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The Idea is the Question
by John McFetridge

My four novels so far are a kind of loose series with many characters – from both sides of the law - appearing in all the novels but never as the main characters in any one novel.
But if not one main character, I do think the series has one main theme – everything I write seems to be interested in how people choose which ‘group’ to identify with and how that keeps people apart or brings them together.
I say, “seems to” because this isn’t something I set out to do.
I grew up in Montreal at a time when personal identitfication was a big deal – were you a federalist or a seperatist? If you were English it was assumed you were a federalist. But were you English or allophone? Irish-Canadian or Italian-Canadian? In the early 70s seperatists were usually identified as left-leaning socialists but what if you were an English left-leaning socialist union member with little interest in the ROC (Rest of Canada – most of us in Montreal at the time couldn’t see any difference between Toronto and Calgary)?
Or, the biggest issue, the one that started the most arguments, destroyed friendships and ripped families apart – and the one that is threatening a return to centre stage in Quebec – were you a Canadiens supporter or a Nordiques supporter?
As I said, I didn’t set out with a plan to follow a single theme or even to write a series. I’ve never really had much of a plan beyond working on what’s directly in front of me but over the course of a few books this theme has emerged.

I started writing Dirty Sweet with the idea that I wanted to write a
book about Toronto, about the mood of the city at the time. I had moved to Toronto from Montreal in the early 1990’s when I got married and I was trying to figure out the city. What I kept hearing over and over was that it was a city of opportunity, that people were coming to Toronto from all over the country – and the world – for the opportunities.
And I started to wonder why is it that some people see opportunities everywhere and others never seem to be able to see anything as an opportunity? It was a short step from there to a witness to a murder recognizing the killer and seeing that as an opportunity. As I filled in the book the rest of the characters were members of identifiable groups – the police and organized crime. The main characters were not so clearly aligned with any group.
This is something that continued through the other books; in Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere it’s Sharon, the woman running the grow-op and Ray, the freighter captain who asks her to help him sell a large amount of marijuana; in Swap it’s Vernard ‘Get’ McGetty, the ex-army, drug dealer from Detroit who comes to Toronto to make a deal and meets Sunitha, the ex-massage parlour worker who’s now pulling armed robberies and in Tumblin’ Dice it’s the guys in the band The High who have regrouped after more than twenty years and are playing the casino circuit where they run into some people from their past.
But what links the series together are the characters in groups – the police and organized crime.
UPDATE: The winner is Paul Disaronto, from Toledo, OH (US). Congrats to Paul. And thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and to visit this House. Thanks also to John McFetridge and ECW Press for making this giveaway possible.

Visit John McFetridge on his website or Facebook page. And buy his books. 

April 2012

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