Emily Ruth Verona
Laura Keating Interview
A vanished sister. A mysterious videotape. The Canadian wilderness. Laura Keating makes her novella debut with Agony's Lodestone, a gripping tale of family and trauma. While the story isn’t told in a found footage format, it has all the vibes that will delight found footage fans.
Read the full interview below.
Can you talk a little about what a lodestone is? I have to admit, I did not know what that was going into the book.
A lodestone is a naturally charged piece of magnetic rock. In the past, they were used in navigation, the first compasses. In terms of the title, it is more of a metaphor for a guiding force.
Was Agony’s Lodestone always designed to be a novella? Did you ever consider making it a short story or a novel?
Agony’s Lodestone was written in two phases. The first ten pages, or so, were written about eight months before the rest. It had been a first-person point-of-view from Aggie and was meant to be a short story I could submit to the No Sleep podcast. Very quickly I realized that the story wanted to be more, but I didn’t know how to wrangle it. I put it away but kept thinking about it. Around the end of January 2022, I was ready to revisit it and once I’d started the real business of writing the thing, I knew it would be a novella. I’d written many short stories and a few (unpublished) novels, but never a novella before, and there was a learning curve, but I really enjoyed myself. It was finished about six weeks later.
I love a story about a mysterious videotape. Did you always know a tape would be central to the story? Or did you come up with it after you’d decided to write about a missing sister?
I write on the fly, I almost never outline, and I often feel like the decisions are made before I start writing. I knew that Joanne was missing but when Aggie shows up to the café to talk to Bailey, I had no idea what he was going to show/tell her. Aggie spotted the videotape in his bag the same moment I did, and I was just as curious as her as to what it contained.
Sibling stories fascinate me. The dynamics. The shared history. What was it like crafting this family who had experienced so much?
Very enjoyable, honestly. Not the horrible things they experienced, I found myself worried about them more than once. But uncovering who they were and their layers beneath the trauma was an interesting excavation.
Who would you say was the most difficult sibling to write? And on the flip side of that, whose voice did you find most naturally?
No one felt particularly difficult but Aggie, I found, was the most complex. Allowing her to remain vulnerable and scared, not doing her the disservice of just casting her hurt away like it was nothing while finding her strength was a fine balance.
They all felt quite natural, but Bailey was a lot of fun. There is something about pretension that is great to write.
I am the youngest in my family and feel like that can sometimes inform the characters I’m creating. Do you think your own birth order status impacted how you approached the characters?
I’m the second oldest of four, so in Alex’s position. But I think my approach to my characters was more rooted in understanding the unfairness of birth order biases. The oldest never ask to be ice-breakers; middles don’t want to have to always mediate; the youngest don’t ask to be the baby. Yet it happens. Everyone is their own person, and not just what people assume about/project upon them, even when they internalize those expectations.
Which is a very middle child thing to say, isn’t it?
The story takes place largely in the woods. Have you done a lot hiking or was it something you mostly researched for the novella?
I love being out in the woods. I don’t love a hike when it goes up (leave mountaintop views to the birds) but long, rugged hikes/camping in the deep woods, carrying all your gear, making a fire and setting camp for the night with no one around? I’ll do miles and miles of that.
When I was thirteen, I went to a summer camp where we had to do a 42km group hike around the Cape Chignecto trail in Nova Scotia. There were about ten of us. It was incredible. We later had to do a solo night out in the woods. We had to select our gear; we could bring nothing if we wanted. I brought a Nalgene bottle of water, some food (I think it was a couple strips of jerky and a small baggie of trail mix), a tarp, a flashlight, and my sleeping gear – a blue foamy mat and a sleeping bag. That was all. I was about a kilometer into the woods, completely alone. I took a couple of hours to make my camp well. We were not allowed to make fires, so when it got dark, I got into my sleeping bag and listened to the coyotes and the light rain on my tarp. I don’t remember being afraid at all, I found it very peaceful.
So, you could say I like being in the woods.
Do you have a favorite book or film that takes place in the woods? There are so many good ones.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I read it when I was in the fifth grade, and it had a huge impact on me. It felt very realistic, and I loved the starkness of his supplies: the coat on this back and a hatchet. That’s all.
Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?
My story “Lost Grad Class 2003” can be found in the Compendium of Creeps, officially available April 4th. I think it’s the scariest thing I’ve written, so far.
In Issue 2 of Dracula Beyond Stoker: Renfield, you’ll find my story “Nurse Renfield” – which introduces family to the tragic life of the R. M. Renfield.
Later in the summer, my first collection of short stories, The Truest Sense, will be released from Cemetery Gates Media. I can’t wait for folks to get their hands on it.
What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.
I’ve been reading a lot of short stories by Ray Bradbury and Ursula K. Le Guin. Bradbury I’ve read quite a bit of in the past (although there always seems to be more!), but Le Guin’s short fiction is new to me. I don’t know if “favourite” is the right word but "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" will haunt me to the end of my days, it left me feeling ill. Everyone should read it.
Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!
Agony's Lodestone is available now.
Laura Keating is a horror writer from St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Her short fiction has been published by Grindhouse Press, Cemetery Gates, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. She authors stories about monsters both human and unnatural, traditional creep-fests, and contemporary quiet horror. Her debut novella, AGONY'S LODESTONE, is available now and a collection of her short fiction, The Truest Sense, will be released this summer. She Lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, son, and two cats.
To learn more, please visit her website https://www.lorekeating.com/ or follow her on:
Facebook: Laura Keating (author)
[Author Photo Credit: Selena PB, Life by Selena (2022)]