Two years ago, I posted about a plan to write a history of the Armenian church where I spent much of my childhood through young adulthood. I wrote about my earliest research and its impact on me in my 2/4/19 blog post. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the sources I would need for an accurate history were not available to me. There was no consistent paper trail, and the early founders (the church was founded in 1906) were long gone. But all the research I had done up to that point convinced me that I could write it as a historical novel instead. I actually was a little relieved. I had written five previous novels and published four of them. How hard could it be to add a bit of historical perspective to a story?
Then I started reading published historical novels. It became clear to me after the first one (I’ve now read several) that writing a historical novel wasn’t like writing any of my contemporary novels or even the futuristic one, where I could just go into “the zone” and make up a story as I went along. Historical novels have to connect factually to real history. A good one flows and holds you like any other novel, but those details of person, place, things, current events, clothes, geography, living standards, and on and on—those bring the story to life for you, taking you back to the setting time and place like you’re really there.
An old high school English teacher used the phrase “glittering generalities” to describe writing that sounds pretty but says nothing, I realized, painfully, that I needed a lot more research for a substantive story about Armenian refugees escaping the horrors of persecution and annihilation in late 19th century through the early 20th century Ottoman Turkey, and starting new lives– including establishing a church, in Troy, NY. No glittering generalities allowed if you want to hold your readers. You have to lock in their hearts AND their minds.
Since that reality check, I’ve spent another two years on interviews, watching newsreels and videos of interviews with survivors of the genocide, and reading, reading reading: history books, autobibliographies, a book of postcards depicting life in the Armenian villages, doctoral dissertations, religious sources, and on and on. I photographed every page of the official church records and studied them to learn about church life in the early years. I spent six months preparing the church (which had been closed for 9 years) for a final closure service, and arranged all the details of the service. After two and a half years, I’ve finally started writing. And as I’ve shared chapters with people who know Armenian history and personal stories from family members, and the origins of the Armenian Evangelical movement, I’ve done a lot of rewriting – correcting language and facts as I proceed.
I’ve been invested in every novel I’ve written. But that investment is elevated to a new level with this one. It’s much more challenging and invigorating. I’ve formed many new friendships. And I continue to learn with each page and each interaction. I hope to complete a first draft before summer and spend the rest of the year readying for submission to agents and publishers.
(This post was prepared for a new website: https://www.wewhocreate.com. The site owner, Darrell Laurant, has a long and storied writing history. He’s responsible for the site, “Snowflakes In A Blizzard,” featuring amazing books that have not had the circulation they deserve. You should check him out!).