IT IS often said to write what you know. Sometimes, there is a strong desire to write about where you know, too—so to speak.
From the beginning, before laying a finger on my keyboard, I knew Vindictive would take place in Canada. While I planned to set scenes in several well-known Canadian locales, my primary objective was to create a totally original city to position the bulk of the story within.
The desire was present, the innovative passion robust, but truthfully, the idea to create this city did not burst from my noggin like Athena from Zeus’s head, dynamic and unexpected. Instead, it was inspired by Mark Frost and David Lynch’s quirky, totally original town of Twin Peaks. The notion that I could craft a place wholly from my imagination and fill it with sexy, crazy, and dramatic—okay, melodramatic characters greatly appealed to me.
Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, I read many books set in non-Canadian cities. From Charles Dickens’s London to James Baldwin’s Paris to Anne Rice’s New Orleans to countless books set in New York. I rarely got taken to a Canadian landscape. If I did, these novels usually took place in rural prairies, small-town Northern Ontario or the bucolic countryside and fishing villages of Maritime provinces.
While these stories were entertaining, their settings authentic to many Canadian voices and experiences, I wanted something to reflect a landscape nearer to my personal urban upbringing. I yearned to read stories where a location I was more familiar with was brought to the forefront. I had little in common with the depression-era backdrop of Hugh Garner’s Toronto-set Cabbagetown—a high-school reading requirement.
In University, I complained to anyone who would listen, professors and fellow students alike, that I was desperate to read something modern set in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. Something with nary a cliff or prairie thistle to be found.
Thanks to suggestions from amazing people, I discovered Tanya Huff and Brad Fraser, two Canadian writers who set their work in Toronto, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta. The contemporary, urban feel of these novels blew my mind. The use of modern locales, familiar cultural settings, and trendy establishments in Huff’s Blood Books series and in Fraser’s play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love was refreshing. It was a different Canadian flavour, a welcome change, and one that resonated with me. This was the engaging fiction I was looking for.
When the time came for me to breathe life into the world of my first novel, Vindictive, I wanted my readers to feel the same connection to contemporary urban Canada I felt reading these works.
Crafting a Canadian setting for these novels was not only important to me as a Canadian writer, born and bred, but it was pivotal to the authenticity of the book. The reader had to know unequivocally that this book possessed a modern but still accessible Canadian self-identity.
The Vindictive series of books take place primarily in the fictional city of Fairporte, Ontario, Canada. As I write in the first novel, Fairporte is a city “very much like Montreal, but one drenched in its own unique blend of French and English culture.” As a Canadian, it was important to me to acknowledge the unique duality of our French and English cultures. Due to this, the novel’s text encompasses both English and Quebecois dialogue (with English translation following). If anything aside from Poutine, Nanaimo bars, and Jimbo the Drag Queen reflects the uniqueness of the Canadian identity, it is our official bilingualism.
A small, playful element of language I feature in these novels is something others might consider a cultural stereotype. Still, that label and opinion do not negate fact: it is a real thing. “Eh” is a confirmational, a word attached at the end of sentences to confirm if something is a truth, and it is peppered throughout my novel. Specific characters have this colloquial expression tagged at the end of certain statements because I hear it in conversation regularly. Many do not even realize they speak it. I know that I say it, so I wanted to incorporate it into my story. It may seem silly, but I find its use comforting, a familiar element of the Canadian identity and of home, however cliché it may seem.
My first novel, Vindictive, takes the reader on a journey across Canada. From the snowy landscape of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to the student hub of downtown Montreal. From Toronto’s upscale residential neighbourhood, “The Bridle Path,” to the LGBTQ-oriented corner of Church and Wellesley. Danger, adventure, and romance flow in abundance across this diverse Canadian terrain, converging at the nucleus that is the enigmatic city of Fairporte.
Vindictive states that: “No form of revenge is petty; all revenge is reasonable.” Setting novels entirely in Canada is also reasonable—and quite entertaining!