My summer was busy. There were a few personal upheavals, and writing projects seemed to begin and end in a constant infinity loop. Fall is fast approaching, and with it is a desire to calm down a little. Let’s just hope my life gets the memo!
Most of the summer has been spent working on my next novel and putting the finishing touches on Little Paranoias: Stories. The latter seems to finally be done on my end, at least in terms of pre-release prep. Review copies are out, and I’ve made all the final corrections and gotten them back from Doug.
Ahead of the release, though, you’ll see ARCs (advance review copies) in the wild on social media. I’ve been loving pictures of reviewers taking selfies with the book and its amazing skull illustration. I’ve shared several on my own Instagram page (I’d embed them directly here, but WordPress isn’t reading the embed code correctly, boo).
With pre-release prep out of the way, I’m turning my focus back to Seeing Things, my third novel. As with any new writing project, I’m having to force myself to sit down and work on it, which has been hard given how hard this past summer has been. Since the end of August, though, I’ve been feeling a slow sense of calming down in the air and in my soul. While I’m hoping that extends to my sense of well-being in general, I also hope it will give me the patience to see this new story through.
Happy Pride! The entire month of June is a recognition, celebration, and honoring of LGBTQIA individuals. While there are many ways to celebrate, I plan to spend part of June reading books by LGBTQIA authors.
One of my 2019 resolutions was to read at least one book per month that someone recommended to me. I put out a request on Twitter for recommended reads by queer authors. One user recommended White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, which is on its way to my front door as we speak. I look forward to reading that one!
As far as my own recommendations, here are some books I’ve enjoyed that were written by LGBTQIA authors. I recommend them for Pride month and, of course, for any month.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — a fascinating collection of feminist horror. My favorite story was “Inventories.”
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay — another great collection of short fiction. My favorite story was “Water, All Its Weight.”
Dry by Augusten Burroughs — Burroughs is one of my favorite authors, and you really can’t go wrong with any of his books.
I first met author Steve Stred last year, when we followed each other after liking each other’s replies on a friend’s Twitter thread. He offered me an advance copy of of his early 2019 short story collection, The Girl Who Hid in the Trees, in exchange for an honest review. I was immediately struck by how visceral his storytelling was, and how much it scared me. I don’t scare easily in print form, so when I read a story that truly creeped me out, I knew I’d read something special.
I felt the same way when I read an advance copy of The Stranger, Stred’s upcoming release (out June 1, but available for pre-order now). I asked Stred if he’d like to have a virtual chat with me about his writing, and he was kind enough to do so. Read on for why forests are a draw for dark tales, what separates Canadian horror from American horror, and thoughts on triggers and sensitivity in the genre.
Sonora: When did you first start writing? Tell us about your early work versus your more recent pieces. Have there been any major changes? What’s stayed the same?
Steve: I started out writing some short fiction and poetry in high school — so about 20 years ago. Back then it was more of a passing thing. I loved it but I had no real direction and it was more about me following a desire to write.
Fast forward and in 2010 I really got the bug and started to develop my first novel Invisible. I had the basic premise and the ending really locked in place but through a series of events it kept getting delayed and delayed. I kept working on it and really finished it up in 2016.
At that time I found a passion to write and release stuff. So I worked on my first short story “For Balder Walks,” then developed a few more — “The Fence,” “Time Out Noose” and “Edge of the Woods.” Then as life progressed I wrote “Jim and Mr. Tross.” I got to the point where I submitted and contacted different folks and got some great advice.
Now the biggest change, I think at least when I look back is the ability to edit myself, but also have the story flow easily. Working with David Sodergren so much has helped me beyond anything, really. He is ruthless with line/copy editing, so I figure if I can give him less work on his end, I’m being more efficient and a more effective writer.
Sonora: Do you gravitate more towards long or short fiction? Do you know when you sit down to write how long a piece will be?
