Dan Leach never expected to be a fiction writer, but it wasn’t due to a lack of interest on his part. The Taylors native, who graduated from Clemson University in 2008 with a double major in English and secondary English education, admits that he didn’t have the confidence to pursue creative writing during his undergrad years.
“I was intimidated,” Leach says, explaining that he never thought he could measure up to the celebrated writers he read for class. “Frankly, it just frightened me.”
It wasn’t until Leach spent a few years teaching high school in Columbia and on James Island that he decided to sign up for a poetry workshop to develop and refine his skills. “I think when you’re constantly consuming writing, you’re tempted to try your hand at it,” he says.
Since taking that first plunge into creative writing, Leach has pivoted to short stories. To date, his works have been published by various literary magazines, including The New Madrid Review (Murray State), The Greensboro Review (the University of North Carolina at Greensboro), and The Appalachian Heritage (Berea College). And on Sept. 12, the Southern author is set to release a short story collection, “Floods and Fires,” from the University of North Georgia Press.
The collection has garnered praise from Southern fiction writer George Singleton, who described “Floods and Fires” as “beautifully written” and “soul-shaking.” Other reviewers have favorably compared Leach’s writing to that of Ron Rash and the late Larry Brown. That endorsement is significant to Leach, who mentions Singleton and Rash as two of his main influences.
The title — and overarching theme — of “Floods and Fires” originates from a quote in author Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel “Housekeeping.” It reads, “Families will not be broken. Curse and expel them, send their children wandering, drown them in floods and fires, and old women will make songs of all these sorrows and sit on the porch and sing them on mild evenings.”
Leach says the excerpt is a fitting reference to his characters, many of whom are “trying to understand what’s happened to them.”
“They’re looking back at a moment and trying to understand it and maybe redeem it and give meaning to it,” he adds.
The quote stuck with him. “I never wanted to parse the name from another author’s work, but when I read it, it just dawned on me, and there was no fighting it,” he says of the title.
Of the 17 stories that appear in “Floods and Fires,” the two Leach is most proud of are “Midnight Showing” and “Not Yet Home.”
The former focuses on the immediate aftermath of a wife presenting her husband with divorce papers after meeting someone new. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage their relationship, the husband takes his wife on a car ride, only to learn that the destination he’s heading to — a drive-in where they first met — has been shuttered for years.
In “Not Yet Home,” a couple’s relationship is on the verge of collapse due to infidelity. It’s compounded by a conflict over the male partner’s misbehaving mutt who keeps getting loose and killing a neighbor’s hens.
Both stories, Leach says, are linked through their focus on moments. “I’m taken with moments — moments in a song, on TV,” the author says. “I love bringing a reader to an emotional point or something big with imagery… where everything comes together with language and character.”
Leach says his characters are often given a “limited awareness” and “blind spots” in their thinking and judgment, because ultimately characters that are completely aware of what is happening to them and why are not very compelling. In many of Leach’s stories, alcohol serves as a common vice. “It’s interesting to give them [my characters] a limitation to wrestle with,” the author says.
Readers will find that many of Leach’s stories end on a vague note, and while the writer says that isn’t a deliberate choice, he’s comfortable ending a story with a lack of closure.
“I’m impressed with how ambiguous and strange life is, and I like to capture that in literature,” Leach says.
“Floods and Fires” can be ordered via email@example.com or by calling 706-864-1556.