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Why Short Stories?

Why Short Stories?

Written by Christy Ann Conlin, author of Watermark.

The first short story I wrote (“Beyond All Things is the Sea”) won a prize and I went to a literary soiree in Toronto and met Alistair MacLeod. He told me to always stay true to my voice. I feel perpetually in danger of losing my voice when I try to create art without allowing the time it demands. I find I can hold short stories in my head, and make progress in smaller blocks of time, which is all that is available to me given the relentless demands of work and family. The schedule I have for my work, impacts the very nature and form of the work, both in theme and in shape. When I leave off writing, I long to return to the story, in the next parcel of time carved out. A deep invigoration propels me back into the fictional world, and also helps me maintain the integrity of the story at hand as I remain open to where it will lead.

George Saunders talks about keeping the magic of a story throughout the writing process, and by extension, creating that experience for the reader. I see this as fictional sparkle, which is embedded in an artistic honesty which allows each story to find its own shape and form. Each story has its own unique magic and sparkle to find, during the writing process and for the reader.

I wish I could say I have a writing studio by the sea with tangled gardens, that I sip tea from an antique cup and eat vegan cookies made by mountain elves who also spritz my hot face with organic spring water scented with salt water rose. Alas, I write where my life takes me and seek the sparkle there.

For instance, “Desire Lines” was written in a hotel room at a hockey tournament. My husband took the kids away to the pool and I used that bit of precious time to hammer out a primal draft. The story was polished at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

I wrote “Dead Time” in a small blue house on a tiny dirt road on the North Mountain in Nova Scotia, near the Bay of Fundy. Orangie-Orange, the cat, would sit on an empty shelf like a tyrannical editor, reminding me that I had very little time to write before the kids got off the bus or the youngest got up from his nap. Coyotes howled in the yard at dawn and owls hooted through the twilight.

The first draft of “Late and Soon” was written in a tiny cottage on an apple farm on the South Mountain in Nova Scotia. This draft got me into a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where I worked with master artist, Maggie Estep, to whom the book is co-dedicated.

“Occlusion” was written in a series of waiting rooms at hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes, and doctor offices. There was great urgency in the voice of Daisy. I wrote both in a notebook and on a lap top or even texting myself.

I’m fascinated by how a writer’s daily routine and commitments shape their art. I find male writers traditionally don’t talk much about their domestic life. Whether it’s because they aren’t asked about this or if they don’t have those same responsibilities, I don’t know.

I am deeply impacted by my sandwich-generation life. My husband and I take care of a large number of people. We are a blended family and it’s very challenging looking after so many children and so many elderly people and running small businesses, and living in a rural area where weather still has a massive impact on mobility and schedule. When parcels of time appear, I sink into them, no matter where I am. It’s that, or I don’t write.

I’m inspired by Alice Munro, who managed to write short stories and have a literary life, while raising children and working both inside and outside the home. In the moments which opened up, she was able to do serious literary work, among the laundry baskets and the chatter and clatter of children. It’s inspiring to me how women, throughout time, have continued to create art.

Learn more about Watermark and Christy Ann Conlin here.

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