In continuing the series, I discovered a further amendment to the aforementioned writer’s advice: “Write what you never dreamed you’d want to know, but have stumbled across and found fascinating anyway.”
The first two novels in Thaddeus Lewis were set firmly in familiar territory – eastern Ontario in general and Prince Edward County in particular. I fudged the third one a bit - 47 Sorrows began with an old newspaper clipping I ran across that described a peculiar incident in Toronto in 1847 when a wagon overturned and spilled a coffin into the street. It burst open to reveal two corpses inside. Scandalous! And intriguing! This led me to articles about the tragedies experienced by the influx of sick and starving Irish flooding into Canada that year, and to the “fever sheds” that housed them. After all, where better to set a murder than smack dab in the middle of a group of people who are dying anyway? I placed the bulk of the story in Kingston, Ontario, a place I know, but there was an exciting chase that led to Toronto.
The next book, The Burying Ground, led me into completely unfamiliar geographic territory. The story revolves around The Toronto Strangers’ Burying Ground, a potter’s field which in 1851 was at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets. It was in the middle of nowhere back then. Honest. I spent hours poring over old maps. The harbour was different then, and the Don River hadn’t been straightened out yet. And the latest Thaddeus book Wishful Seeing takes place between Cobourg, Ontario and Rice Lake to the north. Oh wondrous intrigues of the early railway boom in Canada! I knew nothing about it when I began, but now I understand why Cobourg has such an improbably spectacular town hall.
In the meantime, I took a dive into speculative fiction and found myself reading about genetics and the founder effect, as well as the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos. Right now I’m researching stories about sex in early Ontario. And I’m trying to find out what the Royal Shipyards in Deptford, England were like in the 1650s. I know how to trap a muskrat. I can make soap from scratch. I’m familiar with the diagnostic signs of typhoid fever.
I will admit that this kind of obsessive and far-ranging research might be most attractive to the sort of junkhead who watches Jeopardy and wins trivia contests (aka me) but it’s the thing that keeps me plunking words down on the page. Because I still don’t know what it is I want to know. And I may never find out, because I’ve discovered that I want to know everything. About everything. And being a writer gives me the perfect excuse to keep reading about it.