Author Margot Fedoruk sitting inside Mad Rona's Coffee Bar on Gabriola Island.

Author Margot Fedoruk enjoying a London fog inside Mad Rona’s Coffee Bar on Gabriola Island / Photo via Bella Hoodle

“Sharing parenting tips with the other moms while our babies crawled in our laps and put sand in their mouths. The older kids would lift up rocks to find tiny crabs or chase each other half-naked through the warm, shallow waters. I had found a community and it was incomparable.”

— Margot Fedoruk, Cooking Tips For Desperate Fishwives

 

I’m driving down a winding road with author Margot Fedoruk, a VIU Creative Writing graduate of 2021. She’s taking me to Orlebar Point on Gabriola Island, not far from her home.

Apparently, it’s the perfect lookout for when you need a good cry. 

The ocean, in clear view, crashes against the shoreline. There is a small island with a lighthouse out in the distance. We leave the warmth of the car and step out into the rain, making our way along the shoreline. 

Last fall, Fedoruk published her memoir, Cooking Tips For Desperate Fishwives. It’s about Fedoruk’s experience of witnessing her mother’s heartbreak from her alcoholic and unloyal father. Then loneliness as an adult with her husband, Rick, a sea urchin diver who was often away from Fedoruk and their home. 

The memoir at its core is about love and the sacrifices we make for that love, and it speaks of loneliness and survival. 

When writing stories about real life, there’s a danger of being an unreliable narrator—too closed off from one’s own emotional truth—or being so honest that it jeopardizes one’s own relationships.

Either way, it stirs the quiet past into a simmering boil. 

It can be difficult to frame or even finish a personal story. The characters entwined can fight to keep their part hushed, which can change everything.

Fedoruk knew this challenge well. She had to find the balance in talking about her experience living on her own with two little girls while Rick was away for work, without riddling him with guilt and hurt. 

I admire Fedoruk’s bravery in baring her soul through storytelling. The polaroids throughout the book remind the reader that these stories are real, captured memories.

She writes on page 33, “In a small, orange-flowered photo album filled with pictures taken with my instant camera, I have a white-bordered photo with the inscription: Remember New Years in Orlando. Love Dad XO written in blue ink.”

Fedoruk and I continued along the Gabriola shoreline. The wind and rain chilled me but I was too invested in Fedoruk’s answers to care.

Fedoruk often tells her friends the story of the time she ran Rick over with her car, which also serves as the introduction to Cooking Tips For Desperate Fishwives.

She writes, “The night I ran over Rick with my car, I was over four months pregnant with our first daughter. I remember crouching at his side, knees painfully ground into the concrete, as I swayed over him in grief.”

Rick was okay, but the lasagna she made for dinner that night was, at best, cold.

“I would tell the stories before thinking I should write them down,” she said during our walk. “Then I realised they were a part of my story, and I should be writing all of them down.”

We abandoned the cold beach and headed to the little free library on the street. She recommended that I read The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, a book about a young girl who grew up in rural Kentucky and buys a 55’ Volkswagen to travel west. I shoved it inside my jacket so it wouldn’t get wet. 

Then we went to Mad Rona’s Coffee Bar, the one mentioned in her book where her daughter Hailey worked. It’s not every day that you get to visit the place you only read about, and it did my imagined version justice. 

A vintage espresso machine, the fireplace at the back wall. A warm cafe filled with old friends, not strangers, who called out to Fedoruk the moment they saw her. 

I ordered a chai latte, and Fedoruk got a london fog. She also bought a piece of chocolate cake for Rick for when she goes home. 

“The idea of being a writer was always at the back of my mind,” Fedoruk said over our foaming mugs. “But I had no idea what I would write. I didn’t feel I had the tools to write.”

Before she went to VIU, Fedoruk took free writing courses in Calgary. It’s how she dipped her feet in to see if she had what it took.

“One of the first stories I wrote was in Calgary,” she said. “I wrote about the story of when I thought Rick was dead. It began as a fiction piece and tried to hone in on that pain. Then I rewrote it as non-fiction because it worked better when I wasn’t pretending it wasn’t real.”

The emotional rewards of writing non-fiction drew her into writing a memoir.   

“I didn’t even know memoir was a genre in those days,” Fedoruk said. “Because of what I was feeling and going through at the time, I just needed to get it all out. I was writing for therapy more than for the story.” 

But the real people in Fedoruk’s life—Rick and Margot’s daughters—found their personal lives immortalised on the page for everyone to see. It had been a source of tension between her and her husband.

Fedoruk writes on page 4, “I wonder if the amount of pain in our relationship is equal to the amount of joy.”

But Rick has always been encouraging of Fedoruk’s creative passion.

“My husband Rick is supportive and has chosen never to read the book,” Fedoruk said. “He is a very private person, so it was hard for him.”

It was difficult for Fedoruk to write these real life events down, but she found the support she needed.

Fedoruk had guidance from VIU Creative Writing and Publishing prof Joy Gugeler in her directed studies course. In this class, she read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which discusses the genre as a collaboration. 

