We are thrilled to welcome Brenda Peynado to The Debutante Ball this week! THE ROCK EATERS is a haunting and genre-bending collection of short stories that reflect our flawed world, and the incredible, terrifying and marvelous nature of humanity. Keep reading to learn about her journey to publication, her experience working in an emergency veterinary clinic, and her debut collection, THE ROCK EATERS. Share or comment below for a chance to win a copy of her book.
Brenda Peynado is a Dominican American writer of fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays. Her writing style ranges from lyric essays, magical realism, fabulism, science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, to some perfectly realistic exaggerations thrown in the mix.
Her work appears in Tor.com, The Georgia Review, The Sun, Threepenny Review, Epoch, Kenyon Review online, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her stories have won a Nelson Algren Award from the Chicago Tribune, an O. Henry Prize, a Pushcart Prize; inclusion in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Best Small Fiction, and Best Microfiction anthologies, two Vermont Studio Center Fellowships, and other awards.
After a BA in Computer Science from Wellesley College, she worked as an IT auditor for IBM. She graduated with her MFA in fiction from Florida State University, where she held a Kingsbury Fellowship and was Fiction Editor of The Southeast Review. In 2014, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to the Dominican Republic to write a novel about the 1965 Guerra de Abril. She received her Ph.D. in fiction from the University of Cincinnati, where she taught screenwriting, fiction, and science fiction & fantasy writing.
Currently, she teaches fiction and screenwriting at the University of Central Florida’s BA and MFA programs. Her short story collection, THE ROCK EATERS, is available now.
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
There was a time after my MFA when I thought I would never be a writer. I was working two minimum wage jobs to pay off debt and was being run ragged. I didn’t have time to sleep, much less write. I had a crisis where I thought I would never get out of the brutal cycle of that work without doing the impossible; writing when I didn’t have time to write. So, I wrote on my phone with my thumbs when I went to the bathroom, when I went to the storage room, when I had a ten-minute break to eat. I thought about stories on my drive to work. Somehow I wrote more that year than in my MFA. And then a few years later a story that I had written my first semester of my MFA won an O. Henry Prize. After I sold my short story collection, which wasn’t for a decade after I started my MFA, the story that won the O. Henry didn’t even make it to the final collection. A twisty publication road for sure.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I have a story (“We Work in Miraculous Cages”) in my collection about someone who worked as a receptionist at a hair salon during the day and also at an emergency veterinarian at night. That was me, during a really rough year. Animals died in front of me at night, and people got their hair shaped and dyed around me during the day. The juxtaposition was bewildering, often. Especially the economics. It was a high-end hair salon, where people could afford to spend $200 on their hair. At the emergency vet, people often couldn’t pay to keep their pets alive.
In what fictional place would you most like to spend a day? What would you do?
There’s a story by Kelly Link called “The Hortlak,” which features a convenience store at the edge of a zombie pit. The zombies are benevolent, strange, and the people are even stranger. As a teen, I would have loved to hang out at that convenience store for a day, interacting with zombies, daring my friends to go to the edge of the pit, or even exploring. Even now I might do that, if I were allowed a comfy chair to sit in and a hot chocolate while I did so.
Have you ever traveled to do research for your writing? Where did you go?
I am researching a novel set during the 1965 civil war in the Dominican Republic. Though I had spent a lot of time there as a child, I hadn’t lived there as an adult. I spent a year on a Fulbright Grant interviewing combatants and gathering materials. While there, I wrote many of the stories in THE ROCK EATERS.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
Be patient. Don’t rush to publish just competent stories. Take your time to create stories that aim for heartbreak, that aim for being the kind of story people will remember. The publishing either will come or it won’t, but always remember that you’re aiming for writing great work.
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