When Brianna Madia started writing her book and memoir, “Nowhere For Very Long,” she had no clue where to start. She has always been a writer, creating stories as a child, studying writing and rhetoric in college, then writing Instagram posts that ultimately created her fame.
“It took me over a year to actually start writing because I would sit down and be like ‘how does one start a book?’” she said. “I just beat myself up about it for over a year. And then finally, it’s almost like I visualized a cork. Once you get the crappy stuff out there, then the good stuff starts to come too.”
She decided to start her memoir at the moment when it felt like her life was actually starting, she said—when she lived on a sailboat with her boyfriend and her dog.
“The tide always determined how difficult it would be for my dog, Bucket, to claw her way up the metal ramp at the base of the dock,” the first sentence reads. Since that moment, Madia has traveled the West in her orange van, Bertha; been through a divorce; adopted two more dogs; bought land in the desert outside of Moab; and much else, detailed in her book.
The book was published on April 5. Madia will be at Back of Beyond Books on April 15 from 4 to 7 p.m. for a book signing. The Moab Sun News chatted with Madia about her writing process, what her book means for her, and her next project.
Moab Sun: How did you learn to write?
Brianna Madia: I started writing when I was really young. I actually started passing out a neighborhood newsletter when I was like, 6 years old, and my mom still has this massive box of all my short stories about animals. But I think mainly, my dad told me a lot of stories. Every night, he would sit next to my bed and tell me something just totally off the top of his head, and that really stuck with me. I was so enraptured by that. And in school, my eighth-grade teacher Mrs. McNally really encouraged me to read a lot more. Then I went to college for writing and rhetoric, and I had a professor in one of my creative writing classes who became a really good friend of mine—she encouraged me to submit my writing to all these local contests, and I started winning some of them. So I think there were a lot of people who encouraged me along the way.
MS: What made you take the leap to write a book?
Madia: I’ve been writing on Instagram for a long time, almost using it as a blog. I was actually contacted by an acquisitions editor at Simon and Schuster who was asked if I had ever considered writing a book. I was like well, yes, but not at age 27—I thought I would be a little wiser before I started doing that.
Then all of a sudden, it occurred to me that yeah, it does seem like a natural next step. So they connected me with my agent who’s still with me today, and I’ve been working on the book for five years. She was the first person who pointed out that it’s not that crazy to think that I could write a book—if I could copy and paste all my Instagram captions, I’d probably already written 90,000 words.
MS: Why write a memoir?
Madia: I ask myself that every day. This is going to sound bizarre, but it just occurred to me when people started getting the book, like, oh god, I forgot what’s in it.
I think I’ve always been really observant of my feelings, constantly, which is kind of annoying. I’m consistently keeping track of things that are happening. Nonfiction writing just jumped out at me, because it’s kind of what I’ve been doing most of the time anyway. I have a strained relationship with my dad now after my parents’ divorce, and I found a lot of outlet for my grief by writing about my dad. It started to feel like this muscle memory of being able to write about myself.
It’s pretty scary. Especially with a memoir being the first book, it almost feels like I feel bad for my family. There are events from my past that, if I excluded them, the story wouldn’t make sense. I’ve had to come to terms with being okay with what happened. This book is not by any means some glowing portrait of me. I [messed] up a lot and will continue to do so, probably for the rest of my life. The pressure feels really, really high. I can’t take the feedback personally. It’s out there, and my skin gets a little thicker day by day.
MS: How do you think living in Moab has impacted or influenced your writing?
Madia: Oh my god, in the best possible ways. I’m almost going to cry right now because I’ve been away from the desert for two months. I haven’t touched a red rock in so long. Everything about the desert is just—there’s just something, and it sounds so woo-woo, and I’m not even really one of those people, but there’s something so powerful and magical about it. Even when it’s so busy in Moab, you always know how to find somewhere you can be alone. It could be Jeep Week and I know that I can go be alone. I love how many places I go where I don’t have cell service.
I grew up so close to New York City, where everyone’s right on top of each other. Even in the woods, yes, I feel alone, but I still feel kind of closed in. Out in the desert, I can see for miles, and that feels very safe to me. That’s why it’s such a helpful place for me to go and sit and write and let out whatever my brain is holding on to.
MS: What’s next for you?
Madia: Oh, I’m writing another book. It’ll be a collection of short stories, largely focused on the dogs, ’cause there’s definitely enough of them. I’m leaning into the fact that these are my kids. I didn’t want the traditional sense of motherhood, but I’ve found that this is what works for me. My aunt calls me the patron saint of ladies with no kids. And on Instagram, I’ve found that there are a lot of people who want to hear more stories about that—I didn’t know anyone when I was growing up who presented that as an option. So yeah, I’m excited. Even though it’s still technically nonfiction, it’s less personal and more lighthearted.