I mentioned Carson a while back. We finally met on that patio, yesterday. It was an overcast day, interrupted by sputters of rain. I found him wandering around the parking lot, trying to find the patio door (the entrance on the street remains closed). It had been shut as well; entrance was through the side door. The building began life 130 years ago as a tavern and inn which rented rooms for a dollar a day. It has persisted as some kind of gathering place, bar and restaurant, with an alleged speakeasy during prohibition and a tacky dining lounge in the 1970s. They preserve several heavy wooden tables, inscribed with generations of graffiti. Hotel rooms on the upper floor closed in 1981. The brewpub opened a decade later.
Normally, we see this place packed. It's popular with students, when university is in session, and others at all times. You see the young and beautiful on the patio alongside the old and nostalgic. The smallest of the interior bars, the one at the side, remains popular with old men. Hipper folk crowd the dance floor, a room over. COVID-19 restrictions, the time of year, the time of day we chose, and the uncertain weather kept us largely alone at our patio table, sheltered by trees.
There isn't much new with Carson, but he's getting out more now, seeing people at a safe distance. Two of his favourite pastimes, live theatre and local sports, remain unavailable.
I walked home. Shortly after arriving, the rain began to fall in earnest.
I'm trying to complete a new novel while addressing the problematic issues of work, but much of my writing life, right now, involves the uncorrected proofs of The Con, which goes to press in October.
Larger changes, of which there were a few, we addressed soon after the contract was signed. Proofing and revision followed, with my editor's input helping immeasurably. A couple typos appeared in the proof, easily corrected: "blub" for "club" and one misplaced capital.
With the distance created by time, I have made a few revisions of another sort. Minor, but an interesting part of the process. I sent them along, with "a long-winded but hopefully entertaining explanation" for "the curious editor." All three involve the youthful half of the novel's main cast. I provide a variation of it, along with (some) contextualizing information.
The curious reader will require two pieces of information. Firstly, the book refers to real communities, mainly in Ontario and Michigan. Los Angeles makes an appearance, as does a fictional planet and an actual planetoid. Much of the novel takes place in a fictional hotel in the GTA. Characters hail from places like Sarnia (where Chris Hadfield was born and James Doohan grew up) and London, Ontario, the Kawarthas and Holland, Michigan. But some of the characters grew up in an entirely fictional town, one I created a decade ago around some characters that were in my mind, ones I knew I would use at some point. I gave it a history and social and physical geography.
Secondly, the length of the book itself pushed it into the classification of novel, but not by many pages. We decided to include two short stories that expand on events in some characters' lives, thus giving the reader more for the price.
Both of these points are relevant here.
I had recounted events in the life of one character in both The Con and one of those stories. It annoyed me a little that the descriptions were so similar, so I made a small change there. The change also shuts down any smartass who wants to argue that the sort of laptop available at a public school would be insufficient to perform a particular hack. That's actually debatable, but I see the point.
That same story explicitly placed the town on a specific shore of Lake Huron and implicitly in Huron County. That's where I imagine it being and how I think through any geographical references. Most readers care little about these details, but if they're wrong, it can play as some kind of reality breach, even if the reader isn't certain why.
My backstory for the town included a high school football team, and they became a minor but important reference in The Con. Change one small detail to a work, sometimes, and significant events collapse.
In the real world, Huron County is part of the Avon-Maitland Board of Education. When there's not a global pandemic, they run many sports, but not football. My approach had been, so what? One of the Jane Austen Society characters evidently belongs to the Sarnia chapter of JASNA, and, in the real world, that city doesn't have one. This is fiction. You know what else Huron County doesn't have? My imaginary town.
However, I did some looking around, and it appears that nothing would stop such a town from starting a high school football program. The team would have to apply to play with a conference in a nearby school board. The two adjacent school boards both field teams, so maybe they play with one of those. Alternatively, the town could be in the south-west corner of Bruce County or the north-west corner of Lambton County. Both of the relevant boards play football, and those locations wouldn't throw off the geographical references by much. In the end, I leave the town's specific location as a puzzle for the sort of reader (should I attract one) who ponders over which state Gotham City is in or where in Mississippi you'd find Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.1
That said, I referenced a game against an identified town in that school board, and that struck me as calling attention to this detail, which a whole handful of people would recognize as unrealistic. So, I eliminated the (rather arbitrary) inclusion of that town by name, and changed one other reference into something less specific. These changes did not need to be made, but I rather like the effect and, in the process, one line became moderately more amusing.
Of course, you could go on forever with this sort of revision, and I have no intention of doing so. Lord of the Flies features a significant science error, and most readers have neither noticed nor cared. Casablanca happily conjured its McGuffin, the notorious "Letters of Transit," from thin air. Tarzan's Africa took its geography from already out-of-date colonial literature and Edgar Rice Burroughs's imagination. So one of these misrepresents science, another history, and the third (and most problematic), geography and culture. All remain fictively legitimate, even if the first might confuse the careful reader and the last, frankly, is racist.
Clearly, some thought as to the interplay between reality and fantasy remains essential when writing.
Now, all I have to worry about are irate emails from people who imagine they're the SF fen from my novel (you're not), or from some physics professor at U of T who insists he doesn't have an illegitimate genius daughter.
1. I would, of course, love to attract such a reader. But I think I must start with aspirations of attracting any readers.
The entire matter gets complicated further by a minor geographical location using the town's name, which sits on another shore of Lake Huron. The only building there is a small marina. At that point, "This is fiction" comes into play. Clearly, mine is some other place by that name.
The marina likely doesn't field a football team, either.