This is a guest post by Anthony Bidulka.
Twenty-five years ago I was a corporate auditor, a CPA looking to join the partnership of my firm. The road ahead seemed clear. But there was a fork in it, and a tickle in the back of my mind telling me to take the unpaved one, the one less traveled, with humps and bumps and an unclear horizon. What to do?
I’d had a passion for writing since childhood. What I didn’t have at the age of 10 was an answer to a question I think all writers must eventually ask themselves: Why Do I Write? It would take decades for me to even begin to formulate an answer. Today, I have greater clarity. My WHY is this: to write stories about under-represented people and places in a way that is both accessible and entertaining. Put another way, I want to tell traditional tales in untraditional ways. I want to write the books I couldn’t find in bookstores or libraries, ones that reflected me, and the people and places I know.
Twenty years ago, I published my first book, Amuse Bouche. Not only did it feature an under-represented setting, Saskatchewan, but it also featured an under-represented character as the lead protagonist– a gay man named Russell Quant. To my knowledge, nothing like it had been done to date in Canadian mystery writing.
When the book was released and gained some popularity, whispered suggestions hinted I would do even better in the future were I to consider shifting away from using LGBTQ+ characters as leads or set my books in more recognizable settings, preferably south of the border. I began to worry. Had I made a foolhardy move? Not only in taking a huge risk in leaving my stable, lucrative career but by focusing on both an under-represented setting and under-represented character at the same time. Had I made a mistake that would derail my career before it even began?
Then something happened, something unexpected. The quantity and content of messages streaming into my inbox every day were nothing short of extraordinary. I might have expected it had I written a coming-of-age tale, or a serious drama, or biography, but Amuse Bouche was a mystery genre novel, not a cozy but certainly with its share of lightheartedness. Yet these messages were serious, earnest, heartfelt, and, most surprisingly, grateful. Prairie dwellers (both in Canada and the U.S.) expressed delight to be reading something that portrayed a prairie setting as something other than relentlessly cold, drab, snowy, and dark. LGBTQ+ readers were what I can only describe as relieved to read a story that did not focus on AIDS or bullying, or being shunned by society or tossed out onto the street by family. They needed to see themselves reflected in a mainstream genre novel in a way that was hopeful and happy and joyous. Amuse Bouche was about a guy who happened to live in Saskatchewan, happened to be gay, happened to be a detective, and was living a wonderful life not in spite of those things, but because of those things.
The realization that my WHY was valued and seen as worthwhile by people other than me, changed everything for me and how I navigated my career from that point forward. What made my books different, what made me different, was not a challenge or hurdle to a successful career, but rather the key to a successful career. When I attend a mystery writers conference, I stand out because I write about lead characters who are LGBTQ+. When I attend an LGBTQ+ writers conference I stand out because I write about a place, Saskatchewan, which most people know very little about, a unique take on a foreign exotic location. Standing out in this career is a very good thing. With the recent release of my twelfth book, Going to Beautiful, twenty years after my first, I am heartened to know that the risk I took all those years ago, the WHY I came to understand, still propel me as a writer. Going to Beautiful is a mystery, but not, the cast includes a bevy of under-represented characters: a bunch of Ukrainians, a Chinese café owner, a transgender best friend, and a nun, most of whom are over the age of 55 and live in rural Saskatchewan. It is a book that begins with tragedy, grief, and unspeakable loss, but oozes with joy and hope and the promise of new beginnings. That, to me, is real life, and worth writing about, foolhardy or not.
Anthony Bidulka is a Canadian writer of mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. Bidulka’s books have been nominated for Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards, Saskatchewan Book Awards, a ReLit award, and Lambda Literary Awards. Find Anthony on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more.