Origins: part 1

This was a tale that grew in the telling.

I suspect that must be true of most, if not all, works of fiction: I can’t imagine one that is born fully-formed. Rather, a seed of an idea somehow germinates in its creator’s mind and, being just interesting or unusual enough to merit attention and not tossed onto the creative compost heap, is tended on a regular basis to grow beyond any recognition of its original (or even intended) shape.

That’s certainly what happened with me. My novel was born out of a mere fragment of an idea, barely a thought exercise, sometime in 2011. I spontaneously cobbled together something of a fairy-tale, playing it over in my head one sleepless night, an odd boy-meets-girl fable in which the narrator is confronted with something so utterly beyond his experience and comprehension that he can barely describe it, let alone attempt an explanation.

“Describe the indescribable”. Far be it from me to set easy targets for myself, right?

[Of course, the novel would likely have died right there in its larval stage without the endless love, encouragement and selfless generosity of my partner, to whom I’ve dedicated the novel. ¡Infinitas gracias, mi amor!]

The encounters between my two protagonists were originally very innocent, sweet and whimsical. I was tutoring young kids in French at the time and was using Saint-Exupérey’s Le Petit Prince as a teaching tool, so I suppose it was very near the surface as my own tale was coming together. Exchanges between my central figures, Justin and Billie, were replete with “Why is the sky blue?” -kind of reflections. If the novel had been published in those early days, it would have been a children’s book, with a hard cover the dimensions of a vinyl LP, lavishly illustrated in watercolours and pastels.

But, as it turns out, I’m not that kind of writer.

When I began committing my story to… paper (pixels?, bytes?), I’d set the age of my narrator to about 12 years. That lasted about 5 or 6 chapters before I realized my voice wasn’t going to lend itself (not convincingly, anyway) to that of a child, even a precocious one like Justin. So I barrelled on ahead, changing the voice mid-stream to that of an adult looking back on the events of his childhood. By then the narrative had acquired a crime mystery subplot, and the geographical setting took on a distinctly rough and seedy quality: Ferguston, Ontario, was born. When I went back to review the beginning, the contrast was startling, and adjustments had to be made. The tone had evolved to something more like Saint-Exupérey-via-Stephen-King.

Research was done on the fly. If I’d followed my natural instincts to get all my ducks in a row and conduct all my research before getting started, I never would have gotten past the dedication. When I felt out of my depth and needed more insight than could be provided by a Google search, I consulted doctors, police, and psychologists. When I needed to refresh my memory of the region and get a more palpable feel for the world I was creating, I went for a drive.

During one of these forays in September, 2015, I lingered for a short while in Parry Sound, a small lakeside town on Georgian Bay. That is where I found my Ferguston, or rather what Ferguston might be without out all the anger, crime, and despair. The resemblance to the town I’d envisioned was striking: even the cemetery was similar, down to the giant pine trees and the older, less-tended section with headstones from the early 20th century. Funny thing, I had already described these and other details in the novel long before I ever set foot in Parry Sound, which made this discovery all the more startling. Other details, namely the huge 32m high railway trestle, which didn’t quite fit into my vision of Ferguston, found a home in another fictional locality in the story.

Pieces were coming together: I had a general tone for the novel, the basics of a story-line that included an as-yet embryonic crime mystery, and a clear idea of the physical setting where all this was taking place.

Time to start making people.

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