Helping me wrap up the week is fiction writer Ellen Birkett Morris. She’s chatting with me about her short story collection, Lost Girls.
Ellen Birkett Morris is the author of LOST GIRLS and SURRENDER. Her fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, The Antioch Review, The Notre Dame Review, and The South Carolina Review, among other journals. She is a winner of the Bevel Summers Prize for Short Fiction and the recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. Morris holds an MFA from Queens University-Charlotte.
Welcome, Ellen. What do you enjoy most about writing short stories?
I love building the character’s world through the use of details, the book of poetry the waitress carries in her pocket, the coffee-colored lace bra the older woman used to wear under her crew neck sweater, the fact that the water stain on the wall looks like a dog to the girl who lives on the wrong side of the tracks.
Can you give us a little insight into a few of your short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
I have a few favorites in the collection including “Like I Miss Not Being a Ballerina,” which tells the story of a friendship between two girls, the pleasures of television and candy they share and what happens when one girl’s mother gets sick. I also like “Skipping Stones” about a quiet girl with big aspirations, whose relationship with a boy she likes gets cut short when she is sexually assaulted by another boy. I find myself rooting for her to break out of the small town and find connection.
What genre are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I’m really drawn to short stories. I like working in short form and seeing how much can be revealed in a short space. I like the idea of dipping into a character’s life and witnessing their actions at a pivotal moment that reveals who they really are, at least who they are in that moment and under that circumstance.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on a novel set in Hawaii about a female astronomer who makes a huge discovery.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I claimed that title early on when I made up stories to keep myself amused. I still have my first creation, a story on lined paper, bound by ribbon about a shape-shifting boss who saved the world from villains.
How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for writers?
I watch where other writers are getting published, and, if I see a similarity in our work, I will submit to the same place. I try to make sure my piece matches the journal’s tone and sensibility. I often use Cliff Garstang’s wonderful ranking system (https://cliffordgarstang.com/2020-literary-magazine-ranking-fiction/) as a guide for where to send work.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure how interesting it is, but I tend to repeat words a lot. I do think I have a good eye for spotting quirky things that make for good stories, like the sin eater in my story “Inheritance.”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I loved getting the child-sized golf clubs and trying to hit the balls on the front lawn. I also loved Carol Burnett, so I wanted to be either Carol Burnett or a pro golfer.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I hope they enjoy Lost Girls and are moved by the quirky stories of these brave women.
Thanks for being here today, Ellen.