Many readers ask if my novels are based on real people, real events, and real places. All of them are—some more so than others. All of the major events happened; all of the characters were inspired by real people. Not all of the events happened to me, nor did I witness them all. A few are taken from newspaper and magazine articles that I found intriguing. But I witnessed most of the events. The people are often composites of interesting characters I have encountered. Some are readily identifiable as real people. The places are also real, though I might change the topography or combine characteristics of places to get the right setting for my characters.
I took a trip awhile back to retrace some of the places and people that inspired my writing in previous books and in my new offerings, Circle of Hurt and Believing in a Grand Thing.
Part 2 A Stop in Amarillo—Where Fiction Is Introduced to Truth
As I left Henrietta and headed back to 287, a tall cowboy skinny as a slice of bacon walked beside the road. The backpack indicated he was a cowboy afoot. He stopped, shook a cigarette from a pack, and used his huge hat to shield his lighter from the wind. Struck me as a classic pose for an artist, an opportunity to look for a novel, but traffic kept me from stopping. Bet he has a lot of stories to tell.
Outside of Estelline, I passed the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. I had passed a big lake earlier where the water was red. They say out here that means the water is pure and free of gypsum. You can sure see where the Red River gets its name.
Passed through Hedley, population 319. Marveled at the fact that I played many baseball and basketball games here when I attended Adrian High School. Though it’s about a four hour drive from Adrian, Hedley was in our district.
As I passed through Goodnight, Texas, stories of the grand old man of cattle filled my head. Goodnight was clearly the inspiration for Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove and that made me think of Bose Ikard, the man who inspired Joshua Deets. I have visited his gravestone in Weatherford where Goodnight had his famous “never shirked a task” epitaph inscribed to honor Ikard. Jan and I could not recall his name recently and I told her to Google “never shirked a task”. His name came up first.
Blue Duck, who died after jumping from a prison wall, was based on Kiowa Chief Satanta, who died the same way. He is found in Home Light Burning. Hy regretted the question as soon as it left his lips. Satanta looked deeply into his eyes for several seconds before answering. "I will be free soon." Two days later, Satanta faked a heart attack and was taken to the prison hospital. Singing the Kiowa death song, he jumped through the second story window of the hospital and landed on a brick wall below. Hy is my great uncle and was in Huntsville Prison at this time.
In Claude, the temp dropped to 88 and I no longer needed air conditioning. Ugly wind turbines now cover the landscape, spoiling natural beauty, making loud noise, killing birds. These ugly machines do little good and much harm and would not exist except for corrupt taxpayer subsidies granted because their meager production of energy makes them unable to pay their own way.
In Amarillo, I was surprised to see several sixties-looking hippies traveling the highways with backpacks sporting hair that has not felt shampoo or scissors in months, and filthy clothes. Wonder what their stories are? Enough for a novel?
I had to get on the interstate for a short time. Minutes later, I was in a traffic jam. A wreck up ahead, I found out later. Decided it would be a good time to pull over and rest for the night. Settled into room 137 at Motel Six, I called cousin John Bill Garnett, who lives in nearby Hereford. I hoped to catch him for a short visit, but he was in Wyoming.
The next morning, I found cousins Arlen and Sherry Alexander in the Amarillo phone book and invited them for coffee. They insisted I come by their house.
They had been kind enough to buy and read my books, so we had a conversation starter to delve into old times and family history. I knew Arlen and his parents and siblings had lived in the Panhandle when he was a boy, but they had returned to Fort Worth long before I lived there as a boy. So I was surprised that he knew some of the people I had gone to school with in the area. His sister Sha had a crush on someone he remembered only as Popcorn. I knew he was referring to Popcorn Pannell, who married Cynthia Kromer, a schoolmate of mine at Adrian. Popcorn had become a pharmacist and he and Cynthia settled in Plainview.
Arlen also knew my old classmate Bill Gudgell and the details of his murder by a young boy he had taken in to live in his home and work as a farmhand. The boy and Bill’s wife (another schoolmate) went to prison for Bill's murder. I told them the story of Bill’s connection to Calvin Peters and the Quien Sabe Ranch and how I hoped to see Calvin on this trip. Fodder for a novel?