Steve: It’s an interesting question — because I’ve come to a cross roads with my work. I think it’s more of an enlightenment, truthfully. I’ve had one long read (Invisible) and my second comes out June 1st (The Stranger). I have one more novel planned this year (Piece of Me) which is completely written but I need to go through it one more time, then send off to Sodergren and fix what he finds wrong. But going forward everything will be novella length or collections. It’s just how my writing mind works. I can’t describe it other than thinking about writing a novella makes me happy, whereas trying to force a full length does not.
Sonora: You also wrote a collection of poetry, having been inspired by Erin Al-Mehairi’s Breathe. Breathe. Tell us about that. What was it like writing poetry versus prose?
Steve: Yes! God, I was a pretentious snob before reading that, haha! Erin has been so helpful and always supportive and I really, really like to support those who support me. In this case though, I believe she sent me a copy as a birthday gift! When I read it I was blown away. She just has this gift of absolutely decimating your mind with the way her words jump off the page. I would read a poem and I felt like I’d read a novel. The imagery she created was incredible.
I don’t think I can ever match what she did, not by a long shot, but it kicked me in the butt and made me step back and look at my previous history with writing poetry as well as the joy and impact it’d had on my life. So I gave it a shot!
It was a weird process to go back to writing poetry. I don’t think I have a very large vocabulary so I really had to push myself to not sound like a 75 year old, white male rapper who used the same word to rhyme over and over again, haha! I also worked hard to tell a story without telling a story but implying a story and it was tough. Erin’s collection is a must read.
I wrote Dim the Sun with the goal to also help raise some funds for my buddy Rob Derman, who is an amateur athlete. Right now, while writing this, I’m not sure what his future holds as the sport of Skeleton in Canada is going through a shakeup, with the closing of one of the training tracks.
Sonora: Your latest release, The Stranger, is a summer vacation tale with several haunting twists. Tell us what went into writing it.
Steve: Well, surprise twist — I like to write stories set in the woods! I think a big part of my constant theme with Mother Nature, more specifically the woods, is from where I grew up and how much time I spent in the forest and in the mountains. I love the mountains, but I’m also scared to death of them. Too many things lurk that you can’t see. When I go there, I’m in their home. They have the advantage and that scares me.
I wrote it after being inspired on a camping trip and spotted a unique looking smudge mark or burn mark on the cement bin around the camp fire. Coupled with the sights from far above on some plane flights and I just let my imagination go where it wanted!
Sonora: A major theme in The Stranger is the monstrosity of racism. What was it like writing this story? How was it inspired by the current political climate? How was it inspired by your own experiences?
Steve: Oh lord, haha! You write something and then you don’t want to talk about it! For those unaware, I grew up in Canada, in a very small town in BC, which is the farthest west province in our country. My father was from northern BC, my mother from the town I grew up in. There’s a generational thing that casual racism seems to occur and I found that it would pop up time and time again. I don’t believe some of my relatives are straight forward racists but these little comments you’d hear at family gatherings, whether in jokes or whatever just kept getting too me. Even when I was young. In the afterword I mention how I overheard a joke that was very poor and crude and repeated in front of my mom. She was livid.
I just felt I needed to write this book but also early on, by having a Native American creation type tale involved, which I don’t think is a spoiler at all to say that, I needed to tell a bit of the other side of it. The privileged aspect I guess. I really struggled with writing it. I also typically don’t swear a lot in my writing. I did in The Girl Who Hid in the Trees and it just felt odd haha! So I worked really hard to show disdain for a specific group of people but not go the Tarantino route of expletive after expletive.
Our political climate is usually very different from the US stuff, but funnily enough, we had a guy come onboard to run for Premiere of our province who follows a very similar path as the current sitting President down south. Unfortunately he won our election so now we kind of have to hold our breath and wait and see the damage he wants to bring in.
Sonora: In writing about racism as a white, straight, cis-man, you talk about the how and why of what you wanted to accomplish in both the foreword and afterword. This isn’t something I see a lot from other authors, and it was nice to see in your piece. Do you think more authors, especially authors from privileged demographics, should talk about this when they write similar stories?
