Wednesday, March 18, 2015

They Call Me The Wanderer

Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik's cube?

It seems like such a harmless little toy. If you just twist it around enough times, eventually all of the sides should be the same color, right? Don't be fooled. It's a demonic little device sent straight from the underworld to put the brains of its victims through a torture of the blackest kind. It keeps you going by making you feel like you're getting somewhere, offering the false pretense of success with every twist that aligns the colored squares with other squares of the same color. Your excitement mounts as each side of the cube starts to come together. It all seems be going well... until it doesn't. ONE colored square is off. The cube has you in its power. It tantalizes. It teases. It mocks. And all the while, it says not a word. It simply is.

If you can relate to the frustrating example of the Rubik's Torture, you can have some idea of what it's like to write a historical fiction that satisfies both your plot and history. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, you realize that cattle drives were a thing of the past in that particular town you chose during that particular year you chose for the setting of your story, because of the railroad. So then you sigh and think, "Ok, fine, I guess I'll move things back a few years..." But then you realize that if you move things back a few years, your heroin can't possibly be as old as she is because her dad was fighting in the civil war and couldn't have met her mother yet and then a million other things are also thrown off and the more you try to make it work the more confusing it gets until your brain explodes and you just want to yell, "Ah, the heck with historical accuracy!!!" But no! You mustn't cheat.

 So you're back to the drawing board. If changing the year doesn't work, you have to to try changing the location. Then you try a combination of changing the year just a little and the location a lot. This opens gigantic doors of research that you had no idea you'd ever have to touch. Suddenly your little fantasy world is exposed for what it really is: a minuscule cluster of marshmallowey ideas confined to a tiny bird cage that dangles from a massive oak in the middle of a never-ending, breathtaking, awe-inspiring landscape.

I've spent the last few months wandering through the vastness of Texas Past like a lost time traveler, mouth a gape and wide-eyed. I've been from Kansas City to Fort Worth to San Antonio to Gaston. I've seen the Civil War fought and ended, as well as the age of the cowboy. I've traveled along the San Antonio-El Paso Road and stopped at all the forts along the way. I've even become familiar with the price of beef between 1840 to 1900!

It's been quite the adventure.

Finally, I stumbled upon it. Somewhere along the road from San Antonio to El Paso, I found the place and the time that my darling little characters could thrive. My fingers twitching with excitement, I attacked the keyboard to release them (my characters, not my fingers) into their new home. To my chagrin, they were a little hesitant to do any exploring. It wasn't until after several fruitless attempts at forcing them that I realized what the problem was.

I didn't create this setting.

Any made-up village can build itself according to the whims of curious characters as they walk freely where they please. I've been used to building up the backdrops around them. But now that I'm trying to unleash fictional characters on a real world, there are boundaries. The characters don't know where to go because I don't know what the place looks like myself. I don't know where the streets or houses are, what the landscape looks like, or what the population is, and I can't just make them up anymore. At least, not all of them. So I tried Google Maps. That's nice, but what really helps are the few pictures I've found of what the town looked like back than.

Ideally, it would be great to be able to go there physically myself. There's a museum there that shows the history of the town and my mouth waters at the thought of all I could learn there! But for now I'll have to content myself with maps and photographs and the good ol' imagination.

And so, here I am, still in the process of turning things over, trying to make sure there are no rogue yellow squares (or historical blunders) that will make me have to start all over again. At this point I'm feeling good about the time and the place, and I think that maybe... hopefully... possibly... I might be ready to start the actual writing.

1 comment:

  1. Ignorance is bliss :p But oh how great your book will be fore maintaining credibility and quality. Good luck in your new town :) I can't wait to start reading.