- Photo from a tour boat beneath I-10 in the Atchafalaya Basin, March 1994.
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Today I finished the first draft of an afterword for the ebook version of In Springdale Town. Very interesting to look back on the events that led to my writing the story. I might post it here later on, but until then you’ll have to buy the ebook to find out the story behind the story.
During my current research I came across a reference to a book on the history of Victoria, TX that came out in 1883 and was reprinted in 1961 (as History of Victoria County;: A republishing of the book known as V. Rose’s History of Victoria). I requested the book through inter-library loan. The title page said that the reprint was edited by JW Petty and published by The Book Mart, Victoria, TX 1961. At the end of the editor’s preface there’s an inscription from him, to the Texas Tech library (which isn’t where the book came from).
When I saw the title page, I remembered… In his youth, my father frequented a used bookstore in Houston owned by a man named Joe Petty. They got to be friends. He still has many books from Petty’s store. Later on, Joe Petty moved the store to Victoria. Here’s a link to a story on him in the Victoria Advocate from 1956.
The book has been useful, with facts about Victoria, like the number of banks and various stores. Also the racial and social attitudes of the author, Victor Rose. Also, I like how my research/writing obsessions intersected with a bit of family history.
I can’t say that Brent Grulke and I were ever friends, but we were friendly, for the short time our lives intersected. We both wrote reviews, articles, etc. for the entertainment section of the Daily Texan, student newspaper at the University of Texas. He was a couple of months older than me, and when I arrived he had already been at the Texan for a while. At that time, he might already have been writing for the Austin Chronicle. The Chronicle was started around that time, by people who had worked at the Texan (and met in UT’s film department, if I’m remembering correctly). I got bored with writing about music, and for several years post-college I stopped going out to hear live music. The last time I would have seen him was, at the latest, 1983.
Brent died on Monday, August 13, from a heart attack during oral surgery. Here’s a good tribute.
I’m recalling fragments of conversations with him, one when he talked about wanting to do some record producing. Which he later did. From reading about him now, it’s clear that he was one of the few who really got to do what he most wanted to do. Music was his life. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that he was the director of the South by Southwest music festival.
The one time we ever hung out was when X came through town in 1982, touring for their album Under the Big Black Sun. I was planning to interview them, but he talked me into letting him do it. We went to dinner with the band before the show and stayed up all night in the entertainment section office at the Texan. He wrote up his interview/article, which ran in two parts. I was supposed to write a review of the show, but didn’t.
Nostalgia and regret appear to be the inseparable companions of aging. I look back at that time, a period in which I thought I could do anything. I discovered great music reading about it in the student paper, and then I got to be one of the people writing about it, influencing others (I hoped) the way I had been influenced. Austin is the mythical land that never was, the cool place where I never got to be one of the cool people. I still crave to be recognized there, written about, interviewed, lauded. But my books have never been printed in editions of more than a few hundred copies. Without adequate distribution, I’ve never felt that it would be worth setting up a reading there. I did try, unsuccessfully, to get In Springdale Town reviewed in the Chronicle, but never attempted with subsequent books.
But thoughts about the past aren’t only about my perceived lack of recognition. Brent was just a bit older than me, and according to what I’ve read, he has a six-year-old son. I have an almost-five-year-old daughter. So we both became parents at a somewhat later than usual age. I can’t help feeling my mortality from his death. I would like to stick around till my daughter is considerably older.
His incarnations (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, etc.) have inspired my writing for years. There’s a great interview here by Michael Begg, on a website called The Quietus.
From the interview, something also true for writing fiction (for me anyway).
Do deserts generally appeal to you?
SRS: I haven’t traveled to any other desert region, other than out here in California, so it’s hard to say. I’m certainly drawn to the idea of the desert. It’s sort of like when you are on the phone or back in school and not really paying attention and you find yourself doodling on a pad of paper – what comes out? For me it’s always this sort of sketch of a barren, horizon line landscape, and these sort of wrecked structures or cities, just like on the album covers. It’s what comes out and I don’t really question it much. My guess is that this music is coming from the same place as the doodling on the pad of paper. It’s not intentional, but if you’re playing honestly and without preconceived ideas then what comes out is sort of what’s humming down deep in there all the time. I guess for me it’s this sort of barren vista.
I’ve written what might be the beginning of the Western. If not the beginning, a starting point (and it’s true, you do have to start somewhere). I have a long way to go with the research, and I’d rather be farther along with research before starting. Details are coalescing, year, setting, character…Texas Gulf Coast, 1888..but a lot to be determined. Like, most of it.
No title yet. Sometimes I have a title before I start, sometimes I can’t think of one at all. I might give this a one word, character’s last name title, like a Louis L’Amour Western. I just read his novel Matagorda, which was a lot like a lot of his books: Good Honest Man Gets The Job Done, with lots of repetition about how he came to Texas to be a partner on a cattle drive, not get involved in a feud, but, would you believe it—he got involved in the feud, and his fiancé came from Virginia to Indianola right before the hurricane destroyed the town, and somehow, she knew about the feud before she got there, but he hadn’t. Still, I’d love to be able to write about landscape the way he did.
First person or third? I started with third person, but I’ve been reading Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories and like the style of having anonymous first person narrator (though that would interfere with the idea of a last-name title—or would it?).
Over at Book View Cafe, Nancy Jane Moore has an interesting post on Annie Murphy Paul’s article and other related research by Keith Oatley and Raymond Mar.
As a book designer, I would be curious to see a study that looks at good writing with a good page design vs. good writing with a poor design, and bad writing with a good design vs. bad writing with a poor design. Yes, good writing is subjective. I would have to be in charge of making that distinction.
Reading Fiction Is Good For The Brain (and what’s good for the brain is good for the rest of your body)
It turns out that reading fiction is actually good for you. Not that I didn’t already believe that, but I’ve met plenty of people who don’t read fiction, because they say they only want to read real things. This piece by Annie Murphy Paul in the New York Times discusses some recent research into the imagery of fiction and its effect on the brain.
Paul quotes Dr. Keith Oatley, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto and a novelist (including The Case of Emily V, a mystery that involves Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes). According to Oatley, fiction “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”
Paul mentions Oatley and other authors of various studies. When I looked up Oatley I discovered that he has a book from August 2011 on the same subject: Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, which is described as exploring “how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers.”
I find it odd that Paul’s piece failed to mention Oatley’s book. I don’t know what that omission means (most likely nothing), but it bugs me. It distracted me from the making of a simple blog post on an interesting subject, sending me off into myriad speculations, none of which are worth noting in this post.
Here’s a group blog that Oatley participates in: OnFiction: An Online Magazine on the Psychology of Fiction, which I will look at more thoroughly when I get a chance, and I’m curious to read his book.
I hope the findings of Oatley and other researchers will encourage more people to attempt the reading of fiction. It will help your brain.