I’m in the midst of a new writing project, and I’ve yet to write anything. I know this manuscript will be another mid-grade novel-in-verse and will be about a Spanish Gypsy girl. That’s all I’ve determined so far.
What I have done is start my research, something that is both satisfying and terrifying at the same time. When I start a project that involves research, I can be very intimidated by how little I know and how much there is to learn. At the same time, I love the thrill of surrounding myself with new information, like I’ve created my own study program that can take any direction I choose. There is a lot of freedom and a lot of responsibility, too.
Whatever I end up creating, it needs to be accurate in regard to the people, location, and time period I eventually choose to focus on. Because the Gypsy people are scattered around the world, each group has distinct regional structures. There are certain customs seen throughout all Gypsy groups (taboos, a focus on the cleanliness/separateness of the Gypsy people, strong family ties, and usually the Romani language — though some only now know a few Romani words and speak the language of the country where they now live).
In all research, it is also essential to present the people, location, and time period in a way that is respectful. For my current research, this is important on several levels:
- Gypsies have traditionally been rejected by mainstream society. I’ll have to figure out a way to show this tension in a way that is accurate in the ways humans make sense of one another while making sure my approach is respectful. Sympathetic character development will be key.
- I’ll have to keep in mind the terminology of the times and somehow make it work respectfully and accurately.
- I have to keep in mind the Gypsy groups of today.
I remember Betsy James coming to my children’s literature class in college. She read from her beautiful picture book about the Anasazi people, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. At the time, she talked about how difficult it was to write of a culture other than one’s own.
There’s an extra level of accuracy and respect needed in approaching a different culture, and it is important, in the very least, to run your ideas by members of the group you’re writing about. I’ve been in touch with the director of the Gypsy Lore Society, asking really basic questions about how I might proceed respectfully. He has graciously pointed out texts that could prove helpful and which ones that probably won’t be.
And how much research have I done so far? Not much. I’ve read half a book and six articles. In other words, I’ll be at this for months.
There’s a lot to think about as I gather information. More on my very loose, open-ended research process another time.
I’ve never done advance research for a project so I’m fascinated by your process. I really can’t wait to read this one.
Valerie Geary says
Ahhh… research… I always find myself diving into the research then getting bored about 2 weeks into and starting to write…. 🙂 Then I have to go back and check my accuracy and research some more. Maybe I should stop writing historical fiction!! PS-Spanish gypsy girl?? Sign me up for a copy!!! I love this idea!
Shannon O'Donnell says
You are a patient woman. I’m with Valerie – I think I would get too antsy, too excited to begin. Your way is far more practical (and probably more effective). Thanks for sharing.
Caroline Starr Rose says
Natalie, I can be easily intimidated by writing something new, let alone writing about something I know nothing about! I have to take little steps (maybe that’s why I spend so much time reading up before I begin).
It’s a lot like yesterday’s post: stumbling around in the dark, trusting something will come out of it.
Writing is always a leap of faith, isn’t it?
Kristi Faith says
You summed up my feelings on research in your second paragraph perfectly. Only sometimes, my fear overrides my excitement. Like Natalie, I can’t wait to read more of your process. I keep feeling a draw to write a historical fiction novel, but I worry so much about accuracy, etc.. I haven’t tried yet.
~Ellie Kings~ says
I dated a Spanish gypsy once who played the guitar and sang beautifully! Like the Gypsy Kings. It was truly a wonderful experience. He and the other gypsies gathered to sing and dance. It was a feast everyday for them. You took me back, Caroline. 🙂 I’m sure you’ll do great with this new novel. You’re already on track.
Jemi Fraser says
I really enjoy research!! This sounds like a fascinating project 🙂
Rosslyn Elliott says
You sound like me–very analytical about writing. I think this is a strength. It takes me longer to start a project, but I need fewer rewrites because I really think it through in advance.
Tabitha Bird says
You are the second person I know writing about gypsies at the moment. Sounds very interesting.
PJ Hoover says
It sounds like it’s the start of something wonderful, though. I can’t wait to see it in print!
Sounds intriguing. What brought you to the topic?
I’ve been using Jerzy Ficowski’s fabulous “Gypsies in Poland” as the primary resource for Romany characters and settings in my book. Never thought about contacting the Gypsy Lore Society. Will you be asking for its feedback on your work?
Came here via Natalie’s blog, btw. Congrats on the award.
Bethany Mattingly says
Your project sounds fascinating. I’m really big in researching for my books too. I hopped over to your blog from Natalie’s 🙂
Caroline Starr Rose says
How fun you’re writing about Gypsies, too! Have you read anything by Jan Yoors? His books are supposed to be excellent resources. I’ve bought a few but haven’t dug in yet.
In what period is your book taking place? I’ve just read about the Gypsies of Poland, how nowadays there are few, and those who are there are assimilated into the Polish community. After the fall of communism, the “new” Gypsies have mainly been refugees, who have been openly rejected. It’s all so tragic.
I’ve always been interested in Gypsies after an encounter I had as a teenager in Spain. My writing often circles around similar ideas. Marginalized people is kind of where I am now.
Christina Farley says
Research projects are a lot of work but so rewarding. Have fun with it!
ann foxlee says
Oh yes, the research… My novel is set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan, and even with the ‘artistic license’ that fantasy versions allow, there are a lot of things that needed to be correct for the world to come across the way I wanted.
Lucky for me my sister has lived in Japan for 12 years, her hubby is Japanese, and she is fluent. I have been fortunate enough to go there regularly, and between my sister, my friends in Japan, and my Japanese friends here at home, I have great references when google and the booksore fail me!
I absolutely agree with the bit you said about accuracy and respect when writing about a different culture. I constantly worry about that! That and not coming off childish/simplistic. When my knowledge of a culture is less than that of a 5 year-old’s, it is hard to feel confident in what I’ve written.
Did I say how much I love my sister? Best research partner ever 🙂
Caroline Starr Rose says
Ann, how amazing to have such a great connection to the culture you’re studying!