Next Stop: The Shale Project

This month, Sienna Tristen, York alumna, and their partner, Avi Silver, released the second book, The Heretics Guide to Homecoming, in The Shale Project, their multimedia storytelling initiative “roughly in the shape of a planet”. 

The Shale Project is the platform through which Tristen and Silver write and publish stories on a shared fantasy world. While these stories are all different in various ways, they share similar themes of care, curiosity, and innovation.

Tristen explains that, “The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming has two volumes. The first one came out in 2018, and has been quietly gaining a very dedicated readership since then. We like to joke at Shale that Heretic’s Guide is ‘a mental health journey disguised as a fantasy adventure’, because the story is set in this gorgeous world with two moons and magical creatures, but the core of the book is about following the protagonist, Ronoah, as he learns to manage his debilitating self-loathing and social anxiety.”

“The subtitles of each volume sort of reveal the heart of their respective plotlines. While Book One: Theory is all about Ronoah learning the tools that he needs in order to be gentle and compassionate towards himself, Book Two: Practice is where he gets thrown into a world that is not soft and gentle, and where he needs to put those tools to practical use in order to survive,” says Tristen. “This upcoming novel engages a lot with the inner workings of that emotional maturation.”

The multimedia aspect is ever-evolving. Silver adds that, “we currently have some tabletop roleplaying games in the works, we’ve commissioned a theme song for Heretic’s Guide composed by Sophia Carreras, and have a ‘what’s your (fantasy) astrology sign’ personality quiz up on our website.”

While The Shale Project discusses important themes, Silver says that as queer, neurodivergent, disabled artists, these topics show up organically in their work and that, “something we actually avoid in our work is making the story about these lived experiences — for example, The Sãoni Cycle, my YA trilogy, focuses a lot on queer themes but the queerness of the characters is not the core of the story’s conflict!”

Tristen continues that, “there are plenty of characters in the Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming who live with mental health issues or disabilities (Ronoah’s own chronic anxiety being front and center) and are still leading awesome lives. I guess the way Shale, as a project, addresses these lived experiences is by making space for fully-realized characters whose disability, queerness, etc is one integrated part of their whole selves.”

The Shale Project can be described as an “art project that boggles the mind”, with stories happening in different places on the same planet and hidden Easter eggs referencing one another.

“There are story seeds we’ve already planted in published Shale books that probably won’t come to fruition until 10 real Earth years from now, and sometimes I think about that and worry if we’re biting off more than we can chew.” Tristen confesses. “But then I think about how cool it is to create this massive interconnected web of storytelling, where everything points to and builds on everything else — then I stop worrying because I’m too busy being excited about making the next thing.”

To visit Shale or to learn more about Tristen and Silver’s upcoming book, click here.

About the Author

By Sydney Ewert

Arts Editor

Sydney is in her third year at York University studying Dance. She loves to travel and explore new places. When Sydney is not editing, working, or studying for her classes, she is likely going for walks or learning new recipes.


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