Although I’m far from the finish line with my historical fiction about the Armenians in Troy, NY who founded the only Protestant Armenian church in upstate NY, I take a semi-break sometimes to do research on best practices for querying potential publishers when the time comes. Last week I ventured into my first experiment with AI when I used Chatgpt to help me find comps to use in a query letter. I had some stumbles at first, since I was new to what could be offered. It took four tries to get to actual books with relevance AND were fairly recent. That fourth try produced five books published in the last 15 years, two of which I have read and found helpful. None of them were within the last five years. But given my fairly obscure topic, I wasn’t surprised. It’s not like every historical fiction writer would be clamoring to write about Troy’s Armenians over a hundred years ago.

One, published in 2016, sounded familiar. I waded through the many books I’ve collected since I started this journey and found a copy of The Hundred Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid MacKeen.

Like too many of the books on my resource shelves, I hadn’t read it. I’m perpetually torn between research and writing, which has become a real-life chicken and egg challenge with my novel. MacKeen’s book focused on the genocide that began in 1915, although the Armenians in their homeland were under intermittent attacks before that. My grandfather left his home village for America (with an intervening stay in France) in 1893, just before one of the earliest periods of attacks on the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire known as the Hamidian massacres. The estimated casualties for that period ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 and resulted in 50,000 orphaned children. There were other attacks intermittently between this and the more well-known genocide that began in 1915 and killed between 1.2 and 1.5 million Armenians, with the official Ottoman number at 1,251,785 (even though they deny it happened).

 While Searching for Setrik, the current title of my novel, focuses on the Troy, NY Armenians who arrived before the genocide, the church that is a focus in the story played a role in welcoming and supporting the arriving Armenian survivors of the genocide and the reconciliation of the two Protestant Armenian churches that had split in 1910. The Hundred Year Walk provided me with an intense vision of what those arriving Armenians had survived and clarified with specificity the need for all of Troy’s Armenians to nurse the refugees back to health—physically, and to the extent possible, emotionally.

I have a feeling this won’t be the last detour I make in writing this novel. But I hope any others provide an equivalent in insights to make my novel the best it can be.

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My Lahmajoun Recipe…

FEATURED IN The Armenian Mirror Spectator!!!

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It’s getting embarrassing, writing yet another post about my work on the historical fiction about the Armenians who immigrated and settled in Troy, NY, and founded the Protestant Armenian church where I grew up. You would think being retired would allow me to focus entirely on this project. Yet I’ve discovered a multitude of interests and friends in retirement that pull me away from the leisure of writing daily. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to carve out at least a few hours daily to move my story forward. I’m still trying to make that resolution work. In my defense, I’ve had some health issues, as has my husband, and that combination has taken up too much of my time. But things are looking up now, and I aim to move my story beyond Chapter 13.

Another challenge for me is dealing with names – many of my characters are based very loosely on actual people. Since I don’t know their stories in detail and can’t prove them as factual – and since all of the original church founders are long gone – do I have the right to use actual names or should I create new names for all characters? So far I’ve used real names, but they are in red so I can go back and make changes if/when needed.

I sometimes get bogged down in the details – is it better to just get the story line written and go back later to flesh out descriptions and character personalities? Or will who the individuals are be critical to how the story flows?

I’ve re-written the early chapters multiple times. Should I just stop reading what’s already written until the whole story draft is completed, then go back and flesh it out further?

It hasn’t helped that my time has been pilfered by way too many commitments – some planned, some unexpected but essential.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it—just like I’m sticking to my commitment to complete this intriguing story. That’s not self-praise. The story of Troy’s early Armenian Protestants really is amazing.

Church members at the groundbreaking of the original Protestant Armenian church in Troy, NY.

