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How to Model Believable Chaos: A Round-Table on World-Building

We talk to sci-fi and fantasy writers about how they make their worlds, and why it's so important.

Book Cover Signal to Noise

We wanted to talk to Canadian writers who delve into the weird and wonderful worlds of science fiction and fantasy about how those worlds get made, the logistics that go into creating fictional universes with laws onto themselves. Writer and editor Charlotte Ashley moderated the virtual panel with a list of excellent questions, and the resulting conversation was inspiring, illuminating and chock full of insights. Enjoy! 


49th Shelf: What is “world-building” above and beyond the usual task of establishing your setting? 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Detail and consistency, the stage on which your play is performed. You should be able to believe this world could exist and want to explore it.

Kate Blair: We are all products of our environment. A teenager who grows up in New York is going to be completely different to a teenager who grows up in Mongolia, so world-building is central to character. But it's more than that. It's also an opportunity to show what characters choose to surround themselves with, and what they seek out.

Often a story throws a character into a new environment, and how they view and interact with that world tells you so much about them. It's also an opportunity to take the reader somewhere new, even within their own city—a subculture, a hidden society, or the past or future. The very best worlds are characters themselves. They take on a life of their own, and stay in a reader's imagination forever, like Hogwarts or Narnia. 

Adam Lewis Schroeder: Outside of describing the visual setting—landscape, climate and architecture—world-building can entail customs, classes, currencies, dialects. Far from being window-dressing, abstracts will provide characters' relationships and ambitions far more quickly than the fact that their buildings have, say, Doric columns.

Leah Bobet: I personally take world-building quite literally: crafting a world—which means crafting the people who live in it as well, and how they interact with the expectations and places they find themselves in. 

We all think differently; we all consider different aspects of our world and environment as important. Ask ten people on the same street corner what's important at this intersection, and you'll get ten different answers.

So in short? For me, world-building is the intersection between systems and that unique narrative perspective: how your world works, and how your characters work within—or against—it.

Corey Redekop: I think that while all fictions are essentially forms of “world-building”, applying the term to any one particular work means that the setting itself is a major character in the story. Such stories not only present the elements of the plot but also examine how this world’s characters have been moulded and influenced by their surroundings.

World-building similarly concerns the subtle architecture of the setting itself and the rules that govern it. A fictional realm doesn’t necessarily have to be intricately designed and presented, but for me, any decent exercise in world-building leaves the impression that there is more to the story than is on the page. The story itself forms only a small portion of its world’s history.

For me, any decent exercise in world-building leaves the impression that there is more to the story than is on the page. The story itself forms only a small portion of its world’s history.

Book Cover Transferral

49th Shelf: Do real-world settings need to be “built” as well? How much do you assume your reader knows going into your story? Do you feel it is your responsibility to fill in the gaps in a reader’s knowledge of your setting?

Adam Lewis Schroeder: Yes! My work so far has all been in the real world, primarily historical Southeast Asia, which has saved me the job of creating from scratch but also has entailed that 99% of details have to be correct so that not a single reader is pulled out of the story by a fact that I got wrong. And generally speaking, no writer should assume that realistic worlds don't need building because corners of our present world—and even more so in our past world, when lack of technology made us less homogenous—can be as diverse as any two kingdoms in fantasy lit. The author is responsible for filling gaps in reader knowledge exactly as much as that information affects the characters and so moves the plot forward. For example, Raymond Chandler wrote passages describing the rise and fall of a neighbourhood, a career, a marriage, or a fortune to amp up conflict, never just for '40s local colour. He left that to the weather and cigarette smoke as they met Marlowe's eyes.

Leah Bobet: I'd argue that [real-world settings need to be built], yes. Because of that intersection-between-systems-and-perspective thing, even when you're working in a modern-day, mimetic setting, a writer still needs to inflect their portrayal of that place with the perspective. What does that character use in their space, or flag as important? Do they think in weather, do they think in military objectives, do they think in colours or shapes?  So the created person you move through the systems of a real-world setting will change everything about how your world is rendered, and how it feels. 

