Conversation with B. Garden
B. talks writing bleak fiction, the appeals of ghost immortality, and the benefits of writers people-watching.
B. Garden is a bartender, baker, and aspiring ghost. They also write bleak fiction. Their work is published in the Dread Machine. You can rifle through their belongings at www.godcompost.com.
B. Garden is also the author of the short story “Pressure” from Radon Issue 4.
What draws you to writing bleak fiction specifically?
It's just what I enjoy reading. Life is bleak. I find that beautiful moments, both in fiction and in reality, are often best appreciated when they happen inside of, and despite, bleakness.
What appeals to you about becoming a ghost?
Immortality of any kind sounds exhausting, actually. But there are some people who could really use a good haunting, don’t you think?
As an aspiring ghost, do you keep any ghost stories close by in case of a spontaneous campfire—either from your own experiences or ones that you've heard?
I met the sleep paralysis demon as a kid. I was 11 or so, in bed, and woke to a demon sitting on my chest and grinning at me. It appeared in the form of a scaly cloud with teeth and eyes and horns. I couldn’t move my arms or legs, and it only disappeared when I screamed the name of Jesus Christ. Turns out, that sort of thing happens all the time. Some sort of wires crossing, where a small part of your brain wakes up, but your body is still mostly asleep. I’m not religious anymore, but that experience kept me in the faith for a bit longer than I probably would have otherwise.
Do you often people watch and create characters based on who you see while bartending?
It’s more about gathering scraps to use as construction material. You catch these snippets of honesty and vulnerability, witness the beginning of friendships, and get roped into decades old marital spats. People seem to trust you, even before three fifteen-dollar Negronis. I’ve had people confess to affairs, pitch me MLMs, and I’ve watched a woman’s eyes glaze over as her blind date regaled her with the details of his recent divorce.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of serving a couple celebrating their engagement, which had just happened earlier that day. He was over the moon, bragging about how perfectly he had set everything up. She looked wild-eyed and flustered. I poured them some fancy bubby wine to celebrate and poured myself a nip as well.
“Congratulations!” I said, “Here’s to forever!” And we clinked glasses.
I peered over my glass as I sipped and watched the bride-to-be’s eyes widen, her hand frozen on the glasses slender stem, mouthing the word, forever, as her fiancé grinned and sucked down his wine.
You describe yourself as a baker. What do you enjoy baking?
I did the whole pandemic sourdough thing. At this point I’m baking all the bread for my household, which is me and three roommates. I make focaccia, ciabatta, big crusty loaves with sesame seeds inside, all sorts of stuff.
We go through three loaves a week. Working with wild yeast is amazing. You have to develop a lot of patience and intuition. Things like ambient temperature, humidity, the kind of flour you're using, all affect your rise, how long fermentation takes, and the flavor of the final loaf.
You had another story published recently, "Pick a Door" in The Dread Machine. It's gripping and eerie to read as Shannon, an inmate, is forced to pick between doors in this liminal prison space. What is your thought process for developing realistic characters in bleak situations?
I’m still learning how to do that on purpose. Mostly my process involves writing something that doesn’t feel quite right, and then fiddling with it as it gets closer and closer. I think for every thousand words I end up keeping, there are two thousand more that I’ve deleted. You gotta trust your gut and listen to your characters. If you’ve got an ending in mind, and your characters aren’t heading in that direction, well, too bad. Looks like your story is gonna end differently.
But my advice to anyone looking to develop realistic characters is to go out and meet as many people as possible. Have difficult conversations with strangers. Ask your friends what they’re afraid of. And read as much as you can.
Where do you hope your writing career takes you?
I HOPE it ends up with me massively selling out, so I can pay off my student loans and start a small anarchist compound somewhere in the Minnesota Northwoods. But more than likely, I will simply find small pieces of joy in creating things, and slightly larger pieces of joy in watching other people connect with the things that I create. Which probably won’t pay the bills, but it will help me smile a bit wider when chasing my boulder back down the mountainside.