Many people search deep inside for answers to questions about connection, significance, pain and possibilities. Author Shannon McLeod decided to take a good look outdoors.
“I grew up in the Detroit area, so there was not a lot of access to nature,” McLeod said. “Gray concrete everywhere.”
McLeod, author of the novella “Whimsy,” said that arriving in Charlottesville brought a fresh experience: a wealth of nature trails leading into Virginia’s woods and quiet spaces.
“I moved to Charlottesville about six years ago and have been in awe of how many trails there are,” McLeod said. “I’ve been walking constantly since I moved here. It has brought me a lot of peace.”
As McLeod spent more time walking under the tree canopy, she noticed something shifting in her writing.
“All of my characters ended up on nature trails,” she said.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, McLeod will be at New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall to read from “Nature Trail Stories,” her new collection of short stories, and introduce listeners to characters who take a chance on finding the healing, wholeness and answers they seek out in the natural world.
After the reading, McLeod will take part in a conversation with author Katharine Schellman. Schellman writes historical mysteries, and her latest series began in 2022 with “Last Call at the Nightingale.”
In “Nature Trail Stories,” some of McLeod’s characters are savoring solitude and the focus it brings. Many are trying different paths to confront trauma and its impact. Others are encountering “interactions with neighbors,” she said. “Many are just singular; a person is kind of processing their life.”
Nature becomes a place where the book’s characters seek communion, contact, change. One character decides to replace conventional counseling with therapeutic screaming. A mother tries to deepen bonds and forge new connections with her teen son as the lockdown wears on. Another young man hunts for a way to save his addicted brother.
The longest story of the collection is about a music festival that becomes a backdrop for a young woman’s search for healing.
“At first, it’s a euphoric experience,” McLeod said. But as the character keeps finding beer cans and trash in the bucolic setting, “humanity is revealing itself on the nature trail,” she said.
McLeod said that her time on the trails has offered her welcome new ways to approach her writing process.
“It has allowed me to embrace a more meandering storytelling style,” McLeod said. “Having regular exposure to nature has led me to read more Korean and Japanese writing.”
It also has reminded her not force her voice into unnatural ventures. Trying to shoehorn her creativity into a purely commercial project simply didn’t ring true once McLeod had experienced the expansiveness of the soul on the trail.
“I really tried to write something that had sales and marketing appeal, and it failed,” McLeod said. “I haven’t been able to sell that book. The lesson is to stay true to yourself.”
Friday’s reading is free. The bookstore’s staff recommends arriving early for the best seating. Get more details at ndbookshop.com or call (434) 295-2552.