Thursday, July 29, 2010


For me writing a book takes me on a long and winding investigative internet road that is a pleasure to travel. I wonder if it’s the same for other writers.

As I began the fourth Hollis Grant book I went to the Toronto Children’s Aid society and Ontario government to read the rules for fostering. I needed to find out if a parent voluntarily relinquished a child to care but not for adoption if he could direct the child’s life. I’m not entirely clear what the answer is so more research will be necessary.

The next question involved names. There are several aboriginal characters in this book. As I had taught in a one room school on the Caradoc agency outside London Ontario I knew Oneida surnames but since I wasn’t sure if the character would come from this reserve or from Brantford I investigated the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and the Mohawk tribal council looking for office holders’ surnames. I decided on Hill. However a friend told me that calling a child Crystal Hill made her sound like a diamond mine so I changed it to Montour.

I moved on to Western Canada to Poundmaker’s, Sweetgrass, Red Pheasant, Mosquito and Moosomin reserves to fine appropriate Cree surnames. Often I was diverted into reading much more than I’d originally intended.

Then came questions about drug use and methadone. The Canadian Association of Mental Health, CAMH, publishes a user-friendly attractive purple handbook on methadone maintenance treatment which is available online and makes for interesting reading.

At the same time that I was doing this I read in the Globe and Mail that the Sisters in Spirit, an offshoot of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, had just published an update of their 2009 report on missing or murdered aboriginal women. Online I read the report with it’s horrifying statistics and sad conclusion that, particularly in BC, aboriginal sex trade workers are societal throw-aways.

From BC to Ontario, to Toronto to download the Metropolitan Toronto Police files to see what had been happening with murdered or missing aboriginal women and concluded that Ontario had been doing a better job than BC. Again the questions arose - why are so many aboriginal women employed in the sex trade and why are such disproportionate numbers incarcerated? And, what role did the inter-generational impact of residential schools play in determining these numbers?

An apartment building plays a major role in the book and I used another government site to pinpoint tenants’ rights. A number of renters in the building are call girls working for an escort agency or for themselves. Learning on line about the organization and operation of escort agencies was fascinating, particularly scholarly articles extolling the positive effects of such a career!

And on it goes. When I think what this winding trail would have involved before Google and the Internet I wonder how books ever got written.

As I’m only half way through the first draft I’m sure other interesting discoveries await me. If you’re a writer this circuitous winding route must be part of your life. What are the most astonishing sites that you have found? I’d love to know.

Joan Boswell A member of the Ladies Killing Circle Joan co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit toDie, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.


  1. Great stuff, Joan. But I wonder you get any time to write with all the research required. Have all your novels required this much time and energy to get the facts right?
    Must be why I stick to short stories.

  2. I can't wait to read the latest installment in Hollis Grant's life, Joan. What a lot of research!

    For me, the most interesting research has been visiting courts and sitting through some of the same cases I've been following in the papers.


    Charlotte Adams mysteries