So I’m in San Francisco, and pretty excited to see the theatrical version of Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER, which I’ve sung the praises of here. Being in San Francisco, where I lived from 2001-2004, also makes me think of LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins, which I read a few weeks ago. Both these books are unashamedly set in San Francisco, and make frequent reference to well-known landmarks and features of San Francisco life.

Being a Canadian writer, this makes me feel a bit strange. Of course all my stories have a location, and my upcoming book WICKET SEASON is set in Toronto and makes no secret of it. But I wonder if setting a book definitively in a Canadian city limits its market. I wonder how US agents and publishers feel about this? I’d love to set a paranormal, sci-fi or fantasy in Vancouver for example (the rain would add a certain bleak ambiance) but I wonder how readers would feel about that.

My middle grade HILDEGARDE is set in small town Australia, and only ever published there. My upcoming verse novel AUDACIOUS is set in a never specified “prairie city”, but based on my childhood in Saskatchewan. When I shopped this to US agents (I decided on a Canadian agent) I was prepared to sell the city as Fargo, ND.

My work in progress is set in Alberta, and a fair bit of it takes place in an evacuated Calgary, although again, I’m never specific about it. It could just as well be Denver.

I see many internationally successful books set in Rome, Paris and London. Many others set in little towns in Europe or Asia. When will we see a blockbuster see in Edmonton, or Winnipeg, or, I don’t know, Flin Flon?

What are some of your favorite “city stories”?


  1. Thanks for this post! I was wondering if anyone else had noticed this about books set in famous places. A lot of urban fantasy (that I’ve read, anyway) is set in New York City. Heck, a lot of books of any genre are set in NYC, drawing on that New York Dream myth/atmosphere/the fact that “NYC is the place to be.” When figuring out where to set my urban fantasy wip, I was stumped by this for a while — NYC seemed like the obvious place, but I didn’t know that city at all. The actual urban center where the story takes place is so important to UF, and NYC is the quintessential urban center, right? However, I felt more comfortable setting it in Baltimore, near where I live. I ended up doing that, and it’s affected the story in several ways. It has a different character.

    Personally, I’m a fan of regionalism and local color. 🙂 If a writer can describe the character and landmarks of a city so that I feel familiar with it, then I’m more than willing to read a book set in Canada. 🙂

  2. I think Canadian cities are viewed as “bland”, but that’s because people confuse “safe” with “bland”. Vancouver has a vibrant gay scene for example, that rivals San Francisco. Toronto’s theater is nearly as busy as NY, Montreal is…well is the Paris of the Americas. Quebec City is just as old and creepy (and A LOT safer) than New Orleans. The Prairie cities are defined by brutal, often deadly winters, an only partially functional relationship between the native First Nations and the population at large, the extraordinary wealth of the oil industry, the struggle of farmers, and the bewilderment of the many immigrants who I’m sure wonder who the hell they upset to end up somewhere so desolate in February.

    In short, they would all be great settings for Urban YA.

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