Guest Author Elaine McCluskey

I am so excited to welcome author Elaine McCluskey to my blog today. I’ve been a fan of Elaine’s work for some time now. In the past, our stories have even appeared in the same journals! I met her at Halifax Word on the Street years ago. Elaine has graciously agreed to tell us about her new book coming out this March by Goose Lane Editions.

Elaine McCluskey writes about the people you might find in the corners of life. She has written two novels and four short story collections all based in the Maritimes. Her latest collection, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes, will be released in March 2022. Her stories have appeared in anthologies and most Canadian literary journals, including Room, The Dalhousie Review, subTerrain, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead, and Other Voices. One story was a Journey Prize finalist, another placed second in the Fish international contest in Ireland. She lives in Dartmouth, N.S. She has worked as a journalist, a book editor, and a journalism instructor.

With the publication of this book, I will have published 67 short stories, a surprise even to me. My new collection, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes, contains seventeen short stories, The Watermelon Social ten, Valery the Great nineteen, and Hello, Sweetheart twenty-one. Some stories, particularly the short experimental ones, wrote themselves. Others vexed me.

I have a favourite story from each of my collections, and it is not always everyone’s favourite. One of the very first stories I published was The Watermelon Social, and it was the story that convinced me I could do this, and people would respond. I do not feel that a story has succeeded if it cannot elicit an emotional reaction from readers and/or surprise them. My writing has been described as darkly humorous and I use humour to manage blows or circumstances that could otherwise destroy us. All of my stories are set in the Maritimes, and all of my characters are composites of people I have met. Some are strange, but who, including me, isn’t?

Below is an excerpt from It Will Happen, one of the stories in Rafael Has Pretty Eyes, which has a release date of March 29. It Will Happen may be my favourite in this book.

It Will Happen

James d’Entremont had been running for the bus.

The No. 99 had never — in thirty years — arrived at the same time and on this day it was early. James couldn’t afford to be late for school, he couldn’t afford trouble, so he ran — hoping that the driver with the creepy-clown tattoo would not pull away, pretending, as he often did, not to see him.

It is hard to describe what it feels like to be hit by 3,500 pounds of metal, travelling at fifty kilometres an hour. The bumper of a 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan hit James’s right hip, sending him skyward. James’s spiral through the air felt to be in slow motion, and he could later recall the vague sensation of one Adidas track shoe flying off.

People turned their heads when it happened because the sound was awful: the sound of fear, the thud of the unforeseeable, a low lament from the pavement. They turned their heads as gawkers do, and they squinted. It was an uncommonly sunny day for Halifax, and the scene seemed over lit as though someone was making a TV movie with Tom Selleck or Ethan Hawke.

Backlit by the strangeness of what had happened, James took on a surreal form. Motionless, no longer a person, he could have been a struck porcupine or a velour sofa that had toppled off the back of a delivery truck.

James had blond hair, that much you could see from the sidelines. Like many fair young men, he had yet to grow a real beard. If James was on a Florida beach forming a human pyramid, instead of lying broken on a grimy street, he would be in the middle row, but your eyes would be drawn to him because of his sun-streaked hair and his smile. When James’s smile escaped, it was as lovely as a chance encounter at the mall with your primary teacher, the nice one who brought a hamster to school and let you name it.

Face down, James had landed in a bed of shattered grille parts, and he thought, for a moment, that he would jump up and walk away before people noticed. He tried to lift his right leg, but it was numb. As James lay on the street, his thinking was so scrambled that he worried about the pink-winged fairy floating before his eyes, all organza and glitter. Was she cold?

James was alone on the hot pavement, but extras quickly filled in the scene. In the costumes of college students, store clerks, and bankers. They stood apart from him, as though ordered by a director, and they appeared to go about their imaginary business, as good extras do, while the emergency people arrived.

Gravel was imbedded in James’s right cheek, his white earphones torn free. Inside his backpack was a laptop with a download of Giant Killing, the Japanese anime story of a struggling soccer team and its coach, the once-great Takeshi Tatsumi? Underneath was a textbook on Carl Jung, one sentence underlined: “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”


“I never seen him,” a scrawny man told the female cop, who seemed angry, like someone who had once had her heart set on being a large-animal veterinarian and was now doing this. She was wearing aviators, and she seemed angry at everyone, including James.

“I saw him,” a senior in wrap-around sunglasses shouted. “I have very good eyesight.” Her voice sounded like a shrill phone that would never stop ringing.

“Is he dead?” ventured the scrawny man.

The cop ignored him.

The scrawny man — the one who hit James with his car — was named Bim Shoveller and he belonged to a Facebook group called Cannabis for the Cure. Bim had an open growler on the back seat of his blue Grand Caravan. His anxiety felt like spiders crawling up your leg.

He sat slumped on the curb, head in hands.

Illuminated by the important role of villain, Bim became larger than he was. Part of something grandly ghoulish. Stare-worthy.

Bim had never in his life weighed more than one-hundred-and-forty pounds. He’d been a scrawny kid and a scrawny adult, and sometimes he piled on a gold chain and bracelet for heft. Bim was wearing a white tracksuit that overwhelmed him and made his scrawny neck look scrawnier. He’d kept his hair buzzed ever since one night, while drinking, he let a woman he may have known shave it into a Mohawk.

He pulled out a smoke.

Congratulations Elaine on the publication of another collection of your stories and thanks so much for sharing an excerpt with us. I’m looking forward to reading this collection. May Rafael Has Pretty Eyes fly off the bookstore shelves!

Rafael Has Pretty Eyes is available through the Publisher HERE Chapters Online Here and at your local bookstore.

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  1. For anyone in my area, I checked on the Indigo site and there are copies of RAFAEL HAS PRETTY EYES at Coles in Bridgewater and New Minas, and of course plenty in store in Halifax!


  2. That was a great excerpt. Good luck with this collection Elaine. Writing a good short story is not easy.


  3. Nice support of fellow authors, Laura!



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