When I first began pitching my novel, Baby Jane, which is set in Vancouver, Canada, to American publishers, the first question always asked was “Are you married to the location?”—the assumption being that Americans won’t read a book set in Canada: everyone thinks we’re boring, that our country is boring, and that’s if they’ve even heard of us. So foreign publishers don’t want stories set in Canada, they won’t publish them, and because they won’t publish them the assumption is never challenged and instead perpetuated.
I decided to ignore this assumption and forged ahead with my choice of location, and then an interesting thing happened: my first two readers/customers were Americans, and both loved the book: one gave it a 5-star rating, the other gave it 4 stars. In their reviews, neither made any mention of the book’s location, or that my Canadian English was a turn-off. Instead they wrote about the well-developed characters, the taut plot line, the unique paranormal twist.
What was interesting as well is that both readers referred to my hero, Dylan Lewis, as Native-American, not Native-Canadian: these readers, because they were able to connect with the character, internalized Dylan so that he became Native-American. There is a concept in literature called hermeneutics, whereby we read stories through the filter of our own experiences, imbuing characters with features they don’t possess or interpreting their actions and intentions through our own needs or moral code. It is hermeneutics that is speaking when we say we “connected” with a book or “related” to a character, and it is what can give a story a wide, even universal, appeal. That these two people believed Dylan to be Native-American is a sign they connected with him and the book, which is the goal of the writer and the ultimate compliment.
Sure, these are only two people in a wide, wide world, but it’s small proof that if you write good stories with good characters, the location is irrelevant.