Meet the writers: Rupert edition
In the lead-up to the publication of Influenced: Stories from the Lockdown, we're sitting down to chat with all the contributors to the anthology, and give readers a bit of an introduction to everyone. In the first installment of interviews, we're talking with Conar Rae Harris, Shannon Lough, and Rudy Kelly.
Chris Armstrong (CA): I'm here with Rudy, Conar and Shannon, three of the writers of Influenced: Stories from the Lockdown. Thanks for joining us guys.
Rudy Kelly (RK): Great to be here.
Conar Rae Harris (CH): Great to be in your kitchen.
Shannon Lough (SL): Really good popcorn.
CA: Glad you like the popcorn. And the ambience too?
CH: The lighting is great.
CA: I was fussing about that before you guys got here. I wanted to make sure I got it right. Some of the cupboard doors in my kitchen open right now. Sorry. So we're here to celebrate the impending publication of Influenced and you guys made final cuts. So how did it feel when you got the call?
SL: Well, I was not that hopeful when I saw that 700 people had. But I was stoked that I at least made the deadline.
CA: Spoken like a true reporter. Yeah, hers came in like 11:58 or 11:57 on June 30.
SL: It was bad. And same with my revisions. I have a problem. But yeah, I just finished actually teaching a yoga class. I have this horrible habit of checking my email right after. Very Zen. I saw that I'd gotten in. And the first thing I did was call my mom. I was so excited. I did a dance.
CA: It's one of those flashbulb memories, I guess now for you guys, eh?
CA: I might be building myself up a bit. So let's go alphabetical order here. We'll start with Conar. So you wrote a story called “Inheritance.” Can you tell us a bit about that story?
CH: Well, it's about 2,500 words long. I wrote it over COVID. The setting’s based off a cabin that I kayak to, that’s kind of spooky. And the story’s just essentially about a guy who's running away from his inheritance, or trying to escape it.
CA: Is he trying to escape or is he just can't let go? He’s kind of holding on in a way.
CH: Well he can’t let go and he’s just sort of … not escaping, I guess is the best way to put it.
CA: I think the main character in your story is actually the environment, because it's set up here. You don’t say it’s from Rupert, but it’s set up in the North Coast.
CH: Yeah, like a fictional, but not fictional, Northwest coast kind of thing.
CA: Yeah, and you have a lot of descriptions of the sky, and the vegetation and even the wildlife around. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Why you decided to write about that stuff?
CH: Just because it's where I'm from. When I write, I like to capture what I call “the spirit of place,” which sort of encompasses everything that is that area. And kind of make the environment and the location just as much a character as the rest of the characters that are like, you know, moving through it.
CA: When you normally picture the Northwest scenery, or you talk about, it's always, “oh, it's so beautiful up here and so verdant, and all the mountains are covered in trees.” But your story actually gets right down into details, because when you start walking around around here there are a lot of gnarly roots and stuff like that. So you actually described sort of the ugly side of the scenery around here, I would say.
CH: I don't know if it's ugly, it's just not quite as picturesque, as all the postcards and photographs you get around here. What I drew from that was just being a kid and running through the woods here, you find those giant knocked-over cedars or blown-over trees and the roots are up in the air and they look like these like giant sprawling monsters and stuff. And then as a kid, your imagination starts wheeling, and then you get nightmares later about some giant tree monster that's coming out of it.
CA: Yeah, I really enjoyed your story. Rudy. Your story is “Open Door.” So, same question. You know, don't tell us anything about it, but tell us about it.
RK: Well, “Open Door” is essentially one character. There are other characters, but it's focused around somebody in who's living in solitude purposefully in a trailer. And it's a dark and stormy night… A lot of people, they always complain about the rain in Rupert, especially when it's just coming down hard, and it's raining like crazy. But I love those nights because I find a I just write like crazy on those nights whenever it's like that. Because maybe it's that line that sticks in my head, the most famous way to start a book I guess. Because everything seems so cozy. And it's like, what else is there to do?
CA: So did you write this story on one of those dark and stormy nights?
RK: Yeah, I did. I was just sitting at the kitchen looking out the window and was raining. And then the thought came to me of this person sitting in her trailer, and a person that's going through a lot of personal struggles and issues, and trying to decide whether or not she's going to really continue on with her life. She doesn’t seem to care. She's not suicidal necessarily, but doesn't care one way or the other. She’s kind of just, what'll happen will happen, I don't care if the roof caves on me right now, my life sucks. And also writing a female character was really interesting. I have four sisters, so I do know the lay of the land a bit. And I have a lot of female friends too, who were who are collaborators with me and plays and stuff like that. I've benefited a lot from their intelligence and strength. And my mom was a very strong woman. So I kind of got into this character of being someone who's coming from a place of weakness and finds strength.
