Jumping in Before the Research Catches Up

I've been writing much of The Young City on a hunch. Yes, I know how risky it is to write a historical novel (or, rather, a novel set fairly far back in history) without doing extensive research, but I've been pushing through on The Young City regardless. I don't expect to see this novel published for several years, yet (if at all), so if I find time to research things properly, there will be time to rewrite. In the meantime, Rosemary's story, her relationship with Peter, her friendship with Faith, and her concern over Edmund's fall from grace, all pretty timeless plots, push me ever onward.

I did luck out on one thing, though. I wrote a scene where Peter gets confronted by coyotes on the streets at night. I describe their eyes reflected in the guttering lamplight as reflecting like a cat's (green-yellow). Wait a minute, says Erin, coyotes come from the same families as dogs, and dogs eyes reflect red. Mistake? Not so, says this website: Coyotes have yellow eyes that reflect as greenish-gold at night.

But if that detail turned out to be wrong, it would be an easy one to fix on the rewrite, right? And, with luck, most other details received wouldn't send the story spiralling off in new directions -- although if some such thing did happen, would it really be so bad? As long as I kept writing, the story would settle itself out, stronger than before...

Consider the picture to the right, first displayed in this entry. When I first found this picture, I thought it described a generic burial of a river. Rediscovering this website, I see that this picture is the holy grail: it shows the Taddle Creek being buried in 1884, the key event that launches Peter and Rosemary's adventure in The Young City. Look at the size of the storm sewer (the higher of the two openings); it's barely as tall as a human being, and not as wide -- a little different from the nine-foot-in-diameter pipe that I'd envisioned.

This isn't really a problem, but an opportunity. I've already said that Rosemary's claustrophobic. This just intensifies things, don't you think?

Returning to the topic of coyotes, here's that scene I've written. It takes place immediately after Peter and Rosemary's argument...

Peter walked quickly, hands in his pockets, his scowl on the boards of the sidewalk shouldering passers-by aside. He followed the sun while his mind whirled over Rosemary's anger, her words, and the pain they'd left behind, like a knife in the chest.

Sure, they were in a terrible situation, but they could get through it together. Only, she didn't think so. He wasn't good enough for her.

The sun passed behind houses. The shadows lengthened. Peter slowed down. Standing at a street corner, he began to really think.

It was harder for her to live her than it was for him. There was no end of work he could find for himself; he could even be a journalist if he put his mind to it. What could she do? It would be forty years before she could vote, federally. And it was hard enough studying biochemistry when the field hadn't been invented yet, not to mention the fact that Rosemary's going to a science school was blazing a path as bold as Faith's. She hadn't signed up for that.

He snorted, dug his hands deeper in his pockets and stormed across the dirt street. So, she hadn't signed up for that. He hadn't signed up for it either. But they were here. They had to make do. Couldn't they make do together?

He walked unhindered. What crowds there were thinned out. Peter's stomach growled and he stopped at the next intersection, looking around for the first time. He could barely make out the street signs in the shadow of the rowhouses.

"Herrick and Muter?" he muttered. "Never heard of them."

An alarm went off in his mind. You're a former Torontonian, Peter. You used to walk these neighbourhoods. You knew many of these streets.

But that was a hundred years from now. It might as well be another city.

He looked back the way he'd come, then saw Rosemary's glare, heard the anger in her voice. He faced the setting sun again. Maybe he'd get something to eat, first. Rowhouses surrounded him; there was still a lot of city left to go, wasn't there?

Two blocks later, he stood at the edge of a farmer's field, shielding his eyes against the sun. The wind blew across the stubble of threshed wheat like a blast from the end of the world. Peter's stomach rumbled again. He didn't have a jacket.

"Right," he said. "Let's go back."

He turned. Before him, the rowhouses turned from gold, to red, to muted greys. Lights in the window guttered and were blown out. Curtains were drawn. The sky darkened, and the wind harried him from every direction. It blew the smell of frost, then the first flecks of rain into his face. He wrapped his arms around his chest. He breathed on his fists. What street signs he could see told him nothing.

"What did they do, rename everything? Where the heck is Hope Street?"

The streetlights were few and far between. In the distance, he heard the howl and yip of coyotes. The rain fell steadily, whipped into his face by the wind. He began to shiver and he couldn't make himself stop.

"Now you've done it," he muttered. "Way to win an argument, Peter: storm out and die of hypothermia, your bones picked clean by coyotes."

He drew a shaky breath. It wasn't as bad as that. He was just lost and alone. So, that was how Rosemary felt.

In the darkness, he stumbled on an uneven plank and fell at the base of a streetlight. He struggled to his feet, rubbing his barked hands. He looked around to get his bearings, and froze.

Inhuman shadows shifted at the edge of circle of lamplight.

He swallowed. "Who's there?"

The shadows blinked, and suddenly Peter was surrounded by dozens of cats' eyes that didn't look like they belonged to cats. He heard the scuffle of paws, and the rasp of breath through snouts. One of the shapes pressed into the light.

It looked like a dog, but there was intelligence to its stare and silence that made Peter raise his hands warily. It had a long slender muzzle with a black nose, pointed ears standing erect and a drooping tale. Its eyes were wells of amber.

It was a coyote. He was surrounded by coyotes. Peter backed into the street light, a scream building in his throat.

But the coyote did nothing but stare at him. There was no growl or advance. Its eyes simply held Peter as it looked him over. Then it backed up two steps, and turned away.

Peter stared.

At the edge of the lamplight, it stopped and looked back at him. Peter still hadn't moved. It took two steps towards him, turned away again, took two steps towards the edge of the circle, and looked back. Behind it, the wall of eyes vanished.

Peter stepped away from the streetlight, his mouth agape.

The coyote turned away and vanished into the darkness. Peter stepped to the edge of the lamplight and stared as the coyote reappeared, down the street, in the next circle of lamplight. It stopped, looked back, and waited.

Peter looked back and saw a wall of reflected eyes behind him. Taking a deep breath, he blew on his hands, flexed his fingers, and strode into the darkness towards the next light. The lead coyote saw him and turned away, appearing seconds later in a third circle of lamplight, further down the street. It picked up the pace, and Peter followed.

He felt the patter of paws behind him and tried to put it out of his mind. He'd heard of predators playing with their prey, but not like this. His mind instead filled with the feeling of cold. The rain was turning the street into mud, and it was so cold, it burned the back of his hands. He needed shelter, soon. He hoped that's where the coyotes were taking him.

He slowed when he didn't see the lead coyote materialize in the next circle of lamplight, then stopped when amber eyes reflected back at him out of the gloom. More eyes opened, on his left, and his right. He was surrounded again.

"What--" He felt it odd, but a part of him had to ask aloud. "Where have you taken me?"


He looked up. In the deep twilight, he could barely make out the hoarding around the construction site burying the river. Tom Proctor stood at the gate, waving his lantern. "Peter, is that you?"

Peter looked around, but the amber eyes had disappeared. He stumbled across the packed earth and caught himself at the construction yard's gate.

"Peter! What are you doing out so late?" demanded Tom Proctor. "My God, you're half frozen. Come in this instant; I have a fire."

He beckoned, but at the mention of fire Peter had perked up, and darted towards Tom's cabin like a moth towards flame.

In the distant hills, coyotes began to howl.

Now here's a research question: did Toronto have coyotes in 1884?

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