Ruth McLeod-Kearns was born in Colorado, but spent most of her life in California. She is a registered nurse with a specialty in Trauma.
It was always her dream to become a writer, and in 2009, she persued that dream following a work-related injury that ended her nursing career. Ruth currently lives in central California, with her wife, Kate, and her three sons living close by. She studied at the UCLA School of Writing and is currently a full-time author.
Thank you for joining us at Scribbler’s today, Ruth.
Tell about Carnations and short stories in general:
‘Carnations Never Wilt’ is a story loosely based on my sister’s death. I first wrote the first draft about two years ago. I wrote many more versions when I was accepted into UCLA’s School of Writing with the help and guidance of my instructors which has molded into what it is today. Although I use her real name, Bonnie, the details of her death remain a private matter in respect for my family. What is absolutely true, however, is the sadness and grief that followed. After her death, I lived at the cemetery. I couldn’t get away from it. I chose the title because regulars in this subculture start with Roses and other beautiful flowers, but they wilt within hours in the summer. But Carnations? Those wonderful flowers never seem to wilt.
Short stories are wonderful! It is time-travel, falling in love, breaking of hearts – all in a short amount of time. I follow less-is-more. I mean, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ was only 37 pages, and look how that turned out!
Does your collection of short stories cover a variety of topics or to you find yourself going back to one subject consistently?
My life is full. It has ranged from chaotic, to downright insane. Just being a trauma nurse for over 25 years and raising three boys, marrying a woman… I never run out of subject matter. What is fairly consistent is the darkness that a lot of my stories have. I will write light at times, but real issues interest me, and the way people handle problems with the bravest of faces is my muse.
Are the stories based on actual events?
Any writer falls under their personal experiences to some extent. Not that a mystery writer ever really kills people, but what type of reactions and how certain situations make one feel – that is based on truth.
Why the short story vs a full-length novel?
I love novels and I am an avid reader. I just can’t write that length. When I was in my 20’s, I wrote my first manuscript, which I sold (accidentally) and I was thrilled that I hit 120 pages. I have an ER nurse’s mental thought process: fast. I just don’t have the skills or the patience to spend years working on just one story. There are so many I want to tell that I just prefer a short version. I truly love a good book, I just won’t be writing one anytime soon. It would be terrible to spend so much time on one project, and then if it didn’t succeed? Wow! I don’t think I could do that twice.
Have you ever considered turning one of your stories into full length novel?
What inspires your story ideas?
Anything. From the way a mother soothes a sick infant, the look of joy children have, to the overwhelming grief of the many personal losses I have endured. There is a story in almost anything. We just have to find the nuance that drives us as writers, and put it on paper.
When brainstorming a story idea do you begin with plot or character?
Always plot. I have two people who I regularly try my story ideas out with: my wife, Kate, and my son, Lex. Kate is very left brained. She is a Dr. and she went to Yale, so her wonderful editing skills and knowledge of my tendencies to not end it when I should come in handy. She is who I look to for guidance in every story. Lex is completely right brained, and he is brilliantly talented and creative. I know when he says it works, or it doesn’t work, to trust him. But there isn’t a character unless there is a plot to put them in.
Can we have an excerpt from ‘Carnations Never Wilt’?
After Bonnie’s burial, I ponder these things as I sit at her grave – day, after day, after day. I remember how hurt she would look when I became aggravated at her for always grieving. I never even tried to be hopeful that warmth and laughter would fill her again.
She began to pretend she was getting better; I cry at that as I trace the letters on the stone. I bring a cup of coffee and carnations every day. I stay until I my kids are due home. They are the only thing keeping me going. I see the same look in their eyes that I had for Bonnie, only theirs has a mixture of pure fear that their mother would lie out there too long one day. So much time, I think I will osmose into the ground and lay beside her.
I begin to give them the same lines she had rehearsed for me. I understand her in a way I never thought possible. I understand wanting this to be over. I don’t know if there is a heaven, but I know there is a hell because I have dwelled there for oh so long – I can’t leave.
There are regulars that survive day-by-day in intervals of minute-by-minute. For us, we all have routines that are sacred. There is a set of rules that is followed. When someone new to the group arrives, we give them space. It is the way of the dead. But it is us I speak of.
There isn’t any conversation, just an unwritten world. A place where the only sounds are the whistle of balloons saying “Happy Birthday”, moving in the wind, wishing they belonged to an alive little boy or girl instead of a stone with dates, that from birth to death, don’t add up past One.
Do you belong to a critique group?
I don’t at the moment. When I take a class, the critiques from other students and my instructors are super helpful, but a new writer should be cautious about sharing too much of their work with an informal group. Until a writer is comfortable with the style they have worked on, an opinion could change the way the story would go because all we want is to please the reader. For some people, groups are wonderful. I just don’t want too many opinions until I am finished.
What writer has most influenced your own work?
There isn’t just one, but if I had to choose, I would say Earnest Hemingway. It makes me sound smart just by saying that, and he was the king of less-is-more. But there are so many talented writers. I read and admire Anita Shrieve, Ann Tyler, and I love Wally Lamb.
Do you have a particular daily writing schedule or process you stick to?
Yes and no. I write at night. I average five or six nights a week, especially if there is a deadline or a project that has to get out. I am really good about keeping at it until it is done. But I don’t write if I am on vacation, or sometimes, I just want to read for a bit. I just make sure to never go too many nights without working. Night is the only time that somebody doesn’t need me, the phone isn’t ringing or I don’t have a doctors appointment. It is quiet and beautiful with many hours to create. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Do you always write in the same place?
I have an office, but I mostly write in the garage. That just sounds bad, but Lex made us a little office out there as well. It is really just a desk with some fold-out chairs, but noise isn’t a factor. Kate goes to bed very early, leaves early, and can hear a pin drop in the next house – so the office next door to the bedroom doesn’t work.
How do you deal with writer’s block; any sure fire solutions?
The best way out of a block is to write, write, and then write some more. I have written six other manuscripts that are terrible. But it was still a victory to start and finish one. Nobody is going to put out genius every time. If the story isn’t writing itself, it probably isn’t very good. That is when I put it down and go on to the next story. Don’t get discouraged, just write yourself out of it.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I am reading Baldacci’s ‘The Hit’. I just finished Harlen Coben’s ‘Play Dead’. I love those mysteries! Edgar Allen Poe is great, but in truth, nothing is better than a great assassin series.
What sound or noise do you love?
Baseball. It is such a beautiful game. I love the sound of the ball against the bat, the sounds the crowds make with so much passion. I turn on the replay of the Giants games at midnight and keep it on while I work. When it is over, I listen to jazz. But the grand prize is the sound of a manual typewriter.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The phone – it drives me crazy. That, and any high pitched fingernails-on-chalkboard noises.
What is your favorite curse word?
“Fuck”. I can’t help it. I even have different versions. If it is shock, I say, “F*** me!”. If I am mad, I say, “G** d**n piece of f***ing s**t!”. I try to keep it under control, but in truth, I curse like a sailor. My youngest son is 16 and I tell him I better not hear it from him. I am a total do-as-I-say and not-as-I-do parent. Sad but true. I am a super fun one, though!
Dog or Cat person?
100% cats. I love a big fat cat named Jaguar who happens to live with me, bosses me around, and gets whatever his little furry-heart desires. We also have an old cat who is 16, named Luna. We had to put her brother down several months ago. She has been meowing non-stop since. Any readers have any thoughts on this? We also have four dogs. Kate loves them, and yet I help walk them and am the official poop-cleaner. See why I love cats?
Go to snack when writing?
If you ever saw me, that wouldn’t be a question. I’m not fat, just a bit chubby. I don’t snack much, but I can drink a case of diet coke in one night.
What’s your next project?
My next short will be released August 8. It is entitled ‘Promise Me’. It is the first story where the characters are gay. They are a stable married couple who have to care for a dying mother. It is special because my own mom just passed away in May. My last story, ‘Blood Mother’, was dedicated to her. She is very much in my thoughts all day long, but I will make sure not to heap a bunch of dead-mother stories out there – Lex won’t let me.
Thank you for joining us at Scribbler’s today Ruth!
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