Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, November 10, 2008

I can see clearly now

The semester is close to being over, and not only does this make me happy that there's only one issue left of the newspaper until I can relax, but it also makes me happy because of how much I've learned in my class that still has a bit left for me to learn more. School gets out the first week of December, but I think it's earlier than that for me, since my class doesn't really have a traditional format, and therefore, doesn't have a final attached to it.

We've finished our book proposals, and now we're onto our book covers. Although it is common knowledge that unless you are self-publishing your book (which to me is an icky way to publish, though many will argue the opposite) you pretty much have no control over how the cover of your book will look. Small presses might give you a little bit of room to offer input on that, and if you have a good agent you might have luck, but big houses do everything for you, including the cover they think will sell your book in a world where books are more often than not judged by their covers.

I say this, but in the same breath I will say that it all depends on who you are, and the reason I say this is because I think the likes of Stephen King, John Grisham and Diana Gabaldon, who have a huge readership that would buy their books no matter what their covers look like, have some say in what they generally want and don't want on their covers. I've sort of verified this with my constant reading of a big shot author's blog. The general consensus is that when you're big, you're one lucky cat that big publishing houses will do anything for, cause you're one of their few guaranteed moneymakers... your name alone sells books, and an inviting cover is just the icing on the cake.

For my book cover I'm still not sure exactly what I want, but the exercise is definitely making this book of mine materialize into an actual goal. It has been amazing to put my idea into words that are ready to be sent out to publishers and/or agents. I just have to write the book. It is not entirely unusual for a writer to not have the book ready before sending out queries, but you still have to have a few chapters written to give an idea of how your writing is.

In the midst of my excitement and vision coming together for my book, I have gone further than what the class is requiring.

I have started my research for what I hope will be my historical fiction book set in 13th century Baghdad, when it was under Abbasid rule. It's informal research for now that involves me just looking for sources, checking them out at the library, getting a better idea of the general way things were back in those days... you know, just getting my feet wet. When school gets out, I hope to go formal on the research and hopefully have an actual person I can just ask about the little details that would take forever to find in print. I've also been doing a lot of reading about how to write historical novels, and the bottom line has generally been "RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH," but there's also the much repeated advice of finding a person who knows the stuff you're researching as a source for that one detail you want to verify. Finding someone is research in and of itself, so that is also something I hope to accomplish before too long.

I've also written a little more of the story for practice on how to show and not tell... a skill so very important, especially with historical fiction where readers ought to feel like they have just gotten into a time machine and travled to the place you're describing. It's not easy!

Now, in all the reading I've done so far for research, I've found that the history I'm covering is very depressing. It's depressing no matter what kind of connection you have to the subject matter, but with it being the "old country," it leaves me totally down. History is filled with sad events, but sometimes it's good to know that certain events are over and done with. As far as I know, for instance, there won't be any more witch hunts and trials. As depressing as the history of it is, it's gone. It's like reading a sad story that starts with "Once upon a time, a long time ago..."

But what about when history repeats itself? Let me tell you, it's very depressing.

Baghdad in particular is a place with a lot of violence in its history as well as present. I don't have to say too much about what's going on these days in that city and the country it is in, because it's part of our everyday lives no matter how much we try to avoid it. What happened in Baghdad as far back as 1258 echoes so much of what's happening today, it depresses me. It depresses me that the same groups still do the same things they did almost 1,000 years ago, and it's even more depressing to know that though they've already done it again, they're going to do it again and again. The only comfort I have is that people stop doing horrible things to each other for as long as the wounds and memories are fresh. These things might stay fresh for as long as 1,000 years, but eventually they go stale, fade and dissolve into a grim tale hard to imagine as a reality. Then people are up and at it again.

In 1258, Baghdad's caliph was given a choice... either to bow down to the Mongol empire, or to face ruin. Whatever his reasons were (which have different explanations from different sources and views), the caliph chose to ignore the threats and stand up to the empire that had absorbed neighboring cities without much resistance. The result was a disastrous event that left almost a million people dead, including the caliph and one of his sons. The Mongol sacking of Baghdad erased Abbasid rule, and let the Tigris river run red with blood. It changed the shape of the Islamic world.

Of course, the caliph had advisors, and these advisors had their own agenda in telling him what to do in the situation that was presented. One wanted him to surrender, and the other wanted him to stand up to the Mongols. One was a Shi'ite and the other was a Sunni, not necessarily in that corresponding order, as I can't remember the details right now... but there was sectarian violence back then, and it has been awakened with what's going on now.

I still need to find out more, but what I've found out so far makes me sad and angry. I'm sad that such a thing has happened twice, and I'm angry that it's being repeated.

Going back to the book... reading what I've been reading is at times helping me solidify my plot and ideas, and at other times making me realize that a certain idea or aspect of the plot isn't going to work. Despite the depressing history and obstacles with plot based on history, I am closer to making one of my dreams come true than I have ever been, and that makes me very happy.

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