A Particularly Fertile Plain for the Imagination
February 8, 2016
I’m obviously very happy to have a chance to work with Nino Ricci, whose work I’ve admired for a long time. I hope to get a good solid critique about my work-in-progress, and advice on all the elements that go into making a novel: plot, structure, overall dramatic quality, characters, etc., etc.
The Laundryman’s Boy is the coming-of-age story of a thirteen-year-old Chinese immigrant named Hoi Wing, who comes to St. Catharines, Ontario in the fall of 1913 to work in a Chinese hand laundry. At his arrival, he, like every Chinese immigrant of his time, is met with the virulent racism and animosity of the general Canadian population. He also faces the immense challenges of a new culture, language, and a harsh and unforgiving climate. Yet with time, he begins to adapt to his new world, and befriends a young Irish scullery maid who aids him against the neighbourhood bullies. Later, when Hoi Wing’s relationship with the girl intensifies, the townsfolk are offended and appalled. Their relationship leads to the violent climax at the end of the novel.
Both my grandfathers were Head Tax payers who came to Canada in the early 20th century. My paternal grandfather came to the St. Catharines region. Their lives, and the lives of the many Chinese men who arrived during this brutal and hideous period in Canada’s history have never been properly dramatized, and their stories, brimming with love, tragedy, heartbreak, hope, and sacrifice, are largely forgotten. I want to tell these stories.
I chose 1913 as a point of entry for my novel not only because of its temporal proximity to the commencement of World War I, but also because the Republic of China was founded by Doctor Sun Yat-Sen shortly before. Many of the Chinese who were in Canada at that time were great advocates of the new republic; Sun even visited Toronto in 1912 to fundraise. The time period of my novel (1913–1916) represents a particularly fertile plain for the imagination. Revolutions are taking place. The world is changing. Many new social forces are at play: the rise of the working class, the beginning of women’s rights, and the horror of modern warfare brings about a loss of innocence.
My writing process is extremely slow. With this novel I visualized my protagonist toiling in the laundry and wrote that first scene. I tried to make it as horrid for him as possible. I then wrote as many scenes as I could, always with the goal that things should grow progressively worse for him, and that he face enemies and adversity in each scene. At some later point I tried to impose a temporal and dramatic structure on all the pieces I had written. I then wrote the very difficult “in-between” pieces.
Franklin W. Dixon and/or Carolyn Keene would be who I’d want to write my story.