In terms of audience knowledge and how much of your world-building knowledge you put on the page, that's very dependent on who you're writing to. Young adult fiction will put a lot more world-building on the page instead of implying it; so will hard science fiction and anything with a detective element, because half the fun of a detective book is solving the case right beside the private eye. Work written to crossover audiences—say, genre and literary both—probably wants to explain a little because you can't assume a particular audience. It's just all in what you want to do, and who for. 

I really want to emphasize that there's no right way to do world-building, just like most of the elements of fiction craft. There's just a set of tools, the goal you're working toward, how you get there from here, and the personal style in which you do it. So the kinds of assumptions you make about what a reader knows, and how much to put on the page, are going to vary project to project.

Corey Redekop: The author has such a responsibility [to fill in gaps] if it’s integral that a reader understand the intricacies of any particular setting. I have little to no understanding of, say, the stock market, and any story that presumes I am intimately familiar with such a cryptic profession (as it appears to me, anyway) will likely leave me scratching my head. Some novels throw the reader into the deep end right away—if you want a “real-world” example, Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson’s mammoth ode to computers, math, and encryption software, springs to mind—and that’s absolutely fine, but there must be some form of “filling in the blanks” later on. Even then, there will always be instances where one reader’s perfectly-realized-and-understandable-world is another reader’s headache-inducing befuddlement.

That said, it’s hardly necessary to hammer a reader with exhaustive research; this is meant to be storytelling, not a textbook. Ideally an author reveals enough so that the world may be understood but not so much that detail obfuscates the narrative. This is why (I can hear the hackles rising) Moby Dick is such a frustrating experience for me. The main narrative is brilliant—there’s good reason why Ahab’s maniacal quest has remained so iconic a tale it can survive multiple Star Trek references—but the novel’s numerous digressions into the minutiae of the whaling profession are so exhaustively presented they draw me completely out of the story.

Kate Blair: Real-world settings absolutely need to be built, readers need to be immersed in the environment and to feel and see what the character does if they are to lose themselves in a story. You also can't assume a reader has the same background as you, and takes the same things for granted. Choosing the right details is key. Daniel José Older's novels are a great example of this—you are drawn into the real world aspects just as much as the fantasy ones, and the story is much stronger for it. 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: If you’re talking about something like urban fantasy, I would say yes, a real-world setting would also be built. But not in all cases. I’m assuming readers don’t know anything or very little, especially if we are talking about say an urban fantasy story set in Mexico. Or what they have is a few stereotypes in their head. I believe you should build only what you need and imply the rest. I am not going to give you a history lesson of Mexico beginning in the 13th century for you to understand what’s going on in my world, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t think you have to fill out all the spaces of the map, there are parts where you can say “Here be dragons.”  

I don’t think you have to fill out all the spaces of the map, there are parts where you can say “Here be dragons.”

Book Cover Husk

49th Shelf: How much research do you do while building your world? What kind?

Leah Bobet: Depending on the world I'm making, my research starts from the literal ground up: landforms, resources, and how they inflect the kind of societies that the characters I'm interested in are living in.

For An Inheritance of Ashes, which is set about a hundred years in the future in the Windsor-Detroit area, I had to learn enough about the area now to figure out what it might turn into after an economic collapse big enough to take people back to farming on that river. I adjusted Hallie and Marthe's crops one growing zone to account for two to three degrees of global warming, found out which of our day-to-day goods are still grown in North America, and built a resource economy—cotton, honey, barley, rice—based on what the characters in this post-modern civilization, recently war-torn time would reasonably be able to produce or trade for. I also spent a certain amount of time on what ended being, well, the physics of monsters: making sure there was a scientific, consistent explanation for what my characters didn't quite understand.