Steve: I had to write the foreword and afterword. I wanted it there as a warning for readers. In the afterword I did say that with the story coming from me (from my perspective at least) people may just take it with a grain of salt. I hope they don’t, but they might. I myself have no triggers, but that’s me. I usually write dark horror and I didn’t want to surprise anyone who snagged this and who maybe loved Wagon Buddy or YURI and then started reading and had to stop because they weren’t expecting the subject matter. So I wanted to write the foreword to let folks know that there was some difficult themes ahead. I have a whole environmental/human footprint narrative in the story as well, but at the end of the day if someone writes me a 1 star review and says “this guy sucks he wanted me to think about how much garbage I create or I need to recycle,” I’ll smile, because I don’t think you’ll see that. But the racism/bigotry stuff is a tough, tough area and I wanted to make sure I was upfront with it and to make sure people wouldn’t go into the story oblivious to what was about to happen.
The afterword I also felt I needed to do. I just wanted to lay things out there so people knew how I felt and it may sound a bit cowardly, but I wanted to protect myself and let people know I’m no Malcolm (main character in The Stranger). I mention it in the afterword but Kealan Patrick Burke gave me some great advice and I took it to heart. I knew this was a story I needed to write but I knew it was a story that I might have to defend myself about writing a bit and that’s fine, but I wanted to make sure people knew my intentions were genuine and my hope for what readers took from it was purposeful.
As for others doing it — I think it would be fantastic to see it when the subject matter suggests we should. If it’s a creature feature that’s just gore and death, well, I think we know it was written with some fun behind the scenes!
As I side note — I wish more authors would write an afterword. I absolutely love reading about where they got the inspiration for the story. Even if it’s something as mundane as ‘I was playing with my son in his sandbox’ (which was where I got the inspiration for one of my upcoming 2020 releases FYI), I want to read about it!
Sonora: You also hired a sensitivity reader for The Stranger. I’ve seen a lot of arguments for and against sensitivity readers from many different voices. Have you worked with a sensitivity reader before? Do you think hiring sensitivity readers should be common practice?
Steve: Oh man, the sensitive reader thing shows just how out of touch with a lot of things I am! I honestly didn’t know that was a thing, haha! I had written most of the story and messaged KPB. He mentioned I should get a sensitive reader and make sure what I had written was in line and not offside. So I put out a call on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I had two people contact me and I was just not sure. I received a message from J.H. Moncrieff who’s been super helpful as well with my writing and she said that I’d need a sensitive reader and that typically they can be very tough. Then I was contacted by Cassandra [Chaput] and we hit it off. I told her upfront — if I’ve done things wrong, tell me. Please don’t be worried about my feelings and if I’ve done it poorly I’d scrap a bunch of it and start again. And she was fantastic. She gave great feedback and really made all of the negatives she’d found as positives and constructive. Couldn’t have asked for a better beta-reader, let alone a sensitive reader. So my first experience was a good one!
As for others using it — I think it’d be an ideal practice if the story needed it. As an example (purely made up here) but if a story had a significant story line involving sexual assault, I’d think it’d be prudent to maybe find a sensitive reader who works in the care side of that world to help make sure things are written correctly but also in a manner that doesn’t detract from the story.
Sonora: Some readers and writers argue that sensitivity readers (and, related, trigger warnings) are especially unnecessary for horror, as the idea of horror is to disturb you. What is your response to those individuals? And, as someone who wrote a horror story (and in my opinion, a damn good one) and hired a sensitivity reader, what would you share about that experience in terms of how it affected your writing?
Steve: Thank you! That’s a tough question. I think trigger warnings are a good thing, but I personally don’t need them. I hope that doesn’t sound insensitive! Everyone reads things differently and everyone comes from very different backgrounds and what may affect one person may not another. For me, I think if the story contained a lot of animal abuse/deaths and/or infant/toddler abuse/deaths, I’d want to know going in. If it was a specific part of the story and was a key aspect, I’d be fine with it, even though I’d cringe a bunch, but if anything is written specifically for gratuitous reasons or shock value, I’m not on board. I also understand the argument — horror is written to horrify us, to make us pull up our feet and turn on the lights. There’s a difference between being scared and being personally affected and I think that’s a big differentiator for me.
