“Write what you know” is a mantra that writers hear all the time. I hate it. I don’t write autobiography, my characters aren’t paper-thin fictionalizations of people I know and if I set every story in Chicago where I’ve lived for the past 20 years, I’d bore myself to tears. “Write what excites you” is better advice.
In a couple of weeks, my story “The Floatplane” will be published in issue #44 of Salamander, and I’m so proud that it’ll finally find a home. This is a story that had a long journey to print, as I wrote the first draft in a frenzy at the end of 2012 after honeymooning in Tofino, British Columbia. While there, we took a chartered nature cruise in the Clayoquot Sound, chasing whales and sea lions around the rocky inlets and hoping to catch a glimpse of a black bear on the shorelines. It was there that the boat captain motored us past the shores of Opitsaht.
He talked about his friends who lived in the village and how they depended on the natural resources of the area for their livelihoods. He spoke of how the Canadian government had been distributing payments for the logging rights they had seized in the area and how those payments were about to end. And he said something that stuck with me, about how some of the people on the island were stocking up on guns. While I don’t think he was talking about assault rifles, there was definitely an implication of survivalism to his words.
When I got home, I set out to write a story about the competing notions of freedom to choose one’s own destiny versus obligations to one’s heritage. In researching the story, I learned of the logging protests in the 80s and 90s: nonviolent resistance to the clearcutting of forests in the First Nations’ land that lasted for entire summers, where people blocked the roads in and out of the logging sites and succeeded in protecting their land. Now, similar action was happening at Catface Mountain, this time in the form of a proposal to do mountaintop removal mining which would inevitably poison the ecosystem around the mountain.
Having seen the area with my own eyes, it was easy to understand the consequences at stake. This wasn’t environmentalism for the sake of protecting a bunch of trees or some endangered species of muskrat. This wasn’t some theoretical “within the next century” kind of threat. It was right now, a direct threat to a way of life.
“The Floatplane” is clearly a work of fiction, and the setting, the characters and the subject matter are far removed from my own experience and culture. But the beauty and fragility of the Clayoquot Sound captured my imagination and stirred my interest. I wrote not what I knew, but what excited me, and I’m grateful to the editors at Salamander for putting it out in the world. If you want to read it, please head over to their subscription page to order your copy so you can get it when it ships in mid-June.
The threats to the ecosystem in Clayoquot Sound are still very real, but fortunately there are organizations like Clayoquot Action and Friends of Clayoquot Sound who are fighting (nonviolently) to keep the area pristine for generations to come. I encourage you to visit their sites if you’re interested in learning more about their conservation efforts or donating to the cause.
And if you ever get the chance, visit Tofino and see for yourself.
One more note: I’ll be teaching a 4-week class called Scene Workshop at StoryStudio on Tuesdays beginning July 11. We’ll be delving into what it takes to create compelling scenes in an intense craft-oriented workshop environment. I’m told it’s filling up, so sign up if you’re interested and join me this summer.