Today I am excited to interview Vicki Sutherland Horton, one of the runner-up winners of the Fall 2020 Flash Fiction contest. Make sure you read her story The Winter the Moose Moved In and then come on back and read our interview.
Vicki Sutherland Horton lives in the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington. She is a retired educator, with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. Through her writing, Vicki is interested in exploring the often unrecognized contributions of women in history. Vicki is a wife and mother and finds great joy in being a grandmother. She is a long-time participant in FisherPoets, a yearly gathering in Astoria, Oregon where she performs original work about her life in a commercial fishing family. Vicki is currently working on a novel: a historical fiction set in Alaska in the late 1940s. Accompanied by her Golden Retriever, Rhododendron, the two of them explore the surrounding forests and seashore. Vicki looks forward to more travel adventures—but of course that has to wait.
--- Interview by Nicole Pyles
WOW: First of all, congratulations on your story The Winter the Moose Moved In. What inspired this story?
Vicki: This story is deeply personal and part of a larger work. I began researching my mother’s upbringing on an Alaskan homestead in the late 40’s and 50’s. I am asking questions such as why did my grandmother do the things they said she did (family abuse, abandoning the family)? My family has taboo’s around sharing that part of life except on a superficial level. Being the kind of person I am I want to discover a deeper understanding. The protagonist Nadia is roughly based on my grandmother. The supporting stories are told to me by my mother and uncle such as the moose carcass out the back door and the hairdresser who is cabin bound because of moose in his yard.
WOW: I love how you used fiction to explore your family history. When I read this story, it felt like such a vivid setting to me. Was it inspired by a real location?
Vicki: Yes, it takes place in Alaska although I will have to be careful that I protect the location and inhabitants. I have visited the area and of course our family stories center on this specific location. My grandparents homesteaded there as part of a mission. Again, I don’t know much about the mission part of the story.
WOW: I loved hearing that you visit Astoria to take part in FisherPoets! Living in the Pacific Northwest myself, I personally love that area. What is that event like and do you see many of the same poets yearly?
Vicki: FisherPoets is a time I connect with those who have spent, or spend their life fishing. Fishing is a dangerous occupation and listening to fishermen’s poems you begin to understand their deep appreciation of beauty and death. My father was a commercial fisherman who died on his fishing boat many years ago. There are many fishermen still today who I meet up with, who I maintain connection with even though I no longer fish.
I am especially inspired by the young women who are presenting at FP these days. Their poetry and prose are raw and stunning! They are amazing women taking on all aspects of the fishing industry even serving as captains of their own boats!
Here is the official description of FisherPoets. The FisherPoets Gathering has been featured in media both national and international from the NY Times, Smithsonian magazine, the Wall Street Journal, NBC to the BBC and others. The U.S. Library of Congress has recognized the FisherPoets Gathering as a “Local Legacy” project and the event has spawned a genre, “fisherpoetry,” that fans of occupational poetry might hear in towns like Kodiak, AK, New Bedford, MA, Port Townsend, WA and Camden, ME.
WOW: How rewarding that experience is! What led you to enter this contest?
Vicki: Women on Writing offer a rubric that helps me move my writing forward. I don’t enter to win but to learn. As a former educator I can attest to the usefulness and research behind this kind of learning. It really helps me.
WOW: I love how you approach the contest - to learn! And I love that you are inspired by the unrecognized contributions of women in history. How do you research women to write about?
Vicki: I am reading as much as I can about women who traveled west especially on the Oregon trail. I am heartbroken reading the accounts of women who had no choice but to follow behind their husbands. So many of these women didn’t want to leave life as they knew it. I think my grandmother probably had similar things to consider as these women did. She gave up her established life in Washington State to homestead in Alaska, an unknown to her. I understand the complexity and hardship she, without question, undertook to raise her young children—and this was in the fifties! My next venture is to visit the museum in Oregon celebrating the end of the Oregon Trail.
WOW: I can't wait to see what you write next! Thank you so much for your time today!