If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison
Writing a novel has been one of my life goals for as long as I can remember, and the time has finally come for me to write the book I have always wanted to read. The inclination to write a historical novel only happened upon me recently, while reading an Ultimate History Project article that focused on the lives of people who lived on a sugar plantation in my hometown in the 19th century.
That my hometown should feature so prominently in my novel is a bit of a shocker, especially since I have not lived closer than a thousand miles to that place in over a decade. I wasted some of the best years of my youth dreaming in angst about living an adult life in a far, far away city. Nowadays, I can say with full confidence that I have succeeded to make that dream my reality. Knowing what I know now – that outside my front door thrived a colorful culture and history that flavors small town Texas with exoticism imperceptible to 17-year-olds – I have a greater appreciation for the place I ruefully cite as my “domicile of record” on official documents.
Do not get me wrong. The world outside of small town Texas does not disappoint. I am somewhat of an authority on this, as I have spent the past ten years traversing the farthest reaches of the earth and living as an expat. Just for kicks, here are a few things one cannot do in rural Texas:
- Take a two day train ride across the frozen Siberian steppe
- Climb the Pyramid of the Sun in pre-Columbian Teotihuacan
- Bathe like an Ottoman queen at a Turkish bath
Needless to say, I have no regrets. Each one of these bullets is worthy of a book in and of itself (and I am pretty sure those books must exist). But Friends, what the outside world fails to provide to the homesick small town Texan is a comfortable sense of home, like-minded fellowship, and good old predictability. The fact that my hometown endears to remain the kind of place that fosters such a privileged existence is the very reason I have chosen to showcase it front and center in my historical narrative.
People who choose to make small town Texas their home do not need convincing that these rustic places are special. Everyone living there knows how they nurture magical childhoods. Everyone living there knows how they quiet the apprehensions of the aging. It comforts me to know that the gulf coast marshes will not dry out any time soon, and that mossy live oaks and pecan trees will line the Brazos River for another hundred years.
Personal sentiments aside, there is one not-so-secret secret about the area surrounding my hometown that makes it an irresistible setting for my novel: the place just so happens to have a little bit of a past. Blood and sweat, insane aristocrats, firebrands, land grabbers, enslaved peoples, convict laborers, filibusters, pirates, ritual anthropophagy, culture wars, genocide… the list goes on. The place and its history positively drip with intrigue.
In researching and writing this novel, I hope to come to terms with the land and people who failed to “civilize” it despite their best intentions. Like so many others, I long for Texas because I belong to Texas and not the other way around. T.R. Fehrenbach once wrote of the 19th century Texan mindset: [they are] born in blood in another primordial land. This, for better or worse, I believe is the essence of my own feeling.