Sonora: The Stranger features scary things happening to a vacationing family at the hands of a vengeful wood spirit. Your last release, The Girl Who Hid in the Trees, also features violent monsters in the woods. What draws you to the forest as a setting for horror?
Steve: As I mentioned earlier, the thing that’s always drawn me into the woods has been the idea that I’m in its territory, its world. Where I grew up the forest came pretty close up to the back of our house. We cleared it out a number of years ago, but having a forest to play in and a mountain as a back drop was always really amazing but also scared me too no end. We had Grizzly bears, brown bears, black bears, cougars, coyotes and a variety of random animals that would trek through the back of our place. We had chickens and fruit trees so there was always something that drew them down from higher up in the mountain.
In the middle of the forest in our back yard was a massive slab of a rock, so that was always our base of operations, our meeting point.
My grandparents lived just down the street from us and my grandpa used to have a trap line and when he was younger he used to go on horseback up the mountains with some of the native population to go hunting. So the mountains and the forest have always been a place I grew up in but also a place that creeped me the hell out!
Additionally I’ve always loved movies set in the woods with creepy characters. I mean two of my favourite movies ever are Predator and Harry and the Henderson’s. While both are at different ends of the spectrum — both are based on creatures in the woods. So it’s always been a big draw for me.
Sonora: What is the creepiest forest you’ve ever visited?
Steve: Easily, the forest behind our house. I’ve never travelled to any of the exotic forests around the world like J.H. Moncrieff has and she’s got some fantastic blog posts regarding her travels, but the forest behind our house where I grew up was both the single greatest place where my imagination went wild, but also the scariest place I visited. The second creepiest would be the stretch of forest between the end of our road through past the garbage dump.
That forest has inspired so many of my stories — “Edge of the Woods,” “The Call,” “Eaten,” and even “The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.” One of my 2020 releases is also inspired by the forest behind our house as well. The number of times we would play in the woods and we’d pretend to be chased by a giant beast of whatever, I mean those moments directly impacted me and it comes out in my writing. Hell, Invisible is 50% a beast chasing a man as he drives on a winding road through a forest!
Sonora: Do you notice any differences between Canadian horror and American horror? Canadian and American audiences?
Steve: I actually do notice one specific difference, but it just may be me looking for it! I find American horror always has a defined place where the story happens. It’ll be “Boston,” or “New York” or a small town somewhere, whereas I find most of the horror writers I read who are Canadian seem to be a bit more elusive as to the exact location things play out. I personally never try to have an exact place. I do it for two reasons — I want it to be more relatable for the individual reading it — they can picture a place near them easier if I don’t specifically say the location, but also so I don’t have to worry about screwing up a specific detail hahaha! I won’t have someone saying “WAIT A MINUTE — THAT STREET DOESN’T EXIST!” Ideally you read that all caps section in Jim Gaffigan’s voice!
Sonora: What inspires your work?
Steve: The people who believe in me. The horror community is a fantastic community. It’s amazing and I’m so blessed to have met so many folks who want to help and support and promote. My family has been so amazing. And of course, my son. I write stories and release them, so that one day (I hope at least) he’ll see our book shelf with my books and be inspired himself.
I had a blog post before where I said I’ll probably never be a best seller and that’s fine. I still stand by that statement, but my sentiment was more about the fact that I’m not writing with the sole purpose of seeing a shiny gold star by my release on Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, that would be amazing — but not getting one isn’t going to stop me from writing and releasing the stories I want to tell.
Sonora: Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?
Steve: Is there really someone on this planet who doesn’t know who my favourite author is? Haha!
