The author Stephen King famously said that different writers standing in front of the same pond will have different ideas for stories. Western writer Louis L’Amour would envision a dispute over water rights that turns violent, King speculated in a 1977 essay. King himself would imagine “some dreadful, hulking thing rising out of the still waters.”
And the novelist and short-story writer Katherine Heiny?
“I would see a couple sitting on a park bench and breaking up,” she told The Sun.
Chances are, that park would be in Harford County, and that Heiny’s characters would make funny, astute observations through their tears.
You might have seen fiction writer Heiny, 55, of Havre de Grace, interviewed on “Good Morning, America” or profiled in the Washington Post or New York Times. Many of her books are set in whatever locale Heiny happens to be living when she sits down to write. All of them dissect the intricacies of human relationships, including her fifth book, a short-story collection titled “Games and Rituals” that’s to be published April 18.
In the the short story ”Bridesmaid, Revisited,” a hungover receptionist accidentally wears a bridesmaid’s dress to work, bringing back memories of a former friend. In “561,″ a man and the two women he married clean out the family home, while in “CobRa,” a woman suffering a midlife crisis becomes obsessed with the consultant Marie Kondo’s decluttering principles, to her family’s dismay.
The latter story begins: “William had begun to worry that he no longer sparked joy in his wife and that she would give him to Goodwill.”
Beneath the stories’ light and comic surface, they have surprising depths — not unlike the novelist herself.
Heiny and her husband, Ian McCredie, moved to their former summer home in Havre de Grace full-time in 2019 after having lived abroad for years with their two sons. A career spy for British intelligence agency MI6, McCredie was posted in New York, London and the Netherlands with his family. In the late 1990s, when his identity was exposed by a disgruntled employee, the family moved to Bethesda.
A spy and a writer might seem an unlikely match. The former’s life depends on keeping secrets, while writers often have a compulsion to spill all.
“We don’t make a lot of sense as a couple on paper,” Heiny acknowledged. “But Ian is still my favorite person to spend time with. He’s very funny and he helps me work out plot problems.”
Compromises must occasionally be made, of course.
“Ian won’t let me have Alexa or Siri in the house,” she said.
But at their core, both are professional snoops. Heiny says she gets her best ideas from random snatches of conversation overheard while taking her son for his driving test or walking the family pet.
“Just before the pandemic,” Heiny said, “I was at the dog park and I overheard another man give his dog a 10-minute warning before it was time to go home. It was said without the slightest trace of playfulness or irony.
“That made me so happy I couldn’t wait to get back to my desk and start writing.”