Brennen Fahy lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where he works as a firefighter. His work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Bull Men’s Fiction, WriteCity Magazine, and The Adelaide Literary Magazine.
Brittney Rowe and Sarah Raines speak with Brennen below.
We love “What to Expect when You’re Getting Laser Eye Surgery or What Your Eyeballs Smell Like when They’re Melting.” Thanks for making it! On that note, what was the most challenging aspect of creating this nonfiction piece?
No problem! I'm glad you liked it. The most challenging aspect of writing it was probably seeing my computer screen. After the surgery everything was really blurry and it took a couple of days before I could see properly. I was stuck in my bedroom with the lights off for most of it and I was bored to tears. On the second day I opened up my laptop and started writing while the details were still fresh, while the smell of it was still in my nostrils so to speak. I'm sure an ophthalmologist would have some stern words for me. I don't remember all of the rules I was supposed to follow after the surgery but I definitely recall something about not straining your eyes by reading or staring at screens.
In your author’s note, you mention that this nonfiction work resulted from wanting to terrify your friend when she asked about what laser eye surgery was like. Did you succeed?!?
I think I did, at least a little. I used to have terrible eyesight. Without glasses or contacts the world beyond a foot from my face looked like an abstract painting. Anyone with bad vision will tell you that there's a small sense of community between people that need glasses. People flex their prescription strengths for clout and I had one of the worst. So after I got my surgery my fellow four eyes people were curious. The friend that I wrote the piece for ended up getting the surgery but it wasn't until much later. I'd like to think that my story had some sort of effect on delaying her decision but I can't be sure.
We’ve read that you’ve traveled to various countries, including Ireland, Mexico, and Malaysia. Any specific moments stick out along the way as having particularly shaped your writing?
I've been lucky to do a lot of travelling in my life. I've been all over Central and South America, Asia, and Western Europe. I've done a lot of travel writing where I quickly realized what kind of stories are hits with readers. I've found that people back home don't necessarily like travel stories. They like horror stories set in other countries. People don't want to hear about the snow-capped mountains and gumdrop hills of central Japan. They want to hear about “The Most Disgusting Squat Toilet In China,” “The HMS Vomit Comet to Koh Tao,” and “The Serial Masturbator of the Belfast Gate Youth Hostel.” After realizing this I've become a bit of a glutton for punishment when I travel and will seek out uncomfortable and dangerous experiences just for material. It's going to get me killed one day. Or at least riddled with parasites.
Cool! What advice do you have for fellow nonfiction writers?
I'm not sure I'm qualified to give anyone advice on writing but every how-to book I've read on the subject can be summed up like this: Read a lot, write a lot, and have a routine. In my experience that last one needs to be underlined twice for how important it is. Whether you write in the morning with a cup of coffee or at night with a glass of wine you need to have some sort of routine if you're going to have any success as a writer.
We also so that you write fiction. Do you see similar trends in developing fictional and nonfiction pieces?
I don't think so. I don't write fiction very often anymore and whenever I do it's filled with characters and experiences that I've pulled from my own life so it never feels made up. I could write about anything, a little girl running from a monster on her way to school for example, and the girl will be my niece, the setting of my own neighborhood and the monster will be a total rip off of a werewolf movie or something. I do very little creation when I write fiction, otherwise it just comes off as hollow.
What is the most difficult thing about writing for you?
The most difficult thing for me is starting in the morning. I talked about the importance of having a routine and my regime seems to be doing anything and everything I can think of before I start writing. I'll unload the dishwasher, make the bed, fluff the pillows, scrub the toilet, do this interview; all of them are more appealing to me than starting to write. My fiancé always knows when I've had a particularly difficult time starting because the apartment will be spotless when she gets back from work.
What is it about writing that makes it fulfilling?
I mostly focus on nonfiction writing these days and I try to inject it with humor. Writing is the most fulfilling for me when I can write something that I know is true to the subject and makes someone laugh at the same time. Having my mom or my fiancé read a piece I've written and hearing them laugh from another room is what I imagine heroin feels like. Totally worth imploding your life over.
Thanks for letting us pick your brain. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that you guys do awesome work and to keep it up. You do more for writers and writing as a whole than you probably realize. I don't know how editors do it but they seem to have a secret sense of when a writer needs some validation. After getting rejection after rejection, I'll start getting down on myself and wondering if there is a less soul destroying passion I could pursue and then bing! One story will get through and it will be enough to keep me strung along.
Read Brennen’s most recent Roanoke Review publication here.