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.
Is there a particular town that stands out in your memory, or perhaps one you’ve always wanted to visit?
Let me know in the comments section below!
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