I live in Pittsburgh, PA, and there’s no denying that Windsmith City is based on my hometown. But, when I was writing I wanted to ensure that the city I was making would still be unique. I started by altering the geography and the economic history of the city.
I like to say that, sure, I changed up the geography a little bit. Pittsburgh is famous for its unique geography, formed by its three rivers (the Allegheny and the Monongahela, whose powers combine and create the Ohio River) and various mountain ranges that restrict its urban sprawl. The result is a city with lots forested land, wildlife, and more bridges than Venice. The city itself followed after the placement of Fort Duquesne (and then later Fort Pitt). Its position at the intersection of the three rivers, its view of the surrounding mountainsides, and a rare spot of exceptionally flat land made it the perfect spot.
For Windsmith City, I didn’t want three rivers. Instead, I took a single river that I called the Shannon River. Instead of having the “Triangle” (as Pittsburghers call it) operating as the downtown area, Windsmith City has an island where the Shannon River splits temporarily in two. There, the plateau rises sharply from the river banks, providing an unequivocally superior tactical advantage over anything in the river or on the opposing shores. As the area became settled, bridges were built and commerce along the river thrived, making the villages and towns along the banks of the Shannon a good place to be.
The real change came in the late 1800s when electricity was finding wide use in the area and around the world. It was in Windsmith City that a man named Danilo Radko Gert invented a way to generate large amounts of electricity using wind power, a method that was far superior to the coal-powered generators being used up to that point. Investors flocked to Danilo’s technology, and soon the first windmills were built on the mountains along the southern shore of the Shannon. Access to electricity was unfettered, and soon industries clamored to set up shop there. Thus, Windsmith City was born, named, and came blasting onto the world stage as the city that every city should want to be. Well, according to some world leaders, anyway.
Anyway, as far as a backdrop to a NaNoWriMo project goes, I thought I had it worked out pretty well. I could draw parallels when I needed to. For example, in the book Horace Pickle asks his applicants to make their deliveries to 412 Marrion Boulevard. Marrion Boulevard is in fact Fort Duquesne Boulevard, and my local fans will recognize 412 as the Pittsburgh area code. There are more examples, some of them more obvious than others, but you get the idea.
At this point, every alteration to Windsmith City was intentional. The final alteration to Windsmith City came as a surprise to me, though. Shortly after the book was published in 2014, I commissioned Delofasht Buranasiri to do a large-scale digital painting of the city. We went back and forth on various design elements, as you do, but once he had the initial painting done I discovered something that I hadn’t noticed before: waterfalls. Delofasht had included waterfalls just before the two divides of the Shannon rejoin each other before hitting the delta and going out to sea. Obviously I had never mentioned waterfalls anywhere before, so their inclusion took me a moment to process… and I loved it. They added a whole extra layer to the geography that I never knew was missing!
There was a problem though. If you recall the history of the city that I outlined above, traffic on the river was a major factor in the development of the area. I was faced with abandoning a key aspect of the city’s history or the waterfalls, unless I could think of a solution. Which was kind of silly, because people thought of solutions to these things hundreds of years ago: locks. Need to go up a river and there’s impassible portions? Build some locks, those wonderful water elevators for boats. Problem solved.
And with that, Windsmith City was made.