Karen Keeley’s first book, TeLLing TaLes, is a collection of short stories that “are not solely Yukon, mystery, romance, coming of age, or any of the ‘great’ themes,” she says, but feature all those genres, plus speculative fiction.
It was Keeley’s twin, Carol, who motivated her to start writing in the 1990s, and her son who pushed her to complete the collection this year.
“I wanted to give those stories a new audience, and to add others crafted over the years,” when Keeley lived in Ontario, Alberta, BC and the Yukon.
During that time, Charles Wilkins, a 2005 Berton House resident, mentored her.
“He was strong on significant detail,” she recalls. “Every word, nuance and item in the story must move it forward.”
Local writers Patricia Robertson and Jerome Stueart also “helped me develop my creative writing skills.”
Writing is an isolating process Keeley likens to opening a vein.
But despite that strong image, “it’s exciting and greatly rewarding,” she says – especially when the finished works are published in anthologies, newspapers, literary journals and magazines, as Keeley’s have been.
Recurring themes occur in TeLLing TaLes.One, of little girls in velvet dresses with white ankle socks and shiny black shoes, transmits the struggle of a class society Keeley grew up in.
Products of the late ’50s and ’60s, the ankle socks and shiny shoes were the twins’ trademarks in a time when “at all family gatherings you came wearing your Sunday best.”
This wasn’t always easy in a family divided by wealth.
“When we were kids, we were very much aware of the pull of the dynamics between the affluent and not-so-affluent sides of our family, a powerful force in shaping who I am today.”
However, TeLLing TaLes in not a memoir. “While it appears some of the characters may be based on family, they are of themselves their own character,” she says.
For example, her first published short story, “White Horse in a Snowstorm”, features Benny who is told his freckles are rust. “Even though my sister and I scrubbed our cheeks, trying to get rid of the ‘rust’, giving those memories to Benny meant he now owns them.
“It’s the many significant details of our lives, transferred to our characters, which makes each story richer.” Her goal is to let each character speak from their heart.
“No matter what a story is about, first and foremost, it’s about people,” Keeley believes.
A short paragraph at the end of each story reveals a bit about the writing process, or the genesis of the tale, or what it meant to Keeley.
“I wrote the postscripts as the collection came together in its final format,” she says. “I’ve had people tell me they’ve gone back and reread my stories and with each reading gotten something new out of it. For me that’s the greatest compliment of all.”
Because of the eclectic nature of the collection, Keeley opted to release her fictional people through Blurb.com. The California-based on-demand publisher “is reputable and has free publication software that’s easy to use.” At an affordable price they produce from one to as many copies of a book as the author wishes.
For bookstores to carry a title, they need an ISBN and bar code. In a no-cost process available to any writer, Libraries and Archives Canada staff helped Keeley obtain both, so readers can purchase TeLLing TaLes either online or at Mac’s Fireweed Books.