Afterword: Adam Elliot Segal
July 16, 2013
Despite all the love he has for Montreal and its romantic vibe, Vancouver-raised Adam Elliot Segal has decided to be in Toronto, in the heart of Canada’s book and magazine world, for the long term. Writerly seclusion in a cabin in the woods is not out of the question but, for now, Adam enjoys being a part of a support system of artists from different disciplines, and the inspiration and fresh ideas that often come out of such a community. Having grown up in the pre-internet, pre-celebrity obsessed age, Adam has a relaxed, realistic attitude to his chosen career. His commitment to staying the course rather than rushing toward results is reflected in his writing process as well. The idea for Tether, a rumination on loss in Adam’s preferred style of poetic prose, came to him in the form of a name he instantly loved—that of the future protagonist of the story. This is often how his stories come to him: as characters first. Theme comes later, almost of its own accord, which he tweaks as necessary. He allowed the character that ensued from this name—Sagey Cooper—as well as the other characters in the story, to sit in his consciousness for a long time before beginning to write. As he says, you have to live with and like your characters to be able to write about them. Adam likens the process to magazine writing, where one spends months gathering information but not writing, then churns out several thousand words in a matter of hours.
The immediacy of non-fiction magazine writing, in terms of the different personalities and locations it puts one in contact with and the turnaround time, are for Adam a nice balance to the drawn-out and internal process of fiction writing. In 2007, a magazine job called Adam to Montreal. There, he began to write Tether. Full time work as a magazine editor meant that by the time he sat down for a couple of hours with his story, he had already put in eight hours at the office. Luckily, friends were not a distraction yet and Adam was able to complete a first draft by late fall/early winter 2008. This profile picture, snapped in a Montreal bar around the corner from Adam’s place by an employee who was also a photographer, actually shows Adam in that very act, nursing what looks to be a Moosehead and writing longhand, his method of choice.
After completing the first draft, Adam withdrew from Tether until the summer of 2009. When he began rewriting, he was armed with research and more knowledge about his characters. Diaspora Dialogues was an organization Adam had always remained aware of, so when the submissions call went out for the long-form mentorship program, Adam saw it as a perfect bridge to publishing for his second draft manuscript and submitted his work for consideration. He went into the program with one concern above all others: that his mentor, whomever he or she may turn out to be, connects with and understands the tone of Tether. Without that basic connection, Adam feared that the mentorship would be problematic. Luckily, his mentor Shyam Selvadurai understood the tone and, after the initial introduction in late August 2012, they were off to a productive six months.
At the end of September 2012, Adam sent Shyam his manuscript, feeling that it was ready for a complete read. The following month, he received Shyam’s notes and the two met to discuss next steps over lunch. It was agreed that Adam would aim to make the structure of the story more linear, start a timeline to keep the plot moving forward rather than jumping around, and focus his rewrites on the first third of the book. The latter, especially, was in order for Adam to not get bogged down trying to do too much within a limited time. In January 2013, Adam sent Shyam the first 50 re-written pages. In them, he had done a lot of story restructuring, collapsing/condensing of certain characters and timelines. Shyam then provided Adam final notes related to the rewrite, before Adam sent his final draft to DD in February 2013.
Adam describes Shyam’s mentoring style as a perfect, experienced, blend of teacher/writer and comrade-in-arms. There was never a time when Adam felt like they were on different pages. At the outset, Adam had created his own personal rule: acknowledging that there is a valid reason behind every writing note given, he would accept 75% of whatever notes his mentor gave him but allow himself the liberty to leave 25% of suggested changes as-is. For future and current mentees, Adam advises the same: being confident in your own voice while staying open-minded, listening and taking into consideration every note that your mentor gives you about your work. Criticism may be hard to take, but it’s worth digesting before coming to any decisions about rewrites. Don’t get in the way of your own writing and always remember, they’ve got your back!
In late spring 2013, Adam sent Tether to select publishers, as well as an agent who had liked Adam’s pitch and read a sample. In his post mentorship meeting with DD president Helen Walsh, they agreed that smaller independent publishing houses were the perfect place for Tether, a contemporary story of specific scope that would most appeal to the young urban demographic in the 25-40 age range. Timing-wise, it was ideal to get the ball rolling just ahead of when editors and publishers do their summer reading. Adam expects to hear back at the end of the summer or early fall.
For a lot of people, as for the characters in Tether, the city is a place of escape. The anonymity it offers can be as liberating, an opportunity for rebirth, as it can be alienating. This is not too far from how Adam himself felt upon first moving to Toronto from Vancouver. Being able to slip in almost incognito after spending the first part of his life in Vancouver offered him a new kind of freedom.
Although most of his travels have been within Canada, the idea of greater migration is not foreign to Adam, central as it is to Jewish history and identity in North America. In Tether, he ponders the question of how one reacts to a place if one does not really belong anywhere, through characters that have a complicated relationship with Montreal, a place they once loved, left and returned to with heavy hearts. Adam based most of his research on Montreal for Tether on books such as City Unique by William Weintraub, Montreal Confidential by Al Palmer and books that evoked the time of the Holocaust, such as Sala’s Gift. He also had some informal interviews with people who grew up or lived in Montreal in the early to mid 1990s.
Previous writers of the Jewish Diaspora who migrated to North America either viewed the new country as a blessing or hated being away from everything they once knew, and Adam continues this tradition of trying to reconcile notions of race, religion, emotion and dualities of identity, but with the added twist of coming at these issues with a personal belief that despite differences, people are basically the same.