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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Erin Pringle’s ‘Unexpected Weather Events’ may bring unexpected emotions surrounding grief

Grief takes the center stage in author Erin Pringle’s work.

As someone who has experienced great loss – she was 17 when her dad died, 26 when her best friend passed and 29 when her sister died – the Spokane writer’s stories are informed by her experiences.

Her latest book, “Unexpected Weather Events,” takes a hard, sometimes hopeful and sometimes humorous look at love and loss.

“It’s a collection of stories in which the characters are living their usual lives, or trying to, in the midst of surreal experiences of grieving,” Pringle said.

The mother and Spokane Montessori preschool teacher released the short story collection in October 2023 and is taking the Northwest Passages stage on Thursday at the Chronicle Pavilion to share her process and read an excerpt from the collection.

Pringle’s novel “Hezada! I Miss You” (2020) also deals with grief, as do short story collections “The Whole World at Once: Stories” (2017) and “The Floating Order” (2009).

From her infancy to her 20s, loss surrounded Pringle.

“If those things hadn’t happened, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about grief,” Pringle said. “I wouldn’t think to do it. Even if I was ridiculous enough to never experience those things … the first time I do that, I would’ve immediately been hit in the head with a boot that says, ‘Erin, the hardest thing to sell is sad stories.’ ”

Instead, she dug in, because she saw a gaping hole in literature.

“Their creation is because of the utter lack of fiction that deals with grief,” Pringle said, “specifically suicide and even more specifically the people left behind.”

Many of the stories are set in wintry Spokane. “Valentine’s Day,” features three brothers walking through ice, slush and snow to a past iteration of the Shadle Center Safeway, offering a nostalgic view to those who remember varied versions of the strip mall.

While none of the settings in her short stories are directly named, like Payless ShoeSource, those who have lived in Spokane for a while will be able to place the scene.

“I wouldn’t say that the setting limits the experience such that if the reader does not recognize the landscape that they would somehow not get the story or it somehow wouldn’t apply to them,” Pringle said.

Most of the storefronts in the strip mall are dark except for the shoe store. The grocery cart stalls are empty. A few cars are parked, here and there. Where the snow berm ends, Alley crouches, thighs to chest, and slides down. Chunks of snow follow and shatter against the parking lot, scattering.

He joins Johnny and Tam, and the three brothers walk side by side across the parking lot. At the back of the lot, snow piles rise white and gray like distant mountains.

Despite the fictional brothers having lost their father to suicide, Pringle finds light in a “Grocery Girl” crush, riding the shopping cart at fast speeds down the aisles and classic brotherly taunting.

“Grief is this – trying to carry tragedy at the same time you’re trying to buy Oreos,” Pringle said. “I think losing, in itself, is this trying to balance the mundane livingness of life with what feels like life-changing tragedy and not letting either one of them take over to the point that you’re neglecting the other.”

It’s not publicly accepted to talk about grief, Pringle said, so writing stories about losing someone, especially to suicide, Pringle said, let’s people know they are not alone.

“I remember when my sister died … our family’s neighbor told my mom that her own brother had died that way. And I remember my mom feeling great relief at knowing that we weren’t the only family in a (Midwest) town of 3,000 that this had happened to.”

While grief is something you can never fully move on from, Pringle is ready to turn her talents to other fictional genres.

“Now I’ve written, I think, all the stories and the novel that my former self would have benefited greatly from had they existed before the grief and before the suicide,” Pringle said.

“Unexpected Weather Events” can be purchased at Auntie’s Bookstore and at the Thursday Northwest Passages event.

Through it all, Pringle wants to continue creating art. A novel is in the works and a collection of ideas.

“Art,” Pringle said, “helps us better understand and carry our lives.”