CA: Yeah, she does find strength. I don’t want to give anything away, but it seems like there is hope in your story.
RK: Yeah. She herself doesn't seem to care at first, but then she overcomes a major obstacle. And by the end of it thinks, you know, what will be will be and I'm going to plow ahead now. It still doesn't look great for her, but she's willing to give it a shot now, and maybe sees a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
CA: Which is interesting, because Conar’s is almost the opposite, where it's like this guy, who's like, it's almost like in the inheritance, the title of the story….
CH: ….he’s just kind of accepted…he’s just waiting.
CA: Yeah he is waiting. And Rudy’s character is not so much, she takes an active role.
SL: All these stories have a theme. They're all kind of dark.
CA: Yeah, the ones from Rupert are. Not all of them are dark.
SL: Must’ve been those 45 days in a row of rain.
CH: I’m one of those guys who likes rain. But it was getting a bit too much for me too.
CA: Yeah, there are quite a few dark and stormy nights. Shannon, did you write your story on a dark stormy night?
SL: It was such a flurry. I just I've been wanting to write the story for about two years. The idea came to me a while back. And I just kept mulling over how I would tell the story. And then when this idea came out for the book, I thought, this is the best time. I've got to do it, right. And I waited literally, two days. I set a goal this year to write creatively. When I started writing, it just flowed. All I remember is, I ran Butze Rapids trail, after work. And I came home and I was like, I'm gonna do this. And I sat down and wrote half of it, and then I was like, actually, you know what? I know where this is going. Finally. After two years of thinking about it. So the story, it kind of came about way back when someone was driving me down a very creepy logging road that seemed to go to nowhere. And I was my mind started wandering and you know, thinking, you know, this guy's good right? Where is he taking me? And then I just started thinking about all these possible scenarios. And, and that's kind of what this story is about. It's the story of Meredith going down a logging road with a new beau, who she thinks she knows. But then when she realizes, you know, a little bit too far into the road, toward the river, that she doesn't have any cell service, she barely knows anyone in the town that she's just moved to. And she doesn't know this guy very well. And he's starting to act like a bit of a jerk. And a creep. And at the same time, there's another story that's layered over top of it, a woman who has gone down this logging road. So she's just a little bit further in time, and what happens to her. And so it kind of starts with her end, and then ends with the other woman's end. So there's there's some time lapses there. But what I really wanted to show was Meredith, who I see as the main character, but others may not. Others may see Virginia as the main character. Meredith moves to this this town, it's a fictional Terrace. And she's terrified of going into the woods because she grew up in a town, you know, like…. I grew up in Ontario. When I first went on trails here, I was like, this is not a trail. This is bushwhacking. Or this is not a campsite, this is literally like the side of the road by a river. So just like having to, you know, step out of your comfort zone and actually embrace the wild is your safety. And that's something that she has to learn to do throughout this. And maybe it's not the wild that’s the danger. It's the people.
CA: We should probably mention this point that your story is called “By the River.”
SL: Yes. Oh sorry. “By the River.”
CA: That’s one thing that linked all your stories, you're telling it from around this area. And it's interesting to hear the inspirations behind it all. Like when I was talking to Conar about his earlier and, one of the set pieces is this cabin…do you want to tell me a bit about the cabin that you visited on kayak in the middle of the harbour?
CH: It was kind of towards Metlakatla. I was kayaking with some friends. And we didn't really notice it, we just saw some debris on the beach. So then we beached the kayaks there, we noticed this path. We went up in there, and there’s these three decrepit cabins. But in the very back, kind of nestled in the woods, was one that was still standing and had like a single bed, a stove, oatmeal, spaghetti, some non-perishables, and a guest book that went back to the early 1980s. But it was like super creepy, and just kind of had a weird vibe from the place.
CA: And that stuck with you and somehow got its way out in the story.
CH: Yeah, when I was trying to figure what to write, I thought it'd be a good setting and then everything else kind of moved into place after that.
CA: And Rudy, your inspiration was your sisters as well as your mom, was there any other inspiration?
RK: Yeah, one sister in particular, who I just kind of reconnected with because she doesn't live here. And she kind of went into a shell. She was into drugs and the party life quite heavily. And you know, doesn't think of herself as a good mother. And I think she just beat herself up way too much over the years and especially now continues to do so. So yeah, certainly I based the character on her a lot. Her thinking like, you know, well whatever, you know, if I if I get hit by a car tomorrow, I'm not gonna worry about it. So I wanted to write about that a lot and kind of attribute to her to say that….there's still stuff to do and she’s way too hard on herself. Most people are. I was in a course one time, a psychology course, where the instructor said, basically 80 to 90 per cent of what we say to ourselves is negative. And it's true, right? And so I got into that, how people beat themselves up and thought about her. And, of course, I wanted to give her some kind of redemption and, and a way to look forward. I'm not going to tell her that it's her, but she’ll probably read it. And who knows, maybe hopefully, she'll see it and smile a little bit.
