In a place far, far away…

At some point, a writer has to decide where their story will be set; will it be busy mid-town Manhattan, or a sleepy hamlet in the English countryside? The choice of locale can be central to the storyline, or it can mean nothing at all. It occurred to me not too long ago, that in my thirty years of romance reading (from Harlequin to historical to erotica), I could count on one hand the number of books I’ve read that featured a Canadian setting. As my own writing continues to evolve and be influenced by my surroundings, I began to wonder why this was the case? There are plenty of Canadian romance writers out there, so what’s the excuse? The majority of popular fiction is set in the US or UK. Since these two countries make up the bulk of the English-speaking world, that makes some sense. But do publishers think readers don’t want to explore outside their borders? Or that readers won’t be able to relate to settings they’re not familiar with? That doesn’t wash. I know plenty of people who have never visited the UK but still read (and write) stories set there. And as a reader I’m unlikely to boycott a book simply because of its setting. Or is this mysterious exile more self-imposed? Are we Canadian writers suffering from our usual inferiority complex? We think we’re too boring and polite, and nobody could possibly be interested in reading about us? Or are we so used to being joined-at-the-hip with our neighbours to the south, we ignore our own backyard? About a year ago, as I was agonizing over whether to make my Toronto setting front and centre in Nights Like These, I wondered why I was even hesitating. Did other writers debate the merits of their hometown? American and British writers never seem to think twice about basing stories in their countries, so why should I? Why does setting even matter? In romance especially, the focus is on the universal experiences of relationships and falling in love. Love is love, right? Whether it’s set in Australia, or South Africa or even someplace as foreign and strange as Canada. The best thing about writing in this genre is the freedom. Of course if you’re open-minded enough to want to read same-sex love stories, I would expect you to be open-minded enough to explore new territory. Since discovering m/m, I’ve read stories that take place in settings both familiar and foreign. I’ve seen other Canadian writers openly embrace their homeland and it’s given me the courage to do the same. My next novel features a First Nations character (North American Indian to those outside Canada). In that sense it is uniquely Canadian. My challenge was to make it relatable by anyone who has ever been disenfranchised because of their background, and I think I’ve achieved that. I ‘m not out to wave the flag and convert the masses to hockey worshipping, coffee-drinking weather-watchers. I have set stories in other locales and will do so again, but it’s nice to know you can go home again when you want to.

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