Carnations Never Wilt – Interview with Ruth McLeod-Kearns

994171_144553812407423_1506345370_nI’m very excited to welcome multi-published, short story writer Ruth McLeod- Kearns, and author of the soul touching Carnations Never Wilt.

BWMcLeod0076First, a bit of background on our author:

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?

No.

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!

To keep with Ruth; check out:

www.twitter.com/mcleodkearns

www.facebook.com/ruthmcleodkearns

www.goodreads.com/ruthmcleodkearns

To purchase a copy of Carnations Never Wilt or one of Ruths’ other wonderful stories, go to:

www.amazon.com/author/ruthmcleodkearns

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One Response to Carnations Never Wilt – Interview with Ruth McLeod-Kearns

  1. Hi Ruth,
    Your excerpt was very touching. You live on the Central Coast? I lived in the Monterey area for 7 years, before I moved back to the place of my birth, Connecticut. I enjoyed California very much, but my family is here. It was wonderful to meet you (virtually) and I look forward to reading more of your work.

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