I have been invited to write this guest blog and I was looking for a topic that would kinda set it apart from most blogs about writing. A lot of my work is set in real places, which I describe as vividly as possible. I had this short story that that was called A Lone Soul that was simply the story of an old man who was closing down his shop in a gentrified part of the city. He then takes a walk down St-Laurent Street towards the old port and the river and that's all you'll get if you don't want me to spoil it. That said, the angle I chose to use in that story was to simply be as descriptive as possible in order to be detached from the subject. It was compared by one of my creative writing teachers to The Street by Mordecai Richler, which is no small compliment. That was a few years ago and that was the moment I realized that "place" was incredibly important to my work, so I will present to you a few places that have inspired me over the years. If you ever visit Montreal, I hope you take the time to visit a few of them.
Griffintown: The historic borough of Griffintown is being razed as you read these lines (Summer of 2012) but I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have worked in one of the urban factories that was the trademark of Griffintown. Sadly, the city did not see fit to protect a lot of these bicentennial (sometimes more) buildings and have green lit gigantic condominium projects to be built on the grounds of this historically working class neighborhood. Get a chance to check it out before it is all gone, it sure has inspired me. Start around Ottawa Street and head towards the south-west until you reach Patrick Street and the Canal. I mostly used this setting for poems I wrote in a series titled Waiting To Die. I would also recommend you look up the plays On The Job, Nothing To Lose, and Balconville by one of my favorite authors, David Fennario.
The Italian Social Club: The best place to feel like you are in a Scorsese movie is The Italian Social Club located on the corner of St-Viateur and De L'esplanade. Sure, the neighborhood is now filled with rich yuppies and they're kicking out artists every day, but as long as the cafe live on, you'll get a souvenir of why Mile-End was the place to be for over a decade. My next crime project (Memoirs of a Hit-Men) will be based on this location for a lot of its calmer scenes.
Masson Street: The family friendly neighborhood of Rosemont is booming with life and Masson Street is still somewhat of a city secret. The working class is still strong in the area even though there are numerous condominium projects sprawling here and there. I love this place, I'd like to spend the rest of my days here. If you ever want to see what life of a Montrealer is outside of tourist traps, this would be it. Don't miss: Jovy's Onion Bagels, Tic-Tac-Toc's toy store (if you got kids). Sadly, Masson Street still lacks a very good cafe, and with Starbucks just opening in the middle of it, such a dream might never happen. Some segments of Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair are inspired by this area.
Concordia University: Located in the heart of downtown Montreal, Concordia University is definitely a place to be if you want to study creative writing. With (still) affordable tuition for Quebec residents, I think the price for foreign students is not so high since there is an increase in foreign admissions every year. The library is well deserved and has focused on high tech and online databases, which opens up countless possibilities. The historic Irish-Scottish background of the University is still strong even though you'll probably hear 78 different languages at the same time just by sitting in the student hall. Top spot to write: 12th floor of the EV building. There's a small lounge with big windows: a great view of the city. I don't think I've written specifically about this spot or the university itself, but it was a great place to study still.
Montreal-East: You need an industrial backdrop and a piss-poor neighborhood to inspire your trashy or gritty novel, Montreal-East is the place to be. Of course, it might sound judgmental to say it's piss poor, but it is. I would know, I've worked there for years and I used to live in the nearby borough of Tetreaultville, which is basically across the street. If you want rusty, closed down factories, World War II era foundries and old refineries, that's the place you want to go to. There are no cafes that I know of or actually any place you could sit down. As far as I know the last restaurant in the entire "city" is on Notre-Dame and Broadway. The most "interesting" factories are on Durocher and Marien Streets south of Sherbrooke. My entire first novel, The Factory Line, was inspired by my life during these "factory years."
L'Assomption: You need a typical, one-factory-town, L'Assomption is where I go for half of the narrative for my next project (A Teenage Suicide) the place is just far enough to be called the country, just close enough for you not to waste your time driving. It's got an old college, a few good looking houses, a lot of ugly houses, and a small Main street that has the necessary theater, cafes and delis. There's a beautiful steel bridge next to the town's church. Go as far as L'Assomption College, don't bother going in any further.
Hochelaga: Much like the south-west, Hochelaga was a lowdown, working class, crime ridden neighborhood. The only difference is that it was the French who lived there instead of the Irish. The crime rate has gone down dramatically, but it still smells like beer and cigarettes all over the place. This is still where you go to meet punk rockers in the city and you need a torn shirt at goodwill. A surprise construction boom in the last three years has dramatically changed the neighborhood, but as I lived there for years prior to gentrification, I can say it was for the best because that place was a dump. The best place for coffee is Atomic Cafe, but you'll have to endure their horrible vintage-techno music. I know I can't take it anymore. The same building is host to the "7e" indie video store and they do have an impressive collection. Some of my characters for Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair have spent their youth in Hochelaga and it does occupy a fair portion of the storyline.
Of course, there are dozen other places you could visit in the city, I just wanted to talk about a few of the places that are less visited, or that have changed so much in the last few years that they don't have the same feel anymore.
Times are changing and I just feel like slowing down right now.
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour.
About The Author:
I am from a working class family and I am proud of my origins. For the last seven years, I have been employed as an assembly line worker, a forklift driver, a park ranger, a warehouse clerk, a janitor, an industrial laundry operator, a warehouse clerk some more and still am to this day.
I have gone back to school and just graduated from Concordia with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Political Science.
I like to write for the rest of us and hope you will enjoy my work.
BUY THE BOOK: Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair
Book Description: Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair
Samuel Lee has known three days of freedom in the last eighteen years. Three days to come out of prison, see his daughter, settle a score and go back in again, for good this time.
Told in the tradition of the best literary noir, Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair is a modern, lowdown and gritty take on the genre.
Inspired by the cinema of Akira Kurosawa and Samuel Fuller as well as the music of Tom Waits, Sage Francis, Neurosis and Marilyn Manson, it is a novel that is sure to please anyone who has ever found themselves trapped and cast aside from the world.
Book Excerpt: Tales of Lust, Hate and Despair