The Progress of a Story: Research
I get a lot of ideas for stories that are set in the past. I sure love reading them! For example, I’m reading a superb novel right now, The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, which is a mystery set during the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The detective is a eunich. It’s full of Istanbul colour and feeling. The author, before switching to fiction, wrote a well-received history of the Ottoman Empire. And there’s the rub: research. I’m the laziest writer in the world. I’m sure I could take Fran Lebowitz in a laze-off! These ideas for stories set in the past never come to fruition for me because I know nothing about the past. I know nothing about anything outside of my own limited experience. It’s not that I’m ego-centric; it’s that I venture so infrequently outside of that centre. I’m centric-centric. And I get frustrated trying to read my way out.
So my new story, inspired by my father, has stalled at the onset of the Korean War. My father fought in Korea and it has become adamantly clear that I need to understand what happened there to understand him.
All his life he suffered from terrible nightmares. Many evenings he would wake the household with his panic-stricken whimpering and eventual screams. My mother, my sister and I, eventually learned to sleep through this regular nightly soundtrack, but our poor dog, Laddie, who had the best hearing and probably the deepest bond with my father, was always quite anxious. I never asked my father about it. Never. And now he’s dead. I could write a story about my guilt over this situation- it would be easy. No research necessary. But I’m feeling like I want to step outside of myself for this one.
Recommend any good books or movies about the Korean War? (And don’t suggest M*A*S*H, which is really the Vietnam War in disguise, isn’t it? Besides, my father was in the British Navy. I don’t think he traded barbs with Hawkeye while chasing after HotLips and laughing at Klinger’s latest get-up.)