Although I’m far from the finish line with my historical fiction about the Armenians in Troy, NY who founded the only Protestant Armenian church in upstate NY, I take a semi-break sometimes to do research on best practices for querying potential publishers when the time comes. Last week I ventured into my first experiment with AI when I used Chatgpt to help me find comps to use in a query letter. I had some stumbles at first, since I was new to what could be offered. It took four tries to get to actual books with relevance AND were fairly recent. That fourth try produced 3 five books published in the last 15 years, two of which I have read and found helpful. None of them were within the last five years. But given my fairly obscure topic, I wasn’t surprised. It’s not like every historical fiction writer would be clamoring to write about Troy’s Armenians over a hundred years ago.

One, published in 2016, sounded familiar. I waded through the many books I’ve collected since I started this journey and found a copy of The Hundred Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid MacKeen.

A picture of an expired receipt.

Like too many of the books on my resource shelves, I hadn’t read it. I’m perpetually torn between research and writing, which has become a real-life chicken and egg challenge with my novel. MacKeen’s book focused on the genocide that began in 1915, although the Armenians in their homeland were under intermittent attacks before that. My grandfather left his home village for America (with an intervening stay in France) in 1893, just before one of the earliest periods of attacks on the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire known as the Hamidian massacres. The estimated casualties for that period ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 and resulted in 50,000 orphaned children. There were other attacks intermittently between this and the more well known genocide that began in 1915 and killed between 1.2 and 1.5 million Armenians, with the official Ottoman number at 1,251,785 (even though they deny it happened).

While Searching for Setrik, the current title of my novel, focuses on the Troy, NY Armenians who arrived before the genocide, the church that is a focus in the story played a role in welcoming and supporting the arriving Armenian survivors of the genocide and the reconciliation of the two Protestant Armenian churches that had split in 1910. The Hundred Year Walk provided me with an intense vision of what those arriving Armenians had survived and clarified with specificity the need for all of Troy’s Armenians to nurse the refugees back to health—physically, and to the extent possible, emotionally.

I have a feeling this won’t be the last detour I make in writing this novel. But I hope any others provide an equivalent in insights to make my novel the best it can be.