For those who have somehow missed it — my favourite author is Andrew Pyper. He’s written some truly stunning works, he’s Canadian and he’s been so amazing whenever I’ve messaged him. I’m currently celebrating all things Pyper with PYPER-MAY-NIA and using the hashtag #pypermaynia
I’m also a massive Stephen King fan. Huge Joe Hill, Ania Ahlborn and J.H. Moncrieff fan. As for my other must read authors: David Sodergren, Justin M. Woodward, Andrew Cull, Joseph Sale, Joe Zito, Mason McDonald, Jonathan Janz and Hunter Shea would really round that list out. There’s just so many amazing authors right now!
As for some of my favourite books, well Andrew Pyper really dominates that haha! The Homecoming, The Wildfire Season, The Only Child, The Demonologist, The Damned, and The Lost Girls all are stunning. I’m currently reading The Trade Mission and still have a few more of his on the TBR. Loved Tamer Animals from Woodward, Now Comes the Darkness from Zito, The Forgotten Island and Night Shoot from Sodergren, Bones and Remains from Cull, The Art of Racing in the Rain from Garth Stein, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave by Moncrieff, Brother and The Devil Crept In by Ahlborn. So much goodness.
Sonora: What are you working on right now?
Steve: Good lord what a question. If you’ve followed along with me at all, you’ll have come across me discussing this. I like to get everything prepped and prepared well in advance.
So currently on the go;
Ritual — Novella, release date Oct 2019. Stage — 60% through final read through, then off to Sodergren for edits.
Piece of Me — Novel, release date Dec 2019. Stage — I need to read through one more time completely, then off to Sodergren. This tale is set in the same world as my short stories “For Balder Walks” and “Poppa?”
Untitled — Novella, release date Feb-ish 2020. Stage — need to read through one more time and tweak the ending, then off for edits.
The One That Knows No Fear — Novella, release date June-ish 2020. Stage — need to read through one more time and adjust a few spots. Then off for edits.
456 Blatchford Drive — Novella/Possible Anthology. Release date Oct 2020. Stage — I need to get my butt in gear and contact a few more folks and see what I can do to get this off the ground or if I’m doing it alone.
Then I’m also prepping a short story collection for 2020/2021 release tentatively still titled The Night Crawls In and a poetry collection hopefully for 2020/2021 release as well.
I am always on the go and always blocking out when and where things will fall, so some of 2020 may change depending on a few things!
Steve Stred is an up-and-coming Dark, Bleak Horror author.
Steve is the author of the novel Invisible, the novellas Wagon Buddy, Yuri and Jane: the 816 Chronicles and two collections of short stories; Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery and Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick, the dark poetry collection Dim the Sun and his most recent release was the coming-of-age, urban legend tale The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.
On June 1st, 2019 his second full length novel, The Stranger will be welcomed to the world.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
I finished the first draft of my second book a little over two weeks ago. I’m making myself wait to do my readthrough from beginning to end. It’s been pretty hard. I haven’t felt huge urges to write, but I find myself daydreaming about the story and thinking about whether or not certain passages work. Normal, but I also want a month of a clean break, so I can return to it with the freshest eyes possible.
In the interim, I’ve been occupying myself with other projects. Proving that time is a flat circle, I’m revising the short story that I first wrote during my interim period between drafting and revising Please Give.
I received Wither back from my editor earlier this winter, but left it alone while I worked on Without Condition. I’ve been using the waiting period to go through the revisions a little at a time. The story originally started with a broken timeline, divided by stanzas of a poem and the occasional asterisk. The universal feedback I received, from my editor to my writers group, was that this was confusing as all hell. They liked the plot and saw the story’s potential, but no one knew what was happening or when.
This is why it’s so important to not only get feedback before you publish or submit, but a wide range of feedback. If everyone’s saying the same thing, then it’s a thing that needs to be fixed. So, I’m fixing it — and I’m really pleased with how the story is coming together now. It still amazes me how a story can change for the better with even the smallest of fixes, like a reordered paragraph.