For Above, which had a mimetic, present-day Toronto setting but from the perspective of someone who'd grown up in a secret underground community, I started with geography and geology: Where in the Toronto area could I reasonably put 50 people underground and have them not be found? I used sewer maps, urban exploration photos, scientific research into vitamin requirements, air exchange needs, and more to build the community of Safe and make sure people could live there while getting their basic needs met.

When it came to populating it, the research switched gears into the history of Toronto's treatment of mental illness, residential schools, the medical manifestations of various disabilities, the social and physical landscape of being intersex, lightning strike survivors, and generational trauma reactions. I had to curate a community of people who would believably look at living in a cavern under the sewers as the better option, and think about the kinds of stories they might tell themselves about the world above. 

But most importantly, I tried to walk my own city for a while and look at it with someone else's eyes: someone who didn't take for granted how traffic lights and the TTC and convenience stores work. It was the perspective shift that was maybe the most important in being able to tell a story in which the place I've lived for years became utterly alien—and still familiar.

So I start with systems and physical laws, and tend to like primary source accounts for personal experiences. But I also can do that, mostly, without leaving my desk.

Corey Redekop: It all depends on the story and how I want it to be perceived. 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Enough? Just like including enough detail, you shouldn’t have to get a PhD in Latin to write a fantasy story about a scribe. I do some initial research if I don’t understand the topic I’m going to be tackling very well, but, for example, I’m pretty well versed in early 20th century Mexico. I can look for the details as they bob up during the writing and start cold, so to speak. If I know nothing about the world I’m going to be tackling I’d read a couple of books and academic papers before I begin. Sometimes I might read a biography from a certain time period I’m looking at. So, big things first and then details. For example, for my third novel, which is set in a fantasy world heavily inspired by the Belle Epoque I had already read about this time period but then came a chapter where I wanted to put a character in a conservatory so I looked at how these where constructed. 

Kate Blair: For Transferral, the book was set in an alternate present-day London, UK, where I lived for years, so I was able to use my knowledge of the city, and tweak it to fit the world of the book. The Barbican is an estate in the centre of the city, and I followed the paths Talia follows in my book, listened to the sounds of the city, took photos and made notes about the feel of the buildings above me.  I combined these with childhood memories of a run-down Brutalist shopping centre near where I grew up to change the beautiful real-world Barbican into a depressing sink estate.

But my character was also immersed in the political world. And for that, I read a lot of political diaries and accounts of UK election campaigns to get the right tone. It's particularly important to get the real-world aspects of world-building right if you want the reader to suspend disbelief for the invented portions.

My current work-in-progress is set in space, which has required a lot of technical research. I have done a series of calculations on artificial gravity and rotation, watched videos in low and zero gravity, and read many, many fascinating books (and a large number of scientific papers) on theoretical issues related to space travel and colonization.  

Adam Lewis Schroeder: One rule of thumb for a world not immediately familiar to the writer is to research until you can reliably describe a character walking around their house, out the front door, and down the street. Once all that is clear in your mind you can stop, though to faithfully describe who and what is on that street you'll have to know the customs, classes, etc. from above. In terms of the book I've researched the most—In the Fabled East, set in French Indochina from 1909 to 1954—at the outset I turned to Wikipedia and the Internet in general but as most information was in French and the proverbial sights and smells were not online, I went to Vietnam and Laos for three weeks thanks to a Canada Council grant. Then found piles of relevant translated texts in an English-language bookstore, and the flurry of post-it notes began! Obviously, it was so fun.

One rule of thumb for a world not immediately familiar to the writer is to research until you can reliably describe a character walking around their house, out the front door and down the street.

Book Cover An Inheritance of Ashes

49th Shelf: Does a world always need to be internally consistent? What does it do to the story when it isn’t?

Kate Blair: Absolutely. Readers will take a number of leaps of faith—but if you don't keep the world consistent, it's the equivalent of not catching them. They'll stop trusting you, and may stop reading. 

