Thursday, April 22, 2010

Once more, into the breach

I'm mostly recovered now and trying to get focused on the next big phase of research: the Day Trip(s). (Though I also need to get some queries out again...sending queries is like sweeping; no matter how good a job you do, it'll need doing again.) I could research Civil War Texas for decades and not get done; but it's getting to be time to plot the story in detail and for that, I need to get away from the libraries and the computers and go out to look at things. The plot and the research are leading me inexorably toward Medina and Bandera counties as the necessary setting for certain crucial sequences; possibly, for the bulk of the book. I'd rather have it set in town, but some important things can't happen here.

I know that some people set books in places they've never set foot in, and for the life of me I can't understand how they do it. Maybe the left and right turns and the views from the heights and the particular quality of the light at certain times and seasons won't make it into the published book - but if I'm not anchored in all of that, I can't write the book at all.

I think this has its source in Air Force Bratism. Though, looking back on it, I didn't have as peripatetic a childhood as some people, at the time it felt like we moved a lot: the Rio Grande Valley where I was born, the San Antonio area, two places in Alaska, Iowa while my dad was in 'Nam, Maryland, and finally West Texas, before I came to San Antonio and felt like I was finally in a place I belonged. One of the methods my mom used to ease the transitions was to read up on an area before we moved there, and then to aggressively read the local literature when we arrived. We stopped and read historical markers, went to all the log cabins and pioneer villages and museums, toured the houses of local celebrities, and found out all the cool things there were to know. The better you know people and places, the better chance you have to love them; or at least to rub along with them in comfort.

So now I have to go look at Medina and Bandera counties. I'm trying to reduce the mileage Moby and I have to travel by hunting up local sources of information on the Civil War period beforehand, so I can make arrangements to view them, but it's uphill work. As I believe I've mentioned before, the Civil War was a sufficiently nasty time for community relationships in western Texas that nobody wanted to remember. Consider this quote from a postwar letter to a Northern cousin by a Castroville man:
"I had a store before the war & sold a good deal, but during the war, I stopped selling, for there was nothing but robbing, stealing, hanging, & killing, that no one was secure of his life if he was a Confederate, but now the war is over, & everything quite as before, & I mean to reopen the store again."
(TX 976.442. Castroville, Texas 1844-1899, Illustrated by 3 Pioneer Families, the Pichots, Pingevotes, & Ihnkens. Yvonne Chandler Ludwig, "Bonnie." )

If that doesn't say "interesting times," what does? But as for what specifically happened when, who robbed and murdered whom, and why - nothing to see here. Move along. I need to call Ms. Ludwig and see if she has anything more on the topic, but I'm not going to hold my breath. I suspect if she had more she'd have put it in.

The story occurs between Appommatox and the beginning of Reconstruction, so I need to get moving if I want to view the geography at the proper season. At the moment, I'm planning to drive out to Bandera one day next week, see the Frontier Times Museum and scout the geography, do a little birding and hope for a lucky break. If I get one, good. If I don't - well, I write the story anyway. Maybe I won't happen upon a piece of ground and realize: "Here, right here, she finds the body," or be told the local ghost story that ties in perfectly; but maybe I will. Maybe I'll see the bird that achieves metaphoric significance. Maybe I'll come back feeling that I'm no further ahead, and then next week gain the key piece of folklore that makes it all come together, but wouldn't recognize if I were never on the spot.

It sure won't happen if I don't give it a chance.

No comments:

Post a Comment