Short Story Month: The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind by Vanessa Farnsworth
Vanessa Farnsworth's The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind (Thistledown Press) is a collection of twenty-eight stories about women who are brave and flawed; who pick up men; who deal with husbands, sons, and grandfathers, spiteful sisters, and clowns; who struggle to stay sane. For Short Story Month, Vanessa tells us a bit about her collection, the crucial moment in a short story, and trusting the writerly instinct.
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Every Thursday in May we interview a short story writer and share an excerpt from their latest work.
Interview with Vanessa
All Lit Up: If you had to describe your collection in 12-15 words only, what would they be?
Vanessa Farnsworth: Irreverent, energetic, inventive, timely, humorous, challenging, fun, quirky, questionable, nuanced, lively, original.
ALU: Who are your favourite short story writers and why?
VF: There are so many great short story writers out there that I don’t see how I can possibly pick favourites. In general, I like any writer who shows me something I haven’t seen before. Something unique and real and preferably challenging. For the longest time, there seemed to be a tragic sameness to the stories being told in Canada but, in the past few years, things have changed and we’ve started to see tremendous diversity both in the stories that are being told and how those stories are being structured. That’s a trend I’d like to see continue.
ALU: What do you like most about the short story as a form?
VF: The main thing that draws me to short stories is the ability to zone in on a single revelatory moment in a character’s life. Pick the right moment and that character’s entire psyche explodes in the reader’s mind. You don’t need to know every detail about someone’s life to get to that place. You just need to know what breaks them and how they react to that breakage.
ALU: Have you ever abandoned a short story you were writing? Why? What was it about?
VF: I can’t say that I’ve ever abandoned a short story although there have been a few that have gone through countless revisions over many years before they’ve seen the light of day and still others that I’ll likely be revising for many years yet to come. I tend to trust that the original instinct behind a story was correct even if things went a bit sideways in the writing. It’s just a reality that some stories click right away while others need to be tweaked and massaged and sometimes even threatened before they finally reveal their magic. I’d hate to miss that moment because I gave up on a story that was determined to be stubborn.
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Excerpt from "The Plaid Shoes" fromThe Things She'll Be Leaving Behind
“I want those shoes.”
“They’re plaid. Worse, they’re day-glo plaid.”
“Yes, I know. I want them.”
“Because they’ll go well with my electric blue wig.”
“What electric blue wig?”
“The one I’m going to buy when the chemo causes my hair to fall out.”
“Why blue? You’d look better as a blonde.”
“Blue goes with the glass beads I’m going to decorate the bathtub with.”
“We don’t have a bathtub.”
“But we will. And I’m going to decorate it with glass beads. Blue ones.”
Claire’s husband knew when he was beat. It was clear this conversation wasn’t going to enter the realm of the rational anytime soon, so the shoes went in the box and the box went in the house. And that’s how a pair of plaid shoes became Claire’s constant companion for the duration of her cancer treatment. . . .
While she was still here, Claire was going to live her life the way that best suited her, without always thinking about how things would look to her husband or the neighbours or strangers who’d know her for a glimpse then continue on with no doubt long and fruitful lives.
Why shouldn’t she live this way?
Her life had been hijacked by a disease that had no right taking root in her body. She was thirty-seven years old with no family history of breast cancer. She wasn’t on hormone replacement therapy (and resented the mammogram technician’s question). She ate only organic foods — most of which she grew herself — and long ago thrown away her deodorant for fear of what it might contain.
This shouldn’t be happening but since it was, she was going to find freedom in it, even if that freedom came in the form of two plaid shoes.
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Vanessa Farnsworth has published more than 100 columns and articles in national and regional publications, including Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Cottage, Garden Making, The Creston Valley Advance, The Grower, Harrowsmith Country Life, Kootenay Life East, Route 3, and Vitality Magazine. She holds a degree in English from Toronto's York University, a diploma in print journalism from Oakville's Sheridan College, and studied creative writing at The Humber School for Writers. Her literary fiction has been published in journals across Canada and in the United States, including The Dalhousie Review, dANDelion, The New Quarterly, PRECIPICe, Qwerty, and Reed Magazine.
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Thanks to Perry at Thistledown Press for sharing The Things She'll Be Leaving Behind, and to Vanessa for answering our questions. Stay tuned next Thursday for another Short Story Month feature!
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