I have realized that second only to holding a bound book in my hands, my favourite part of writing a book is the research. I love choosing worlds that I don’t know much about—rare books libraries, small Newfoundland towns, airplanes, math, kids’ TV shows, tour buses—and then figuring out how to make them real on the page.
I’ve traveled to Newfoundland to run the length of Amelia Earhart’s airfield, and peer inside the windows of a (closed) museum that held her curling iron. I’ve been to Washington DC to see Amelia Earhart’s beautiful red and gold airplane which formed the final scene in my debut novel, Letters to Amelia. And last spring, I went down to New York for a research residency at the Martha Graham School for a novel-in-progress. I was even able to take a dance class which was hugely formative for the writing process.
But not all research requires travel!
I set my debut novel at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, where I’d spent a bunch of time as a grad student. But my character works there, and I needed to figure out the logistics of her day to day, so I asked the Outreach Librarian if he could take me on a behind the scenes tour. HIGHLY RECOMMEND! I learned that there are not one, but two basements, and got to wander through the stacks, and go up to the top of the stacks where they keep the incredibly old medical text books and peer down at the reading room.
My forthcoming novel, The Fun Times Brigade (out in 2025!) features a children’s musician, and I was able to interview Fred Penner to learn more about the world of performing for kids’. Fred was so generous with his time and even walked me through the ins and outs of creating children’s TV—the practicalities, the philosophical consideration, and the speed required to write new songs all. the. time. It was fascinating and so helpful when creating the world in my book.
I also knew nothing about the realities of touring or recording, so I called up a musician friend, the immensely talented Joshua Van Tassel and he walked me through his studio, answering all my questions about what this button does, and what that cable is. His dos and don’ts list for living on a tour bus were formative and became the backbone for my book.
One of my characters in The Fun Times Brigade, is a mathematician. In early drafts, it was a bit of a filler occupation—he’d just go to work, and then come home. But in later drafts, I realized that his job needed to make sense, and for that to happen, I needed to know what he actually did all day. I barely scraped by OAC Calculus, so pure math at a PhD level was a bit out of my league, until I remembered that my childhood neighbour is a math prof in New York. Now, I can’t say I understand topology, but I learned about special chalk that pure mathematicians love, an esteemed research institute near the Black Forest, where mathematicians hike to eat Black Forest Cake; and I learned that there are not one, not two, but three days to celebrate pi! I have never enjoyed talking about math quite so much in my life!
For some of this work I received funding, and some of it I did on my own dime, but there are two upcoming grants that support research if you’re interested:
- Access Copyright Foundation: Marian Hebb Research Grant (due Feb. 15, 2024)
- Canada Council for the Arts: Research & Creation Grant (date TBD, but usually the first Wednesday of April, and the first Wednesday of October)
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
To a new year of imagined worlds!!
PS: Here are some extra grant writing tips:
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Lindsay Zier-Vogel is an author, arts educator, grant writer, and the creator of the internationally acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. She is the author of the acclaimed debut novel Letters to Amelia and her work has been published widely in Canada and the UK. Dear Street is Lindsay’s first picture book, and is a 2023 Junior Library Guild pick, a 2023 Canadian Children’s Book Centre book of the year, and has been nominated for a Forest of Reading Blue Spruce Award. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities, and as the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love.