The Next Chapter

Why Carleigh Baker believes ambiguous endings aren't bad endings

The award-winning author of Bad Endings finds humour in the pain her short stories capture.
Carleigh Baker is the author of Bad Endings, a collection of short stories. (Callan Field/Anvil Press)

Carleigh Baker's debut short story collection is called Bad Endings, but the book has turned out to be a good beginning for her. Bad Endings won the 2017 Vancouver Book Award and it was a finalist for the 2017 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Her stories feature characters in challenging situations, often of their own making. They are full of wit and humour and there's a sense that, no matter how difficult the circumstances, there is always a way out.

Writing struggles

"Most of my stories are thinly veiled nonfiction. Bad Endings took seven years to write. About seven years ago, I was entering into a divorce. It was marked by this idea of me finding my voice and realizing that I was a person with a right to be in the world. That's when I started writing again and, interestingly enough, that facilitated the end of the relationship. Not everybody can roll with a partner who wants to have their own identity and voice. As it turns out, I'm still writing about my divorce now. Often people act poorly in these situations and I'm always very interested in figuring out people's motivations when they are in situations where no one acts properly. It's often a very apocalyptic time in a person's life and, of course, that's what fuels good fiction."

Writing stories without conclusions

"We don't get things tied up in neat little bow — I feel that's how life works. I feel that we often reach resolution in a situation, but that opens up a whole new world for us. From a writing perspective, I used to have stories like that! They used to drive me crazy, but the first thing I would do is go back and read them again. A lot of readers want to be able to dive into something and lose themselves in it for days and for weeks. You don't get that with a short story — you get a really tight, explosive, short period of time. I'm hoping that readers might get to the end of Bad Endings and either go back and read it again or just spend some time imagining what happens next." 

Carleigh Baker's comments have been edited and condensed.