About a month ago I traveled to San Antonio for a business trip. While I was there I did some studying at the Institute of Texan Cultures with Tom Shelton, head photo curator and Dr. Sarah Gould, head curatorial researcher. Both had a wealth of information and insight to share. I am so grateful for their time and expertise!
What I learned made me re-think elements of my story and in some cases, gave me new information I might want to write in. For instance:
- If my protagonist, Evangelina lived on a sprawling ranch with hundreds of head of cattle, her family most definitely would have a servant/maid to cook, wash and care for the youngest children. I may not have thought of her family as “wealthy” but living on a ranch with that many cattle would, by definition, have made her family wealthy enough to have a servant. I don’t have one written into the story at this time so I will make that revision. (When my own family lived in Texas we always had a Mexican maid who helped take care of my brothers and me, cooked and cleaned. It was only when we moved to Colorado that my parents stopped hiring Mexican help. It’s still common today in Texas, even for middle class families.)
- My story includes a kitchen in the ranch house like any kitchen you might see today – a room on the inside of the house. According to Dr. Gould, it would have been too hot to have a kitchen inside the house. It would have either been outside under a lean-to or in a separate building adjacent to the house. No one was crazy enough to have a kitchen inside the house where people lived and slept unless they wanted to sweat and suffer. I guess I’ll need to re-write the kitchen scenes!
- I’ve written 2 good-sized train stations into my story with large platforms, big buildings, lots of bustling people, food vendors, etc., but apparently, large train stations like that would have only been in large cities like Mexico City or El Paso. A smaller town would have had a one room building or even just a platform with a sign. If you could buy a 1st class ticket you could get on the train without much wait. If you didn’t have enough for a 1st class ticket it could take weeks for you to get on.
- The Revolution forced hundreds of thousands to flee to America for safety. Small encampments sprung up all along the railroad tracks where people waited for their chance to board the train. These encampments were substantial enough to draw vendors who sold tacos, roasted corn, fruit juice, tobacco or coffee.
- Soldaderas were female soldiers or women who traveled with their men into battle. Those who didn’t fight cooked, cleaned and tended to the wounded. Prostitutes were also common.
- In small Texas towns, most people walked or traveled by horse. Only the very wealthy had cars.
- Most people did not “pay” for groceries and supplies in the early 1900s; they bought on store credit then paid in cottonseed, corn, cordwood, tobacco or meat when they could.
- I have struggled deciding where to place the 2nd half of the story on the Texas side. The fictional town had to be a place that wasn’t already predominantly Mexican (like Laredo where my Abuelita’s family actually immigrated), far enough away to make for an interesting journey and a place where discrimination against Mexicans would have occurred. After talking extensively with Mr. Shelton, I settled on a location near current day Beeville, Texas (the actual town where my paternal grandfather was born).
STATUS UPDATE ON THE LONGEST, MOST COMPLEX PROJECT I HAVE EVER UNDERTAKEN (and also the most interesting and rewarding)
Over the last few weeks I’ve been cutting out parts of my story that made the plot overly complex and didn’t really add value to the overall storyline. I thought it would be harder than it’s actually been. You know…”Oh, I LOVE that part of the story! I can’t bear to cut it out!” Instead, it’s been more like, “Hell yeah! Get rid of it! It’s mucking up the story and HAS to go!”
Not sure if this is a good sign or bad one, but right now, it feels sort of cathartic. I think the last 50 pages or so will come more easily now that I’ve cut out plotlines I don’t have to “wrap up” before the story ends. Thanks for reading!