The mystery of inspiration
In 2016, I took my first trip to Alberta. At 30something, I had never seen most of Canada, only the close parts of Ontario where I called home, or had the meagre means to make it to without too much trouble. I spent the first part of my trip on business, poking around event venues close to major arteries within the city. Once my work was completed, I turned on my out of office, grabbed a rental car and drove to Canmore where I would spend the next few days. To say I was enchanted would be an understatement. The rocky mountains are indescribable. At the time, I tried to capture their beauty with my camera lens and my amateur point and shoot skills. Even the time I spent scribbling in my ever present notebook with plans for the yet-unnamed novel I was crafting, I never connected the two.
It wasn’t until years later someone asked me where the novel took place and I was still unsure. Was it earth, or another planet? Was it a factual or fictional space? In between bouts of impostor syndrome (seriously, who starts a novel without figuring out where it’s set?) I started to think about where it made sense. My first concept took place on another world, but I scrapped that idea after deciding I didn’t want to create a new world on top of a new species. I had previously conceptualized a novel set in New York, but only one New York trip didn’t give me enough to do the city justice in my opinion.
I started to think about places I knew. (Write what you know, right?) My rural hometown had the charm, but it was far too small. Toronto was too concrete jungle-y. I needed nature. Beauty. Hiding places for those who needed to stay hidden. I needed trees, and mountains. I started to daydream about my time in Calgary. (How is it possible I spent a week in Canmore/Banff, and plenty of time in nature, and didn’t spot a bear once?) The more I thought about the landscape, the creatures, and the majesty of the rocky mountains, I knew that’s where my book took place. It wasn’t a choice anymore. The Kananaskis mountains were the perfect place for the hunted to hide. Bearspaw hosts some sprawling mansions that my villain would love to take over for his growing empire of evil. And the memories of the scenery I’d fallen in love with were enough to keep me going.
My favorite part of the Neil Gaiman masterclass on writing is his concept of a compost pile for writing. As a writer, if you pen a scene that you really love but it doesn’t quite fit in your current project, throw it on your metaphorical compost pile. What if my endless camera roll of the Three Sisters mountains were a compost pile of sorts for my burgeoning novel?
A recent trip back to Calgary (and mostly spent in the city) brought memories of that 2016 trip rushing back. I stumbled upon the street corner where I’d sat outside a Starbucks one Friday evening, determined to write my novel. (My toxic trait is that I think every vacation is going to be a writing retreat, but I love sleep too much.) I still remember what I wrote that day — the scene and most of the characters never actually made the book. It’s sitting dormant on my own compost pile, and perhaps it’ll become something someday.