Books·How I Wrote It

Why Carleigh Baker was lost until she wrote a short story collection

The writer explains how she explored personal experiences for her debut short story collection, Bad Endings.
Carleigh Baker is the author of Bad Endings, a collection of short stories. (Callan Field/Anvil Press)

Writer and book reviewer Carleigh Baker explores failing relationships, challenging family dynamics and mental health in her debut short story collection Bad Endings, which was a finalist for the $50,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. These are topics she's familiar with: Bad Endings helped Baker process a difficult breakup, and in 2012 she won the Lush Triumphant Literary Award for a piece about a telephone counsellor working on a suicide prevention helpline.

In her own words, the Métis/Icelandic writer opens up about how she wrote Bad Endings.

Recovering a sense of self

"Writing allows you to explore things that may be mysterious to you. I was in a problematic relationship and I had no sense of identity and no sense of self, so I got back into writing. Since I had a weak sense of personal identity at the time, I felt like I needed to do some navel-gazing. Writing a bunch of short stories gave me an opportunity to explore myself and what was happening with my relationships. It was kind of selfish, but maybe a selfishness that was necessary at that time."

Early, early mornings

"What I strive for and what actually happens are two very different things. Best case scenario is I get up insanely early, at about four o'clock in the morning, because that's when my brain works the best. That's also the time when the internet is the quietest and people are less likely to get in touch with you. I get up, I write for a couple of hours, I have a little snack and go for a run. When I come back, I write for a few more hours and have breakfast. Those days I'm usually done by two in the afternoon. If I have a deadline, I will have a cup of coffee and work a little later into the afternoon."

Bad at endings

"My mom always used to say to me when I was a teenager, 'Carleigh, you're bad at endings.' It was because I'd avoid getting out of a situation that I was unhappy with until the situation was apocalyptic. She was joking when she said that, but she was right. Initially I thought since the end of my marriage propelled a lot of the stories in this book, I wanted to call it Bad At Endings. My publisher suggested Bad Endings because it's a little snappier.

"I wondered if people were going to be annoyed by the endings in the book. I like to drop the readers in, take the characters to a pivotal moment and hopefully give some sense of conclusion. I don't like stories with a neat little bow tied up at the end."

Carleigh Baker's comments have been edited and condensed.