Taylor Wyna Stewart on Writing Blissful Innocence That Stands on the Edge of Heartbreak

white hands holding open the book Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition to "Honey(comb)" by Taylor Wyna Stewart

Taylor Wyna Stewart is a writer from Birmingham, Alabama, whose work has been featured in Cypress Press, Aura Literary Arts Review, and Reckon Women. Taylor serves as the founder and editor in chief of Camellias, a Southern regional magazine dedicated to the modern Southern woman.

Taylor Wyna Stewart’s short story “Honey(comb)” is published in Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition. “Honey(comb)” follows a person being reunited with a former sweetheart, and they reminisce on their relationship, the month of June, and the stars.

Capsule Stories: What came first with this story—the characters, the plot, the setting? Tell us about the story’s conception.

Taylor Wyna Stewart: Usually I begin with the setting—I love how in stories the setting itself can become a character, but with “Honey(comb)” it began more with a feeling. When I had the idea for this story, I was processing a lot of that first pandemic summer, this absolute craving of seeing the people I love, both friends and family. 

When I look back on summers of my childhood, or even as a young woman, there is still that subversive feeling of wanting to be close to people. From June to August there is a lot of yearning, to be close to someone or to be reunited, so that’s what I tried to focus on in this story, this feeling of wanting to go back—but you can’t. I also wanted to have a male character that did mess up, that completely realizes that he did and tries to make amends. I didn’t want to make a villain out of anyone, I wanted these two characters to display this blissful innocence that stands on the edge of heartbreak. 

Capsule Stories: “Honey(comb)” is brimming with evocative descriptions of summer. How did you land on what details to include? Are there any ideas or images that you cut from earlier drafts of this story?

Taylor Wyna Stewart: In the South, Alabama specifically, we often wrestle with the heat—sometimes I feel like summer never truly leaves us. It’s like this shadow that follows us throughout the year, no matter how cool or dry or freezing it gets—the next day it could be summer again. It’s our safety net almost, we cling to it just like we cling to people we love. It’s romanticized and hated at the same time. We love the farmer’s market and pool days but when the sticky waves of heat are pelted at us day after day—it can be sickening. 

One image I did leave out is this paragraph about fireflies in the backyard. It’s an image that makes me feel safe, they’re like our fairies, always watching over us and blinking their little lime-green light to say, “We’re here, we see you.” Aimee Nezhukumatathil has an essay about the synchronized fireflies in the Smoky Mountains in her book World of Wonders. It’s a beautifully crafted essay that I revisit often. Nezhukumatathil just has this very lovely and euphoric way of capturing the gifts of our region, especially this very cozy and familial closeness to fireflies. I left that passage out because I felt like it took away from the conversation that was happening between the two characters. Maybe one day it’ll find itself in another story, another setting. 

Capsule Stories: You write: “Summer’s come again, they say, with its sweat and tears and fears of what will come round in the fall.” This foreboding feeling, almost dread, in summer is different than the typical fun, laid-back vibe often associated with summer. Can you talk about flipping that stereotypical summer feeling and making it moodier?

Taylor Wyna Stewart: Summer, to me at least, is the season of coming and going—there are people that leave you during the summer months and those that come back, then leave again. I grew up in a neighborhood where my brother, sister, and I were the only kids—so summers always posed this question of, “Will my friends be there when I get back?” Then as I grew up and went to college, I ended up attending a university in my hometown, so I was never leaving, always staying, but my high school and college friends were continuously moving around. 

In “Honey(comb),” I tried to focus on someone who is grounded and has to watch a loved one leave again and again, and now they’re back. How sometimes when we are young we make mistakes that we wish we could take back, so we try to make amends as best we can. Love is a very complicated thing, which seems silly to say because it’s both a truth and exaggeration. I’ve never been in love, but I’ve watched friends fall madly in love or get their heart crushed, so I tried to channel a little of that too. How we often cut ourselves open and bleed, just for one person, and maybe they aren’t worth it—but there’s this slight chance that they are.

How we often cut ourselves open and bleed, just for one person, and maybe they aren’t worth it—but there’s this slight chance that they are.

Capsule Stories: In this story, the dialogue is sparse—so much is left unsaid or implied between these two people who know each other so well. How do you approach writing dialogue for two characters who are so intimately acquainted with each other?

Taylor Wyna Stewart: When writing these little clips of dialogues, I was focusing on the setting and the characters themselves, how they moved about the space and how they interacted with each other. Most of the story, I would say, is internal dialogue between the narrator and themself. There are imagined scenarios, lots of jumping to conclusions, which is easy to do when you’re in your own head.

Being intimate with someone, whether it’s a friend, sibling, or lover, you learn to read them. The smallest facial expressions, or the way their body moves, it’s like an instinct. I wanted to portray that kind of intimacy here where there’s so much to say and yet these two don’t really need to say anything at all—they already know what the other is thinking. I’d like to think that the last line is both internal and this step forward into being open again.

Capsule Stories: How has your writing changed since the pandemic began?

Taylor Wyna Stewart: I’m a very setting-heavy writer usually, I think there’s just so much more that can be said about nature and what we surround ourselves with. I love analyzing how Thornfield in Jane Eyre or Avonlea in Anne of Green Gables is a character, or most recently Winter Island in Creatures by Crissy Van Meter, how that entire island and the ocean is its own character. I love the idea that the setting can have so much influence over us and how we too have power over the places around us.

I, like many people, was furloughed during the pandemic—so I had the entire month of July 2020 to write. I felt like I had so much creativity bottled up inside of me and I still find that when working from home it’s much easier to write down bits of dialogue or descriptions on sticky notes. Since I’ve been isolated more, I’ve learned more about listening to myself and writing more first-person stories rather than third person. I believe that change stems from being more in tune with myself and the characters I’m getting to know.

Capsule Stories: What are you working on next?

Taylor Wyna Stewart: Usually when I finish a short story, that’s it—it’s done. I don’t imagine far beyond the page. After finishing “Honey(comb),” I found myself in a writer’s block and I couldn’t shake it. I wasn’t exactly sure how to break it—but my mind kept floating back to these two characters.

Right now I’m starting to map out this story and how it could work on a larger scale with some other supporting characters and plot points. For the first time since writing short stories, I can’t seem to let these characters go. I’m not sure where it will lead but I’m eager to explore every avenue possible.

You can find more of Taylor Wyna Stewart’s work on her Twitter and Instagram at @TayyWyna. She usually shares her stories and the stories of others she loves, pictures of pies she bakes, and more.

Taylor Wyna Stewart
Taylor Wyna Stewart

You can read Taylor Wyna Stewart’s short story “Honey(comb)” in Capsule Stories Summer 2021 Edition, available in paperback and ebook.

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