Hey, there, from north Texas! I’m thrilled to be blogging with you today and hope you enjoy it as much as I plan to!
Although I’m a recent transplant to Texas from Alabama, I’m no stranger to this great state. We’ve lived in Texas several times over the years, three times in El Paso, once in San Angelo, Austin, Frisco and now the northeast. My husband’s family settled in southeastern Texas shortly before the Civil War and one of his great-uncles, among a company of volunteers from Georgia, was shot down after surrendering at Goliad.
Too much detail? My husband often tells me, “Quit researching and get to writing!” Not that it stops me. That’s what I love most about writing historical romance—the research. And in Texas, where “Everything is Bigger!”, there’s plenty of history to be discovered. I love to visit the sites of the actual events I write about. Big events, especially the tragic ones, leave unmistakable energy at the site. While writing Time’s Captive, I visited the Palo Duro Canyon. I’d read that on the day General Mackenzie fired on the Comanche’s camp, he ordered his troops to round up the Comanche’s horses, then shoot and burn them. Fourteen-hundred horses burned that afternoon while the Comanche women keened and wailed. The men were too busy fighting at the time, but they mourned the loss soon enough. Without their horses, the Comanche—often called the Lords of the Plains—were lost, destroyed.
The day I visited, I stumbled around, looking for the place where the horses were burned, wandering through a thick copse of scraggly trees. The ground beneath my feet had an odd feel, like sand, only coarser. Finally, I came to an historical marker, where I learned that I’d been wandering around on the actual site of the burning. Such a rush of emotion swept over me as I read that I almost fell to my knees, residual emotion from the site’s energy. It was as if the Comanche’s sorrow hit me all at once, and the view of the sparse vegetation so paralleled the Comanche’s’ lives that I understood more than a book could ever have told me. At day’s end, I found it hard to leave.
Not all my discoveries are tragic. For instance, Lockhart, the actual town near which I set the fictitious town of Cedar Springs in Destiny’s Captive, holds a watermelon festival each year, complete with seed-spitting contests, eat-offs, cook-offs, you name it. As a result, watermelons had to figure among the activities in the book. (I’d wanted to include a “festival,” but the hero and heroine had other plans for this plot.) Lockhart originally boasted a large complement of German immigrants and the town is famous for its long-lived barbeque establishment: Kreuz’ (pronounced Kr?tzes). (Absolutely incredible barbecue in a simple setting, true to its German roots.) I considered having the hero and heroine meet over barbecue, but Kreitz’s hadn’t been established yet.
I visited Lockhart years ago, before I ever dreamed of setting Jeremiah’s story there. And, though I’ve lived in Austin (which so far ranks as our Top Pick), and been to the Texas Capital and most of the tourist sites around, I still needed to do more detailed research for the book. For that I turned, as I generally do, to the Internet, where I discovered a real-life heroine: Mrs. Angelina Eberly. (Another discovery was that Angelina’s a pretty common name in Texas, past and present.) This gutsy lady, an innkeeper, hated Sam Houston. Who can blame her? In the chaos that ensued after the fall of the Alamo, Houston ordered the town of San Felipe burned to keep it out of General Santa Anna’s hands, including the hotel Angelina and her deceased husband had founded, and upon which she relied for her living. That didn’t deter Angelina. She remarried, bought another hotel in Austin, which had been newly proclaimed the capital by Texas’ second governor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, and she started over.
Unfortunately, Houston hated Lamar and called Austin “the most unfortunate site on earth for a government.” He tried to subvert Lamar’s intentions by sending a company of Texas Rangers to steal the state’s archives and return them to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Angelina stumbled on the men leaving in loaded wagons, realized what they were about and fired the town cannon, which was kept loaded in case of Indian attack. It’s believed she lit it with her cigar! Luckily, she missed the men and their load of archives, but blew a hole in the General Land Office building three blocks away and succeeded in alerting the town. In the ensuing “Archives War,” the archives were safely returned to the capital intact, and Mrs. Angelina Eberly was recognized as a true Texas heroine. Ironically, during his entire second term as governor, Sam Houston rented a room in Angelina’s inn. In 2004 a statue commemorating Angelina’s bravery was placed at the same corner where the town cannon sat.
Did I mention residual energy? Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but when I visited the stacks at the Center For American History at the University of Texas in Austin, I got to handle that energy in the form of original documents from the participants in the Red River War (the major conflict in Time’s Captive.) (You can tell a lot about a man by his penmanship, or total lack thereof.) What a thrill! Just take a roll of coins for the copy machine, loose paper (a ream should be enough), five pencils (which they’ll provide if you forget), and be prepared to be amazed. It’s a thrill to hold the hand-written reports of the people who were there and enjoy a first-hand look at events.
What it all boils down to is this: on-line research is great. The Internet is a wonderful resource and we’re all lucky to have it. After all, I came across Angelina Eberly’s story while researching the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. However, writing’s such a solitary existence that I highly recommend hands-on research if you can manage it. History’s waiting for you. Get out there and see it, feel it, touch it—SENSE IT!
Just be prepared for a few zingers!