Sometimes, my characters do things that make me wonder, “is that really possible?” For instance, in The Prize, Caleb routinely paddles his canoe over what I came to realize were some pretty extended distances. I’ve done a little bit of canoeing myself, but I wondered whether I was asking too much of the boy.
So the summer after I completed the manuscript, I got out onto Lake Champlain myself, first just paddling around the bay, but working up to longer trips. Within a couple of months of irregular practice, I was pretty readily able to drive my canoe a couple of miles without resting – and I’m no paragon of physical fitness.
Based on this experience, I figured that a younger man, for whom the canoe was a primary means of transportation, and who was accustomed to the daily exertions of working on a family farm, would be more than able to perform the feats of canoeing that I depicted.
In addition, reading some accounts of canoe trips by modern-day recreational paddlers convinced me that the trips I wrote into the story would have represented a solid part of a hard day’s work, but I consider my conception of Caleb’s habitual travels around the lake to be completely plausible.
I’m tempted now to find out for myself just how difficult it is to shear a sheep with just 18th-century shears… but that’s another book (The Declaration) that’s not out yet. Perhaps another time.