How To Build A Town, Part 2

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A few days ago, I talked a little about why I chose to build a fictional town for my Detectives Anais Quinn and her partner, Lorne Winters, rather than just have them live and work somewhere that already existed. I told you about the population of Sitka Cove as well as how it’s growing as a community. But growing pains are real in real communities, so of course Sitka Cove will suffer from growing pains as well.

With growth comes crime, and all sorts of cases for Detective Anais Quinn and her partner Lorne Winters to solve. 

The challenge for me was not just to create a town that I could build future stories on, but to make the town sustainable enough that it could grow. In short, provide Sitka Cove with a future as well as my detective. Cue the research into successful settlements of the past and why they were located where they were, sustainable cities, and urban growth. It’s been a wonderful rabbit-hole to get lost in. Another challenge is how much of all this new knowledge to use. Ideally, I want to use enough to give my reader a sense that Sitka Cove could be a real place, run by a real Town Manager. In turn, how can I use the Town Manager as a useful character, instead of a pointless walk-on? (I’m leaning heavily toward the Town Manager being either a jogging buddy of my detective or perhaps a fellow poker player. It remains to be determined.)

I see Sitka Cove as more than just a place for people to do things on their way to do other things. Remember I told you last time that Sitka Cove sits on the shore of Lake Superior? The Northern end of town is the oldest part, the first settled end of town, that the locals call “Old Town”. Lake Superior has been reclaiming that land, the flood coming in a little closer every spring and not really receding. So Old Town loses a little more of itself every year. The people that live at this end of town are here because they can’t afford to move anywhere else. They tend to live hand-to-mouth and life is not easy in Old Town. The houses are run down, the roads are not kept up and Town Council can’t quite figure out how to fix the problems of Old Town. Crime festers in neighbourhoods like this. Drugs, theft, vandalism…all stem from a lack of hope. Gangs are born in this environment, fed by frustration, and grow quickly in the absence of community leadership.

At the other end of town, there is growth. A new college has been built – clean, shiny and full of promise. It will keep the younger Sitkans closer to home while it teaches them skills they will need to make a living without going South. Without going “away”. Part of the college’s mandate is also to give older residents new skills. Re-educate them in new fields so that they have more choices, so they can be a productive part of Sitka Cove’s growth and future. Not all of the citizens buy into this, of course. Many call it “political bullshit”. They are too jaded to see anything but the rest of their lives spinning out exactly as it has for all their lives.

But Body In The Bush is not simply about disheartened and frustrated people taking out their frustrations on one another. It is more than just an investigation into who the dead man is under the pine trees. It is the story of finding one’s way back home again. Finding family, and love, and hope, and shining a light on the future that is full of possibility. But before you think the characters are going to break into song, remember this is a mystery. Sitka Cove is peppered with people that might live beside you. Or me. Conspiracy theorists, paranoid people making their way through life by playing on the mistakes of others, people just trying to make a living off the land, the lake or each other. People who want a better life, but just don’t see how they can have one. Folks who make poor choices, who are desperate, judgmental, angry, addicted or simply tired of feeling powerless. Body In The Bush is their story as well.  

I can’t wait to bring you Body In The Bush! These edits are going far slower than I like. Have you ever read a book that featured a fictional place that left an impression on you? Shout out in the comments and share it with us.

Undercover Justice

There is a town held fast by the powerful grip of fear – of one man. No one dares to stand against him until a secretive, mysterious stranger comes to town looking for medical help. They just want to be patched up and leave town, but the raging infection and a stunning brunette doctor won’t allow that. When enforcers start dying one by one, suspicion starts to fly as thick as the dust on the street. But no one suspects the stranger.
One day, there is a showdown between the stranger and the man who rules the town with fear, and only one of them will be left standing.

This is a tale of secrets, hope and the bravery it takes to stand up to cruelty.

Cheaper than a burger, you can find it at Smashwords, Amazon or other fine retailers.

How To Build A Town

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One of the things I’ve recently become interested in is the ways cities and towns are planned and laid out. World-building is seen most predominantly in science fiction and fantasy, but my focus lately has been mysteries. I got to wondering, surely world-building was important in the mystery genre, right? Three days of searching on Google seems to be returning a negative reply. If Google is to be believed, (and I don’t), mystery writers never consider world-building, they just seem to pick a city and plop their story and characters into a pre-made place.

That wasn’t the way I wanted to go with my mystery, Body In The Bush.

