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Crow Reads is a podcast series by Rayanne Haines, in which she interviews intersectional women, LGBTQ+, and non-binary authors, publishers, editors, agents, and booksellers from Alberta. In this episode, Rayanne speaks with author Leslie Greentree about character vs. plot-driven stories; about how short story and novel writing are shaped; writing flawed characters and controversial stories; and about career longevity in an increasingly competitive market.
Leslie Greentree’s short story collection, Not the Apocalypse I was Hoping For, is a masterful collection that shapeshifts through her characters’ lives. It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on current politics, the pervasiveness of social media and our obsession with having or holding a platform, and the fallacy of human nature. In fourteen short stories, Greentree pulls the reader along through a rollercoaster of emotion with intense character-driven stories. She embraces the flawed perfection of each and writes empathetic characters in settings the reader can place themselves into. It’s a collection that hits above the waist and asks the reader to consider how each would react in the same situation. Says, Greentree, “I don’t think that it’s possible to write a good, flawed character unless you really do love them, even if they’re doing and saying stupid things, and you wouldn’t want to be their friend. As the author who’s creating them, you do have to feel a tenderness for them. . . I think it’s easier to recognize humanity through flawed characters, than through good characters who do the right thing all the time.”
She also talks about approaching the short story as character-driven vs. plot-driven. “I usually start off my stories with a moment. But then I spend more time thinking about who the character is, and what they’re going to do and what their like challenges and failings are, that will make the moment a mild challenge or a struggle for them. In the title story, “Not the Apocalypse,” I was thinking of people who refuse to leave, who stay behind in cities that are being evacuated, and why they do it. Even though the fire is a huge character in that story, the smoke and that atmosphere is very much about this young dude and who he is, who’s been fed this Hollywood heavy diet of what it means to be a man.”
Similarly with writing controversial stories or topics. Greentree considers the importance of writers having a voice where others may not. In her story, “Uterus/Uterthem,” she tells the tale of a group of women pushed to the extreme in protest over abortion who turn to the ultimate shock-performance. She wrote the story prepared for backlash but also with the belief that as an author she had the opportunity to write about the ongoing and systemic denial of women’s rights over body autonomy. Greentree says, “the women in that story are doing something that is horrifying by most people’s standards . . . but that was me pushing a scenario to kind of an extreme version of what we would do to lash back, if we had all of our personal autonomy taken away from us by a bunch of old white guys, you know, who go to a church that we don’t believe in?” It’s a disturbing piece of writing that I, feminist and mother, also considered horrifying, but acknowledge was not written for shock value, but rather to voice something that we’re not otherwise allowed to voice. Hopefully readers will be able to see the underlying message inherent in the piece—it takes a brave writer to push boundaries in the way Greentree does. And she is, after such a long and accomplished career, a brave writer.
Have a listen to the full conversation here:
Leslie Greentree’s new short story collection, Not the Apocalypse I Was Hoping For, came out in September 2022 with University of Calgary Press. An earlier short story collection, A Minor Planet for You, won the 2007 Howard O’Hagan Prize for Short Fiction; she is also the author of two poetry books: go-go dancing for Elvis, which was shortlisted for the 2004 Griffin Prize for Poetry, and guys named Bill. Leslie has won CBC literary competitions for short fiction and poetry, and the Sarah Selecky 2013 Little Bird short fiction competition. Leslie co-wrote the play Oral Fixations with her life partner Blaine Newton; it was professionally produced in 2014 by Ignition Theatre. Her essay, “Tom Petty Just Isn’t There for You: Riffs on Waiting” appears in Waiting: An Anthology of Essays (University of Alberta Press, 2018). Her essay, Pink Smock Stories, was shortlisted for a Writers’ Guild of Alberta award and the Humber Creative Nonfiction award.
Not the Apocalypse I Was Hoping For
Published: Sep 15, 2022 by University of Calgary Press
Rayanne Haines (she/her) is an educator and hybrid author. She is the 2022 Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries, the V.P. of the League of Poets and a best-selling author of three poetry collections—The Stories in My Skin (2013), Stained with the Colours of Sunday Morning (Inanna, 2017), and Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not a Gun (Frontenac, 2021). Her poetry and prose have been shortlisted for the John Whyte Memorial Essay Alberta Literary Award, The Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry, and the National ReLit Award for Poetry. Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not a Gun won the 2022 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry.
Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun