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If you’re Canadian have you ever felt the shame that goes along with it? Don’t lie. It’s there. We are the country ashamed of its culture. We are the country struggling to define its culture. We are the country used to depict American cities in movies because it’s more budget friendly. We are the country that is painstakingly removed from said movies one Toronto Star box at a time. Oops…don’t get that Tim Horton’s in the shot…this is New York, people. Remove all traces of Canada.
But sometimes…sometimes Toronto IS the best place to set a thing. Think of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. That was a delightful tour-de-force of a movie that would not have been the same in any other setting in the world. Toronto was a perfect match for Pilgrim. I’ll never forget being at the Scotiabank Theatre during the opening credits of Scott Pilgrim. The crowd went wild. That was US on that screen. Toronto. For once it was okay to be from this amazing city that seemed to require secretive measures whenever it appeared on the big screen. Toronto was a dirty little secret in Hollywood. And we all sensed it…until Scott Pilgrim.
Yes, Scott Pilgrim wasn’t the first movie openly set in Toronto. And it won’t be the last. It did seem like a line in the sand, though. Scott Pilgrim definitely brought out our cool side. We could do this. Toronto can be a cool setting. It is a viable world city. We need to change our perceptions.
When I started writing my 2nd published novel, I knew instinctively that the perfect setting for my bohemian 1970s family on the brink of destruction was The Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. I love my city. I love it hard. Sebastian Nelson, the narrator of Sebastian’s Poet, had to be from Toronto. Had to be from The Beaches. And no, I won’t call it The Beach. It’s The Beaches. It will always be The Beaches.
For my first novel, I intentionally avoided naming the setting. I was afraid that agents wouldn’t look at a novel that dared to mention Canada. This comes from somewhere. I didn’t dream up this self-loathing of place on my own. As Canadians, I sometimes feel we are conditioned to take the back seat. The sad part is, I think it’s mostly ourselves relegating ourselves to this stature. We have blurred lines where our nationalism is concerned. We grow up on American TV and music. We occasionally shun our own programming. We say, “That show’s Canadian” with disdain before quickly changing the channel.
I LOVE America. This is not an anti-America rant. I just wish we were comfortable enough in our own skins to not only be proud to be Canadians, but to salute our homeland in our creative endeavours. My go-to instinct, when embarking on fiction, was to never speak of Canada in my writings. I’m so glad I ignored this instinct when I created Sebastian’s Poet. Sebastian needed to be from the Queen Street East neighbourhood. He needed to know the yumminess that is THE GOOF. He needed the Eaton Centre windows at Christmas in the 70s. He needed to know Cirone’s Grocery, the TTC. He NEEDED GORDON LIGHTFOOT!
Some stories just require Canadiana in order for them to be told. Sometimes, the only place in the world where a story belongs is in Toronto. We set a tourism record here in Toronto for 2014. 14.3 million visitors. It’s time to show our streets in movies and literature. It’s time to stop being ‘New York’. We can do this. We can be ourselves. We’re good enough. We are a viable setting.
Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him.
One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him.
If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.