In addition to revising Wither, I’ve been keeping the pump primed by casually writing a new story. I haven’t decided if it will be a short story or a novel, or even if I’ll continue working on it after I’ve sent Without Condition to my editor. It’s a story that crept up on me after a dream I had, one that asked for my attention in place of the short story prompts I’d set aside for this resting period (sorry, other stories — soon, I promise). I’ll see where it takes me. For now, it’s begun where my past two novels began to take shape: when my protagonist meets a man. The working title is Someone to Share My Nightmares.
I’ll be picking up Without Condition in two weeks. Until then, I’ll be waiting — and with a couple new projects under my belt, maybe it won’t be so hard after all.
Last year, I was a little less patient during my waiting period between drafting and revising Please Give. I developed the 5 Stages of Feelings about being done with one’s draft. This mostly still applies, even if I’m calmer about it.
I first mentioned Wither in May of 2017. I also mention We Really Shouldn’t for the first time. Both stories, along with two flash pieces, will be in my next short story collection, Wither and Other Stories.
Today is the one, the only Stephen King’s 70th birthday!
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite story of his, though when trying to decide, I gravitate towards Pet Sematary,Hearts in Atlantis, and a short story that, for the life of me, I cannot remember the title of. I think it’s called First Date. I’m mad I can’t remember, because that story had a huge impact on me and the types of stories I both read and tell. It’s very short, and details a man as he gets ready for a date — gets dressed up, buys flowers, etc. He walks down the street and sees his date. He greets her. She stares at him, asks who he is. He gets upset that she doesn’t know, then angry as he realizes she’s not his date, then kills her. He’s a serial killer, and all those motions he goes through are his thing. It ends with him walking off innocently, like nothing brutal happened. It’s an excellent story, and if any of you can tell me the title, I’d be much obliged.
King is a big deal in my family. I still remember receiving my first book of his. I was fourteen and on summer vacation, and reading a comic book when Mom came up to me with a book. She told me if I was interested in reading Stephen King — a name I’d only heard uttered around the house and in movie trailers — that she recommend I read this one. She held out Salem’s Lot, and said she was around my age when she read it and that she loved it. I read it, and I loved it too.
I loved it so much that I got a steady stream of his books from the library. I still remember reading Stephen King on my grandmother’s porch one summer. She looked at my book, and with the blend of curiosity and judgment that she was a master at, she asked, “Stephen King?”
I nodded. I was used to these sorts of questions about my taste and interests. One needs to be when they’ve been into the weird and macabre since they were five. I also prepared myself to hear about how other relatives of mine weren’t into those things, the subtle message being that I was odd and that that needed to be noted at all times. Again, something I was used to.
She clucked her tongue, and rolled her eyes a little. “Just like your father,” she said.
My family and I still talk about Stephen King — I read Doctor Sleep on both Mom and Dad’s enthusiastic recommendation last summer — and I still enjoy both reading and watching his tales. Happy birthday, Stephen King. Thank you for the memories — the ones in your books, and the ones I have because I’ve read them.
I returned from my vacation yesterday. I’m ready to get back to the grind, but I still find myself thinking of all the places we visited in Halifax and Prince Edward Island. The views were beautiful in both sun and rain. I loved the red sand beaches, green cliffs, lighthouses, and wildflower fields (yes, I’ll post pictures).
I also had a small adventure that reminded me of a credo I oft repeat, and will do so here: back up your files. Even if you’re not a writer, back them up, and back them up in multiple places. If you write in a journal, make photo copies. If you type your stories, save them to various firmware, and also the cloud if you can. Back them up every which way, because you never know when one of the pieces holding your stories could be lost.
I emphasize this point because my somewhat tedious back-up practice was the only thing that kept me from melting into panic my first day in Halifax. I rode a taxi from the airport to our hotel, and realized fifteen minutes after the taxi left that I’d left my messenger bag in the cab. It held my iPhone charger, two books, and a cross-stitched bookmark I’d made a few years ago. It also held my laptop, which has all of my stories and associated files.