CA: So I want to ask you guys, what do you hope readers take from your stories?
CH: That cycles, especially inherited cycles, can be broken. You don't need to, you know, settle into it.
RK: Yeah, mine is kind of similar to that, in that there's always more, there's always more that can happen. Regardless of what is going on in the past, you can still write your own end.
SL: Mine is more of a cautionary tale for, specifically women, or vulnerable folks that move up to a town and just are overly trusting. I mean, since I moved here, all I've heard about is women and kids going missing along the Highway of Tears. And that is a haunting notion that we all live with here. And just talking about it and writing about it is a way to process and share those stories. And this is not about a specific story, obviously. But I do believe it is a cautionary tale in a way. Just that… we don't need to trust all men. But also, I've heard other stories, where a lot of people just are very friendly, and they move to a place and this can be anywhere. I've lived a lot of places around the world where I have been really trusting and got to some of my own situations where I've been very fortunate. But coming here and hearing the stories of the women that have gone missing, I feel like they weren't as fortunate obviously. And we just need to be more careful and loving to each other.
CA: Would this be your first foray into short story writing?
SL: I actually started in creative writing at university. And then I decided I didn't want to go to university for writing. And so I went to history, switching to history and English. So I did actually get into poetry and writing. This was like 10 years ago.
CH: Got any of those poems around?
SL: Oh man, I have books of poetry. Books. But yeah, this is my first published creative writing story, which is really exciting.
CA: Well, there’s a poet sitting right over here as well (motions to Conar).
CH: I was kind of the exact opposite. I went to university for English and history stopped doing that and went back for creative writing. So yeah, I've had some poems published, but this is my first short story published.
CA: And you two (Rudy and Shannon) are reporters. And Rudy is a world-renowned novelist. So I want to ask about that aspect of it. How is it the same as your typical way that you've been writing? And how is it a little bit different to write a short story?
RK: Well, obviously you've got to be tighter. To me, it's basically a slice of life, essentially. Almost like just a moment in time compared to writing a novel. It's almost like writing a chapter of a novel that can stand alone. It was challenging to not be so big and long. Yeah, it was a weird exercise – all of a sudden, now I'm just gonna write these 11 pages, or whatever it was. It felt sparse. And trying to write a proper ending was a challenge.
CH: For me, it was I guess, just kind of expanding. Because with poetry I don't usually go longer than 200 words or so. So I gotta stretch it a bit. But professors down south, when I was in school, helped us with that a lot. I took a couple of short fiction courses, and a lot of it was just working on how to keep those emotional beats and then contain it. So it was definitely just trying to like stretch things out for me instead of trying to condense things.
CA: And what about from reporter's point of view?
SL: Usually you're reading at someone else's story, you have to be really authentic and true to their voice, right. But this was my voice, which was sweet. It was like, oddly liberating. For me, anytime I write, I go into a space, right? But with with this, I didn't have to look at my notes all the time. It was all in here, which was really cool. I liked it in a way because I got to draw on things that I'd seen in the past. And I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately. And I love pacing. I'm obsessed with pacing right now. So that was something that I noticed I was reading out loud while I was writing. But I felt like it was long, because in journalism, it's usually like 600 words, or a thousand for a feature.
RK: It's funny, that's why I got into journalism was to eventually write a book. And the book got sidetracked. Like, right away. It only came up in the last few years. But yeah, I got into it, because I even looked at these novels, and a lot of these guys or women were reporters. And I thought, well, yeah, it makes sense. Because you interview lots of people. You take notes, you do research. All sorts of tools, obviously, you're going to need, especially with the interviews, and meeting so many different people. So now you've got all of these characters already inside your head to, to pull from.
SL: That's actually why I got into journalism. It's like strengthening that muscle. Yeah, the writing muscle. I mean, what better way to do it than 10 stories a week or whatever you had to write.
CA: Okay, well, that's all the questions I had. Is there anything else you guys want to say or add to this?
RK: I just think it's great that you put this together. I’m looking really forward to reading some of the other stories. I’ve heard of some of what they're about, and also great to see two other local people involved in it as well.
CA: Okay, well guys, thank you very much for joining us.
Influenced: Stories from the Lockdown will be released in November 2020.