Mary Akers: Thanks, Brian, for letting us have your excellent short piece “Stella Blue.” I’m an enthusiastic hiker and camper myself, so I was especially drawn to this piece. To me Stella Blue seems to be about the healing powers of nature, and about sharing our passions with the people we love. That is me bringing my own life experience to the work as a reader, of course, but I’m curious what your intent was in the writing. Did you have those or other themes in mind?
Brian Pietrus: That was certainly part of it. It was a tough time in my life. My grandma was very sick, going through chemo, and I was having my own health problems at the time. Both of us put a lot of pressure on my mom, expecting her to be there for us. Hiking has always been a form of escape for me, something I do alone. But having my mom there sort of forced me to open up more and to accept that because of my personal problems I had become very withdrawn and introverted, which ran counter to who I am at heart, and that I needed to change.
MA: Change is my favorite form of recovery. I love the photo you gave us to use–is that a mountain goat in the picture? How did you manage that?
BP: It is! Goats are one of my favorite animals, and I have always wanted to see a mountain goat. I was on a backpacking trip in Colorado this past summer, and about 2 miles in someone passing by told me there was a goat near the trail up ahead. I came around a blind corner and two other hikers were stopped in the trail watching the goat. He was standing right on the trail, munching on some plants, completely oblivious to us. One of the other hikers tried to scare him off the trail by yelling and making noise with his hiking poles, and the goat leapt up a vertical rock face to a perch about 5 or 6 feet above the trail. I was able to get this shot without getting close to the goat because he was above the trail, and I still kept a fair distance to be safe. We were all a little uneasy passing by under him, but he was really uninterested in us and didn’t feel threatened. But the kicker is he kept following me down the trail! We crossed paths 3 more times in the next hour, and I had to keep going off the trail to give him room so he wouldn’t feel threatened by me. He would pass me, then I’d pass him further down the trail. I got to see him do some impressive footwork on more than one steep rock face. It was the first time I’d ever seen a mountain goat on a hiking trip, so that was a great prelude to an incredible trip!
MA: How funny. You had an unexpected hiking buddy!
In writing Stella Blue, you chose not to use quotation marks for the dialogue in your piece. Could you tell us about that choice and why you felt it was right for this piece?
BP: I had never really done that before in my writing, but one of my professors encouraged me to experiment with dialogue to make it feel less broken, less “like writing.” It was my hope that taking out quotation marks would ground the reader in the story.
MA: I think it did. Good call. I also think it made the piece feel more internal and intimate, which adds to the mood.
Can you tell me something about the wilds of Wyoming that makes it similar to the wilds of writing?
BP: Well, normally I would say it’s a very solitary experience, but since I had a hiking buddy I guess that doesn’t hold up so well in this case.
MA: What did you think of the piece that our illustrator, Matthew Chase-Daniel selected for your Shorts On Survival piece? Did you find any personal meaning in the image?
BP: I loved it. I’ve always been a big fan of collage, and I think he created a really great “wholeness” out of the individual frames.
MA: And finally, what does “recovery” mean to you?
BP: I guess for me it means learning to forgive, whether it’s yourself or others being forgiven. Learning to put the past behind you and focus on the present. It means something different for everyone, but to me that’s what is at the heart of it.