Down the Rabbit Hole
Is there an Arabic speaker on the blog?
That’s a serious question. You see, for the next book in the Pocketful of Stars series I’m positing a terrorist splinter group that has split off from Al-Shabaab and is based on one of the offshore islands of the Swahili coast. If necessary I can give it a Swahili name, but the fact is that Arabic has more prestige in Swahili culture even though hardly anybody actually speaks the language. And after a few days of tinkering I have reluctantly concluded that one year of intensive Arabic many, many years ago is not going to suffice for making sure up an authentic name, at least if I want to get fancier than “al-[Arabic word].” So… anybody want to help?
This question is only one of the many ways I’ve found to spend too much time on research. It started with reading up on Swahili beliefs in djinn and demons. That’s one aspect of Swahili culture I know nothing about firsthand, because in my time on the coast I found it politic to stay far, far away from discussions about these matters. It was an earlier and less technology-oriented age (no cell phones, and my tape recorder was the size of a shoebox) and I had enough trouble already with people muttering about jinni and shaitani when they heard their voices coming out of the shoebox.
Not to mention the guy who temporarily lost his voice when he heard the tape recording, because he was convinced I had stolen his voice and put it inside the shoebox. That was one time the policy of full disclosure did not work out well!
One of my favorite indoor sports.
But reading papers about djinn in Swahili culture led me to an interest in general Islamic views on djinn, and then to books like Legends of the Fire Spirits ($9.99 on Kindle, and totally worth it even if there are only about 5 pages on Zanzibar) and now I’m fighting the desire for books like The Jinn Fly on Friday ($92 to $198 depending on seller).
Thing is, it’s not just the cost, or I’d be investigating interlibrary loan. It’s the calendar time (my experience with getting obscure academic books via interlibrary loan suggests this one would arrive about two months after I’ve finished A Veiling of Djinn) and the clock time (do I really want to spend more time chasing down one more elusive idea than I spend actually writing?). There is also the still, small voice of reason suggesting that very few readers are going to be interested in what, for instance, al-Damiri said about djinn in the Mamluk period – despite the fact that I’ve acquired a copy of the relevant master’s thesis (for free; thank you, Arizona Open Repository).
Plus, I’ve been ignoring other matters for research; tomorrow is already marked for picking my son-in-law’s brains about urban street fighting, and thank you, Number One Daughter, for marrying an ex-Special Forces guy and gun collector.
And then, there is also the fact that the book is nipping at my heels and I’m hearing Thalia’s voice in the first chapter now.
It’s a sin to ignore the characters when they start talking to you; they may get miffed and refuse to communicate when you are ready. (Kind of like djinn, that way.) And the djinn don’t even come into the first eight chapters, give or take a little foreshadowing. So I’m going to take a deep breath, put the Kindle loaded with books and papers aside, and start writing.
And maybe after supper tonight I’ll treat myself to that thesis.