Researching the Bits
This is one in a series of blog posts (without spoilers!) about the writing process for The Lantern’s Dance.
Sometimes, I go into a book knowing a fair amount about the setting and situation. Other times, I just know enough to know it’s interesting—but there will be work involved to flesh it out.
The Lantern’s Dance was supposed to be my 2022 book, until Covid made a 2020 research trip to France a bit tricky. Which was actually fine, because without that impetus I might not have discovered Raquel Laing and the pleasures of writing Back to the Garden, but when time came to follow Russell and Holmes across Europe after Castle Shade, that still left me with the question of how to get what I would need to permeate a book with the myriad details of life in 1920s France.
Weird health problems—mine, rather than the entire world’s—have made international travel even less of a joy that it was before 2020. If I hadn’t hesitated to climb onto a plane, if I’d just booked a flight for Paris and committed to the story line I had to begin with, Russell #18 would have ended up a very different story from the one that’s coming out in February.
Instead, I’d had an extra year to think about it, and realized that what I wanted to write wasn’t a straightforward novel set in Paris. Back to the Garden made me interested in the structure of cold-case stories, where the past comes to visit the present. And at any rate, I’d already written a solidly Parisian story with Bones of Paris.
So I looked at my two characters, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, and decided that a book involving Holmes’ son, Damian Adler (if you read The Language of Bees or God of the Hive, you’ve met him) should also involve Holmes’ greater past, with a mystery from Holmes’ distant past.
There’s a journal, filled with sequential images—a sort of zoetrope of autobiography. Some of those images have to do with the early 19th century French-Indian colony of Chandernagore (to use its old spelling.) That was one deep research hole I had to dive into.
Other journal images follow the travels of the journal’s author, first from France to India—by sailing ship, around the Horn and touching on ports of call along the way up India’s Eastern coast—then a few years later, back from India to France, this time by steamer and, rather than around the Horn, up through the Red Sea, then overland to Cairo to the Nile. Another set of intricate research closely tied to dates and historical facts.
And when we finally make it back to Paris, we’re still way before the Eiffel Tower and Haussmann’s vast renovations of the city, so…another set of online searches, close examinations of paintings and early daguerreotypes, and perusals of out-of-print books.
And, naturally, the places the plot focuses in on, such as a fort on the outskirts of Paris.
Because sometimes you travel on a plane…and other times you travel in your imagination.
You can pre-order The Lantern’s Dance from: Bookshop Santa Cruz (signed); Poisoned Pen Books (signed); Bookshop.org (supporting Indie booksellers); Barnes & Noble; or Amazon. (Plus, register here for a pre-order bonus!)
Images: The Strand at Chandernagore; Paris, 1838, from the Wikipedia article on Daguerreotype; map, Baedeker’s Paris 1920.