Saturday, November 24, 2012

the joys of research.

Ah, research.  It's a good thing I like it. After all, I am writing a novel about 100 years that covers not just Los Angeles, but race history in the US and in Los Angeles, as well as the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, the political tableau of Los Angeles c. 2003--unions vs. developers and how the Community Redevelopment Agencies, the SEIU, the Mayor and the City Council all interact--the Japanese attitude toward Jews over the last century, the Jewish response to Japanese internment, Jewish female education in the last century and on and on and on.

Two writer friends have said to me, "Why don't you make this stuff up?" And of course, I am making things up, lots of things. Research, however, is the ligature that supports the clay of my making. Without that ligature, nothing would stand up.

And quite honestly, that ligature is often so much more interesting than anything I could possibly make whole cloth. The details leap out, the things that make the past come alive, they spark from letters and journals, from oral histories and photos. The child who marched past the National Guard on her way to integrate Little Rock High despite her family's being warned off by a cousin, passing for white, who was not just the sheriff of a small southern town, but a high-ranking member of the local Klan. The interview with a teacher c. 1925 who speaks with disgust of the way she discovered her student was half-Japanese, by helping her style her hair for a little opera (Madame Butterfly) "And it felt just like a horse's tail--that was the texture. Of course, I dropped it right away. I didn't want to handle *that* kind of hair." The Jewish child in hiding in an attic who whispers in her big sister's ear, "I can tell you I'm Jewish, can't I?" Those are the details that set me free as a writer. I know the minute I have found one, the minute I have found what what it is I really need to write about, what is the heart's core of a character that I can use to express this particular idea in the most human way possible.

Yes, there are still so many materials that I long to get my hands on, though the budget does not allow for it--at least not yet. So many materials I wish I could travel to view, so many people I wish I could speak with.

Ah, well. I do the best I can. 
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