The Short of It: Lulu Keating & Splinter & Shard

Award-winning filmmaker Lulu Keating tells us about her debut short story collection Splinter & Shard (ECW Press), why she loves the form, and what’s next from her writing desk. Plus, we read some of the story “Mother Lode” from the collection.

A graphic reading "The Short of It: Short Story Month" with an image of the cover of Splinter & Shard by Lulu Keating and an inset photo of the author.


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For Short Story Month, we’re spotlighting one author every Wednesday with a mini interview and excerpt from their short story collection.

All Lit Up: Tell us about your collection in a few short sentences.

Lulu Keating: The stories in Splinter & Shard take place at opposite ends of Canada – the Yukon sub-Arctic, the Atlantic provinces, and a few places in between.

I’m surprised that early reviews address the strength of the female characters. Although I consider all my characters close friends, I am in love with my beautifully flawed men.

Splinter & Shard is named after the story with the highest stakes. I’m waiting with apprehension to hear how readers react to this demanding story.

ALU: What do you love about the short story form?

LK: When I worked in film, I was always writing screenplays for feature films and trying to get them financed. In the interim I made short dramas, documentaries, animated and experimental films. Those short films are bursts of energy, each a gem in it’s own way that kept my creative muscle lubed. Short stories are like that for me – flights of fancy with instant gratification. Each story can grab a unique world and squeeze a stunning vision out of it.

ALU: Who are some of your favourite short story writers?

LK: My list of favourite short story writers has to include Alice Munro and Carol Shields. Of other Canadians, I also love Miranda Hill’s intelligence and precision, Ivan Coyote’s unique and dynamic perspective, Gwen Davies’ rich characterizations. A major influence when I started studying the short story form was Paul Bowles. I admired his courage, pushing his characters to the edge of what they can tolerate and grabbing them back before they tumble over the edge.

ALU: What are three things on your writing desk/place of writing?

LK: I have a very crowded desk, though these days it’s often an Adirondack – this time of year in the north you can sit outside and write with natural light until 11pm. This fall again I’ll go to an island in Greece to write.

Three things I’m working on:

1. a non-fiction story about my chance meeting with my hero, journalist and anchorman Stanley Burke. The story will interweave the philanthropic philosophy my father and I shared in the late 1960’s with Burke’s act of rebellion when he quit the CBC to make a documentary in Biafra. 

2. a novella about a young woman who wakes to discover she is going into labour. The cellphone is dead, her partner is on the other side of the Yukon River and a snowstorm has trapped her in her off-grid cabin.

3. a novel, Klondike Codfish, about a young woman from the Maritimes who becomes stranded in the wilds of a Yukon summer. She learns how to cook in a remote mushroom camp, to fight off wild beasts, human and other, and allows herself to be transformed by the magic of the north.

A photo of Lulu Keating by the Greek coastline. She sits at a table with the remnants of a salad and her half-closed laptop, and points outward, toward the dazzling blue water.
Lulu Keating from her “desk” in Greece.

An excerpt from “Mother Lode,” from Splinter & Shard

Polly so rarely had visitors that when she heard the thump of their heavy boots on the outside stairs, she ran to the door and pulled it open. Two RCMP officers, in uniform. On the street below, she saw the cruiser parked in front of the bakery. Before they’d reveal anything, they wanted her seated. Polly’s hand flew up to her hair. She’d brushed it a hundred times that morning and piled it loosely on top of her head. Her dress was a cotton print, plain but clean. Her nylons didn’t have holes in them. “Yes, of course. Come in.”

There were only two chairs in the tiny sitting room, so she invited them into the kitchen. With nothing to do but keep house, the dishes were done and the kitchen was clean. She whisked the Ladies Home Journal off the table and put it face down on the counter. The March 1965 issue – only a few months old. Yesterday she’d been to see the meddling old doctor. On her way out she’d slipped the magazine under her sweater. Surely they weren’t here about that? No, they would not have sent two Mounties about a magazine that cost thirty cents. She looked at the young one, tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn’t look at her.

The officers sat across from her. The older one did the talking. He had a bushy moustache that needed a trim. He was asking her if she had anyone who could come to be with her. Polly realized now that he’d already asked her this at the door.

“Your mother? Mrs. Broderick lives over town, doesn’t she?”

Now that she, Polly, was Mrs. Maurice Doucette, she did not want Mrs. Broderick. She shook her head.

“My mother is sick,” she said.

So if they weren’t here about her mother, that meant they were here about Maurice.

Her mother disapproved of Maurice. At the wedding, when Polly should have been the centre of attention, her mother held her head high, peering down like a giraffe on Maurice’s family. Never again would Polly allow her mother to stomp on her choices. If she invited her mother to be here with two officers of the law, she’d perform for them. No, this was Polly’s moment, her performance.

She wanted the Baker from the shop downstairs to put his beefy arms around her. She could lean into his neck, sob into his chest. But that was out of the question. Besides, this was his busy time. Through the floorboards, she could usually hear the housewives’ chatter. Why so subdued? Yes, they would be whispering about the cruiser outside, the two officers upstairs. More than ever, she hated the smell of fresh bread.

The bushy moustache was wiggling as he spoke. Now she could see the MacKinnon in him. She’d gone all through school with Vince, his son. Vince was a little shit, but he had a nice father. Polly remembered that he’d told her his name when she opened the door. But that was centuries ago, before the world had tilted, before she’d become an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean.

 When Polly offered tea, both men nodded solemnly. Tea has been bringing comfort to Maritime kitchens since the 1500’s. She rose from the table, suddenly cold. Polly heard thunder as a chunk of her broke away. She was an iceberg and she had calved. She felt chill spray as her man, Maurice, splashed into the Arctic waters. The ripples nudged her away from the table, up against the stove. She couldn’t look behind, knowing that Maurice was floundering, bobbing in his ocean, melting, sinking. She picked up the kettle from the stove. Swirling icy currents carried her to the sink. Generations of Celts told her she must let the water run cold to make good tea.

MacKinnon spoke again. He needed to know what she wanted. Polly couldn’t get her head around what he meant. Rarely had she been asked what she wanted.

“The body?” he asked. “It can be shipped home if that’s what you’d prefer. Or buried there, in the Yukon.”

The young one glanced up at Polly. He was about her age, early twenties. She saw pity in his eyes, as if her life was over now and she was no more than a beached shipwreck. She was suddenly repulsed by his peach fuzz and persistent pimples. So what if he’s a Mountie.  She might only be a housewife but there was more to her than met the eye. Icebergs keep seven eighths of themselves hidden underwater. When she rallied – and she would – then watch out!

She set the teapot on the table, draped it with the cheery tea cozy she’d knit herself.

MacKinnon was persistent. “The detachment in Dawson City is keeping it frozen. They wants to know.”

She was dizzy now and sat down with a clunk.

Polly’s next thought: “Why aren’t I crying?”

A photo of author Lulu Keating. She is a light skin-toned woman with curly, chin-length red hair, wearing a cowboy-style hat and a vibrant printed shirt. She has a "Dawson City Film Fest" button pinned to her chest.

Lulu Keating is an award-winning TV and film director. Her stories have been published in Geist, the Globe and Mail, North of Ordinary, and What’s Up Yukon. Born in Nova Scotia, she now lives in Dawson City, Yukon.

Photo of Lulu credit Janelle Hardy.

Thanks to Lulu for answering our questions, and to ECW Press for the excerpt from Splinter & Shard, available here on All Lit Up or from your local indie bookseller.

Stay tuned for our final Short of It next Wednesday, a double feature with M.V. Feehan and Danila Botha.