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bacon, beavers, tim hortons and me


some of you (mainly those who know me ex-blog) are aware that i recently finished a draft of a first novel. this was quite unexpected, since it started life initially as something quite different. in fact, some day i'll probably find a way to make the story of the creation of the novel into a work of fiction, thus allowing me to get the maximum impact from every idea that runs through my overtaxed little brain.

the next evolutionary step in my progress as a writer has been to start researching different avenues by which i could get this published. this is tricky (ironically, so is the name of the novel) at the best of times, but i've discovered that i am working from a peculiar handicap. i'm geographically incorrect.

being a canadian, it occurred to me that it would be easier for me to start researching publishers in canada for my magnificent octopus (if you don't get that, you need to watch more blackadder). turns out, this may have been a bit of a mistake on my part.

it turns out that canadian publishers are not interested simply in works by canadian writers. in order to be considered by most publishers in this country, a book must have the appearance of being canadian. that means that it should be set in canada, should feature canadian cultural icons, that it should reference canada in more than just the author's bio. and my novel doesn't do that.

what i wrote is set in san francisco, with a few cutaway scenes in salt lake city. there are a lot of reasons why i chose to do this, all of them important to the structure of the story. most importantly, the contrast between these two places, culturally and geographically, is important to the theme. i chose them specifically for this reason. i could have tried setting it in vancouver and rural alberta, but it doesn't have the same meaning. i've been to both cities (one for work, the other for enjoyment and if you can't figure out which is which, there's something seriously wrong with you) and felt comfortable writing them into the story as it went along.

unfortunately, my choice of setting seems to have disqualified me as a canadian in the publishing world. a setting is apparently more important than an author's actual ethnicity when it comes to the written word. maybe some of these publishers would actually enjoy what i've written, or maybe they wouldn't. i can't even cross that hurdle, because i don't meet the qualifications they set out as proper canadiana, so i wouldn't be up for consideation.

it's a weird feeling, suddenly having your sense of nationalism amputated in this fashion. i've always identified fairly strongly as canadian, but not necessarily with the icons of canada. i'm not a big hockey fan. i think tim horton's coffee tastes like chewing on day-old grounds. in a country with the second largest expanse of f**k all in the world, i am more at home in the city. the thing is, i've always understood my national identity to be a more subtle thing, something that reveals itself when pressed, but does not advertise, sort of like superman (a canadian creation himself). i wasn't aware that this made me sub-standard.

the ironic thing is, i would have a better chance of getting published in canada if i had set the story on the moon, or in some mythical country whose name i cobbled together from ancient sumerian legends, because once you decide to completely abandon the realm of the real world, all bets are off. if you're not specifically stating that your story is set someplace else, you are canadian again. if you're writing about vienna or london or buenos aires or san francisco, you'd better be doing it from the point of view of someone from small-town canada who's aching to go home.

i have another idea for a novel, one that i had actually started working on a long time before, but which has proved a struggle to finish, that's set in montreal. some day, i'll take that book to a canadian publisher and be recognised as properly canadian. until then, i'm checking out publishers in the us and my canadian identity will have to remain a secret...

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