Alumna’s book pulls inspiration from travel, multiracial identity

“Desert Fox by the Sea” is Christine Sloan Stoddard’s first collection of short stories that relate to marginalized feminine voices. Photo courtesy of Christine Sloan Stoddard

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor

A sleepy fox lies on a quiet beach among cacti of various shapes and sizes. The turquoise environment seems unfitting for the type of animal seen on the cover of the newest book from VCUarts alumna Christine Sloan Stoddard titled, “Desert Fox by the Sea.”

Released at the end of July, the book is Stoddard’s first collection of short stories. It’s a compiled collection of stories and poems that relate to marginalized feminine voices. 

The author said the voices are influenced by her own identity as a Salvadoran-American woman and experiences of growing up in a multiracial household. 

“In my case, just speaking personally, my mom is from El Salvador and my dad is American, so something that I always thought about growing up was am I American enough? Am I Latin enough? Do I fit in here? Do I fit in there? Just back and forth,” Stoddard said.

The narrative voices in the stories belong to different women and vary according to their experiences and identities, which are often multilayered. 

“All of the stories are told from a first-person perspective and many of them have Latinx, Southern, or biracial situations involved,” Stoddard said. “One of those identities might be the specific identity of the narrator, often there’s a mix of those things, since it’s multilayered with more than one identity.” 

The book also includes stories of characters developing body positivity and building self-confidence. 

“It’s a good book for people who don’t necessarily have time to read something straight through. Most of the pieces are under a thousand words — even the fiction and short stories are ‘flash fiction,’” Stoddard said.

“You could read one piece on the bus, or while you’re waiting for class to start or really, if you just have ten minutes,” Stoddard said.

When creating the book, Stoddard said she compiled some of the stories that were included from the five chapbooks, or very short stories, that she has written that are often concise and between 20 to 24 pages long. 

One of the stories included in “Desert Fox” is taken from a previously published chapbook titled “The Girl with the Clam Ear.” 

The story follows a young girl who was born with an ear deformity and learns to accept her features. She devises a form of mythology about herself in which she’s actually a mermaid, and starts to call it her “clam ear.”

“It’s just a story that she tells herself when she’s a little girl, but even if she’s older she sort of, uses it to hype herself up,” Stoddard said. “It’s her inner monologue with how she has this magical, mystical quality about her that makes her not of the same world as everyone else.”

Stoddard based the title of the book off of a 2013 trip to Peru. She visited a seaside village that was actually more of a desert, because there were no trees. 

“There were little shriveled cacti and trees in the desert here and there, but there weren’t any palm trees,” Stoddard said. “There wasn’t a beachy vibe at all.” 

The contradictions at the scene inspired her to pick the title to relate to a lot of the characters in the book.

“When I was brainstorming titles, I thought of that place,” Stoddard said. “There are a lot of animals mentioned in the book, and a lot in folklore and fables in general, so I was just thinking about the different animals and unlikely places where they might live. Well a ‘desert fox,’ it’s not going to live by the sea right?”

Thus, the name “Desert Fox by the Sea” was born. 

Storytelling is a theme often seen in Stoddard’s writing pieces, as she also founded Quail Bell Magazine, a feminist magazine, and works closely with Gretchen Gales, who is also a VCU alumna.

“I’m very interested in storytelling as a ritual and as a tradition,” Stoddard said. “I’m especially interested in storytelling between women, like the kind of storytelling that takes place between grandmothers, mothers and daughters.”

Stoddard said the writing process took about two years, and she’s happy the book was finally published and completed. 

To learn more about Christine Sloan Stoddard, visit worldofchristinestoddard.com. You can find “Desert Fox by the Sea” at Target and Barnes & Noble and through the publisher, Hoot & Waddle.

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