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    Entries in Social History (1)

    Wednesday
    Mar302011

    Another dive into the research heap

    Okay, so I was a bit premature in declaring my "research phase" over and largely done with.

    True, part of my current repeat trip through my miniature Byzantine library is sheer avoidance. After all, reworking the outline for a novel as extensive and complicated as this one is turning out to be is... well, calling it "drudgery" wouldn't be far from the truth. Yes, I need to do it. Yes, the work will be all the better for it. No, it's not particularly fun. Or inspiring. Or interesting to talk about, to my wife or anyone else.

    Aerial view of Constantinople. Image by DeliDumrul (public domain).But then too, as I've worked on the outline and the scene concepts and the character profiles and the settings, I'm continually discovering things with which I just don't feel sufficiently familiar, yet. How many Byzantine monasteries in the early 8th century actually had orphanages, and were there any outside Constantinople? (Data's pretty thin, apparently.) How hard was it to cross over the border between Roman and Muslim territories, and what was life like for everyday folk in the "friction zone" where the two cultures rubbed together (and raided each other, and grabbed territory from each other, and tried to prevent the other from benefitting from lands they held, and so on)? Had iconoclasm started to pop up in small - or large - ways in the Byzantine religious establishment at the beginning of the 8th century, prior to its eruption into official policy with Leo III's massive push in the 720s, and if so, how did it manifest in the public eye, and how did the general populace regard it?

    So many questions. Luckily, I have many many books to turn to - unfortunately, precious little time. My writer friends counsel me to just keep writing, and go back to the research only later, to answer critical questions. The story is paramount, they tell me. Probably good advice. Still, I can hear the books calling me. Haldon's A Social History of Byzantium is sitting next to me right now, crying out for attention. It holds so many answers - the role of women. What monastic life was like. The interplay between rural and urban people. Class politics.

    If only my characters were so insistent. Sure, they call to me too. But it's more a vague muttering, easily lost in the cacophony from the source materials. Maybe this is a sign that I need to lock the books up for a while - preferably in a soundproof room - and focus on the actual writing.

    It doesn't help that I have recurring dreams about some graduate student in Byzantine history phoning me up in the middle of the night two weeks after the book hits the stands and telling me I got it all wrong about Leo, and that if I had just read this monograph, and that article (available only in Russian, but still, it was published in 1894), and visited this archaeological dig in Damascus, I would have known better. But maybe that's just me.