If you think writing a novel is easy, you’re right. However, writing a “good” novel? Not so much. Because I am a seriously fast typist, I could pound out a novel in a few weeks, but it would suck, and nobody would want to read it. In fact, I’d probably be lucky if someone got past the first page before moving on to something else. If it’s a “period piece,” it becomes even harder. For instance, I’ve written a historical novel, but it’s not even close to being publisher ready. I spend so much time on the adventures of Carla, Maggie, Randy, and Danny, I don’t have time to work on it.
But! I am taking a break from the present-day world of my favorite characters and writing another novel. It’ll be set in San Antonio, in the 1950s. Easy? Uhhh…not so much. I’m a stickler for accuracy, so when I wrote my historical novel, I spent more time researching than I did writing. Just like Carla in Finding Miss Write, my new BFF became an online etymology dictionary. What’s that, you ask? It’s all about words, where they came from, and when.
If you’re not writing a “current” novel, you have a problem. Unless it’s a futuristic one where you can just make stuff up, because who could contradict you? It’s your fantasy world, after all. But if you’re technically inaccurate on word usage and someone wants to look it up, rest assured it’ll be pointed out. When I was writing the historical one, I spent hours finding out weapons in use at the time, if they said “yeah,” clothing they wore, how they went to the bathroom, and where they got their water. Dreary work.
I find myself doing a lot of the same stuff now. Who were the 50s presidents, governors, senators, etc.? Could they eat at Bud Jones or Jim’s back then? (Yes, but Chili’s was non-existent.) I am blessed with a wonderful library, packed full of novels and research information. No, I’m not talking about the one down the street, I’m talking about the one in the house. It’s big enough and packed full enough that one of the great granddaughters is in awe every time she goes in there. That’s a good thing, because children should love books.
So, I pulled out all my San Antonio and Texas research books and started perusing them for the hundredth time. And I just had to pass on something I discovered. But first, let me explain how I’ve managed to accumulate so many books. Yes, I’ve bought some I just couldn’t live without when they first came out. But the majority came from thrift stores, used bookstores, or antique places.
Danny stayed with me for several weeks once while he was attending a school here, and we spent most of our off-duty time installing bookcases or browsing bookstores. One of my fondest memories of him. There’s one place here in San Antonio called “Half-Price Books.” They’ve been around forever and have 120 locations. My favorite is the one on Broadway. It’s in an old converted two-story house. When you walk in there, your heels click on the floor and you occasionally get a whiff of old book smell. Every room has a theme, like children lit, or mystery, or fiction, etc. It’s a magical place.
Ed isn’t a big fan of going down there with me. Pretty sure he puts that in the same category as I did of going with my mother to a fabric store. Mind numbing. Luckily, he loves me enough to not complain. At least not where I can hear him. A very large percentage of my books come from there. I’m pretty sure that’s where Texas, A History published in 1971 did.
That is a wonderful book about all things Texas. Section One is “The beginning” which tells you how in-depth this book is. That was one of my starting points for my 1950s research. I don’t know who owned the book before me, but someone did, and that’s the discovery I want to share. The book has highlighted sentences, underlined paragraphs, and handwritten notes in the margin. Because I get easily distracted, I started reading them.
“A nun in blue transported herself to Texas from Spain and convinced the indians of “t.” Say again? Another mystery to solve. I had to read the entire paragraph next to it to understand what in the world the note maker was talking about. Come to find out, a nun in Spain would occasionally slip into a catatonic state and “visit” Texas. After a priest’s “skillful interrogation” it was established this was, indeed, a miracle. She would wear a blue cloak over her habit, although the significance of that escapes me. The “t” in the hand-written notes evidently wasn’t a “t” but a cross, because she tried to convert the Indians. After the “miracle” was established, they tried to get her canonized, but the church never did.
There are copious notes all over the book, and I really can’t tell if they were all made by the same person. Probably a doctor in training, because they’re hard to decipher. I initially thought they were talking about a “mum” in blue, so that’ll explain how hard they are to read. Based on what I saw, cursive writing may actually become a secret code for us old people, because youngsters would never be able to decode it.
I finally decided I couldn’t spend all my time reading the notes, because I have a novel to write, so I flipped to the index and looked up “San Antonio.” I landed on the “Democrats for Nixon” to “El Paso, Texas” page. It was covered in very large print proclaiming “I HATE HISTORY.” Underlined. That made me laugh so much, I had to share with Ed.
Was this written by some disgruntled student or by a novelist wondering what happened in 1827 in Texas? Did they write a book report about the nun? Did they pass their history class? We’ll never know. Too bad, because I’d love to find the person who wrote that and ask them if they still hated history. It wasn’t my favorite subject in school, but I’m much more interested in it now. Unless I’m doing research for a novel, then not so much.
Books are a wonderful thing. Not only can they be a way for us to travel to unknown places, or lose ourselves in some fantasy world, they can also be a peek into someone else’s thoughts. Or, in this case, someone else’s misery. You know what I’d like? I’d like to find a Gutenberg Bible. One from 1455, shortly after it was published.
It would be fascinating to read the notes in the margin, because you’ll know they’ll be there. Since most of my books are first editions, albeit non-valuable ones, I have an aversion to marking up books. That aversion doesn’t extend to my Bible. Marking up Bibles must run in the family, because my mother’s Bible is so full of notes, there’s almost more of her writing than actual scripture. It would be nice to know that fifty years from now someone would find my Bible and read the margin notes. Hopefully, they’d be as fascinated by my notes as I was by my unknown history book owner’s notes. One thing they won’t find is “I HATE THE BIBLE” in big bold, underlined print someplace in there. Nope. Ain’t writing that in there. Even if I did think it would make them chuckle.