Sometimes research can turn up a gem of information that can send your story in a different direction. When writing my second novel, Touched by Love, I needed a place for the heroine’s kidnapped brother to be taken. I knew the general area where I needed him to be held, just not a specific location. And of course, it had to be historically accurate for the time period in which my story was set.
I began searching the internet for prisons used by the Mexican Army in the 1800s and found Perote Prison. The location was ideal, 600 miles into Mexico, and several hundred Texans had been incarcerated within its walls.
The Castle of San Carlos (photo to the left *) was built by the Viceroy of Mexico in the late 16th century, 7000 feet up the mountains overlooking the port of Veracruz. It was designed as an ammunition storage facility and a military training school, and as a second line of defense for Veracruz. Both the Spanish and Mexican armies used the immense fortress as a prison. Texans captured during three disastrous expeditions against Mexico were imprisoned and died here.
The Aztecs called the place pinahuizapan, or “something-to-be-buried-in.” Situated high in the mountains, at an altitude of 7000 feet, the castle made an ideal prison. The stone and masonry walls were twelve feet high and six feet thick. The entire structure was surrounded by a wide, deep moat spanned by a single drawbridge. Add to that the weather in this high desert, and it must have seemed like the most inhospitable place on earth to those unfortunate enough to be there.
When I discovered Perote Prison, I knew it had to make an appearance in the book. I ended up writing a prologue that forced the hero to ride to this remote prison to correct a terrible mistake and save a man’s life at the possible cost of his own. The added scenes demonstrated the hero’s sense of honor and responsibility, adding depth to his character and making him more redeemable in the eyes of the reader.
Interesting, isn’t it, how a gem of information can send you off in a different direction and make your characters—and your story—better?
* J. J. McGrath & Walace Hawkins, “Perote Fort- Where Texans Were Imprisoned”, Volume 48, Number 3, Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online