For me a book written is the Mountain from a distance which has been climbed. And for me part of the climb involves research. In contrast to my methods of writing, I have always envied authors like Dickens, who simply opened the windows to his house, so that the scents and sounds of London would waft up to him and inspire him to write… but I am not like that. I need more than inspiration to write; I need seeds to sprout from other people’s books–whether in terms of ideas or information. So it is for my two current projects, A History of Frances Westin Williams and Tales of the Firebird, I need to read The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History. Why? Because A History of Frances Westin Williams begins in Sweden, where two of Grandma’s ancestors fought on the Swedish side of the Napoleonic Wars, and for Tales of the Firebird, Napoleon played a key figure in Russian history (and vice versa). Without Napoleon there would be no magisterial War and Peace.
I put The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History down for the rest of this week and swore off work. However, it became tempting to write another Blog. I remember taking a class in Chinese Philosophy where the teacher–herself Chinese–said that Roger Ames, the great Confucian scholar and translator, told her that the reason Chinese people sometimes overlook the greatness of their philosophical tradition is that “it is like a beautiful mountain that is sometimes not appreciated if you look at it except from a distance.” I am not a Confucian by any means, but I think for me researching for books is like that. When the writing is done, the author appreciates the depth of what they have learned. Yet while learning the information necessary, it is sometimes slow going.
I long for the actual writing–its what writers love about writing–and yet I am so sure the actual research is necessary. I admit that I believe half of A History of Frances Westin Williams is finished… I typed up all Grandma wrote and have reread and written about one important book for Grandma’s biography, Heidi. The writing of the book is always a pleasure… and so, too, reading things like the complete Oz Chronicles… but the problem becomes the study of Sweden for A History of Frances Westin Williams or Russia and the surrounding countries for Tales of the Firebird… and working on these pushes back books like Oz Revisited; Jeanie and the Gentlefolk; and This Land was Made for You and Me.