I’d kept my taxi receipt (I also recommend keeping receipts whenever possible, even if it’s just for a few days), but none of the numbers on the paper were a phone number. We called the airport, but they didn’t recognize the cab company name, and had trouble locating the car I’d been in. As the hours ticked by, and one day became the next, I resigned myself to the fact that my laptop was lost. My laptop was lost, but my files weren’t — because I’d backed everything up before I left.
So, I repeat — back up your files. Save them to firmware. Save them to the cloud. Email them to yourself, or even a trusted friend. But back them up. It takes five minutes, and saves you a lot of heartache when one source of your files disappears.
I am happy to report that my messenger bag’s Nova Scotia adventure has a happy ending. Once I got in touch with the ground transportation manager at Halifax Airport, she volunteered to check the security cameras; and within fifteen minutes, she found my taxi driver. The driver had found the bag and kept it safe, thinking I’d call him — he didn’t realize that I didn’t have his phone number. So, he brought it back to the airport, and I picked it up on my way home yesterday between my connecting flight from Halifax to Montreal.
Everyone at the airport was very kind, even when I spoke to them with the intense panic I get when I’m trying to solve something (it’s a polite panic, but it’s intense all the same). They also remembered me when I called, even if I hadn’t spoken to that person previously. “Oh, are you the woman who left her bag in the taxi?” “Oh, you’re the woman who lost the Bob Marley bag!” (Another tip — travel with a unique bag that makes you readily identified by airport officials)
Both the airport officials and the hotel concierge were exceedingly kind. I only found the number of the relevant airport official because a wonderful concierge at the Prince George Hotel did an intense round of searches for the right number to call, even when the first few tries came up short. His manager remarked that he had the wrong profession — he should’ve been a detective. He went out of his way to help me, the airport officials went out of their way to help me find the bag, and the taxi driver — whose name I wish I had, so I could thank him — was nice enough to keep my bag safe for the two days he had it before the airport official located the taxi. When I got my bag back, everything was fine. I had my files, I had my books and bookmark and laptop, and I had a sense of happiness knowing there were many people who wanted to help one tourist find her lost bag.
As happy as the ending is, it’s also a lucky one. So, one last time: back up your files!
As promised above, here are some pictures from the trip. I highly recommend visiting both Halifax and Prince Edward Island. Take a drive to see the lighthouses, spend some time on the wharf, walk barefoot on the red sand beaches, and take a moment to pause and look at the fields and cliffs.
Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the week (and possibly the season) in the D.C. area. It’s always hot here in the summer, but having grown up in the southern Mid-Atlantic, I don’t really heed my fellow locals’ complaints about the purported oppressive heat of July and August. In North Carolina, you could barely go outside between 12 and 5 PM; and don’t get me started on the 24 hours we spent in Savannah in August one summer. I do concede that it’s easy to scoff at heat complaints while I sit in an air-conditioned room in a sundress.
Though I’ve been out of school for years, I still like taking part in summer reading. My local library has a summer reading program for all ages, and you can log your books and win prizes. Adults get the grand prize when they read six books in the designated time. Last summer, I completed and exceeded that by the beginning of July. This summer … I logged my fourth book yesterday.
My reading is still slow thanks to writing, but things like the summer reading challenge keep my bookworm fed. I just finished The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which was excellent. Now I’m reading The Girls by Emily Cline.
I’m also still writing away. Most of my focus has been on what is steadily becoming my second novel. I’m at 47,000+ words — a few days’ work away from a NaNoWriMo length! It’s still scattershot, and the plot is still coming together, but I’m both pleased and surprised at how it’s formed over the past several weeks — especially when for months, I didn’t think I had enough material for this story to turn into a novel. We’ll see where it goes!
I’m visiting my parents for the Fourth of July weekend. They live in NC, and even though Chapel Hill is not a small town by any means, it’s quite the change of pace from the hubbub of DC and Northern VA. It’s a nice change, though, especially when my husband and I drive across highways with little traffic and fall asleep with little noise outside the window.