Corey Redekop: All worlds have rules, even the weird ones. Even William S. Burroughs’ ferocious brain hack Naked Lunch—for all its mugwumps, drug-fueled rants, and stream-of-consciousness insanity—lays out its foundation in such a way that everything that occurs within feels organic to that particular world.

For me, internal inconsistency usually rears its lazy head when something occurs solely for the narrative convenience of the author. It’s usually that moment when a protagonist has been written into a corner and only the introduction of adeus ex machinacan save her. I sometimes think of this as the Dungeons & Dragons approach; that is, it can feel (especially in poor fantasy novels) as if the author has rolled a 20-sided die to come up with a magical solution. “I cast invisibility!” is a great way to get out of a situation if said skill for transparency has at least been previously mentioned. Merely setting a story in a world where magic exists is not enough; the rules of that world must be followed.

See also: Annie Wilkes’ passionate condemnation of narrative cheats in Stephen King’s Misery.“They just cheated us! This isn't fair! He didn't get out of the COCKADOODIE CAR!”

Leah Bobet: On the whole I'd say internal consistency is definitely the writer's friend: it's the difference between creating a world that feels realistic, with physical and social rules that let readers feel the wins are earned and the losses justifiable, and one that feels made up, arbitrary, and therefore hard to invest in. But I think there's something to be said for building interesting contradictions into your work.

Not every system is rigorous or orderly. Not every part of life follows rules. We're in the business of modelling worlds, but we're also in the business of modelling believable chaos, and that's a massive tool in the writer's toolset. The most interesting bits of story can be found at the intersections where something doesn't make sense, isn't consistent. That's the source for a lot of plot and conflict, and it can sometimes end up driving your entire story.

"We're in the business of modelling worlds, but we're also in the business of modelling believable chaos, and that's a massive tool in the writer's toolset."

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: To me consistency is something like considering the small details. If you have a world where magic can allow you to teleport, why do you have people carting goods from one place to the other? Is it that it’s expensive to teleport? Only certain people are allowed to teleport? How does this change the economy or social structures? One thing that often happens in science fiction is you have faster than light space ships but people can’t send messages to each other, they don’t have the equivalent of e-mail. How the hell did that happen that people are still sending messages basically by walking around with an emissary? Can you explain it? It can be explainable; in Johnny Mnemonic the title character stores information in this head that is too sensitive to transmit over a computer network. On the other hand, there are many science fiction works where you wonder why no one can pick a space phone. Maybe it’s just not included in their data plan! 

Adam Lewis Schroeder: The one example I can picture of an inconsistent world is in comics books when characters' powers or whether they're alive or not varies between issues, which pushes a reader's suspension of disbelief until it busts.

Book Cover All Day Breakfast

49th Shelf: What are the pitfalls of world-building? Are there things writers might take for granted that they shouldn’t?

Kate Blair: One that I see a lot in critique groups is the assumption that because it's the "real" world, you don't need much world-building. Or that a town is better if it's forgettable, because it can be "any town" . It's a huge loss to a story. Readers don't need to project their own home or background on a story to relate to it, and indeed, come from so many different backgrounds that to try to create a "neutral" one is at best a futile exercise. Make it fascinating. Make it wonderful or horrific. Just don't make it boring—even if your character finds it dull.  You can make the very dullness of it interesting—look at the start of the Harry Potter novels. 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: You are not writing an encyclopedia or a D&D manual. When you are a newbie writer you are likely to fall into this trap, creating a family tree going back 12 generations for your characters, drawing multiple maps of the world, making up endless lingo and words, etc. People who spend their time working out every detail in their 500 page glossary forget that the most important part is the story and characters. Without it you are building a beautiful car without an engine.

Leah Bobet: I think the pitfalls in world-building definitely stem from what you assume your audience already knows. And that can cover a lot of territory: genre assumptions to jargon to normalizing a majority perspective over a minority one. 