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I don’t update nearly enough on how my book is progressing on the Armenians who immigrated to and settled in Troy, NY and founded the Protestant Armenian church there. I’ll do a bit of an update here, but first I want to broadcast my immense respect for writers of historical fiction. I’m aiming that at the many writers who produce new historical novels on a fairly frequent basis. Mine has taken almost 3 years so far for a first draft–and is maybe 1/3 completed. It borders on embarrassing. I say “borders on” because I’ve been learning just how challenging it is to write a story that solidly hooks a reader and both reflects and respects the history it is based on.

What triggers a story idea for a prolific and successful historical fiction writer? Do they work from real or imagined historical figures? Or create their own characters to populate a story about a point in time?

Perhaps each writer of historical fiction (I’ve read several in recent years) takes a different approach. I’d love to get inside the heads of those who have created some of my favorites. Do they spend long hours researching the time period and geographic location of their story and then build the story around that? I picture thick notebooks full of reference material. (Or loaded computer files). How do they smoothly and naturally weave that factual background into and around the lives of the characters who populate the story?

Maybe some write the story first, and then flesh it out with historical details? Do they know everything about their characters in advance, or do they let the characters help write the story and grow their own personalities as the story progresses?

I live with my story every day. The basics are all in my head and in volumes of notes. Maybe I should just get the whole story written, then go back and flesh out personalities and place with life experiences and personal challenges and life happening around them.

Comments and recommendations welcome!

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So Many Resources, So Little Time

I’m making progress on my story about Troy’s Armenians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it is painfully slow. And not from lack of commitment, but rather from new solid gold resources popping up just when I’m settling into the next chapter of the story.

I’ve received all kinds of advice on how to manage this dilemma. The predominant one is just write the story and flesh it out with what is in all the resources later. That’s counterintuitive to me. Up to this point I have stopped when a new resource came to my attention. My reasoning? Many of the resources I’ve tapped up to this point have taken my story – or a chapter of my story – in a different direction that I’ve found valuable. Or a resource could change the tone of even a single chapter or story line. In other words, the new resources have nearly always enriched the story. How could I possibly not give each resource its due.

One recent new set of resources was loaned to me by the priest at the local Armenian Apostolic church, St. Peter’s in Watervliet. Although Searching for Setrik focuses on the Armenians in Troy who founded the protestant Armenian Church, all of the Armenians who settled in the Troy area have stories in common. So examining the experiences that my ancestors had in common beyond the church — as Armenian refugees from their ancestral homeland, as survivors of horrors at the hands of the Turks and Kurds — provides a richer and more comprehensive understanding of their lives, not just their lives within a specific church but also their adapting to life in upstate NYS.

I do have to remind myself periodically that I’m not writing a history book. I’m writing historical fiction. But how can you paint a rich picture of the characters and the settings in the story without having a comprehensive understanding of their lives both in and out of their chosen church?

So I keep pursuing the new angles, absorbing the details of their lives…

And reminding myself that my ultimate goal is to finish the story!

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“I think my great grandfather was the founder of your church.” I received this message after posting a story about my childhood church on this blog. It wasn’t possible, I was certain. I had studied the original members and the entries in the church records. I found no members with the name he provided: Kalaidjian.

As it turned out, when I went looking for the name, I looked only at the church members. In later interactions with this gentleman, I learned that his great-grandfather had been the minister in an Armenian church, and he was pretty sure it was in Troy. He sent me an obituary that said “…he went to Troy where he built the Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of that city.” There was only one Protestant Armenian church in Troy. I returned to the church records. There were three volumes. One covered 1906-1927, the second covered to 2005, and the last covered through the closure of the church. But the second one had a more detailed history of the pastors, going back to the founding of the original church. This one included Rev. Mihran Kalaidjian, 1912- … no leaving date listed. But a note in the record read, “Built the church.”

The church’s early history was somewhat sketchy. The people who founded the original church were primarily Congregationalists, and originally met in people’s houses and in other existing churches. In 1906 when the church members wanted to build their own church, they were discouraged by the Congregationalist American Board. The local Presbyterian synod offered financial assistance if they adopted the Presbyterian affiliation, which they did. They built the Armenian Presbyterian Church, starting with a groundbreaking in 2008.

