Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Kelly Ward

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Kelly Ward

Keep It Beautiful (Tightrope Books) is Kelly Ward's first collection of short fiction. With a title taken from an old Ontario license plate slogan, Keep It Beautiful is full of characters both odd and endearing and makes for fantastic summer reading for short story lovers.

Today Kelly speaks to Open Book about how being well-adjusted is overrated, characters running around in her head and her favourite CanLit short fiction gems.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Keep it Beautiful.

Kelly Ward:

Keep it Beautiful is my debut collection of short stories. It's about lonely characters and bored characters, desperate characters and conniving characters, characters who find themselves in impossible situations, characters who put themselves in impossible situations, and cheeky characters who just don't care.


Your stories show sympathy for the oddball, the marginalized. Would it be fair to call some of your protagonists misfits? And what draws you to write about people who could be perceived as outside the mainstream?


Yes, it would definitely be fair to call many of the protagonists misfits. I definitely didn't set out to write about marginalized characters, or individuals outside of the mainstream. I wrote these stories over several years, never really knowing when or if they would become a published collection, and when you do that the connections and themes throughout the stories don't really become clear until much later in the process. When I looked at the collection as a whole, I found that I do tend to gravitate toward characters that are socially awkward, or not entirely well adjusted. I like to explore different ways of coping, the strategies that people employ to navigate their own lives. I'm glad readers are seeing the stories as sympathetic portrayals. I guess I just find very well-adjusted folks a little boring.


"Keep It Beautiful" is a slogan that was once applied to the province of Ontario. How did you settle on it for the title story, and what made you choose that title to represent the collection?


“Keep it Beautiful” was replaced by “Yours to Discover” a year before I was born, but I distinctly remember seeing older vehicles on the road with that slogan on their license plates. It always seemed to be a double-edged phrase to me. It felt imploring, as if someone were begging us to keep “it,” which could really be applied to anything, from becoming ugly and terrible. There was something in that phrase that made me think ugliness was inevitable, that eventually we wouldn't be able to keep it beautiful any longer. For me that feeling echoed the lives of many of the characters in the book. The book is really about how they are trying to cope with the ugliness, to keep things beautiful however they can.


How do you find yourself entering a short story? Do you begin with an image or a phrase, or do you find yourself way via plot or characters? Does the writing experience change for you with each story?


It varies from story to story, but most often I come at it through the characters. Characters tend to run around in my head for a long time before I actually write about them. They start as generalized concepts: a woman who feels guilt over something she shouldn't, a man who misguidedly feels he can cure society's ills. Then those concepts start to grow lives and relationships, and finally I'm able to distill it down to the specific segment of the characters' lives that I want to zero in on. Sometimes what I initially thought of as the interesting bit ends up becoming more of a sidebar, other times it evolves into something much bigger. The basic premise it that I try to construct at least one solid person in my mind, and then the story itself springs from that.


What would an ideal writing day look like for you?


A snow storm, an empty apartment, and lots of hot coffee.


Canada seems to boast a wealth of talented short story writers. Tell us about one or two of your favourite short fiction collections and what you love about them.


When I first read The Withdrawal Method I couldn't put it down. I felt like I was finally reading about a stuff I'd always wanted to read about. I've said this before, but “Being Like Bulls” is pretty close to my favourite short story, bar none. It's imaginative and amusing and kind of creepy all at the same time. Also Lisa Moore's Open. I think she has absolutely perfect pace in her storytelling.


What are you working on now?


I'm trying my hand at a novel, after a couple of false starts. I don't think the protagonist is quite done walking around in my brain yet. Soon, I hope.

Kelly Ward Kelly Ward is a freelance writer and editor living and working in Toronto. She is a graduate of York University with a major in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing. Her fiction, poetry and journalism have appeared in various publications across Canada including Matrix Magazine, Word Magazine, SubTerrain, Existere, Taddle Creek and various other literary journals. Her story "The Night Shift" (which appears in Keep It Beautiful) won the 2008 Lush Triumphant Award for Fiction. She has also worked in-house at various publishing houses in marketing, editorial, production and ghost writing capacities. Keep It Beautiful is her first book.

For more information about Keep It Beautiful please visit the Tightrope website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

1 comment

Is Tightrope Books still publishing ... books? I can't find Kelly Ward's book on their website. If you go to their "BOOKS" section, it's not listed.

As captain of this sinking vessel, will Halli go down with the ship?

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