Mary Akers: Thanks for letting us have your excellent short story “Vibrant Waters.” I’m an enthusiastic diver and snorkeler myself, so I was especially drawn to this piece.To me Vibrant Waters seems to be about how we see only what we want to see, and definitely about the loss of faculties that come with age. But there’s also a strange sort of dignity to be found in Dr. Handler’s misunderstood “observations” that I found very moving. That is me bringing my own life experience to the work, of course, but I’m curious what your intent was in the writing. Did you have specific themes in mind?
Patrick VandenBussche: We all need a little something to get us through those rough times. Some people need to sit down and read a certain kind of book, some people need to go out and start a new hobby, others just simply need to put in their favorite movie and escape for a while. Whatever it is we need to get us through the rough times, Handler needed the Vibrant Underwater Kingdom to be real. It may be slightly sad that in the end, it was indeed not real, but for the man living the adventure, it did not matter. It can go back to that age old saying “Ignorance is Bliss”. However we don’t need the Allegory of the Cave here – we don’t need someone leading Handler out of his fantasy world to the real world, because for him it was too important for his own mental survival to forsake.
MA: Please describe for our readers your personal connection to the ocean. Do you have a background in marine biology?
PVB: I grew up on the Great Lakes – right near the beach. No matter the season – I would always be there. Swimming in summer or skipping ice flows in winter (falling through more times than I’d like to), I’d always be by the water. I never majored in Marine Biology; however I was drawn to the underwater world and its creatures. I was fortunate enough to secure a job in marine animal husbandry, taking care of hundreds of species of fish, inverts, coral, sharks and rays. I quickly took to SCUBA diving off the coasts of Southern California – getting my AAUS certification and helping out with the Santa Monica Baykeepers – doing urchin relocation dives and kelp forest restoration projects. I also spent time identifying fish species and some minor morphological evolutionary work at a university lab – along with volunteer SCUBA diving at the California Science Center – feeding, and maintaining their kelp forest tank, helping with the species there. Surprisingly all of this only started happening in the past two or three years – so getting involved and surrounding myself in this world has inspired my writing. Do I plan on going back to school for Marine Biology? Perhaps – but for now I am happy with being a very involved enthusiast.
MA: You chose the epistolary form to tell this story. I love fiction that includes diaries and letters–it’s so voyeuristic and yet also pure, somehow. Could you talk a little bit about that choice and why you felt it was right for this piece?
PVB: Journal entries automatically make the reader assume that what is written is fact – they hardly question to wonder, unless set up to do so, if the character writing the journal is writing a falsity – after all, a journal is supposed to record actual events – so I believe it helps solidify the readers perspective that what Handler had experienced was absolutely real. The reader should believe in the reality of Vibrant Waters just as much as Handler did. There’s also something very real about writing a story in this way. What is written is no longer just ‘words on a page’ but the writing becomes an artifact – some genuine and real, as if the reader picked up these documents and began to piece a life and story together with real historical items. Much of real world history has been pieced together in this sort of matter, so patching together a fiction story in the same way was and is absolutely fun and exploratory.
MA: What did you think of the piece that our illustrator, Matthew Chase-Daniel selected for your Shorts On Survival piece. Did you find any personal meaning in the image?
PVB: The best part about the piece was that it looked like he used a lot of imagery of species from the colder waters of the pacific – and anybody who has dove those chilled waters automatically feels a connection to the species and seascape those coasts offer. Diving off coast of southern California can be quite brutal. The visibility is low, there’s a lot of surge, a landscape of large rocks, and enough kelp forests to keep your underwater navigation skills sharp. Also, it’s fairly cold – I did a dive in November and the temp at 30 feet was around 40 degrees. Though it’s not an ice dive, it’s still enough to keep you shivering in a 7mm wetsuit.
MA: Do you have any other writing projects you would like to tell us about?
PVB: I am currently writing short stories – whenever an idea inspires me, or I have time, I try to get to writing. I am currently writing screenplays, working with my manager and writing partner in an attempt to break into the world of film. I will always love prose and fiction. In between the screenplays and short stories that I am writing I am, like just about every inspiring writer, working on a slow coming novel. For now, the best creative and rewarding release is short fiction.
MA: And finally, what does “recovery” mean to you?
PVB: We all go through processes of recovery – from those of us who have experienced major physical recoveries, to those who have seen harsh life changes and turns in the road. In Handler’s case, though he was slightly delusional, he was recovering from a lot of great changes in his life, including the onset of senility and physical limitations preventing him from doing his greatest passions. In those moments of life, where big changes happen, things go wrong, and suddenly in the course of a week, a person finds themselves turned upside down and nearly at the end of a rope – they may find a way to recover, to make a change in their life, and suddenly, they’re no longer struggling to climb that rope – suddenly they’re at the top, the sun is shining, and everything has a lucid clarity they never realized. And then they can finally relax.
Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org – and followed on twitter at @patvanden.