By 2010, there was dissent within the church members, Presbyterians vs Congregationalists. The Congregationalists returned to borrowed space and pastors, and the plan for a separate church began to grow. They hired Rev. Mihran T. Kaladjian in 1912. Rev. Kaladjian and his wife worked tirelessly to expand the church activities beyond weekly services and midweek prayer meetings. And they confronted the issues of the Armenian community within the larger Troy community, such as language, and sanitation, and employment. A 1913 article in The Troy Times reflected the personal investment by both Reverend and Mrs. Kaladjian.

And, while he didn’t actually build the church, Rev. Kaladjian led the planning for the construction of the Armenian Congregational Church.

The actual reasons for Rev. Kaladjian’s departure—we think in 1914—are unknown. The construction of the new church didn’t begin until 1916. But the plans were drawn, the land was purchased. It likely was a matter of pulling together the finances to make it happen.

In all the research I had done up to the point of contact with Rev. Kaladjian’s great grandson, I hadn’t put all these pieces together. And the way this project has been evolving over the past three years, I’m guessing there could be more pieces to the puzzle of Troy’s Protestant Armenian community that will become part of my historical fiction.

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Just when I think that no resource is available to help me fill in the details of the lives of Armenians who settled in Troy in the 1890’s and early 20th century, another miracle (or two) comes along.

I’m driven to paint an accurate picture of this period in my historical fiction. I can use stories people have told me about their own family members’ early experiences, including what I’ve learned about my grandfather. But I need more to flesh it out. What was the Armenian community in Troy like during this period? How did they live? Were there multiple separate groups? How did they make a living? How did they fulfill their spiritual needs? How did they interact and integrate with the community as a whole?

I had found one Troy Record article from 1913 that talked about the challenges the Armenians had fitting in – language barriers, education views, working with others in the community. The religious leaders met with the city officials to discuss ways to improve integration. But it only went so far.

Then, by total coincidence, my friend Roger (who has been immensely helpful to me on this journey) told me about Torn Between Two Lands. It was an old book, out of print, hard to find, and when I did find it, it was pretty expensive. I debated spending the money. What if it wasn’t helpful? What if it focused on some of the larger Armenian communities in the time frame of my novel? Did I really want to take more time away from writing to read yet another book? I decided to think about it for a while. But then I found myself unable to fall asleep at night, debating with myself about whether the book would help me. Roger has never steered me wrong, and certainly knew more about Armenian history than I do.

I went for it! It took almost three weeks to arrive. But once I had it in my hands, I couldn’t put it down. Not only did it provide golden nuggets about all of the major Armenian communities in America in that era, it also took me back to “the old country” to help me better understand what drove the wave of Armenians to America – what was going on in their homeland throughout the thirty or so years of the 1890’s through World War I, and even going back to the earliest known Armenian to settle in America in the first half of the 19th century. The insights it provided into what drove the people who came to America, and specifically to Troy, NY, were pure gold. The book even addressed the development of the Armenians’ religious communities: how and when they began, when the churches (Apostolic and Protestant) were incorporated, the forces behind choices the religious communities made, how and when they built their first church structures.

Although my novel focuses on the Protestant Armenian community in Troy, you can’t tell the story of Troy’s Armenians without including those who were part of the Apostolic church. After reading something in the book that conflicted with the website of St. Peters, the one of two local Armenian Apostolic churches, I contacted the office of the church for additional information. Their very helpful priest explained that the date on the website was when the church was incorporated, but the physical structure came later. That made sense, since that was what happened with the Protestant Church – the members met for services in homes and borrowed spaces until the first church was built. The priest also generously offered me additional resources, which I will be picking up this week.

Finding this latest resource, Torn Between Two Lands, was just a continuation of the series of little miracles that have driven me on this journey. The writing has begun at last, but I have a feeling the research and learning will continue.

