Some might be surprised to learn how important location becomes in setting a story. After all, authors like me need to “see it” before we can “write it.” It could be easy to place a big city character in any big city or a farm girl on any farm, but the richness of the story comes from forging a true connection to their place. Any Southern Belle will cringe at a Cajun accent pasted on a character from Kentucky, while Americans can pick out a Canuck at 30 metres the minute they say “about.” Location works just like an accent. It is a part of us and it should be written that way.
When I chose a location, it must make sense for the characters, and where they are going both literally and figuratively. For that reason, I need to know the place or have a good feel for it. Often when I sit down to write, the location and the characters’ backstory are so interwoven the work is done. Well, the backstory at least. Having lived and travels widely, it can be easy to draw on those pieces of the people I’ve met and the locations in which they live and thrive. Still, writing for an audience places some pressure on me. I worry if readers will be interested in a book that takes place in a foreign location? Do readers need a setting they know or imagine they know?
When writing my first romance, Don’t Let Go, I drove to Buffalo to visit old friends and for another reason too. I wanted to explore the city core I had come to know as a child accompanying my grandmother as she revisited her war-time haunts. In the story, my protagonist is a hero, a broken hero with serious challenges. I wanted her to flourish and Buffalo with it’s recover and rediscover of it’s Art Deco architecture and heritage became the background needed. I wanted my broken warrior to rise from the tragedy much like the beseeched city of Buffalo had worked long and hard for her economic recovery.
When it came to writing Queen of Hearts I was in a different place. I already had five novels in print and another manuscript in production. It was time to face my greatest fear. Would American readers be comfortable with a story set in Toronto, or more accurately the 905, that suburban sprawl laid out like a fan around the Metro area? Or worst, the wilderness, or the edges of the Boreal Forest only a few hours drive away? Or what about helicopters? Yup, it wouldn’t be a story of mine without at least a mention of aviation. And what about Castles? Does the average Yank know how many Castles exist within a few hundred clicks of this place? Yup, for some reason a whole lot of folks went Castle crazy about a hundred and fifty years ago. So, there’s that too.
Castles, flying, and a bevy of hot competitive women vying for the ultimate prize could be set anywhere but it works here. All while the irony of suburban scrawl, traffic jams, and productional challenges make for a whole lot of Canadian sized fun. Oh, and if this is your first visit north of the border, don’t worry about the weather. The Greater Toronto Area is warm and sunny all summer long. And on the odd day it’s not, don’t worry, we’ll apologize until the cows come home. That reminds me of Osgood Hall. It’s right next to Toronto City Hall and is protected by a colonial cast-iron fencing that includes cow stoppers on every gate. Evidently when Upper Canada’s first Law School opened, they needed the fence to keep the neighbourhood cows from chowing down on their flower beds.
We’ve come a long way, baby.