Today on Mystery Mondays we have bestselling author Tracy L. Ward to talk about history – Canadian History – so that’s fun for me 🙂 Check out her latest book below…
You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar I Did My Research
by Tracy L. Ward
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Canadian history just isn’t that interesting,” I could retire a very wealthy woman. It seems, in comparison to the oft romanticized aspects of American history (a rebellion for liberty from British rule, a civil war to free the enslaved and multiple presidential assassinations) any history Canadians have been a part of feels downright yawn worthy.
How did we become a county? We held a meeting and signed some papers. Yawn. How did slavery in Canada end? Well, Britain ended their involvement in the slave trade and we just kind of followed suit. Both these major events seem passive on our part, nothing revolutionary, nothing to write home about.
A lot of our apathy toward our own history comes down to how it’s taught. It’s standard practice to focus on dates, politician’s names and outcomes of battle. But what if I told you this is exactly the WRONG way to approach history?
I certainly had my fair share of “read this, fill in the blanks on this” history classes. If this is the only type of history class that young people are exposed to no wonder adult Canadians aren’t that particularly interested.
How did I get hooked on history? It certainly wasn’t memorizing a list of Canadian prime ministers and writing historical dates on flash cards. I started by reading about people, learning about their individual lives, their goals, their struggles and learning about how they were restricted by society (particularly women) or even constricted by limits of the technology available to them.
I remember reading in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals that one winter Prince Edward Island had been hammered with a horrendous amount of snow. The Northumberland Straight, the body of ocean separating the island from New Brunswick, was choked with ice. Ferry service had been cut off for weeks and even the dog sleds used by the postal service could not get through to the island effectively cutting off the people of Prince Edward Island from the mainland for weeks and weeks, much longer than any other winter the locals could remember.
She wrote of the isolation, as no one from the village of Cavendish or beyond ventured to the post office Montgomery ran with her grandmother and grandfather. The boredom was immense, the cabin fever soul crushing. This is riveting history. And probably wouldn’t play out the same way today now that we have Confederation Bridge, automobiles, snow ploughs and this amazing invention called the Internet (you may have heard of it).
I recently read a book titled “Wilderness Sisters” by Charlotte Gray, who wrote about Susanna Moody and Catherin Parr Trail, two sisters from the upper classes of England whose genteel husbands decided to brave the journey over the ocean to claim a homestead in Canada’s bush. It’s amazing to read of their optimism, their belief that the estate homes they lost in England could be re-established in the Canadian wilderness, large homes replete with an army of servants, high tea at 4 in the afternoon, and expansive gardens to rival any back home.
They arrived grossly unprepared for the harsh winters, thick wilderness and primitive lifestyles. Lace gloves were soon traded for calloused palms and cracked fingernails. Both Catherine and Susanna were some of Canada’s first female writers, composing works of non-fiction to hopefully better prepare British citizens looking to emigrate to Canada. Their work continues to be published today as a testament to the early days of Canadian settlement. When you read their stories it’s not about what happened when and what laws were changed as a result. Instead their legacy is of an average citizen, brought to Canada because of a dream and vision many other Canadian hopefuls shared.
I had published six novels set in England before I set out to write my first series set in Canada, Mercy Me, and you can bet your bottom dollar I did my research. I pored over maps of early Toronto. I studied the social climate. I visited museums and memorized early photographs gleaning them for clues as to what people wore, how they stood and what was important to them. But what I didn’t do was memorize dates, or names of men who held political office.
My story was not about them but rather about Mercy Marigold Eaton, a character of my own creation, a single mother to a biracial fourteen year old living in a society that would never accept either of them. You won’t find rote facts or many historical nuggets woven amongst the prose. My story wasn’t about repeating what has already been written about in non-fiction. My story is a human story, the best sort of history lesson. While my characters may be a figment of my imagination, their tale is inspired by those of real Canadians, the everyday people who paved the way, and shaped our country helping making it what it is today.
History can be taught through both fiction and non-fiction and need not be limited to factual recitation. If you haven’t read a historical novel in a while, boy, are you ever missing out.
Mercy Marigold Eaton has a special connection with the dead, able to piece together the lives of those who have passed on with a single touch. When an injured man nearly dies in her arms she isn’t given much time to work her magic before Detective Jeremiah Walker arrives and places her and her fraudulent fortune telling business under suspicion.
A day later the body of a woman matching a description given by Mercy is found in Toronto’s derelict neighbourhood The Ward, leaving Walker no choice but to involve her in the case. Wary and fighting her own demons rooted in mistrust of the law, Mercy uses the skills she herself doesn’t fully understand to give the detective the clues he so desperately needs.
Thrust together by circumstances even Mercy couldn’t predict, the pair soon finds themselves falling for each others’ charms. In an effort to remove temptation Walker pushes forward without her, not realizing the killer has already darkened Mercy Eaton’s front door.
WHO IS TRARCY L. WARD?
A former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy L. Ward is the author behind the best-selling Marshall House Mysteries.
Mercy Me is the first book in a new series set in 19thcentury Toronto. Currently, Tracy lives on a rural property outside Barrie, Ontario with her husband and their two teenagers.
7 thoughts on “Mystery Mondays: Author Tracy L. Ward on Historical Fiction”
Thanks for a nice look at making history come alive. I wish more authors took it as seriously as you do. I love writing mysteries, but historical fiction really calls to me. I’m always in search of another heroine whose life I can turn into strong fiction.
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Writing historical fiction does add an intriguing layer to story telling. I always say that I learn just as much from writing historical fiction as I do from research. There is nothing quite like imagining history from the point of view of a specific person. I certainly reccommend you give historical fiction a try.
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Your series sounds like a gem, Tracy! I love a well-researched book that’s set in a city I’ve been to, but in a different era. And a mystery besides … I’m there! 🙂 … kate, writing as c. t. collier
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Thank you Kate. I really enjoyed writing this book so I hope others enjoy reading it. Mercy Eaton is a very fascinating character who surprised me quite a bit as I wrote her. A real process of discovery.
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Fabulous post. Here’s one Canadian who is adding this book to my TBR now. 🙂
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