My office is an eclectic space, or as some have described it, a clutter. I found an antique oak desk on Craigslist for an empty bedroom. A few days later, my oldest son brought me a chaise lounge of the same vintage. From the basement I dragged up an old rug with black background and burgundy and beige flowers petals on it. My husband built me a sturdy wooden bookshelf that almost reaches the ceiling. It holds stacks of photo albums and jars filled with sea glass collected from the beaches I’ve visited all over the world. A large burnt orange, silk scarf that I found at an Australian flea market hangs over the window to filter the afternoon sun.
A binder of rejection letters rests on a corner of my desk to remind me that I’m still in the game, and I’m still passionate about my craft. The sting of receiving one is not so strong anymore because if a magazine rejects my submission, good chance it has accepted one from a writer I know and admire. There is always reason to celebrate.
This space is off limits to everyone but my puppy, Belle who has a way of encouraging me to keep working even through the harder days—it’s the glint in her eyes and her willingness to listen.
I have a view of my vegetable garden and fruit trees. For me, gardening and writing are close cousins. Both require passion, planning and execution. I rarely do one without thinking about the other.
Yet, as much as I love this writing space that I’ve created, it’s not where inspiration for a story or personal essay takes root. Most begin as jumbled notes on restaurant napkins or other scraps of paper when I am far from home.
My short story, Levi’s Practice is part of a collection entitled, Seal Teeth and the idea for this project came to me during a month long boat trip to Desolation Sound at the northern end of the Salish Sea off the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. While stocking up on supplies in a small boat-in only community, I overheard talk of a swimmer who had been bitten by an injured seal. People speculated about how such a thing could happen and who was to blame. A fisherman said seals were a real nuisance and should be culled, the cashier said the man’s wife was to blame because she’d been feeding it off the end of their dock, and a woman off a sailboat asked if the man deserved to be bitten. My imagination was stoked.
By the time I returned home to my writing space, a collection of linked, fictional stories about complicated characters whose heartaches and dreams bump into each other as they muddle through life on a secluded island, had taken root. The next complicated step was to decide on the best point of view for each story. Two others have recently been published. The Seal that Ate My Father’s Fish, in Grain Magazine’s Summer 2017 edition Volume 44.4, and The Float Home in The Antigonish Review’s Winter 2019 edition, volume 49, 196. There are seven more in this collection, and I hope that one day soon, they can co-exist between the covers of one book.
Deborah Vail holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her fiction, book reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian Magazines. Her review of Dr. Sonja Boon’s memoir, What the Oceans Remember: Searching for Home and Belonging is forthcoming in The Antigonish Review. She lives in Mission, BC where she enjoys self-isolating with her partner and her new puppy.