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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

books (others', mainly)

What can I tell you. It's a dark day, cold, windy, with heavy cold rain. I went up to see Terry Dickson to have my back adjusted, dropped a couple of videos in the bin at the North Vancouver City Library.

This morning I got back at chapter 21 (notes). Yes, notes, notes. More notes. Every new piece of information learned is another story possibility. The world of the story grows and becomes richer; my creative choices are multiplied. At a critical mass the actual writing is triggered: I become enthusiastic (usually) and jump into drafting the chapter.

In the meantime I enjoy learning about my world. I enjoy the acquisition of expertise. Now, when I read texts about my period, I read as one who is familiar with the material, with the background. I become aware of the range of opinions among the experts. I note which scholars seem persuasive to me, and which ones are less so.

Still one of my favorites is Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews by Victor Tcherikover, a Russian-born scholar who fled St. Petersburg for Berlin during the revolution, then went on to Palestine, becoming one of the first teachers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. My copy, the Atheneum paperback printed in 1974, I got in June 2004. Its previous owner was Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania--it still has its library card-pocket glued inside the back cover. (I guess those high-school students in Fairless Hills just weren't getting into ancient Jewish history enough.)

Tcherikover, who devoted his whole career to studying this period, makes the topic exciting by using deduction to solve many puzzles that have troubled historians. He reminds me of an archaeologist piecing together fragments of skull or papyrus, arranging the pieces until a coherent picture emerges. In this manner he very persuasively solves the long-standing puzzle of why the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes "persecuted" the Jewish religion and abolished worship of Yahweh at the Jerusalem Temple in 167 BC--an event that became a major sore point with Jews and a unifier for them when they recalled it later in times of adversity. Its effects still rippled down to the time of my story, 120 years later. This and several other solutions of ancient puzzles kept me absorbed in the book, highlighting sporadically.

Lately my reading has turned away from direct research for my book. Since I became excited by the topic of identity I have let my mind go where it wants, and haven't reigned it in to read in my subject area. Do I feel that I know enough? Not really. I felt like I needed a change, and for the past couple of months I have essentially forgotten about story research.

Should I get back to it? At least fold one research book into the teatime mix? Hm. I've pulled out my unfinished copy of Roman Arabia by G. W. Bowersock (which I also got in June 2004). Maybe I'll take that upstairs and see what happens.


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