As Lisa Moore sees it, short stories live in secret pockets, hidden in the corners of our lives. And when we come across them, they engulf us – if only for a little while – only to leave us, ideally affected by the words we just read.
“Short stories can appear in magazines; they appear in these out-of-the-way places and you have to go looking for them. I just love that you could be getting your hair done, and find a story in an old magazine at the bottom of the pile, and it’s this gorgeous burst of life, and characters and voice, and then, someone beckons you to the sink to rinse your hair, and it’s all gone,” said Moore, a Canadian author whose collection of short stories, Open, is up next on the docket for Western Reads.
While finishing her art degree, Moore found herself back home in Newfoundland, at Memorial University, taking a creative writing class. Some 30 years later, her and her classmates still get together and share their work.
“We would meet once every two weeks, bring beer and food and everybody had to have at least 500 words to read. We would read it to each other, and we would be reading work we maybe finished an hour before, very fresh. Out of that experience, you realize when you have an audience that’s more or less captive, you very quickly have a sense whether (your writing) was working or not,” Moore explained.
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“One of the things I wanted to do with Open – we were all writing short stories then – I remember thinking a short story can be anything at all and I want to try to see how many different things it can be. I felt like it was this infinite form that could go anywhere.”
In the opening story, Melody, 20 years pass in the middle. Moore’s aim was to play with time as a formal concern. Could this work? Could she make time collapse with limited space? In another, she plays with various genres. In others, emotions are a driving force, and she looks for ways to make these emotions live and breathe fully in text and inside characters you get to know within a few short pages.
“No writer can write anything absolutely outside of her experience and characters are in some ways, people I know, compilations of people I know,” Moore noted. “What I’ve realized about plot is, you have to take a character and put that character in absolutely the most peril you possibly can, given the circumstances, so we can see the tension and the conflict forge the character and change the character, and create the drama around the character,” she continued.
“Different characters have different perils suited to who they are. The idea is to really know who your character is, and understand completely what would be the worst experience for them, and then make them live through it. You’re creating all kinds of tension for the reader.”
And this tension is what it’s all about, Moore explained. Short stories are incredibly absorbing, intense. It’s an art form, creating situations and lives that exist in a limited number of pages.
“The space is limited but that’s all that’s limited. It becomes a challenge – and an exciting one – to see how alive and how much you can pack into that short length. But the story can do anything a novel can do. And that excites me,” she said.
Stories by Mavis Gallant are among her favourites and, right now, she’s reading a “beautiful collection,” Daddy Lenin and Other Stories, by Guy Vanderhaeghe, due out this year.
In reading Open, Moore points you to a conundrum in every day relationships, she noted.
“I was really exploring the idea of vulnerability in love. It’s kind of a paradox: you have to trust in order to love. You have to believe the other person is good, and they can know you and take care of you in certain ways, and you can do that for them as well. But that kind of trust makes you incredibly vulnerable and vulnerability is dangerous,” she explained.
“An intensity comes out of that paradox in between being able to give over to this trust and also keeping yourself safe. How can we preserve ourselves, our integrity, our independence, and at the same time, love openly?”