ASYLUM by Jaennette de Beauvoir
A Sense of Place
When they begin thinking about their next book, many writers—especially mystery writers—start with a character. It’s important, obviously, to provide the reader with a person they can relate to, someone smart, attractive, funny, quirky—all the things that in our innermost secret places we wish we were more like.
Or, alternately, authors may begin with a plot, the sudden clear sense that an idea, even just a passing snippet of one, could be developed into an intriguing novel. A lot of writers have half-finished stories just waiting for the right time, place, and character to arrive to make them come alive.
Not me. I’ve always started with a place.
There’s a story—possibly apocryphal—about novelist Phyllis Whitney, whose romantic thrillers were situated in all sorts of exotic locales. The story goes that she would decide where she wanted to go next on vacation, and then use that place as the setting for her new novel. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it strikes me as an absolutely brilliant idea.
There’s a lot of interesting thought about how we’re connected to the spaces we inhabit, those we choose and those that are chosen for us, those we love and those we can’t wait to see the last of. I think it’s fascinating to consider those ideas. But they’re not why I write about place.
So why is it so important to me? Well, it’s partly to do with love, and it’s partly to do with context.
There are places I’ve lived, or stayed, or even just visited, that will always be with me; and so I have a natural tendency to want to share the love of that place with others, live there a little longer through writing about it.
The context issue is a little trickier to explain. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going somewhere—entering a house, crossing a bridge, walking down a street, climbing a hill—and being suddenly and inexplicably overcome with some sort of sensation that’s related to where you are. The locale is sending you signals, sometimes wonderful, sometimes frightening, always interesting.
And the truth is that the feeling is rarely wrong: if a place starts tugging at me, even if I don’t immediately feel any attraction to it, a little work will reveal the jewels that are just waiting for a creative spirit to come alone.
I got the feeling the first time I visited Montréal—decades ago—and it continued to reverberate over the years that I kept going back, until it was clear to me that I needed to respond. And so I started not just enjoying, but really getting to know the city, which for me always involves starting with its past. And the more I read about that past, the more mysteries unfolded, a flower slowly unfurling its petals.
Were there a recorded history of the Iroquois settlement called Hochelaga, I suspect the first mysteries would have begun there. But let’s start in the spring of 1734 when arson destroyed a hospital and 45 houses on rue Saint-Paul. Criminal proceedings were soon underway against a slave called Angélique. Did she do it? Or was her lover, Claude Thibault, responsible? He decamped before anyone could find out.
Want more? Consider how in 1901 the foundations of Montréal’s wealthiest neighborhood were rocked when Ada Maria Mills Redpath and her son Cliff were shot in Ada’s bedroom in the Redpath mansion in Montreal’s affluent Square Mile district. What really happened there?
In 1978, at the basilica of Notre-Dame (where more than one scene in ASYLUM takes place), someone set fire to a confessional, causing millions in damages. During renovations, five stained-glass windows were found behind a brick wall. Why were they walled up and forgotten? Right down the street, another Notre-Dame church also had a disappearing stained glass angel. What was up with that?
And that’s just the beginning! There were a lot of reasons to keep exploring, explorations that led me to the story of the Duplessis orphans and the forbidding mansion known as Ravenscrag.
And that’s a mystery you can solve when you read ASYLUM!
ASYLUM is available from St. Martin’s/Minotaur: Women are being murdered in Montréal’s summer tourist season, and everything points to random acts of a serial killer—but it’s publicity director Martine LeDuc who discovers that the deaths reflect a darker past that someone wants desperately to keep hidden.
About the author: Jeannette de Beauvoir grew up in Angers, France, but now divides her time between Cape Cod and Montréal—as well as spending as much time as she can traveling and listening to the stories told by other places. Read more about her at www.JeannetteAuthor.com.
JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR is an award-winning author, novelist, and poet whose work has been translated into 12 languages and has appeared in 15 countries. She explores personal and moral questions through historical fiction, mysteries, and mainstream fiction. She grew up in Angers, France, but now divides her time between Cape Cod and Montréal. Read more at www.jeannetteauthor.com