Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Romantic Phase of Research: The King And I, Anna Leonowns and King Mongkut of Siam/Thailand.

I am deep in that phase of research that parallels the romantic part of love: When you just can't get enough of learning about a subject about whom you plan to write, you just want to dive in, you have to order another book about the history of Siam or Anna Leonowens or King Mongkut.

Anna Leonowns in Canada

King Mongkut and Queen Debsirindra, 1856. 
Every other word out of your mouth is "Oh," and "That's amazing," and you bend stranger's ears with the absolute fascination of it: "And as a young monk, the king studied Sanscrit and Palian, plus he learned Laotian, Cambodian, Vienamese, Peguan, (what is Peguan?) Burmese, Malay and Hindustani. And then, later, he learned English, but there was no Siamese-English dictionary in existence, but there was an English/Pali one, so he had to translate words from Siamese into ancient Pali and then search for an equivalent in a "voluminous" Pali-English dictionary. And because he was never sure if the Pali word perfectly lined up with the meaning he wanted, he usually put in two or three choices, hoping he'd gotten at least one right."

Yes, it's true love. Staring deep into the eyes of your subjects, and wanting to learn every single thing there is to know about them.

Yes, I know this is Rudolph Valentino's Falcon's lair, and
not on Ivarene, but it will have to do
until I can do more research. 
Later will come the challenges in my research relationship, when I have to keep my cool even though, as the writing is pouring out, I have to stop, stop, stop, to figure out what kind of car star scenarist (screenwriter) Frances Marion would be driving in 1921, where the controls are in that car, how hard are they to manipulate, what the car sounds like as you drive it, what Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles might have looked like in 1921, and where can I find a photo of twisty Ivarene Avenue from that era? All those tiny, telling details that make something spring to life.

Right now, it's just bliss, just sinking into the cushion of another age--politics, religion, technology, geography, geology, and above all psychology, learning as much as I can about these fascinating other people's stories so when I write them, I will do them the honor of seeing them as clearly as I possibly can.
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