When people think of writers researching stories, they often think of nonfiction. But writers research fiction, too. Details —like the way it feels to cast a fishing rod or do a loop on a roller coaster — need to be right for a fictional story to seem real. For Canary in the Coal Mine, I did research by visiting exhibition mines, walking the streets of Charleston, exploring an old company store, and listening in the dark.
My main task was to figure out which smelled and tasted worse: a peanut-butter and sardine sandwich or peanut-butter and anchovies.
I should begin by saying I have a history with sardines. In my post-college years, one of my housemates liked to make himself a snack of sardines and feta cheese, which he claimed tasted delicious. But my other housemate and I could tell what he’d been eating, long after the evidence was gone. The smell lingered. In the end, we either banned it from the house or made him eat it outside on the porch. So my bet, in the anchovy-sardine competition was definitely on the sardines.
But while the sardine smell did turn out to be stronger, my crew and I decided there was something more disturbing about the anchovies. In a taste test, we all thought the sardines tasted better. The anchovies made us gag. Which means the anchovies won the place of honor on Nanny X’s sandwich. We lined them up on the peanut butter, just so.
And then we closed the sandwich and took a bite. I will spare my test subjects the humiliation of displaying their spitting photographs here. But below is my tentative taste test.
When we try out new food items, we have a list of things we consider when we give those food items a proper review.
Appeal: Doesn’t look as awful as you might think.
Texture: Not so bad. We eat peanut sauce with Asian food so there is half a chance peanut butter might be okay with fish.
Taste: (Insert barfing noises here.)
Would you eat this again? No thanks.