Regular readers of this blog know I’m at work on an essay collection to be published by Homebound Publications in 2022. What you may not know, dear reader, is that deadline means I must send a completed manuscript to the publisher early in 2021. And THAT means I’m especially focused right now on writing new essays and revising and finalizing essays I’ve been working on for months. I’m also thinking a lot about the book’s title and cover art.
As an islander, I spend considerable hours on the Salish Sea, sometimes in a kayak, but primarily on the Washington State Ferries (WSF), the largest ferry system in the nation and third largest in the world. Ferries are my connection to the mainland, or as some say, “town.” The Interisland ferry route travels only among the four islands in Washington’s San Juans—Shaw, Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez (where I live).
Over the years, that circuit has supplied time and space for me to write. During an outing with a friend on the Interisland in the spring of 2017, she recalled the writing I’d done on the vessel during my twice-weekly commute to neighboring Orcas Island. From 2009 to 2014, I worked there as the school nurse. “One of my favorite blog posts of yours,” my friend volunteered, “was from that time.”
Along with many people in the islands and around the world, my concerns about climate change in general, and the health of the Salish Sea in particular, have been growing since those commuting days. I’ve studied effects of warming waters and sea level rise. I’ve seen evidence of sea star wasting. I know the numbers of Southern Resident Killer Whales (orcas) are dwindling due to toxins and plastics in the water, vessel noise, and a 60% reduction in their main source of nutrition—Chinook (or King) salmon.
For some years, now, I’ve focused my writing on protecting and preserving the water and life that surround my home. I reasoned that doing at least some of that writing while floating on the Salish Sea would undoubtedly influence and enhance my work. I proposed to WSF that I serve as the system’s first writer-in-residence.
In my request for a writing residency, I described my overall project goal to create a collection of personal essays. Some of the themes and content I anticipated exploring included: history and details about the interisland route and the MV Tillikum (the vessel for that route); description of the Salish Sea; and the effects of climate change on the Salish Sea.
The structure of the interisland residency was simple. I’d walk on to the ferry on Lopez Island with my laptop, journal, and research materials and then ride, write, and read along the route. The WSF approved, and my first official day as the “Writer-in-Residence on the Interisland Ferry” was August 1, 2018. A crisp, white, table tent with my name in black lettering and the WSF logo in blue identified me and my role. I continued in that capacity until August 30, 2019. Liz Smith from San Juan Island followed me for the second term until COVID-19 curtailed her time writing in the ferry cabin.
It’s taking me far longer than my yearlong writer-in-residence term to complete this book, but many pieces had their beginnings at a table on the Tillikum, floating (sometimes pitching port to starboard) past rocky shorelines; snowy mountain ridges; forests of cedars, firs, and madrones; mansions and mobile homes. Seagull and eagle calls, briny wind currents, and tingling sea breezes stimulated my senses.
For this creative nonfiction collection, I’m writing in styles often referred to as hybrid or lyric essays. These forms use techniques of both prose and poetry (language, imagery, sound, and rhythm). I find this writing helps me explore topics I might not otherwise approach, and hopefully will take readers to places where they ask questions.
What to title this collection? The working title for the past two years has been Writing the Interisland. While the book includes a number of rather light-hearted essays about the Interisland ferry, as well as my term as writer-in-residence aboard it, much about this project is scary for me. I’m not a scientist or a marine biologist, but a storytelling lover of the Salish Sea. As I write, I’m aware there’s much I don’t know about the Salish Sea and climate change. And the more I learn, I discover there’s so much more to learn. So much at stake. So much that’s frightening. I wrote about that fear in a blog post, Writer in a Life Vest, and have since turned it into an essay for my collection.
It’s not uncommon that an essay collection title is taken from one of the pieces. Recently, it occurred to me that might work for my book. My editor agreed, and gave the thumbs up for Writer in a Life Vest: Essays from the Salish Sea. I know the friend who planted the seed for Writing the Interisland will be disappointed (sorry, Sue).
How about you? If you saw this title on a shelf, would it entice you to take a look?