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Author Q & A with Ellen Birkett Morris

Cindy Burnett
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Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris focuses on women and their day-to-day lives in her new collection of short stories.

I do not read short stories as often as I would like to, and I have decided to make that one of my reading goals for 2021. In line with this pursuit, I am looking forward to reading Lost Girls: Short Stories by Ellen Birkett Morris soon. Ellen is an award-winning writer, teacher and editor based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, The Antioch Review, The Notre Dame Review and The South Carolina Review, among other journals, and this new collection of short stories sounds interesting and engaging. Find out more in this Q & A: 

Tell me a little bit about Lost Girls: Short Stories

Lost Girls explores the experiences of women and girls as they grieve, find love, face uncertainty, take a stand, find their future, and say goodbye to the past. A young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried, childless woman wanders into a new mother’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, and a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. Though they may seem lost, each finds their center as they confront the challenges and expectations of womanhood. The stories feature quirky, believable women finding their truths. 

What comes first, the plot or the characters?

Characters always come first for me. I write characters who want something like Sandy in “Religion,” who is so lonely that she decided to try to join a new mother’s league meeting that she went to by mistake. Her loneliness and desire to connect leads her to do lots of unexpected things which drives the plot forward. 

What do you hope your readers take away from your book?

I hope readers see themselves in the stories, their own disappointments and triumphs. I hope seeing these universal struggles helps them feel more connected to the people in their lives. I hope that the book provides a diversion and escape from these really challenging times. 

What was the highlight of writing this book?

There were a few times in the writing when I was carried away by what was happening in the stories. It is fun to surprise yourself as a writer, to go places in story that you didn’t expect to go. I was also really thrilled to discover that I had enough stories that were thematic cousins to build an entire collection. 

How do you come up with the title(s) to your book(s)?

I look for a phrase that has some mystery to it and that captures the feel or theme of the book. For Lost Girls the title came from a story about a young woman who offers up a memorial each year to a girl from her neighborhood who was kidnapped. She leaves an old set of car keys when the girl would be 16, a bottle of whiskey at 21. Each of the stories in the collection has women and girls at a crossroads where they feel lost and need to find their way to the next thing so Lost Girls seemed like an apt title. 

Do you have any say in what your book cover(s) look like?

I got to pick out the image for Lost Girls from a collection of stock photography. I was thrilled to find an image that was so unusual and had a sense of menace and mystery, but also playfulness. 

Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?

I’m working on a novel about a female astronomer in Hawaii who balances a mother with ALS, two boyfriends and a celestial discovery. 

What do you like to do when you are not writing or reading?

Travel has always been important to me, which makes this time really challenging. I love to cook. My crowning achievement was making caramel eclairs from scratch and it only took four hours.

Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I’ve been a writer my whole life. I’ve had some strange writing jobs – I wrote the newsletter for a military museum and once did an article on making turkey stuffing from White Castle hamburgers. I am proudest of the work I do to support other writers, including over 15 years promoting the work of feminist artist in Kentucky for the Kentucky Foundation for Women and a regular column interviewing authors for Authorlink.com. 

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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