Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hitting the road

Barbara here. One of the great joys of being a writer is getting the chance to travel, whether it's into the head of a person very different from yourself or to a physical place you've always wanted to see. We writers can go anywhere, at least in our heads.

Each one of my Amanda Doucette novels is set in a different iconic location in Canada. I did this quite deliberately, because Canada is an extraordinarily varied country spanning seasides, forests, deserts, mountains, and northern tundra as well as charming villages and dynamic cities. I wanted the chance to visit it all, as well as the chance to share my discoveries with others. Canada is a modest place, inclined to say sorry and not at all inclined to toot its own horn. We have cultural, historical, and geographical treasures that we are too modest to brag about.

So the Amanda Doucette series began in Newfoundland, continued on in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec and to Georgian Bay in Ontario, an unsung paradise of thirty thousand islands in a bay big enough, but for a technicality, to qualify as the sixth Great Lake. During the writing of each book, I read books on history, culture and current events, consulted sources, and spent time visiting the location and walking in Amanda's shoes. I wanted readers to feel as if they were there, and I wanted each nuance to be as vivid as possible. The bonus – each book has enriched my understanding and love of the places.

Amanda is now heading west into the Alberta badlands for book #4, and I am having a wonderful time learning about Alberta. I am currently working my way through 13 books on the prairie province's history, politics, and people. Going to school in Montreal during the fifties and sixties, I learned almost nothing about the settling of the west, and everything I learned about the history of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces was heavily Anglo- and Euro-Centric. Looking at all this information through twenty-first century eyes, as well as the wisdom of over half a century of my own lived history, has been a gift that goes far beyond the writing of my next crime novel. It enriches me as a person and a citizen, and helps me interpret events in the world. We should never stop learning.

I still have not yet set pen to paper on this book. Nor do I actually know what it's going to be about, but all my stories are rooted in place and history, and this research, along with discussions with people who live there, will eventually yield up the seeds of a dramatic story. My next step will be to travel there in person, so that I can visit the places, fill all my senses, and see for myself the nuances that make the badlands unique. Maybe even hear the stories that the badlands themselves tell. I am planning this research trip for September– two weeks in a rental car visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park, the Royal Tyrell dinosaur museum, horseback trail riding, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, and reconnecting with my cousins in Lethbridge and my writer friends in Calgary.

By the time I finish the Amanda Doucette series, I hope to have visited most corners of Canada and stood in the shoes of people from all different places and walks of life. If through those journeys I can share a bit of what I've learned with readers, I will be delighted. Imagination and empathy are two priceless qualities that writers bring to a world much in need of both. And travelling opens the way to both.


Anonymous said...

I very much enjoyed hearing about your research and planning process. I'm working on a concept for a mystery that is very much driven by location. And you speak volumes in saying that imagination and empathy are sorely needed in today's world. The message especially hits home for Americans who are mortified on a daily basis by the actions of the current president and administration.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thanks, Tanya. And I know how you feel. Keep on writing; we help people step beyond their walls (if we could only persuade them to read).