One of the first scenes from Shade, the novel I’m working on, emerged from an independent reflection exercise I did during a writing retreat at the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia. That piece became the start of a travel memoir, which I took to the Humber College School for Writers in 2011. Sandra Birdsell, my mentor, helped me realize that my travelogue was actually a novel. After that mentorship ended, I continued polishing parts of the novel into short stories. One such story, titled Next Time, was accepted for the 2011 Diaspora Dialogues Short-Form Mentorship Program and published in TOK 7: Writing the New Toronto. I submitted Shade in its current form to the 2013 Diaspora Dialogues Long-Form Mentorship Program.
My mentor David Layton created a personal and tailored mentorship experience. He met with me in person to discuss my edits and made it clear that he was always available via phone or email if I needed help. He had questions for me that forced me to think of my work in new and difficult ways. I always left my meetings with David feeling invigorated and inspired to develop my work.
My first contact with David was via email, after which we set a date/time to talk on the phone so we could choose a date (about six weeks from the time we chatted) for me to send him my novel in its entirety. After that, David took about three to four weeks to read and review my work before we met in person to discuss and set future deadlines. David and I met about four times throughout the program following this schedule.
David helped me increase the stakes for each character, making the novel more compelling overall. He helped me realize where I should begin the story in order to create a more cohesive work. Sometimes I can hardly tell if the Shade I have now is the same book I thought of in 2009. Its structure, focus and pretty much entire cast are different. It feels like it will take me a lifetime to get it right, but I’ve tried my best to stay true to the questions and themes at the core of the novel.
After my mentorship with David was over, I took about three months to do a final round of edits before sending my book to Diaspora Dialogues for review. The Diaspora Dialogues team then took about six months to gather notes from multiple readers before I was invited back for a one-on-one meeting with DD President Helen Walsh to discuss next steps. This post-mentorship communication encouraged me to take my book as far as possible in the writing and publication process and has made the process seem far less daunting.
DD has been amazing in creating a community for writers and helping me to believe in myself and my work. Each of my previous mentorships has been useful in its own way, but DD is unique in the support group and community it creates. Diaspora Dialogues also regularly invites mentees to readings, shares good news, and hosts events so we can stay in touch with the writing community.
I originally chose the title Shade as placeholder text for my novel. I needed to think of a title quickly when sending my work to the Diaspora Dialogues Long-Form Mentorship Program. Shade came to me in a flash—who knows why—and gained significance later on. It was one of those subconscious choices that your conscious mind needs time to understand. Now, I can’t imagine another title for the book. The title Shade captures the sense of mystery and secretiveness of the protagonist’s family life while also indicating her (and her loved ones’) general fear of facing reality.
The most challenging section of Shade to write was, and remains, the introduction. I suspect this is because I’ve been using the intro to “write” myself into the characters. The least challenging section was the climax. I think I spent the entire novel trying to write to that point. It is the heart of the novel and, I suspect, the whole reason why I needed to write the book. One of the main scenes, a scene with the protagonist Benni and her father Ned at a bar, is actually a revision of the reflection piece I wrote at Tatamagouche. It was originally a recap of a night my siblings, cousins, and I spent at a bar in Boracay.
Journaling my personal experiences of visiting the Philippines for the first time served as the seed for Shade because many of these experiences were vivid and memorable. My initial visit to the Philippines was also significant for me because I was always curious about where my parents came from. It was easy for me to draw on these memories and feelings to fuel the novel.
I grew up in Markham—an extremely diverse place—but went to a school where people hung out mainly with those of the same race. I don’t think this was a conscious decision, but just happened because people of the same race have more in common. There is a scene early in Shade where someone yells Benni, “Go back to the dragon centre, chink.” This phrase was taken verbatim from something someone yelled at me in the halls of my high school. I always find it bizarre when I am the target of misdirected racism, most of the time coming from a fellow visible minority. As I mention in Shade, I believe these may just be the growing pains of a quickly diversifying place. Everyone comes from unique backgrounds and world views, often influenced by lifetimes of history and strife. I am eager to see how these world views and ways of interacting will change for our children and our children’s children as we become more established as a diverse, multicultural country.
Writing Shade has been therapeutic. I feel like I had a lot of questions that I had to write through. Now that it’s done, I see Shade as a snippet of my life at a period of time. I don’t think I’m in that place any longer, but I am glad to have written through it.
I never pictured an audience when writing Shade. It’s such a personal book that thinking of people reading it can still sometimes makes me cringe. My grandmother passed away just last year though, and she was the one who always told me to pursue my dream of writing. Since she’s been gone, I’ve been even more motivated to see Shade through. Finishing it has been my way of saying thank you, I love you, and goodbye.
For now, I want to focus on finding a home and a publisher for Shade. I have one more major rewrite that I’d like to finish before autumn, then there are a few publishers I’d like to send my novel to. Who knows if what will happen, but I’m hopeful. After that, I think there’s another stage in my life I need to write through, and I’m planning on doing just that.
My advice for future mentees is to give it your all while you have your mentor, then keep on giving it. It’ll be hard, but it’s totally worth it.