Nova Scotia’s storyteller

Steve Vernon. Photo: Bruce Murray

Since making the province his home, Steve Vernon has built a career on sharing its lore 

For 40 years, author Steve Vernon’s storytelling passion has helped him build a loyal audience for his spooky and funny tales. 

Originally from Ontario, Vernon came to Yarmouth at age 17 and made Nova Scotia his home, and soon became hooked on its stories. 

On the heels of success from his first collection Maritime Murder, Vernon has just released his sequel More Maritime Murder (both from Nimbus Publishing). He offers a unique perspective on how storytelling has evolved over the years and how to succeed in a trying industry, while giving readers a peek into his new collection. 

More Maritime Murder: “It’s a collection of historical true crime tales from the Maritimes. There’re 20 different stories from Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick. I wanted to make my wife happy: my wife loves true crime stories, and also, if I give her another true crime, she is going to let me live. I won’t someday be dug up from my backyard and be part of the third collection of true crime Maritime stories.” 

Favourite Maritime murder story: Omar Roberts, who was a fellow who murdered somebody down in Yarmouth area back in 1922. He was a famous hunter, tracker, fisherman. I believe his second wife had passed and he was living by himself. He decided he needed somebody to do the housework. He hires this local girl and starts to remark on how much she looks like his dead wife. Things get a little darker from there. It’s just a juicy story where we’ve got misplaced love and people getting burned. It’s got all the wholesome entertainment that Maritimers usually love to read.” 

The birth of a storyteller: “I learned to write before I learned to speak. I was a bit of a quiet child; I wasn’t sociable. When I started to write my stories in school, the teachers liked them enough that they’d get me to stand up in front of the class and read to them. All of a sudden, I was getting used to public speaking and there were a couple times I wrote plays and got some of the kids involved in that. They got us to present to the whole school in front of the auditorium. The more times I would tell stories and people would applaud, cheer, and laugh, and I’d say ‘Wow, this is good.’” 

Carving out a career in a tough industry: “I’ve been writing for 40 years. For 14 years, I’ve had a day job. That is the key to my survival. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to make an actual full-time living as a writer, especially a regional author … I love the Maritimes — great people — but we need more bodies.” 

Advice for new writers: “Look, it isn’t rocket science. All you’re doing is talking on paper and you can all talk. Just imagine if you are telling a story to one of your friends and you say ‘Wait until I tell you the stupid thing my uncle said’ and you start telling the story. Human beings breathe and tell stories.” 

Five years from now: “It’s become a little hard to see the future. Since 2019, who in their right mind would have envisioned ‘Here’s the future, we’re all going to stay home from work, close the doors, and wear masks.’ Nobody would have seen that coming. In a way, this whole pandemic has taught me to be adaptable. Normal isn’t going to happen. Normal is going to be different now. Be ready to change.” 

The goal: “A smile … to make someone happy. It’s a real breakthrough. They enjoy it and feel relaxed and forget about everything that’s going on in the big, bad world, and there’s always something going on. If I can give them a little, quiet space to breathe and hear their own thoughts while they read my words, that’s good enough for me.” 

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