Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Guest Blog: Diaspora Dialogues: A leg up on a steep and slippery path

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Pradeep Solanki

Diaspora Dialogues' mentorship program connects emerging writers with established writers. Past mentee Pradeep Solanki writes about his experience working with his mentor, Rabindranath Maharaj. You can read more about the Diaspora Dialogues mentorship program here.

By Pradeep Solanki

There is a saying in Hindu literature which says that on the spiritual path (as well as any other worthwhile but arduous endeavor) one must pursue it with the same urgency as a man running for the lake when his hair is on fire. I suppose for me the desire to be a writer had always been with me but it took a near-death experience to alight that fire. I was not expected to survive my heart attack, but somehow I did. And like many people who beat the odds, I felt there had to be a purpose to why I was spared. Coupled with that, the near-death experience was so profound, so vivid and so mysterious that I needed a systematic way to process it. And so I turned to my love of writing for answers.

During my early days as writer, I was naïve enough to believe that my work was polished enough for publication. I churned out some 40 stories and mailed each one to practically every literary magazine in Canada. Soon the rejections began to arrive, mostly form letters, but a few came with hand-written encouragements. I was fortunate enough on my journey to have met Wayson Choy, the award-winning writer and fellow heart-survivor. He graciously read my work and said that I had talent, but if I wanted to avoid rejection letters what I needed to do was to work on my craft.

It was during this trial-and-error phase of honing craft that I saw a call for submissions from Diaspora Dialogues. I read with great interest about their free mentorship program (M.G. Vassanji was one of the mentors that year; he is one of my favorite authors). Plus, there was a chance to be published in DD’s annual anthology. With hasty enthusiasm I sent out what I then considered my best short story. Some three weeks later, the letter from Diaspora Dialogues arrived and I tore it open with expectant glee. It was another rejection letter, suggesting that I try again next year. And I did. This time, when the envelope with the prominent DD logo arrived in the post, I was cautious. The letter was thicker than the one the previous year. Prepared for disappointment, I shut my bedroom door and opened it in private. I had been accepted. I should have been happy, right? Wrong. The mentor assigned to me was not M.G. Vassanji, it was Rabindranath Maharaj. I knew Rabindranath was a respected and gifted writer, but he was still not M.G. Vassanji. Rabindranath’s style of writing vastly differed from mine: I wrote magic realism, my stories were philosophical; he wrote about alienation, his stories were character studies. How could this man possibly be of help?

Well, it only took the first feedback email from Rabindranath to show me how wrong I had been. Not only is he an accomplished writer, but he is an experienced teacher. He understood my style better than I did, and he knew how to explain things in a way that made sense. For example, one criticism I had heard more than once about my work from others was that I had a tendency to introduce tidbits of information which took the reader away from the main narrative. So in this story I had been careful to keep it tight. Rabindranath pointed out the places where expansion of side-details would enrich the story. He explained that if I did it in a way that revealed more about the protagonist, then these side-details would not distract the reader but rather engage the reader further. Of course he was right. On the second rewrite (we are allowed a total of three) Rabindranath was mostly copy editing with an eye for rhythm. I asked him if it would be more helpful for me to submit a second story for the third feedback instead of the same one. He generously agreed. In fact, he was very generous with answering questions in between the drafts as well. I ended up accepting almost all of his suggestions and I feel my story was much stronger with his help. Diaspora Dialogues agreed; they are publishing it in the anthology TOK 6.

I felt so encouraged that I sent a proposal for a short fiction collection to a small publisher, along with a sample story (the one I worked with Rabindranath on). To my surprise, the publisher liked the sample story so much that she asked to see the full manuscript. The collection is presently under consideration.

I would heartily recommend this program to any writer serious about getting published. It is certainly a leg up on a path that is often steep and slippery.

1 comment

Thanks for this inspiring story, Pradeep. It sounds like Rabindranath Maharaj has the qualities of a truly great editor: one who can inhabit another writer's style, regardless of what his own is like. Best of luck with your collection!

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