Deductive reasoning, aka reading the classics

Confessional moment: Yes! I’m working on my next novel. This one is about Scottish immigrants in the 18th century. And just like the initial phase of my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths (German immigrants in the 19th century), I’ve started by reading some classics of the day. (See one of my earliest blogposts here, Call me a schlemiel)

This time, instead of Moby-Dick, I’m devouring Kidnapped! by Robert Louis Stevenson. Until I downloaded this classic to my digital bookshelf, my knowledge of this author extended as far as the recurring crossword puzzle clue: Author of Treasure Island. Answer: RLS

To my amazement, the historical novel Kidnapped! covers the same era, and territory, I’m researching–the Scottish Highlands just after the Battle of Culloden. From the writing, I’ve picked up quite a few insights into the clothing, the foods, differences in social status, in languages and dialects, in political allegiances (woefully enmeshed with religious beliefs) and local customs. But sheesh, what to do with it all? Especially since, sadly, hardly any women show up in this book.

There are other classics I’m looking forward to reading. Poetry by Robert Burns, and the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett. Granted, it’s a broad-stroke way to hone in on a particular story. A lot more work than hunkering down to a preconceived notion of what the book wants to be. Deductive reasoning, messy but often delightful and surprising. When I get impatient, that’s what I tell myself anyhow.

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