Immersed in Sinking
January 11, 2016
Before the DD mentorship, I’d had smaller, informal mentorships, but nothing this deep or sustained. The Diaspora Dialogues mentorship gave me the chance to work long-term with the stories collected in Peninsula Sinking and, most importantly, to consider those stories as a coherent entity. I’d been working on these stories for a while, some of them for about five years. For the application to the mentorship, I placed my strongest stories together and hoped for the best. The process began with my mentor David Layton reading the entire manuscript very closely. Then we had three long, rigorous in-person meetings. We discussed the manuscript in detail, and David pushed me to understand—to face up to—what I was doing in my own stories. (David always generously refused to figure this out for me). After that, we began editing individual stories more closely, and now we’re almost finished that process. The most beneficial element of David’s teaching practice was his ability to tailor the mentorship towards exactly what I most needed. If asked for advice, I would encourage future mentees to remain flexible. If the mentorship offers something unexpected, embrace it.
The title change—from Terrible Human Beings to Peninsula Sinking—most neatly encapsulates the moulting process of this manuscript. David and I diagnosed certain themes—Nova Scotia, the ocean, the relationship between centre and periphery—that I now explore with more clarity and self-awareness. The trickiest part was revising parts that didn’t offer enough subjective insight. How does one give the right amount of detail about character motivations and backstory without spoon-feeding the reader? In the end, every writer has to find their own balance. For me, the most enjoyable sections to write usually come fairly late in the process. At this point, I often know that what I’m writing really needs to be there, and I’ve held back enough throughout the story that I’m willing to add some flourish. The end of “Bellyflop” is one example. I had a lot of fun writing that.
I plan to shop the manuscript around starting this fall. Six of the stories are forthcoming or already published, and I’ve recently found out that one of them, “A-Word,” has won The Dalhousie Review’s 2015 short story contest. I think the collection is ready.
My dream blurb would say I’d written characters that readers want to spend time with, done some sort of bruised justice to my home province, and evoked the joy of treading water while watching the world sink.
I’ve got my first book of poetry, We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class, coming out in fall 2015. I’m currently working on a second book of poetry and a dystopian novel. But what I’m most excited about is a few new stories that have been gestating in the womb of my brain.