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A friend whom I like, respect, and admire has been telling the stories of Armenians–and Armenian Americans–for decades. His knowledge and intimate understanding of the Armenian Americans who came before us, their histories and their lives, far exceeds anything I’ll be able to acquire in my remaining lifetime. His name is Roger Hagopian. Now he has released a video created 15 years ago, and it’s worth a look. In his own words:

“Our Boys is the film that Tom Spera and I put together in 2005-6 interviewing the World War II veterans. We felt that it was long past the time to share this with the public at large. Sincerely, Roger Hagopian.”


Like all of Roger’s videos, this one tells a story focused on the experiences of Armenians and how they recalled them. It also reflects how that generation coped with whatever came their way. Many thanks to all the Armenians and others who stepped up to defend our nation. Those who survived and the family members who kept the home fires burning were role models for generations to come.

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Recently I came upon a copy of The Fiction Club, by Mark Spencer, and had to share this gem. The description on Amazon tells the story accurately:

“If you are an aspiring creative writer, this engaging, concise, and informal guide covers all the essentials you need to know. If you’re a veteran writer, it will remind you of basic truths and principles of storytelling you might have lost sight of. Topics include “The Rules of Fiction Club”; “The Importance of Small Details”; showing vs. telling; writing vibrant dialogue; balancing narration and description; structure; plot; pace; point of view, flashbacks; grammar, common usage errors; and more.”

Think you know (and use) all that is needed to create engaging fiction? You might be surprised at all the little things you’ve lost sight of – I know I had.

It’s a quick read and will become a “keep it handy” resource. The author, Mark Spencer, is Dean, School of Arts and Humanities, and Professor of Creative Writing, Master of Fine Arts program, University of Arkansas at Monticello. His website describes his own books – my personal favorite is A Haunted Love Story. Check out Mark and his other works at

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For six months or more I have been struggling to make progress on my historical fiction. I tried shutting the door to my office, but my dog whined and scratched until I gave in and opened the door. I tried ignoring the phone when it rang—without success. I turned my cell phone off and found myself distracted by random thoughts of calls I had placed and were the return calls coming in while my phone was off—meaning I’d be off and running on a game of telephone tag.

I’ve read so many articles on ways to focus on my writing. I won’t bore you with all the reasons why they didn’t work for me. We’re all different.

Then my husband made an off-the-wall suggestion. GO TO THE LIBRARY!

I had never even been in our local library. I guess I should be embarrassed by that statement.

I counted off all the reasons why it wouldn’t work:

  1. I couldn’t start writing as early as I like because I’d have to wait until the library opened at 9am.
  2. I’d expend time driving to and from.
  3. I’d have to pay attention to the parking limitations or risk a parking ticket.
  4. I’d have to lug so much stuff with me.
  5. I wasn’t organized enough to remember everything I’d need to have with me.
  6. I’d be abandoning my husband and dog.
  7. I’d feel guilty.

I think it was number 7 that swayed me. Why should I feel guilty?


I remembered a recent article I read about the positives of writing in a library. That making a habit of going there also made a habit of prioritizing your writing. That a few hours in the tranquility of a library can send you into a zone of productivity. While you’re there, you can live in the world of your novel. No one will talk to you (unless you break a rule – including wearing a mask). People actually respect the silence and each person’s individual workspace.

So I tried it—halfheartedly but I did it. I settled into my chosen nook, plugged my computer in (but did NOT connect to the internet – too much temptation to check email and such), placed my pile of notes next to the computer, and started to write.

Two hours later, only a full bladder brought me back to the real world. I couldn’t believe how much I had accomplished.

Coming up on two weeks later, I’ve written more in that time than I did in the past six months. I went from two hours to three-hour blocks. I’ve only been able to go four times due to other commitments. But I’ve accomplished so much even in the limited time. I need to find parking that isn’t limited to two hours so I can do longer blocks of time without having to move my car every two hours.

Will I maintain my enthusiasm about this new writing plan? Time will tell, but I’m hopeful.

What a simple and obvious solution to my writing dilemma:


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