The Winter of the Robots is the first book to be set in my neighborhood, which is called Victory. It’s the northwestern most neighborhood in Minneapolis, bordering two suburbs, and is mostly unknown to anybody who doesn’t live around here. At one point Jim’s mother jokes that Victory is the Edina of North Minneapolis, but you kind of have to be from Minneapolis to get that joke.
Our area was hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. Housing seems to be on the rebound, but crime is up. It’s a fine place to live but we have our share of urban blight. All of this is reflected in the book. Jim’s dad sells home security systems, and there’s background buzz about crime and abandoned houses throughout the book. I tried to do this honestly, without disparaging the neighborhood or exaggerating the problems.
The book is also largely set in bordering areas, particularly the Camden industrial area along the river where Jim and Rocky discover an abandon junkyard. I drive by that area every day and the book was largely inspired by the mysterious areas behind large fences that fade into the weeds. I had to fictionalize that area more, so street names have changed, etc. The burger place doesn’t exist but it’s the kind of place that would thrive there. The story involves a defense company, and it’s reasonable since two others exist within a mile or two of the fictional one. Otters live in my imaginary junkyard, and otters really do live in that part of the river bank.
In 2011 a tornado ripped through the neighborhood, particularly ravaging the area where the book (which I had started) takes place. I allude to the denuded park and other evidence that it happened. In fact, the whole story is possible because of that tornado, since a storm-hurled tree rips a hole in the fence that the kids use to get into and out of the abandoned illegal junkyard where all of this happens.
Locals will recognize another touch of Victory in the names of three major characters. Oliver Newton, James Knox and his sister Penny all get their names from a series of the north-south streets that go the length of Minneapolis. They go alphabetically from East to West, Aldrich to Zenith. The middle of the alphabet is James, Knox, Logan, Morgan, Newton, Oliver, and Penn.
The book never says so, but Jim (or James) lives on Oliver. His best friend Oliver lives on James.