by Rachel Reid, author of Tough Guy
When you’ve lived in Nova Scotia your entire life, like I have, Toronto is basically Emerald City, glittering on the horizon (metaphorically, I mean—it’s about 1,800 kilometres away from Halifax). I can’t speak for the rest of Canada, but in the Maritime provinces, there is a wariness about Toronto. It’s the city of dreams that steals our friends and loved ones. It’s, if you ask any Nova Scotian, where all the tax money goes. It’s the home of sports teams that you either love or hate. It represents Canada on the world stage, and yet feels like a completely different planet to a lot of small town Canadians.
When I decided my third book, Tough Guy, would be about two Nova Scotian men who are reunited after many years, I knew it should be set in Toronto. Ryan Price, my NHL player protagonist, was traded to Toronto shortly before the book begins. His love interest, Fabian Salah—the boy he had a crush on when they were both seventeen—moved to Toronto at first to study music at the University of Toronto, and then stayed to make it as a musician.
Another reason why Canadians leave their small towns for Toronto—and one that is important to Tough Guy—is that it is home to Canada’s largest LGBTQ Village. The area of Toronto around Church and Wellesley is really amazing. It’s actually easy to forget that straight people even exist if you spend any amount of time there. For this story, I wanted that vibrant scene and community to be another reason why both Fabian and Ryan find their homes in Toronto.
I took several trips to Toronto while researching and writing this book. I paid extra-close attention to the businesses and architecture in the Village. I noted the things that had changed over the years, and one of the most obvious changes were the new gleaming skyscrapers that loomed over the older buildings along Church Street. The Village is in a choice downtown location in Toronto, so it’s no surprise that developers would be able to sell multimillion-dollar condos there. I decided that Ryan would live in one of those condos. It was sort of a metaphor for how he is always standing on the edges of where he wants to be, never quite fitting in. He is socially awkward, and never fit in with any of the NHL teams he’s played for. He’s been quietly out as gay for years, but never attempted to seek out the scene in any city he’s lived in. By buying a luxury condo in the Village, he is able to explore the neighborhood if he feels like it, but also has a place to retreat to if he feels anxious.
Toronto is also one of the centers of Canada’s amazing indie music scene. In the book, Fabian is a rising indie pop music star, which means he is at the level where he is regularly headlining shows in popular music venues (bars and clubs, mostly), touring within Canada (on his own dime), releasing albums with a Canadian indie label, and being interviewed on CBC and for Canadian music publications. It does not mean that he is making tons of money, but he is possibly on his way to being signed by a major label. I have some familiarity with being in a Canadian indie band myself, so I drew on that experience when writing about Fabian.
Toronto is also a huge sports town. Between the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, the Blue Jays, the Argonauts, and Toronto FC, Toronto is a city that loves its teams. The fanbases for those teams are spread wide across Canada, which puts a lot of pressure on the athletes who play for them. I wanted to put Ryan, who at this point in his career is pretty much over hockey, on a high pressure hockey market team.
I obviously can’t capture everything that Toronto is in a single book, but I wanted to bring together three of the things that stand out to me about the city: the sports culture, the music and arts scene, and the LGBTQ community. Both of my protagonists interact with those three scenes in different ways, and I hope that what I have written is a very Toronto—and very Canadian—book.
About Tough Guy:
They have nothing in common—so why does Ryan feel most like himself whenever he’s with Fabian?
Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.
Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.
Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.
Looking for more male/male reads? Click here.