‘this is not a love story, it’s a story of love. This woman (the main character) is all about love; the love of her family, the love of her friends, the love of an old life she thinks she’s losing and the love of a new life at the grasp of her hands.”
Modesta Tonan has always had her pen to paper, slowly evolving, unbeknownst to her, into a bona fide writer. It was never a specific dream or ambition, just a pastime which eventually turned into a passion and a novel, “I Belong To You,” currently selling in bookstores across Canada. Tonan has certainly amassed a trove of life experiences and stories from which to draw inspiration. Hairstyling being her main profession for over 30 years, she has listened to countless hours of clients sharing about their opinions, life events and personal chronicles, and in turn shared her own.
“I always felt like I was some type of story teller. I say now: write to heal, write to feel.” She continues, “every time there’s something major in my life, I tend to write. It feels good to me; for some reason when very big things happen in my life, whether they are extremely happy things or extremely sad things, it makes me write.” One of those extremely happy events would be raising her three children, Lucas, Isabella and Ava. Logging pages upon pages of journal entries to her young ones as she watched them grow, she explains: “when I had my babies I thought, I have to write to them, and let them know how I feel at this moment… sometimes it would be a sentence or sometimes it would be three pages. Each one of them has their own journal.”
Through personal struggles, Tonan found catharsis in expressing her raw emotions in the form of the written word and it was through inspiration from her mother and a particular trip through Italy, that saw her vision of becoming an author, come to fruition.
Born in Calabria, Italy, Tonan moved with her family across the Atlantic to Niagara Falls, Canada when she was only one year old. She has maintained strong ties to the ‘old country’ ever since, explaining that her father’s promise to her mother was to always take her home. Thus every summer was spent visiting and living with relatives back in Italy, making memories that would reside deep inside her heart. Once Modesta and her husband, Marino, settled in Grimsby and began their own family, the trips back to Calabria slowed as the focus was shifted to fostering her own family and making new memories.
After several years once her children became young adults, Tonan along with her two sisters and a few friends, decided to make a trip back to Italy happen, despite many hectic schedules and commitments. This trip was a defining moment in her life, because it was this trip and all of its indulgent scenery, cuisine, and stories, which inspired Tonan to write her very first novel. The accompanying women ranged from all walks of life: widower, divorcée, business owner, mom of little ones, and as she describes her book as “autobiographical-fiction,’ she notes that “all those stories are in this book. It’s writing about other people’s experiences through my character.”
Tonan defines it by saying “this is not a love story, it’s a story of love. This woman (the main character) is all about love; the love of her family, the love of her friends, the love of an old life she thinks she’s losing and the love of a new life at the grasp of her hands.” She felt compelled to write about somewhat unknown territory: a woman in a once loving relationship which has turned tumultuous, leaving their future uncertain, takes a trip with her closest female comrades in search of something more, and finds herself the object of a local’s attraction.
“I Love You Still.”
While “I Belong To You” focuses on the experiences abroad from the viewpoint of one woman, Julia, it is her supporting cast of friends that will get their stories told further in Tonan’s anticipated sequel: “I Love You Still.” She explains that in writing the second book, her objective is to reveal more about the secondary characters to appease her readers. “The first book is about the journey and introducing all the characters. You can’t write about eight people in 200 pages, so I had to zero in on one woman and talk about her life and just introduce all the other women.”
In addition to her follow up, Tonan is also penning a book entitled “See Me,” which came to be from a culmination of book signings, meet and greets and even experiences drawn from her own life. The author passionately recounts, “When I go to my book signing, I have all these people opening up to me. I have people telling me that they have cancer. I have people telling me that they’ve left their husbands. I have a woman from Singapore who has my book and messaged me and asked if I would write her story. It makes me feel like I need to do something more.”
She continues by saying, “writing ‘I Belong To You,’ has helped me heal. I feel like it is now my responsibility of healing these women – maybe not forever but for that bit of time that they’re opening up to me and I need to listen. We all have stories… when you look at someone you assume things, so ‘See Me’ is see me outside of my label of who I am … actually see the person without their label on.” Certainly, Tonan herself is proof that everyone has a story and to never judge too quickly. On the day we meet, she is wearing a stylish, summer outfit, her hair is long and lush, and just below her beautiful smile is a necklace adorned with the word ‘love.’
She had recently returned from another trip to Italy, this time with just her husband, and regaled her followers on social media with pictures and video from her latest adventures. But beneath the surface, Tonan shares a very difficult time she endured not too long ago. Only five years before, her terminally ill mother had to be placed in hospice care. While heading out of town to help her son move away to university, she got the call that her mom had passed, so immediately she and her husband turned around to make their way home. Feeling unwell during her travels, Modesta’s husband brought her directly to the hospital, and she was soon diagnosed with a life threatening infection and required emergency surgery.
Tonan describes this time as very painful, but more so emotionally painful, despite the physical ailments with which she was faced. She tearfully realizes the therapeutic release of writing after this dark period, “I think this book helped me through that. I think between my mother and that trip, I went ‘you need to write about this.’ ”
However with every dark cloud, there comes a silver lining, or in Tonan’s case, the silver screen. With Chapters/Indigo selling out and requesting more copies of her book, and audiences gathering for her book signings and motivational speeches, it was a matter of time before her story would catch the eye of someone who would make this bigger, and give it a life of its own. With “I Belong To You” currently being written into a screen play, and being shopped to studios in the New Year, her hopes are set high.
“When I wrote this book I saw it as a movie. Italy, and its views … this (story) is meant to be on the big screen. We’re going big with this,” she states with a genuine blend of enthusiasm and confidence. “We want it to be a Niagara/Italy production, so it will be filmed in Niagara as well as Italy. It’s a perfect storm for a movie; it has women, intrigue, romance, wine, relationships. We need something like this, a good life/love story.”
Many lessons can be learned from the story of love by Modesta Tonan. And that is that love is not always frilly and pretty and romantic, it can get messy and tough; but if there is respect and support for one another, that is the best foundation for love to grow. “I have to live my life with love, and in love. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”