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Author Leans on Prose to Push Past Fear

Emily Red shares the deeply personal path to her fiction debut

My first batch of short stories are, on the surface, urban fantasy and horror yarns.

In reality they’re fairy tales—stories of people going into the forest and coming out, or not, changed or the same, but knowing things they didn’t know before.

The settings are varied. Consider the urban fantasies where we meet fairies and ghosts on modern city street (“Shadowboxes” and “The Ghost of McCallister Mansion”). Other stories boast a post-apocalyptic future or worlds with recognizable but still strange technologies and landscapes (“Greensong” and the “Sea of Dreams”).

Another group are set in surreal places that can exist only on the page (“Mellifluous” and “Clutter”).

What Every Parent Fears…

The first story I wrote, “Shadowboxes,” is about a parent’s visceral fear for their ability to protect her children. It came directly out of the time when my oldest child was just a baby, a “high energy” child—as the helpful quiz in a parenting magazine told me—who never stopped moving, never slept, was never silent.

During this time my husband worked constantly, and I couldn’t seem to make a friend, even though I lived in the same house and walked the baby, and then his brothers and sister, through the same neighborhood every day for years.

Isolation pervades all of my stories, not least because I did the actual writing of these in a time of great personal struggle. I felt a failure in everything I did.

Back then I battled daily, crippling anxiety, suicidal thoughts, belittling and controlling pressure from other people, and efforts to help that lead away from my heart instead of towards it.

I was full of confusion every day, and I woke up unable to get out of bed, paralyzed with the decision of whether to shower or eat breakfast first.

Taking That First, Critical Step

I knew somehow, though, that I could get out of this mental quagmire. I could see a path. It was invisible to everyone but me, and sometimes I could only see as far as the next step I needed to take.

Searching for a path out of insanity, and having control of almost nothing in my life, including my own mind and feelings, I chose to write.

Every day.

500 words a day.

Sometimes these 500 words took 15 minutes and sometimes an hour. Sometimes they were the only thing I accomplished besides lying in bed, crying or binge watching “Dr. Who.”

But after a few months of making this small daily choice to eke out my own reality I had some stories. Things that I liked. Things that I could look at and go, these are mine, these are finished, this is what I meant to say.


Emily Red is the writer and editor behind the short story collections, “Shadowboxes” and “The Ghost of McCallister Mansion.” You can follow her on Twitter @emily30red for news about my first novel, in progress, “The Princess War.”

Juliet Furst

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