“For sections in my book, I had people read it, and if they didn’t like it, I would fix it until they did. Because my intention is not to hurt people but to tell the story as honestly as possible.” 

Fedoruk also explained that she is lucky that her family ultimately accepts being in her book and that it would be different if her grandparents were still alive. Her grandparents were very traditional and private.

“I don’t know if I could write them,” she said.

Since publishing her memoir, Fedoruk’s life has changed significantly. 

“I just got offered a job as a content writer for ETHOS Career Management Group Ltd.,” she said. “When I graduated with a writing degree, I was worried I wouldn’t find any work. But I am pleasantly surprised.” 

She also experienced a boost in confidence and a sense of empowerment in her craft. 

“I have creative respect,” she said. “People will stop me on the street and tell me that they’ve read my book, and it’s a wonderful feeling.”

The book almost wasn’t published. Readers are lucky that Heritage House (a Publishing House based in Victoria) recognized Fedoruk’s potential and writing magic.

“I can’t remember how many places I sent my manuscript to, but I got rejected from all but one publishing house,” she said.

Fedoruk says that having perseverance is what kept her submitting the manuscript, even as the rejections piled up.

Writing students know how difficult it is to get their story accepted by a publishing house. Many resort to self-publishing to get their books out there, but Fedoruk decided against it. 

“I didn’t want to self-publish because I wanted to publish in a traditional route for the first time,” she said. “And I’m glad I did.”

The hardest part of the book’s journey, however, wasn’t waiting for that congratulatory acceptance email, but organizing the story’s events.

“I work in spirals, and it’s hard for me to see a story from beginning to end,” she said. “When putting the book together, I called Joy and cried. I’d say, ‘This is not a book. I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

She said Gugeler would say to her, “Listen: That’s how everyone writes books. Do you think writers sit down and write from beginning to end? No. You can shuffle things around.”

Fedoruk places her mug back on the table and leans in as if she’s telling me a secret.

She says, “I don’t know if it’s clear in my book, but I lack confidence.”

I couldn’t help but disagree. I admired how she was able to tell emotional life moments with easy humour.

With Gugeler’s support, Fedoruk finished the first draft of her memoir that she’d been working on for five years. 

Fedoruk drew inspiration from other memoirs by different authors. One in particular influenced the beginning of her book. 

“I reread Wild by Cheryl Strayed while writing my book to get a sense of how she started the story,” she said. “It gave me some great ideas, and I liked how she started her book with a flashback.”

Fedoruk also tries to offer insight to aspiring writers within the VIU Creative Writing program.

“Do the internship course and involve yourself in writing clubs. And if you finish your degree and spin your pedals, take more writing classes to keep you moving and writing,” she says.

Fedoruk encourages writers to try writing non-fiction to develop their craft. 

“In terms of writing a memoir, just be honest,” she says. “Don’t edit at first—write out all the hard stuff and worry about editing after.”

So what happens next for Fedoruk?

“I always say that when they come out with the movie, they have to cast Brad Pitt as Rick, and Sandra Bullock can play me,” she said.

In terms of her own work, Fedoruk is in the process of finishing a non-fiction graphic novel. 

“My next project is about my Russian Baba’s life story,” she says. “She was a fascinating woman.”

And not only will it be filled with dark humour, but it will also discuss heritage trauma and abortion.

As the sun begins to set, Fedoruk and I finish our teas and head back out in the rain. By the time we reach the ferry terminal, the boat has already started its journey back to Nanaimo. 

“Would you like to come over to my house while we wait for the next one to come?” she asks me.

Her house is somewhat hidden with thick tall trees that protects us from the increasingly aggressive rain. Fedoruk graciously took me on a tour with their dog, Poppy who unwillingly tagged along. 

There are beautiful handmade wood carvings that Rick made scattered along the property. She showed me the stained wooden boat that he built called “The Red Urchin.”

We walked through her garden, and took a peek inside her soap-making workshop. I even scored a bar of lavender soap to take home with me. She looks into the room filled with packed boxes, and reminisces about her earlier days. 

“I started out wanting to explain my life and the loneliness of that life. For myself and to relate to others who are experiencing loneliness themselves,” she says. “And now I’ve found community.”

She drives me back to the ferry terminal. Before I leave, she signs my copy of her book. Poppy jumps off my lap and back into hers, and Fedoruk wishes me luck on my venture.

On the way back to Nanaimo, I pull out my journal—the one our Associate Editor Megan Zolorycki got me for Secret Santa—and I write about my day exploring Gabriola Island with Margot Fedoruk. 

 

Readers can catch Fedoruk reading from her memoir on January 26 at The Black Rabbit as part of Portal’s Portfolio Series. Hosted in The Attic, the free event starts at 7pm with readings by student writers Jayne Wright, Seth Scott, and Hannah Macza.

Editor

Bella is a second-year Creative Writing and English student at VIU. When she was six years old, her mom helped her write her first book, “The Shed Princess.” The Grand Forks Library even kept it on its shelves for a few weeks. These days, Bella is on a mission to have her books on every library’s shelves.

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