October’s Craft on Draft reading event asked the question every writer wants on their reader’s mind. “What happens next?” Authors Kelly J. Ford (Cottonmouths), Stephanie Gayle (Idyll Fears) and Crystal King (Feast of Sorrow) read from their novels and shared how they keep their readers turning those pages.
The evening’s contest winner was Charlotte Gross, a Boston writer who hails from New Hampshire. Through all she does, Charlotte seeks to explore the intersections of human, natural, and spiritual worlds. Her work has appeared in the Nashville Review, Pinball, and Dartmouth’s Stonefence Review. I had the opportunity to interview Charlotte about her work. Her winning excerpt follows.
In your entry you evoked a palpable sense of anticipation. Is the excerpt part of a larger work? Can you expand on how you approach writing that kind of tension?
The excerpt comes from a short story I wrote about a young boy and his brother in Wales. He believes they have stumbled upon a coven of witches in Wales– a coven that might include their grandmother. I don’t know if I would label it as outright fantasy or mystery, though it does borrow from those genres. I’ve always loved page-turners of all stripes, and find myself particularly drawn to those classic ghost stories of the British Isles that stretch back to folklore and find voice through Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Amelia B. Edwards, among others. Even when I am not consciously trying to channel this tradition, it influences the structure of my stories. Each step the character takes ratchets up tension in incremental doses. Whether a protagonist is facing down wildfire or witches, I write their experience as in-the-moment as I can. I’ve learned from the mostly first-person narration of the ghost story canon that snatches of tactile description can place the reader in the scene, and won’t diminish the impact of the action.
Who are the authors who have inspired you? Who has taught you the most?
Where to begin? I’ve gleaned at least some nugget of inspiration from every writer that I’ve read. I’ve become even more intentional in my reading lately, and write down at least one craft tip to take with me after finishing a book or short story– even if it’s ostensibly been “for fun.” As much as I’ve learned just from reading, I have to say that the writers I’ve learned most from are the ones who have read my own work, too, and have given me feedback. In college, I was lucky enough to study under truly great authors. If you haven’t heard of Catherine Tudish’s deceptively quiet tales of small-town interaction, Ernest Hebert’s raw-boned New Hampshire sagas, or Thomas O’Malley’s dark grace– well, I would highly recommend!
You can share a booth with three writers at your favorite coffee shop plugged in, writing deep into the night. Which three writers, living, dead, or imaginary would you invite and why?
I would invite writers from across forms– JRR Tolkien, Terry Tempest Williams, and Robert Frost. I’ll admit that I tend towards solitude in my own process, but would love to see these three speak to each other from their anchors in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, respectively. My interest in them doesn’t have much to do with suspense; rather, I look to each for the particular way they approach human interaction with the natural world. Tempest Williams is a pillar of contemporary nature writing, but I argue that Tolkien’s vision of good and evil is intertwined with ideas of harmony between species and nature. Frost, too, is not typically labeled a “nature poet,” but I believe that in conversation with the others, he could share thoughts on living close to the land, in a world where nature isn’t separated from humans.
What writing projects would you like to tackle in the future?
So many! Besides short stories, I’ve dabbled in graphic novels. My notebooks are full of ideas for prose fiction and graphic narratives alike. A story I would love to explore in either form involves a female protagonist on skis, land mammals the size of houses, and an ancient resentment born of colonialism. So, I have that adventure to look forward to!
The two boys eased their way down the stairs. Rhys huffed every so often, as if he was still annoyed with Davie, but the younger boy could see he was tense with the thrill of sneaking late at night. A floorboard creaked. Both paused. Davie held his stuffed dog tighter. No angry grandparent emerged. They slid onward towards the door. Rhys fumbled with the lock. It turned with a resounding clunk. Hurriedly they opened the door, nearly falling out of it in their haste, and shut it behind them.
Their breath steamed in the moonlight. Davie tipped his head back to see the sky. Only the brightest stars showed themselves in the full-moon brightness. He looked back down to earth to see Rhys running towards the barn. Without daring to call out, Davie gave chase.
He could hear the sheep from around the corner. There was a panicked note in their cries. Rhys’s slight form disappeared around the barn and was swallowed into shadow. Davie turned the corner. The sheep were a sea of moonlit backs.
A tall figure stood outlined in front of the milling sea of animals. Another emerged from the gloom. Both were larger than Rhys. Davie crawled across the yard to the rowan tree. Something glinted in the light. Davie watched without breathing as yet another shape, smaller this time, raised itself from the grass—Rhys. The older boy lunged forward, making a grab at one of the tall figures. Davie shut his eyes.