If you ever want to see audience assumptions play out, compare the science fiction novels written by SF writers versus literary writers. There's a huge difference between what Michael Cunningham, Margaret Atwood, or David Mitchell explains to readers than what you'll see spotlighted in a Karl Schroeder, Ann Leckie, or Cixin Liu novel. As authors, we explain what we think needs explaining, and that's very deeply rooted in what genre we're used to working in and what we consider known facts: what FTL means, or hundreds of years of literary tropes on What Faeries Are Like. The trouble happens when writers think their audience knows certain things that the audience doesn't, or vice versa.

I think it also shows up in ways that are much broader and more fundamental than genre assumptions. I think it's very much upon the writers of diverse characters and books—and the worlds those characters inhabit—to sink some time into performing the necessary research and empathy to catch how different people see the world, and how differently the world treats people.

So on a basic level, I think it's important to recognize what bits of our own knowledge are common, and which ones are things we know because of the field we work in, the topics we've studied, our cultural background, our gender, or the colour of our skin.

Adam Lewis Schroeder: The pitfall is to keep building/researching long after you should've started writing, which is a temptation since writing is harder. Exhaustive lists of necessary details exist online, so a writer who might be prone to this (which is all of them?) could answer those dozens of questions then quit.

Book Cover Certain Dark Things

49th Shelf: How does your background inform the kinds of worlds that you want to build and write in?

Kate Blair: I do think growing up in the UK, which is the stepping off point for many "portal" classics, like The Dark is RisingAlice in WonderlandHarry Potter and the Narnia novels means you sense that other worlds could be waiting just around the corner. And London itself is infused with this feeling. It's a city where Roman remains hide in parking lots, where mammoths bones  were dug out from under Trafalgar Square. The Blitz, The Great Fire of London and the Black Death all left their scars on the streets and buildings. The modern and ancient smack into each other to make you constantly aware of the past, the future, and what might have been.

You get a sense that other worlds are not just possible, but likely. I think that's why I'm drawn to speculative fiction. 

I do think growing up in the UK, which is the stepping off point for many "portal" classics, like The Dark is RisingAlice in WonderlandHarry Potter and the Narnia novels means you sense that other worlds could be waiting just around the corner.

Leah Bobet: I'm sure [my background] touches every aspect of how I world-build. On a basic level, people are just water, skin, and experiences. You can't keep those inflections out, even if you try.

I grew up reading fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism, so the worlds I create have both a systematic underlying structure of logic and consequences, until a tree made out of deer horns walks across your front yard just because the world's complicated and full of things we don't understand and isn't that great, guys? All my worlds have a normal and a supernormal, a weird element, because that's what the books I read told me worlds are all about. 

I'm a member of about three invisible minority groups—and someone who's lived in the mix of downtown Toronto for a long time—and so the worlds I build tend to be diverse not just in the sense of who lives there, but in terms of what the rules are, what normal's assumed to be, and how that works or doesn't work depending on each character's perspective, needs, and background. I'm very interested in the gap between how the systems of a created world are supposed to work and how they really do when you're not the ideal user—how systems fail people, how they're adapted, how they evolve.

I've also, bluntly, been poor, and that tends to show up in the worlds I build. I'm pretty sure that's also the reason I build worlds on a resource basis: what you can do and what you can't, because of what's available to you. My worlds have adversity in their source code, and how people cope with that is one of the things that fascinates me; how we succeed in straightjacket conditions is just magic.

Adam Lewis Schroeder: I had never thought about this, so thanks for asking! Southeast Asian historical fiction came out of a plain love of history and that my wife was an exchange student in Indonesia so we later backpacked through the region for a year. The exception to those books is a zombie novel set in contemporary Nebraska, presumably spurred by a love of comics, weird fiction, and Springsteen's acoustic album called, um, Nebraska.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m Mexican, born there and moved to Canada as an adult, and a lot of what I’m interested is creating worlds inspired by my Latin American heritage and upbringing. Not exclusively, but since many stories and novels take place in worlds patented or inspired by Britain or the US, I think more worlds that hail from other sources are a welcome change. 