It’s tough for me to write when I’m on vacation. I try to squeeze out at least a few words, but my daily devotion to my stories requires a little more discipline than usual. Still, there’s something to be said for taking a break sometimes. I make myself write a few words so I won’t get rusty, but where I usually aim for a high daily minimum (one section for a short story, 1000 words for a novel), I instead commit to a paragraph or two.
Right now I am working on something that may become my next novel. I want to see how far it gets before I talk more about it on here, but I’ve worked on it most every day for the past few weeks, and am up to 33,000+ words. Even with all that completed, its plot is still revealing itself to me; and the best I can say now is that each piece is a connected vignette. It’ll be interesting to see if it forms into a complete, concise novel as it goes along. One way to find out!
I started a longer short story, one that may become a novella, a couple months ago. I reached a stopping point, and wrote down where I want it to go. I normally try to finish stories before moving on to the next project, but I also believe in listening to what inspires me and trusting that a story worth finishing will be finished in due time. I may use my vacation to take a break from the potential next book and work on this one. It’s currently called Gods Into Demons, and follows a young girl whose new friend may give her unhealthy fixations.
I’ve also completed two short stories, Wither (which I mentioned earlier) and We Really Shouldn’t. We Really Shouldn’t was an idea I’ve had since last summer, and earlier this spring, it finally blossomed into a story. It follows a woman and man who, months after their break-up, meet by chance in a coffee shop. They wonder as they catch up, though, if they really should reconnect. That was the basic premise I had in the beginning, and I was excited to see where it turned from there – particularly the darker corners.
All these stories will find homes down the road. My publishing sights this year are on The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales (still set for September) and Please Give (tentatively set for mid-November or the beginning of December). Stay tuned for more information on all of these pieces. I hope you all have a good holiday weekend!
I wrote the essay below a couple weeks ago, when I was feeling melancholy. Nothing particularly painful caused the melancholy, it was just a mood I was nursing. That mood extended into some doubts about writing, and the feeling I’m sure many writers have, where they wonder if the words they write are better kept to themselves. Writing the essay below helped me feel better, and in line with its thesis, I wanted to share those words with you. I also want to add a P.S. to other writers reading — I hope you’ll share your words as well. Have a good Tuesday, everyone.
My Jar of Fireflies
When I was little, one of my favorite summertime activities was catching fireflies. I was fascinated by bugs that glowed neon green as they flitted by. I had to catch them in my hands, watch their wings unfold and shine their light upon my palms.
Like many little girls, I liked collecting bugs in jars. Fireflies were no different. I’d place them in a jar with holes on top, making sure my flying lanterns could breathe. I put the jar in my room one night, hoping for a night light. This didn’t work, as the fireflies began to climb out of the holes. I took them outside before they could escape in my room. I knew a holeless lid was out of the question, as the bugs would suffocate and not light up at all.
I accepted that the best way to enjoy the fireflies was to catch them, then let them go. They glowed their brightest when they flew from tree to tree, sparkling in the blue summer nights and cutting through the fog of humidity that defined July in the southern areas I grew up in. To this day, a wide smile will cross my face when I walk home and see the familiar green glow of a firefly cross my path. It’s the first sign of summer, and the beginning of nights warm with light and conversation.
I found myself remembering the jar of fireflies as I thought about my writing. My thoughts tend to float in and out of the air, and sometimes, writing is the only way I can catch them. I write them down, place them in a paper jar, then hold that paper jar with all my might, keeping it in my room and hoping the lid will keep them safe.
I know deep down, though, that that is no destiny for ideas. In order to glow, they have to be released. I can poke holes in the lid, and the ideas can seep out in bursts — a stray quote to a friend, reading a couple pages to my husband, discussing ideas with my editor. But in order to fly to their highest peaks, they need to be released.
It’s something I try to remember as two of my pieces approach completion. It can be hard to let go of something that brings me such personal joy, especially into a world where they’ll fly free of my own hold. But removing the lid, and learning to let them go, is what will ultimately help them glow — and make me smile when I see them flying by.