Several times this summer, when I was out for a run, I caught myself thinking ‘wow, my city is beautiful’, or something similar. Yesterday, on my way to go and vote, on a carpet of autumn leaves, in a park full of glorious trees (including some pines that always make me smile), even though the beach is deserted (both by people and ducks) for the season, I found myself thinking it again. So I guess Ottawa is ‘my city’, now.
I’m not exactly sure when that happened, but I’ve lived places where it hasn’t. I grew up near Toronto, and it has never been my city. It was always a place to visit, it was never home. Even when I (very briefly) lived there, the city and I both knew it was temporary. When I’ve returned over the years, it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘going back’ anywhere. I’m a visitor. In Windsor, where I studied for four years, I met people I treasure, made precious memories, and never felt for a moment that this was ‘my’ place.
On the other hand, York, where I lived for a year, did feel like my city. I was probably predisposed to fall in love with it, thick with history and medieval buildings as it is, but I really came to feel at home with the wonderful people that I met and the whole feel of the place. I never got tired of my walk to school up Walmgate, and then Petergate, or sitting by the river that has flowed forever through this place with old, old bones. I know, from one return visit, that it is so, so different from when I was there, but I also know that York will always, on some level, be the same, and it will always feel at least a little like home.
Montreal never felt like my city, even though I lived there nine years, and I’m not sure why. I really did (and do) like the place, I met wonderful people, ate amazing food, and had some fantastic times. I was even, after years of being a Montreal Canadiens fan in enemy country, cheering for the home team. I never felt like I belonged to it, or it to me, though.
And now I guess Ottawa is different, and again I’m not sure why. I do love a lot about the city, but I won’t bore you by writing a panegyric to this curious little place that is, somehow, Canada’s capital city. This whole thing has gotten me wondering why it is that we get attached to some places, and not to others. I suppose some of it may be the people we associate with them, although I met friends who are so important to me in Montreal, and Windsor, and Toronto, and none of them were home.
It’s a bit of a mystery, and it’s one I’d like to have the solution to, because (I guess obviously) being able to convey that sense of connection as a writer is an important thing. The setting of Ottawa is very important to The King in Darkness, and I hope I have conveyed a sense of the city reasonably well. The next book, that I am working busily on, takes place elsewhere, which means a whole new setting that at least some of my characters need to feel connected to.
It’s something I’ll continue to ponder, I guess, but I note that a lot of stories that really resonate with me give a really palpable sense of their settings. To reach way, way back, the Sherlock Holmes stories that I loved can really make you feel what Victorian London was like. More recently, Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper quivers with the thick sense of Brooklyn that it conveys. Interestingly, in neither case do I know what the place is really like, but I feel like I do, from reading the stories. Maybe that’s the trick; finding the right words to make your reader feel as though they’ve been to a place and know the place, even when they haven’t.
That’s all a bit rambly, and introspective. I’ll try to do better the next time.
A couple of updates: This Sunday is the official launch party for The King in Darkness, along with 3 other Renaissance Press titles and the new work from another Ottawa author, S.M. Carriere. I will be doing a reading from my book (as will all the other authors) and it promises to be a fun afternoon. Details are here, and it would be a delight to see you there, if you can make it.
Can-Con has also confirmed its schedule and I will be on three different panels, which is very exciting! I’ll be discussing what I’ve been reading lately in SF, talking about Portraying the Past in fiction, and then also about medieval armaments and transportation, all of which should be great discussions. The whole convention is a great deal of fun for both writers of SFF and fans of the genre(s); you should definitely come.
It’s looking good that I will be at PopExpo in November, as well, but details are still firming up there.