I wrote Wizard of the Pigeons back in 1985.
The genre slice that we now call Urban Fantasy was not well populated back then. If I had to look to its roots, I'd suggest the Batman comics. Or maybe Doc Savage stories. But at the time I wanted to write Wizard of the Pigeons, I didn't have a lot of touchstones for Urban Fantasy.
I had only recently come to Washington state. We'd moved from Alaska in a rather disastrous decision to try life in Hawaii. I was pathetically grateful to be back in a more familiar clime, but my family was still in straitened circumstances. With my very first advance from Ace Books, I'd made a down payment on 4 acres of choice swamp land and a run down house. It came with free chickens and a lot of mud. We were driving a Honda 600, which was a tiny car powered by a two cyclinder motorcycle engine. Great on gas, but very cramped inside. I was the proud author of three paperbacks about Ki and Vandien. And Wizard of the Pigeons was going to be my first step into a different slide of the fantasy genre.
Seattle was a new sort of city for me. The first time I visited it, it seemed like a different sort of forest. Lilke a rain forest, there were layers, from the tall office buildings down to the street side businesses. And, in Seattle, down another layer, to old Underground Seattle. I really wanted to make Seattle and that atmosphere part of my story.
So I set out to research Seattle. I read books. I visited the urban parks and read their plaques and histories. I visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Park near Pioneer Square in Seattle. While many places in the US claim to the our smallest national park, I'm willing to bet on this one. I also went on the Underground Tour to learn more of Seattle's fascinating history and discover why Underground Seattle (which used to be regular Seattle) was built over. All of that research went into Wizard of the Pigeons.
It's no secret that Seattle, like almost every other large city, has a serious homeless problem. No one can visit that city now without seeing the blue tarps beside the freeway, the tents on the sidewalk, and the dismal occupation of the parks. It's overwhelming and tragic, and complicated by the opioid addiction crisis.
In 1985, the problem was there, but much less apparent. There were sleeping bags tucked up high in the shelter of the underpasses. Back then, they weren't fenced off, and they were sheltered from wind and rain there. And in Pioneer Square, during the day, the benches were largely occupied by mostly men, some sleeping, some intoxicated, and some just waiting out the day. I spent a lot of time sitting on a bench there, watching and listening, It was a differnt sort of natural environment than the animals and trees I was accustomed to, but just as complex. I often had my younger son with me, and frequently I'd buy a bag of popcorn from a local vendor and give it to him. Feeding the ubiquitous pigeons kept him occupied while I took notes and let the story and the characters form in my brain.
My husband was driving and I was in the front seat one late afternoon as we made the drive back from Seattle to McKenna. My young son, then about 5, had been very quiet in the backseat. We had enetered the I-5 freeway when he said in a small, excited voice. "Hey, Mom. Guess what?"
"Pigeons!" he announced, and unzipped his coat. While I had been daydreaming my book, he had been luring pigoens in close, snatching them up and stuffing them inside his coat. And we now had four very excited pigeons fluttering about inside a very small car.
After several exciting miles of Fred driving at 60 miles an hour while assailed by pigeons, Giles and I were able to recapture them and stuff them back in his coat. Home, we put them in a run-down shed and gave them some chicken food.
The four just happened to be two females and two males. They became the nucleus of a pigeons flock. My father in law interpreted four pigeons as pigeon enthusiasm. He bought us more: eagle pigeons, owl pigeons, tumbler pigeons, king pigeons. All sorts of pigeons! We adapted a shed, built a fly pen, and learned more about pigeons. A pair can lay two eggs every sixteen days. Once those eggs hatch, they lay two more eggs, and the hatchlings help keep the new eggs warm. Before we knew it, we had over a hundred pigeons flying in and out of that shed!
And when I finally began to get the story onto paper, there they were. The unexpected, unplanned characters that shaped the plot and flavored the story.