Corey Redekop: Not at all, that I can determine. I just wanna do what I wanna do. I don’t know if it’s a matter of my own personal background, but I’m usually more concerned with plot and character when I begin anything. Something I’m working on now requires a lot more thought into the logistics of the world (particularly in the manner in which I hope to present it), but I’m still working on getting the basic story down. I’ll fully construct the world later on through research, rewrites, and sober second, third, and ninth thoughts.

Book Cover Above

49th Shelf: What do you think of worlds that live beyond their original creators? Are shared worlds or brands just that good? What do you think these worlds have gotten right (or even wrong?)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: No, they are not necessarily good. There might just be a commercial interest to keep them going. They may be terrible but make money. The more open and loose the shared world the better. I like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos because everyone has a different take on it as opposed to something where you really have to stick to the parameters set by someone else. A good example of this is Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef by Cassandra Khaw. It’s an excellent book on its own and I didn’t realize it seems to exist as part of a shared universe. Everyone interested in urban fantasy should read Khaw.

Adam Lewis Schroeder:  I'm a fan of any world that can remain engrossing in the hands of another creator, but the key is not that details of the world remain terrific but the characters. The world has to equal story which equals the darn people!

Leah Bobet: I'm always very interested in how the worlds that catch people's imaginations work. I don't think it's a question of some arbitrary sliding scale of good or bad, but a question of tapping into something that emotionally resonates with enough readers to stay alive—while being incomplete and fuzzy-edged enough that readers and writers can fit their own, new stories in there without breaking the entire cosmology. In short, worlds with enough emotional core that we can recognize ourselves in them, and little enough detail that we can project ourselves there without getting a paradox that goes: "but that's not me".

One of the important things I learned about world-building is that worlds are stories in and of themselves. Worlds are narratives. The Lovecraftian universe is a story about anxiety, fear, and powerlessness; the Sherlock Holmes universe is the story about rationalist superheroes, and how you can think and know your way out of trouble and back into order. And they both get remixed and repurposed endlessly, because it's not the details of time, place, smell that people love about those worlds. It's the worldview. It's the feeling.

So I suppose I'd say that the key factor for a world that people love that way, and stick with, is a kind of emotional sincerity. You put that honest feeling and a sense of worldview on the page, and if it's the right decade and the right place, sometimes other people respond.

Kate Blair: If a world catches on enough, it becomes the reader's. This is true of Hogwarts, Narnia, Neverland. It becomes a shared space where people imagine. How many children have checked the back of their wardrobes? I think each of those worlds has touched on something inside us that is universal. The desire for magic and wonder, the perfect land where people can be brave, and the chance to never grow up. Shared worlds let us live for a while in our impossible dreams. The only thing I think they get wrong is making everyday life feel a little disappointing at times. It's hard for a normal school to live up to Hogwarts. But then you can always go back to the books! And for every Narnia, there's a Panem.

Book Cover In the Fabled East

49th Shelf: What are some of your favourite literary worlds? Any great Canadian examples?

Adam Lewis Schroeder: I like Narnia, Chandler's L.A., Maugham's Malaya, and Canadian Alix Hawley's Kentucky.

Corey Redekop: For Canadian world-building, off the top of my head some of my favourites are Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Maddadam trilogy; Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring; Emily St. John Mandel’s Station ElevenEsi Edugyen’s Half-Blood BluesIan Weir’s Will StarlingGemma Files' Hexslinger trilogy; and Carsten Stroud’s Niceville trilogy. 

For other nationalities, these are recent standouts: China Mieville, The City and the City; Robert Repino, Mort[e]; Jeff Vandermeer’s Area X trilogy; Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy; Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century; and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. 