Body In The Bush is the story of an Indigenous detective named Anais Quinn. She is forced to return to the town she grew up in, Sitka Cove, after being away for twelve years. One of the first cases she’s assigned is the investigation into the discovery of a deceased person in the woods (what we call the bush up here in Northern Ontario) outside of town. I knew before I’d written a single word that I wanted my mystery to take place in Northern Ontario. The experts all advise, “write what you know”, and I’ve made Northern Ontario my home for a number of years. There are secrets up here, just as there are in cities. The people that call the bush home have ambitions, jealousies, untapped potential, greed, dreams and aspirations just as much as anywhere else in the country. And it is all of those things that drive people to commit crimes against one another, no matter where they live. So why is Northern Ontario so under-represented in the mystery genre?

The answer lies in Toni Morrison’s advice to writers everywhere. “If you cannot find the story you want to read, you must write it yourself.”

So I have.

But I didn’t want to write about a town that already existed. I wanted to make my own town, and not only to avoid the controversy that Stephen Leacock endured when he wrote Sunshine Sketches of A Small Town. So I turned to world-building. 

Initially, I envisioned Sitka Cove as having about 40,000 people, but that number has been dialed back recently. I see Sitka Cove as the centerpiece of a series of mysteries, so I want to leave room for it to grow. It has schools, diners, shops, an art gallery, a police force, a medical center, a museum that focuses on the town’s history, and good neighborhoods as well as bad. The town was founded on the shore of Lake Superior, and climate change is wreaking havoc on one of the older parts of town in the form of floods every time the water levels in the lake rise. Historically, Sitka Cove (simply called ‘Sitka’ by the locals) relied on the logging and fishing for income and growth. But as time passed, roads crept ever closer to Sitka and the people had options. As my story opens, provincial roads now stretch all the way into the town, and brought with it a chain of donut shops and all of the vices of a city. The local economy is about to boom now that diamonds have been found in the cliffs and bluffs not far from town. A college will be opening soon too — growth will be everywhere. With growth comes crime, and all sorts of cases for Detective Anais Quinn and her partner Lorne Winters to solve.

Next time, I’ll share my vision for my fictional town and how it fits into my mystery. Stay tuned!

If You Go Into The Woods Today…

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The detective who lives in my head (she refuses to believe she’s fictional) often tells her work-partner Lorne that animals can be killers. Real-life animals seem to agree with her.

In 2013, in Belarus, a 60-year-old ex-serviceman died of blood loss after being attacked by a beaver. The man was bitten multiple times by the rodent, which sliced an artery with its sharp teeth. It has been suggested that the man was trying to catch the beaver to have his photo taken with it.

In 2009 Taylor Mitchell, a Canadian folk singer, was attacked and killed by three coyotes, the only recorded adult person to have been killed by this species.

The cougar is a deadly animal, with nearly 40% of all attacks by this big cat occurring in British Columbia. Cougars stalk their prey on huge, silent paws and then attack in a whisper-quiet rush of death. Playing dead only results in — death.

Bears, black, polar and grizzlies, will all attack and maul if they feel threatened, if a mother bear has cubs nearby, or just because they feel like being an ass. Common wisdom says to keep all food out of sniff-range, don’t walk in the woods silently or alone and never, ever underestimate them. They have been known to break into and destroy cars, trucks, even camps.

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And as Detective Anais Quinn will tell you, hitting a moose or deer is still the number one animal-caused death here in Northern Ontario. They can charge when feeling cornered, or during mating season, or if they’re just generally feeling harassed. In addition to the males having don’t-screw-with-me antlers, the females kick out with either their rear or front legs. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of those hooves!

In short, animals can be assholes and will kill you. So if you go into the woods today, better have life insurance!

The Sea Within

I’m a big fan of Missouri Vaun’s writing, so reading this was easy… Except for the disturbing look at what the human race has done to the environment with such brash lack of concern. This novel is the perfect clarion call for us to wake up and pay attention to the effect we’re having on our world. Really, we aren’t that far away from the Earth Missouri Vaun paints for us.

It’s obvious the author put a great deal of research into her work, she explains the grim future so clearly that I could very nearly smell the choking air at the beginning of the book. What a horrifying way to live – needing breathers to go anywhere, dead water, extinct birds and the list of environmental dead goes on. It didn’t take much for me to get caught up in the quest for a cure for the planet.

I desperately wanted Elle and Jackson to succeed, I could feel the ache of their rattled bones, I cringed, ducked and cried with them. Ms. Vaun wields her skill so deftly that I was certain I could reach out and touch the giant trees, or lose a hand to the ancient wildlife. These women may “live” in the near-future, but our hopes for a better world ride with them. They could have been any one of us…with kick-ass military training or a genius I.Q.

If you enjoy reading eco-fiction, and lesbian fiction that will reach out and grab you, and demand you keep reading until the last page is turned…this is the book for you. Go now and get your copy from Bold Strokes Books!