BookLife Talks with Cam Lang
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'The Concrete Vineyard'
What is the story behind this book—why and how did you write it?
So many small towns throughout the U.S. and Canada, particularly historic ones, are having their unique characters challenged—if not eroded—by ill-conceived growth. Over the last 20 years, the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, first capital of Upper Canada, has been scarred by too many of the typical car-centric subdivisions you commonly find in the suburbs of large cities. At the same time, the Niagara wine industry has landed with a thud on the domestic and international map, which helps explain why 3.5 million people now visit this small town every year. Because the historic “Old Town” sits at the very northeast corner of a peninsula, it is accessible by land only from its southwest quadrant. To a great extent, the only way for people to visit is by private automobile, so traffic, congestion, and parking have become major issues of civic complaint. In a nutshell, it isn’t sustainable. I wrote this book because there’s an elephant in the room that almost everyone is ignoring. Unfortunately, the elephant just keeps eating and growing, and he’s not too keen on leaving. He’s now making a mess and the place is starting to smell. On its own, urban planning is a boring subject, so I framed it around a murder mystery to generate more interest. Poor planning affects us all.
How much of your background informed The Concrete Vineyard?
My intimate understanding of the local context frames much of the first-person narration throughout the novel. This is supplemented by my practical experience with urban planning theory, land development, sustainability concepts, active transportation, heritage preservation, and municipal politics. The War of 1812 and the wine industry are also major topics. One reviewer said The Concrete Vineyard “might be the most educational mystery novel you will ever read.” I’d like to agree with that.
Why do you think the mystery genre is so popular?I think it’s because of the unique relationship between author and reader. It’s a game of cat and mouse in which both author and reader are heavily invested. Readers want to be challenged, they want to guess, and they especially want to be able to say “I knew it”—and that exists only in the mystery genre. At the same time, the author is trying to trick, twist, or turn the reader, but there’s a delicate balance. It’s easy for an author to twist and turn a reader, but if the scenarios aren’t logical or believable, the reader won’t respect the game. For this reason, I think the mystery genre is the hardest one to write well.
Who is your ideal reader and why?
Pete Buttigieg, the current U.S. secretary of transportation. He seems to be on the right track—pun intended—and saying the right things about building a more equitable, safer, and cleaner mobility network in the country. This line of thinking corresponds well with my novel. Behind the urban planning, the history, and the mystery, The Concrete Vineyard is about moving people instead of cars in order to create more livable and sustainable neighborhoods, communities, towns, and cities.
Will you continue to set books in Niagara-on-the-Lake?
Probably not. I didn’t leave any stones unturned with this book, and I would be hard-pressed to find an issue I didn’t address. The Concrete Vineyard is the most prescient and complete novel ever written about the first capital of Upper Canada.