Kate Blair: There has been so much wonderful Canadian YA fantasy and science fiction lately. We're very lucky here. It's hard to know where to start, so I'll just list a few from last year alone.

I was reading The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, while studying for my Canadian citizenship exam, and it was a lovely blending of real and fantasy Canada. E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights weaves a richly imagined desert world for a wonderful retelling of the classic, and An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet uses perfect details to create a harsh future for an isolated family, and a mysterious mythical war that isn't quite what it seems. 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Tanith Lee’s Flath Earth series is magnificent and would make for a great TV adaptation, with its Lords of Darkness, dazzling cities and strange sorceries. It feels like a full world. Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was is also very good, it concerns a series of stories set in the same world, an ancient empire with a long history. They create a feelings vastness and of mythology in the making. Chadwick Ginther is Canadian and he has a series of books inspired by Norse mythology [Thunder Road]. The action takes place in Manitoba, so that’s neat. Food for the Gods by Karen Dudley is the first of a series of books set in ancient Greece, where gods are real and Pelops works as a celebrity chef. It’s a fun romp.

Leah Bobet: I love the light and shadow of Sean Stewart's linked cosmologies, Patricia McKillip's sweeping, puzzle-ridden Riddle-Master trilogy, the quiet wildness of Gail Anderson-Dargatz's The Cure for Death By Lightning, and noir L.A., the Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler L.A.

But on the Canadian side of things, I also have a great love for reading books set in Toronto, to see other authors' Torontos and where they overlap—or don't—with my own. Authors living in the same cities live geographically in the same places, but we build our worlds completely differently: which restaurant tastes like home and comfort, which tree we touch on the way to work every day, which corner is important and which are just scenery.

The closest I've ever got is Maggie Helwig's Girls Fall Down; the city we live in, with its landmarks of what's important, its nostalgias, its quiet spaces, is about 50% the same. I do sort of wish I lived in Alissa York's Toronto, though; the Toronto of Fauna with its beautiful, wild peace. Or the Toronto of Catherine Bush's Minus Time. That's the Toronto I read first, when I was growing up a little northwards in the suburbs and dreaming of tiny, intense revolutions. It's still the night city of my dreams.


Charlotte Ashley is a writer, editor, critic, and bookseller in Toronto, Ontario. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionClockwork CanadaKaleidotrope, and elsewhere. You can follow her bookish ramblings at

Born on a tiny island stuck to the south of England, Kate Blair has worked as a museum curator, a clown and a cook on a ship on the Great Barrier Reef. She is now a young adult author and a speculative fiction geek. She has two ridiculously young children and a lovely husband. Transferral is her first novel, a YA speculative fiction about an alternate-present day London, where criminals are punished by having the diseases of the innocent tranferred to them. 

Leah Bobet is a novelist and editor as well as a bookseller with Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada's oldest science fiction bookstore. Her debut novel, Above, was short-listed for the Prix Aurora Award and the Andre Norton Award and commended by the CCBCs Best Books for Kids and Teens; her second, An Inheritance of Ashes, is a finalist for the Cybils Awards and an Ontario Library Association 2015 Best Bets selection. Visit her at

In 2015, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about a group of Mexican teenagers who cast spells using vinyl records, was named on many year's best lists: B&N's Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, RT, BookRiot, Buzzfeed, i09, Vice, Locus and Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, about a street kid who gets involved with narco vampires, will be out in October. She was a finalist for the Canadian Sunburst Award for her debut collection This Strange Way of Dying. She blogs at

Corey Redekop is the author of two well-received novels, the bookworm epic Shelf Monkey and the great Canadian zombie novel Husk. His short stories may be found in anthologies such as The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir and Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, as well as the upcoming Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen and Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories.

Adam Lewis Schroeder is the author of three novels; the latest is All-Day Breakfast. He lives in Penticton BC with his wife and kids and teaches at UBC Okanagan.  

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