Madison Durand is a junior in high school who loves to tell stories. Her work has appeared in Lunch Ticket and will soon appear in the Young Writers USA Imagine anthology. She has been recognized multiple times by the Association of Christian Schools International, where she obtained a superior rating for her pieces entitled “Eliot” and “The Probability of Vincent”. When not writing, reading, or shouting Jeopardy answers from her couch, she enjoys watching old films, and spending time with her poodle. Her essay “Brave Iguana People Only Love Acid Rain” appears in the current edition of LPR.
Madison and I recently spoke about her essay and her life as a young writer.
Q. Describing the belly of a car as a safe or unsafe location really struck me, especially so in the first line of your essay in which you describe the car sort of communicating with you through heat and metal. I sense that this was a very specific emotion/memory. Can I ask, when you began writing this essay, did this sentence arrive right away or was it something that evolved as you were retracing the experience with your cousin?
A. Yes, this sentence arrived right away. It was a very specific memory that I thought would sufficiently set the stage for the rollercoaster of emotions to follow. I wanted the reader to have a concrete sense of location right off the bat. Describing something as tangible as the car allowed me to create a vivid representation of how small I felt, even in the belly of the “safe” car.
Q. I love the line at the end: “How your name became a secret that everyone prodded with a stick and backed away from.” There is such sympathy in that line, and in fact, the entire piece is a kind of devotion to this person. Was it your intention to be so kind in expressing the negative portions of your story? Or did this just evolve naturally?
A. It’s a huge relief to hear that my expression reflects kindness. That sympathy evolved naturally because I love this person. While this was a fearful and perplexing experience, enough time had passed so that reflecting on that day became cathartic for me. Writing about this situation allowed me to heal from it and interpret the context differently. It was important to me that I retold the story in a way that was both fully honest yet fully loving, and I’m thankful I landed somewhere in the middle as to satisfy both of those components.
Q. Talk to me about the title. I’m a fan! Who do you see as brave Iguana people? And why do they love acid rain?
A. Thank you! The title is actually an acronym that spells out “Bipolar”. I knew that I wanted to call this piece something confusing and borderline nonsensical in order to emulate how strange this diagnosis sounded to me. The word “bipolar” is so heavily stigmatized that people (including myself) often don’t have a full understanding of it before they draw conclusions about the patient. To me, learning that my loved one suffered from this disorder was just as much a foreign, improbable concept as brave iguana people loving acid rain. It simply didn’t make sense.
“I knew that I wanted to call this piece something confusing and borderline nonsensical in order to emulate how strange this diagnosis [Bipolar] sounded to me.”
Q. What writers have influenced you and why?
A. Neil Gaiman inspires me greatly. His worldbuilding abilities are unparalleled, and I love how organic and effortless his dialogue sounds. He develops such beautiful imagery without ever being monotonous. I’d like to think he’s influenced how I tell stories. I’m a big fan of Steven King too. In the same way it impacted every other writer on the face of the planet, his craft book, On Writing, changed my entire perspective on the creative process. I was moved by his distaste for adverbs and his insistence that honest, ever-moving writing is most compelling. Others like J.D. Salinger and S.E. Hinton taught me that young people do not require complicated portrayals. Markus Zusak was the first writer to convince me that any object can talk (or dance or cry or darn a sock). I glean most of my personification inspiration from him.
Q. You’re very young to be a published writer! Congratulations! What’s next in terms of writing and school?
A. Thank you! I’ve just received news that a poem I wrote will soon appear in an anthology for young writers. I am excited and pleased to say this will be my fifth publication. As far as school, I think I want to study law. I’m interested in the interpretations of law and history, especially in the branch of Entertainment. My true passion is storytelling, and I’d love to do that for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to eat macaroni and cheese every night (maybe on Wednesdays). My plan is to have some sort of stable career and write on the side until I don’t have to anymore. Did you catch that, The New Yorker?
Q. How has this year of isolation influenced what you’re writing about or what you want to write about?
A. This year of isolation has drastically reduced my attention span. I’ve learned the value of brevity and realized that I want to write stories that develop quickly and concisely. This doesn’t mean skipping out on the details, just skipping out on the details about the details. I want to write with more honesty and imagination too.