Where to Tell the Story
They say write what you know, but that’s always seemed like dubious advice to me.
As a writer of sci fi and fantasy, I often write tales set in distant or unknown locations – to date, these have included London; Althos; Avalon; Purgatory; Oberon and Titania; Forever; a half-drowned San Francisco; faery; Thompson Falls, Montana; and some imaginary village in northern Quebec, to name a few. More about that village in a moment.
Most of these places are imaginary, and the ones that aren’t are either places I’ve never been or real places that are far separated from our own time.
So when I planned to write a retelling of a Welsh myth, reset to a few hundred years in the future, I knew I needed to find the right place to tell the story, even if it was a place I’d never seen.
With climate change and warming a virtual certainty in our future, I decided it had to be somewhere in the North. I decided to try Canada, and pulled up Apple Maps to scan the terrain for someplace currently out in the wilds that might make a good setting for a future agrarian village. I started out near Vancouver and worked my way east.
When I saw this lake in Quebec, I knew I’d found my story’s setting:
That’s Lake Manicouga, formed in an ancient asteroid crater by a dam that sits at the far southern tip of the lake. It met all my criteria – In the far north, the site of something ancient and mysterious, and just a really cool place.
Turns out there’s a little highway that runs along the eastern side of the lake, which provided the perfect setting for my village of Manicougan (see what I did there?). And with a little more imagination (and research), I moved some of the plants and animals from farther south up to central and Northern Quebec, where the climate should be quite a bit warmer than it is now.
So it’s not really “write what you know.” It should really be “write what you can research. And then throw in a bit of fantasy to keep it interesting.” 🙂
Dwyn is a young man in the small, isolated town of Manicouga, son of the Minstor, who is betrothed to marry Kessa in a few weeks’ time.
Mael is shepherding the remains of his own village from the north, chased out by a terrible storm that destroyed Land’s End.
Both are trying to find their way in a post-apocalyptic world. When the two meet, their love and attraction may change the course of history.
The Great North was inspired by St. Dwynwen’s Day, also known as Welsh Valentines Day:
“We celebrate Dwyn’s Day as a testament to true love and sacrifice. It’s a remembrance of the way things were and the way they’ve come to be. In the end, let it be a reminder that every one of us has the power to change the course of events through love.”
—Dillon Cooper, New Gods and Monsters, Twenty years After Dwyn
The gray clouds scudded by overhead, blowing in quickly from the east.
Dwyn shivered and pulled on his woolen cap. It was cold out, unusual for so early in the fall. The rains had been heavy this season, the wettest in a generation, and Circle Lake was close to overflowing its banks. If he stretched to look over the rows of corn plants, he could see the waters lapping at the shore far below, as if hungry to consume his village of Manicouga.
His father had consulted the elders, some of whom had seen more than fifty summers, and everyone agreed things were changing. Whether that augured good or ill was anyone’s guess.
He shrugged and moved along the row of plants, breaking off ears of corn and throwing them into the jute sack that hung from his shoulder.
Ahead of him, two of his age-mates, Declan and Baia, were working their way down the next two rows.
Dwyn frowned. He got distracted easily, and he’d let the two of them get a jump on him. That wouldn’t do.
He redoubled his pace. He moved with focus and purpose, and soon he was closing the gap with his friends.
“Someone’s being chased by a lion,” Baia said with a laugh.
“Or a tiger.” Declan grinned, his nice smile only missing one tooth, lost to a fight with one of the Beckham brothers the year before.
Dwyn grinned. “Or a bear?” Dwyn only knew lions and tigers from the fairy tale his mother used to tell them, “The Girl and the Aus.” He had no idea what an Aus was, either.
Bears he knew. The hunters occasionally brought one home, and old Alesser had a five-line scar across his wrinkled face that he claimed came from one of the beasts.
A shout went up from ahead of them. Dwyn craned his neck to see what the ruckus was, but he couldn’t make out anything. “What’s going on?”
Declan, who was half a head taller, looked toward the commotion. “Hard to tell. Something down by the road.”
Dwyn laid down his sack carefully and ran up the hill to one of the old elms that dotted the field. He climbed into the tree, scurrying up through the leaves and branches until he had a clear view of the Old Road. It ran from up north to somewhere down south, maybe near the ruins of old Quebec if the merchant tales held any truth. Hardly anyone from Manicouga ever followed it, but occasionally traders would follow it to town, bringing exotic wares and news from the other villages that were scattered up and down its length.
They swore it went all the way down to the Heat, the great desert that had consumed much of the world after the Reckoning.
“What’s going on down there?” Baia called from below.
Dwyn tried to make sense of it. “There are three wagons coming down the pass. They’re loaded up with all sorts of things. They don’t look like traders though.”
The first of the horse-drawn wagons had just reached the field above the main township. It stopped, and someone hopped off to talk with the villagers who had gathered from the fields.
“We need to get down there,” Dwyn said, scrambling down the tree trunk. “Something’s happening.” Nothing new ever happened in Manicouga, and he wasn’t going to miss it.
He grabbed his sack and sprinted toward the Old Road, not waiting to see if Declan and Baia followed.
Buy Links Etc:
Mischief Corner Books: http://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/store/p121/The_Great_North.html
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-great-north-j-scott-coatsworth/1126572845?ean=2940157258634
Smashwords: Coming Soon
Scott spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Enticed into fantasy and sci fi by his mom at the tender age of nine, he devoured her Science Fiction Book Club library. But as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were in the books he was reading.
He decided that it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at his local bookstore. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s mind works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He loves to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs both Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own lives.
Facebook (personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth
Facebook (author page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/
QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/
3 responses to “Guest Blog: J. Scott Coatsworth on “The Great North””
Great article! Go, Scott! BTW, Jamie, this website is gorgeous! (tries not to drool)
Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
On Jamie Fessenden’s blog I found a great guest post, written by J. Scott Coatsworth, author of “The Great North”. Enjoy reading about his work, this author and the book.