Write what you know, they say.
I’d add to that, write where you know. Unless, of course, you’re locating your novel in 1700s Scotland and going viral with, say, Outlander. Research works, too.
More than one person has wondered, and asked, why I placed Adam’s Witness in Saskatoon. (More often, I get asked, who is Adam based on? I’ll get to that one day.)
Folks often think that novels must be set in exciting and enormous cities — New York, London, Paris, Moscow — to have enough scope for imagination and to fire the imaginations of readers. The other alternatives are exotic locations or pretty towns in rural France. They’re probably right that such locations are appealing to a wider book-buying audience.
I asked the great mystery writer Gail Bowen the same question, actually, in an interview for the newspaper I work for. Why locate the Joanne Kilbourn novels in Regina, Saskatchewan? But I only asked because I thought readers would be curious about that. I was quite sure I understood.
And she told me that life happens everywhere, not just in New York or Paris.
Every village, town, city or other type of community holds the ingredients for a novel: love, hate, passion, murder, jealousy, redemption.
To be sure, every city is unique, as well: cultural makeup, geography, functional or dysfunctional institutions and governments, brilliant or evil leaders — all in their own ways.
Saskatoon is both unique and representative, and I hoped very much to illustrate my beloved home town both ways, in both fictional and realistic ways. It’s physically beautiful. Vibrant. Growing. Community focused. People smile and say hello while traversing downtown sidewalks. Try that in New York.
People also hide darkness in their hearts. They crave love. They act on passion. We’re all human beings, with animal instincts and sophisticated problem-solving abilities, whether we’re perpetrating a crime or solving one. Or falling in love.
Saskatoon is the universal city, just like every other. It’s Adam and Grace’s city.
And it’s my city.