhale that brackish air, I feel like my heart rate slows and my body relaxes. And I’m fascinated by the fragility of the landscape. It’s really just a giant sandbar, erosion is real and if you look at pictures of the Cape over the years, it will be gone someday.
But also for me, because my parents are divorced and everyone (got re-married), the only place I’ve spent time every year throughout my life, and a big chunk of time, has been Cape Cod. So, it’s home to me in many ways and it’s the landscape that I feel most grounded in.
AT: Aspen Words was a big part of your transition from editor to writing, does coming back with you book feel like you’ve come full circle?
AB: I felt that way with “Wildgame,” too. It’s really nice to be living the mission of the organization, this is all part of it. And I love celebrating writers. I mean, I feel so indebted to writers. People ask if certain books inspired you and I feel like it’s more that all books do. We’re in some big conversation trying to figure some things with fiction, and you’re writing into the mystery and trying to touch something larger than yourself. So it definitely feels full circle, but I expect to keep running around the circle. It’s not the end.
What: Aspen Words, Adrienne Brodeur author event, “Little Monsters”
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: TACAW, Basalt
To register: tacaw.org/calendar/aspen-words-adrienne-brodeur
*Free and open to the public
A Documentary film making its world premiere at Aspen Film’s 44th annual Filmfest on Thursday, “The Great Divide,” takes on the topic by examining the origins of violence in America, from its roots in Native American genocide and African American slavery to the modern-day epidemic of mass shootings. While the subject is pertinent in all 50 states, the filmmakers set their sights and cameras specifically on Colorado.