Thursday, September 16, 2010

So How Fussy Am I?

The best place to locate a cliff, it appears, is the Hill Country State Nature Area. I camped here once, years ago, with a friend of mine and I'm here to tell you, those trails are rugged. W and I barely made a .75-mile trail in an afternoon (though we did boldly take the hardest route). I could probably write something tolerable based on that experience, but I feel the need for a refresher.

Now, ideally, I would camp in May, with a horse - though even I don't think improving the story is worth jumping the horse off a cliff. If I rode a horse and my companion rode a camel, that would be even better. Think of the realistic detail I could gather; the sights, sounds, smells, animal behavior, aches, pains, sunburn, wildflower assemblages, detailed maps!

But I've never ridden a horse - not really ridden one, as opposed to a half hour tooling around a barnlot on one when I was a kid. And there's this balance thing. And this story is going too well (self-doubt and all) to break if off and wait till May; though since I'm not likely to sell it before then I could always go back next May and make some revision based on that.

When I write a book, I do not want anybody (and 11-year-olds will do this!) with more experience than me writing and telling me "You've got that wrong." I hate it when I read a book or watch a movie set in San Antonio and they've got the geography or the accent or the bus system wrong. I love it when I recognize a place, though, and we all get a thrill when the author gets it right, whatever "it" is.

I won't write about a lot of things I'm interested in - no homo floresiensis novels for me; I'll never do that Populating the Americas Saga (remind me to put those in the garage sale) because there's no prospect of my getting the settings right. I can't afford the money, the time, or the health to visit Indonesia or kayak along the route I believe the first settlers of America followed. There's not even any realistic prospect of looking at northwestern American sites like On Your Knees Cave.

But one of the reasons I read and write so much is that I want to do so much more than I will ever be physically able to do. Vicarious experience is better than none. If I restrict myself to Texas as a setting, I have a much better shot at producing work that meets my own standards, at researching the specific things I need to research. Access to locations, artifacts, and primary sources is easier the closer to home you look. It doesn't help with the balance issues, though.

So I'll have to feel my way here. I regret the not riding most of all, given how important Bean is turning out to be. Maybe I'll be able to ride a little; but no way will that approximate Len's experience riding the horse she hand-raised. Maybe I'll load and shoot a muzzle-loader at a target, but I'll have to take testimony about shooting supper with it and reconstruct killing in self-defense imaginatively.

Which is what imagination and beta readers are for. If I can get W and B to vet the parts of the manuscript dealing with horses and guns, respectively, they should protect me from receiving correction letters from 11-year-olds or gravely offending older people who will never contact me, but will give me bad word of mouth. I expect to get plenty enough bad word of mouth from a large part of this book's natural readership - the people who live in Bexar, Medina, and Bandera counties - just because it's a lesbian western. It would be nice to win a few people over in spite of their disapproval of Len's sexual identity on the basis of my authentic portrayal of the western experience. "Yeah, she's going to hell but she knows her stuff."

I could live with ambivalent praise like that. But first I'll have to earn it. If I earn it and don't get it - well, that's the breaks.

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