Last spring, I began editing Ruth Salmon’s collection of stories. Last week, we sat down over a cup of coffee to admire the galley proof and talk about the book, There Are No Coincidences, and its upcoming launch. Read on for our interview, and read further on for an excerpt of the book.
What will readers find in your book?
The book is a collection of stories based on my life and travels. The pieces span my life, from when I was a kid up until now. But the heart of the book is about my extended time in Indonesia. These are true stories. I love fiction, but I don’t know how people write it. I write what happens, and if I wrote it as fiction people probably wouldn’t believe it. Life is crazy enough.
When did you begin these stories?
About 18 years ago, I went to a storytelling workshop in Ottawa, and we had to tell a story (orally). That was the first time I actually constructed one of my experiences as a story, and I was inspired to come home and write it out. That’s the first story in the book.
So, I have been working on these stories for around 18 years. But I wasn’t working on them full-time. I would work on something and then not touch it again, so they were sort of semi-done. I worked on them on and off, but really off—mainly off.
[At one point in the conversation, Ruth leans over to an artist she knows at the next table: “Do you remember?” she asks. “I left your art class, and I said, ‘That’s it. I’m no good at art. I’m going to write a book.’ And then I called Allegra the next day.”]
You told me when we began this project that you didn’t want to publish any of these stories while your parents were still alive. Why is that?
I think if my parents had any idea of some of the things that happened to me while traveling they would probably have locked me up somewhere and thrown away the key. Or, failing that, they would have been basket cases the whole time, so I just didn’t want them to know about a lot of the realities of travelling. I told a cousin of mine not to read my book because her daughter, who is in her late-20s, is travelling, and I don’t want her to make herself crazy.
There were certainly a lot of moments in these stories that raised my pulse. What was the most frightening experience for you?
Traveling as a woman alone can often be a very frightening experience for a lot of reasons. To tell you one of them seems a little silly when so many were so scary. You had to keep your wits about you—and pray, basically.
You do a great job at placing gorgeous experiences and settings next to some absolutely terrifying situations. Is this juxtaposition something you consciously set out to do in your writing?
No, I think life is just like that. Something terrible happens and then something wonderful happens. That’s what life’s about: riding the waves. It’s how it came out on paper and how it came out in life.
Does Wakefield make an appearance in this book? How about any Wakefielders?
Yes, Wakefield’s in the book. And there are a couple of Wakefield characters who have made it in, but I’m not saying who. You’ll have to read the book to find out!
So, after 18 years, you are letting these stories go into the world. How are you feeling?
Scared! It’s one thing to tell a story to someone you’re looking at and you know, and it’s really another to put it on paper for anyone to read. It’s a little daunting, actually. But it’s also really exciting. I love the book. I love how it looks. My editor and graphic designer have done an amazing job.
The goal was to get this out by your 65th birthday. Any particular reason?
So I could kill two birds with one stone. I could do my birthday party and a book launch at the same time! And also, as a sort of gift to the community because I’m giving all the proceeds to the Wakefield Emergency Fund. They’re the only people I haven’t volunteered for, and I like what they do.
What has been the hardest thing about writing this book?
Finding the real chunks of time to get in the groove and stay with the groove was really a challenge. Not letting life get in the way of the process.
But when I had the time and space and I wasn’t stressing, it was fun. I loved it when I was writing in the summer because I would write something and then I would swim across the lake and decide halfway across what was wrong with it and go back and re-write it. And then I would go back for another swim and think, oh no, I can’t keep that in there, and go back and re-write that. That was the perfect balance for me. I could write, write, write, jump in the lake, let everything go and it would all sort of fall together.
The title of the book is There Are No Coincidences. Why did you choose that title?
I chose it because I think things happen for a reason. We tend to miss things because we brush them off when they could be significant. It’s a reminder to pay attention.
The launch for There Are No Coincidences will take place at Centre Wakefield La Pêche on Saturday, April 16. As part of Biblio Wakefield Library’s In the Heart of the Library series, Ruth will be reading from her book at 3:00 p.m. A reception with cash bar, music, and food (including a birthday cake) will follow. Copies of the book will be on sale for $20. All proceeds go to the Wakefield Community Emergency Fund.
To order a copy of the book, please email Ruth: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the story "A Small House in Bali"
Returning from the temple one day, Ketut, the eldest [daughter], stopped to give me goodies from the tower she carried balanced on her head. This was another class of offering altogether. An upright piece of a banana tree trunk, about two feet high, formed the base. Bamboo skewers impaling either a fruit, a brightly coloured cupcake, or a frangipani blossom were placed in regular patterns, creating a mandala-like whole that seemed to float atop her willowy frame. It was quite a beautiful sight.
“But isn’t this food for the gods?” I asked.
“We already gave it to them. They’ve taken what they want from its essence at the temple. Now it is for us to eat,” was her typically pragmatic Balinese reply.
Another day, I arrived home to find that every single bloom had been picked from my prolific garden--not one flower remained. I was beside myself. I tried not to be angry at the guileless culprits as they explained that a big ceremony was imminent and my blossoms had been needed for offerings. What could I say except, “Next time could you leave a few here and there?” They heard me and after that always held back a little bit when raiding my garden. My garden was so prolific that, in fact, it wasn’t as big a deal as I had made it out to be; within days, there were plenty of new flowers in bloom.
I got used to discovering an endless parade of new ceremonies and the requisite offerings. One morning, my bicycle and motorcycle were decorated with flowers, incense, and offerings as it was the special day for transport. On the day for metals, my stove and knives were similarly honoured. My books and writing implements were decked out on Saraswati, the goddess of learning’s day, and so on throughout the 210-day Balinese year. My return from abroad was always heralded by a flower mandala hung on my door.