To write this novel, I had to create some good, solid characters.
Characters of three-dimensions—flesh-and-blood-and bone, with their own back stories, habits and ideas about the world.
Because if the characters don’t feel real, you won’t embrace their story.
My novel’s based on a true story, so many character names are a given… no need to invent them.
Family genealogy, oral history, an old letter here, an old news clipping there…
It’s daunting trying to write a real story about real people. Especially when they’ve all been dead for 100 years or so, and you can’t interview them.
I wanted to be true to what I could glean of their personalities, who they were and what they did.
Many hours of research led down rabbit trails and dead ends, as I tried to figure these people out.
Our hero’s personal autograph book, conserved by family since the 1880’s, came into my possession through a cousin.
Here was an unexpected treasure, since some folks who figure in the story wrote in it.
Now I had their choice of words, a tantalizing glimpse into how they spoke. And I could see how they wielded a pen, heavy or light, with a flamboyant flourish or none.
In the end, I still had very little concrete information about my people, and had to invent a lot. The Enneagram came to my rescue. It’s a synthesis of ancient and modern psychological teachings that divides us all into nine distinct personality types.
The Writer’s Path at SMU steered me onto the book, The Wisdom of The Enneagram, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
From its description of humanity’s inner workings, desires and fears, I cobbled my characters together.
A lot of good juicy stuff came from Suzanne Stabile’s workshop on understanding the Enneagram.
The challenge was to figure out the kinds of people who would’ve done what these people actually did—an ex-Marshall running a ranch…a teen boy who lassoes a bear….
and his 21-year old brother who’s twisted sense of humor gets him fired.
Even after I gleaned what my characters were like on the inside, I needed to see them on the outside…how they dressed, how they smiled (or didn’t)—all those quirks that make a person real.
At the start of my efforts, I had only one photo—our young hero, John, sitting on a hay bale all duded up in a photographer’s studio. The studio name imprinted on the photo said, “Chicago.”
And I thought, Chicago…Jesus, what was he doing there! So, I had to figure that out, too. (Separate blog post there).
A cousin had more old photos (thanks Jack). So did The Sul Ross Archives, in Alpine.
Now, in addition to our hero, I had his true-blue girlfriend, Ginnie, his lawman boss, Gillett, and Pink Taylor, the cowboy who helped run the ranch.
But alas, I just could not find pictures of everyone.
So I ferreted out photos from books that in my estimation, “looked right.”
Thank heavens for, Cowboy Gear: A Photographic Portrayal of The Early Cowboys and Their Equipment, by David R. Stoecklein.
In its pages, I found many of John’s compadres, including his brother Tin, grinning in his broad-brimmed hat, red neckerchief and heavy work gloves. He’s right there at the top corner of Page 141.
I smile every time I open to that page. “How do, Mister Tin! …just what windies are we cookin’ up, today?”