Friday, October 25, 2013

Writing Notebook

Why would a Canadian set her story in Texas?

Blame it on Mexico.

My sister and I had whooping cough. I was five; Joanne was two. She was the reason we had to seek out a warm, dry climate for Christmas instead of visiting family in Montreal. Since my parents weren’t exactly flush with funds, they packed up my father’s company station wagon and we drove south, headed for Mazatlan.

With the self-centered clarity of a child, I only remember the parts of the trip that had an impact on me. I remember the switchback roads in the mountains. Dad loved them. Mum and Joanne were throwing up. Me - who was car sick on a straight road - was morbidly fascinated by the sheer drops out the side window.
I remember eating peeled shrimp like candy... and my first real pineapple.

When we finally reached the beach, I stepped on a crab and was scared of the sand for years after.
For some reason, I also remembered Laredo. I don’t remember much about the town except the name. It etched itself on my consciousness; the sound of the word was as exotic and exciting to me as Paris or Istanbul might be to someone else.

Traveling to Mexico became a family habit for a while - especially after we acquired a camper. It was in the camper that I started reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. I had run out of Georgette Heyer and had not yet developed an interest in the mysteries my mother brought along for the trip. Dad gave me a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage, followed a couple of L’Amour’s short story collections. Suddenly I started taking an interest in the country we were travelling through. The United States - particularly Texas - ceased to be a geographic obstacle between home and our destination.

"Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen." - Louis L'Amour 

When I needed to research Texas history and geography for Under A Texas Star, memories of those trips floated up to the surface.

One other trip cinched the deal – but it wasn’t one I took. My parents decided to go to Mexico when my mother retired. The family camper was long gone. Instead they outfitted a van with a kitchenette, bed and porta-potty. Feeling a bit envious, I wished them bon voyage one chill November morning. A couple of days later, they called from the Mexican border.

They had forgotten the vehicle permit. They couldn’t get into Mexico.

Stifling a laugh that I would have paid dearly for, I suggested they visit Texas while they were there – and bring back guide books. I was setting my mystery in the old west.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Alison, lovely post. Travel from Canada to Mexico is a long trip for a small kid. Great opportunity for research, but I understand your perspective as a child. Most of what I remember of childhood trips between California and Texas are the twisty mountain roads with sheer drop off. Also the Indians at Gallup NM. Thanks for sharing.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Thanks Caroline.

We went to Mexico several times through my childhood. My memories of our last trip include this archeology student at the museum in Mexico City...

Melodie Campbell said...

I love this post, Alison. It says so much about how writers are affected by settings outside their own usual surroundings. A family road trip taken decades ago inspired your novels today...and we are richer for it.

Jacquie Rogers said...

The world through the eyes of a child--loved your post.

I remember going to Portland, Oregon, when I was little. I couldn't believe those four-story buildings and spent many hours wondering what on earth people did in them, stacked on each other like that. I finally decided they must have a pile of papers, stamped each one, then passed the pile to the next person.