This story is a bit unusual in that it has a single starting point. Some years back I was at a dinner party with some family friends who had recently returned from Vietnam, and they mentioned that while the country had become much more prosperous because of foreign investment in factories there, people were concerned that because wages and the standard of living were rising the people who owned the factories would wind up moving them to someplace where people were willing to work for less. This made me think of the classic SF premise “If this goes on…” and imagine the process finally ending with the factories moved to Hell.
This made me think of the old practice of using convict labour, which was a major issue for the labour movement in the early 20th century. (Unions were opposed to the practice not primarily because it exploited convicts but because it drove down wages.) Most of what I know about labour history I learned from reading and listening to Pete Seeger, so I decided to make the protagonist a folk singer in that mould, which led me – embarrassingly late – to recognize the echoes of Orpheus in the story, and come up with a twist on the don’t-look-back rule that changes it into a story that’s mostly about compassion.
No real Canadian references in this one, though the folk club the main character plays at, Raskolnikov’s, is a goof on the much-missed Ottawa folk club Rasputin’s, where I used to occasionally play gigs with a friend of mine who is an actual musician. I’ve never had any really bad jobs – at least not as bad as the jobs people in the story have – but I have had a few fairly bad one. My experience in telemarketing, in particular, led to what`s probably my favourite line in the book: “It’s always dinnertime when you call from Hell.”