The Canopy required TONS of research. Not only did I have to research the jungle, Peru, and transportation to and from, but I also had to gather a lot of information on prions and their associated diseases, Fatal Familial Insomnia, mad cow disease in Britain (one of the characters’ wife died from it), tree-climbing, Indian tribes, religion in South America, anthropology, and the history of contact with unreached people groups. I did the heavy topics first–prion diseases and Indian tribes–and researched things like rope climbing and bacteriophages (fascinating!) as I went along. Fortunately, my week in the Peruvian jungle had given me lots of information from experience and I’d kept a journal on my travels. That proved to be invaluable.
The Canopy was so cutting edge that I was making changes even during the editing process. At one point I read that bleach could kill prions; after I’d handed the book in someone discovered that not even bleach could kill prions. I made a note in the author’s comments at the end of the book. And the week The Canopy released, the first mad cow was discovered in the United States. Talk about eerie timing!
Some authors like to make things up for their books — maybe it’s because of my background in nonfiction, but I’m a reality-based fiction writer. I find that real life is fascinating enough without my having to invent much beyond characters and plot. That’s one reason I usually list sources at the end of my books–I want people to know that my stories are not only possible, but entirely credible.
Tomorrow: The Writing