January 15, 2009

Don't Confuse Me With The Facts

by Mary Connealy

I kind of wrote myself into a corner with Gingham Mountain Book #3 in the Lassoed in Texas series. Petticoat Ranch is book #1.

So I’ve got all these ELEMENTS I need to deal with from books #1 and #2, plus the new ones for this book.

ELEMENT #1 oil. Honestly before kerosene was widely used no one cared about oil. It was just this awful smelling stuff that polluted ground water and, although people knew it would burn if refined, refining was a lot of trouble and no one did it much because there was no money in it.

Oil wasn’t my biggest problem, it was a little one. What’s an oil refinery look like in 1880? Was there one in Texas? Can you build your own small one?

Before long I was wishing I’d never even thought of oil. But it was so interesting and I’ll write a whole blog about it sometime.

The next ELEMENT was the Civil War. The war is over, but it can’t be too long over because my characters were named and set in time by the earlier books. The Civil War caused me all sorts of trouble because of the next ELEMENT, trains.

I needed a train.

Well, was there a train in Texas after the Civil War? How soon did train travel resume? Did it ever end? Did it end north and south but not east and west. You’ve got to figure there were no trains coming from New York, across the Mason/Dixon Line during the war.

And I needed a train because of the next ELEMENT Orphan Trains. Orphan Trains came to Texas but the dates were really vague. Orphan Trains traveled from 1850 to 1920. So the dates are so wide…YES the Orphan Trains came, but when exactly and to where?

And … here’s an odd ELEMENT that took me a surprising amount of work to track down.
I needed a mountain.

So, Beaumont, Texas seemed to be the center of early oil activity and I wrote the book, placing it in a fictional town but they’d travel to nearby Beaumont. Except, I was sure I’d found evidence of some rugged ground in the general Beaumont area, but I couldn’t find it again. In fact just the opposite.

Beaumont is in the Texas Coastal Plain. I could include some info here for you about the Texas Coastal Plain but trust me, the main sticking point for me as I researched was the constant references to low-swampy ground…for (I’m estimating) one zillion square miles.

Anyway, by now I’m juggling balls in the air. We talk a lot on this blog about loving research. You know what? I hate research.

Oh, I enjoy the reading, honestly the stuff I read about the Spindletop oil well--that's an actual picture of it--coming in is just the stuff dreams are made of. Thrilling. It's the story of American ingenuity and a new era in this country. I loved reading about the Orphan Trains and even trains in general. Heck I even liked studying Texas geography on Google Earth.

But I’m typing along and suddenly I’m not sure if there was train travel … I had someone from Book #1 Petticoat Ranch and #2 Calico Canyon coming in on the train to visit the characters of Book #3 Gingham Mountain so there’d better have been trains.

So I’m having fun, my couple is snipping and dancing around each other, bad guys are closing in and and I’ve got to quit to find out if I can produce a mountain. You know, the mountain that is tucked up behind the cabin…the mountain Gingham Mountain is named for and which one of the characters falls off of and where the treacherous stand of trees that really is completely integral to his home and why did I ….oh forget it.

Trust me when I tell you, it’s way easier if you the reader just suspend disbelieve and go along for the ride. I mean if I need a mountain, a train, a historical date, Texas, oil and orphans, what am I supposed to do? Somewhere in that state I can have it all but it can be hard work and it’s way more fun to dwell on how hunky the hero is and how feisty my heroine is. I wish I could just make it all up, you know?

So have you read books that get it wrong? Does that make you crazy? If I’ve got a mountain on a low-swampy coastal plain am I gonna hear about it?
I wish no one would confuse me with the facts


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

LOL! I share your grief, Vickie. I don't like stopping in the middle of a good scene to go research my facts. But then, we have no choice. Our readers are smart people. Normally, I learn a lot, too as I research.
Your post was fun to read and I found myself laughing--I wonder why? hehe

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Brenda. I'm done with the Gingham Mountain research now. In the end I solved my problems by getting vague. Where exactly ARE these people in Texas? You'll never figure it out. sorta north central west-ish.

Gotta be mountains and trains and oil there, right? Texas has everything, right?

Cheri2628 said...

I can overlook a lot if the story is good! Most of the time I am looking to be entertained, not given a history lesson. :-)

Mary Connealy said...

I've had authos say to me they really got cALLED ON errors in their books but I never have and I doubt it's because I'm oh so RIGHT about everything.

I htink people just pity me.

Vickie McDonough said...


We have a little hill in Tulsa called Turkey Mountain and another hill called Lookout Mountain. Why? Because they're the tallest hills around here.

Too funny about your research woes. I've been there. Not a cool place to be.

Susan Page Davis said...

Mary, I hear you. Not only that, I'm channeling you. I am now looking for a place for my town in a certain state. It must have mountains, mines, and yet be close enough to ranchable land...have no railroad in 1885, but have telegraph and stagecoach line. I've spent more time looking for this spot than I have doing housework the entire last year. Oops, scratch that. Don't want to scare too many people.

Mary Connealy said...

Hi susan and vickie. I'm busy today baby sitting my brand spankin' new granddaughter. My first one. So, so, so beautiful and precious and tiny. Not tiny like Too tiny, seven pounds 12 oz. just tiny new.

Very sweet.

I think sometimes I spend more time researching than I do writing the books. It can just be so interesting. You learn such weird stuff. and you take off down rabbit trails that lead you far afield from your research sometimes. I spent about two hours one day just looking at pictures of albino animlas. "Weird. Fascinating but weird. I'm typing on a borrow laptop which is why I'm typing like a drunken sailor. No offense to saiolors who can no doubt type better than this under any conditions.

Gotta go.

Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Mary,
Funny you talked about research. I have been having trouble with the names of towns. I like to make sure there isn't really a town by the name of my made-up town. I did that yesterday in fact and discover that there was a real town by that name. So I had to think up a new name and change out the old name in a zillion places.
What we go through to write books.

Mary Connealy said...

One thing I've started doing for town names, Molly, is going to a near-by state, picking a town name from THERE and Googling it to make sure there isn't one in my state.

Example: Mosqueros, Texas is where my Lassoed in Texas series takes place.

I wanted something with a Mexican tone, for reasons that now escape me. So, I went to New Mexico, found a town, Mosqueros, and just transported it to Texas. I'm always afraid I'll pick a name, especially when it's of Spanish origin from some faint confused spot in my brain and have that word end up meaning...oh, you know, Horse's Butt or something.

This comes from an entirely embarrassing 'Jose Canseco' incident in which I 'made up' a Spanish sounding name...Josie Canseco, for something, only to find out later that the reason Jose Canseco rolled off my tongue was because DUH!!!!!!!!! There really is a Jose Canseco and no, he wasn't a friend of Castro's during the revolution.

Just kill me now.