Still working on the Texas writers list, though it’s looking more and more impossible. Where do I put an author like Katherine Anne Porter, for instance? She was born in South Texas, lived a long time in Central Texas, and one of the major writing contests that bear her name is headquartered in North Texas. And a lot of her fiction isn’t even set in Texas. So which region gets to claim her? I’m consciously focusing most of my recent fiction in the Texas Hill Country, but as I’ve written before, I’ve lived just about everywhere in Texas and have set stories in the Pandhandle, in North Texas, and down in the Valley, a lot of my Hill Country fiction includes references to or even drifts into San Antonio, and I have plans for work set in East Texas….
See, here’s what I think about Texas regionalism: unless a writer is dogged about it, most of us Texas writers are going to move around the state a little, because Texas is so damned big we almost feel obligated to spread out and touch the edges of whatever region we’re in. And much as the media and, to be honest, the “Lone Star State” tourism industry sometimes like to portray some unified simple-cowboy-oilman image of Texas, Texans like to celebrate the diversity of the state. (If you’ve ever been to a Six Flags in Texas, you know that the chain started there to celebrate the cultural and historical diversity of state, each flag representing a national status that Texas once or currently enjoys, though it often ignores Fredonia, Texas, which, as a one-time independent city-state, actually gets to claim seven flags.) So it works the other way round, too–those regions that border our own like to bleed into ours whenever possible and influence us a little, just to remind us they’re there. A friend of mine from high school, now a chef in North Texas, the other day reminded me that he sees the same phenomenon in the culinary world, observing that great West-Texas steak is easy to come by in his own North Texas region.
This bleed-over effect is why Cormac McCarthy can write his Border Trilogy set by turns in West Texas, South Texas, and an occasional foray into the Hill Country–often in the same book–as well as set scenes in New Mexico and drift down into Mexico itself, and still remain a (new, or “repatriated”) Texas regionalist. On the other hand, my chef friend also commented that good Mexican food is rare his North Texas because the vast region of Central Texas separates Dallas-Ft. Worth from the great Tex-Mex food down in the Valley. Sharing border culture is common in Texas, but getting across a region to share with the other side of the state is a difficult prospect. In literature, too, it’s pretty rare–and I’m speaking off the cuff here, so this isn’t gospel truth–to find a Texas story or novel leave its own regional borderlands. You wouldn’t find Rick Bass, for instance, move from Houston to Amarillo in a single story, but you could easily see him move from Houston to San Antonio or even Houston to Waco if he was daring. This is because Texas is, as I’ve written in a short story, “too big to get out of in a day,” so any literary attempts to cross more than your own borders is going to ring false. Even a rambling cross-country road trip novel like Tim Sandlin’s Sorrow Floats, which takes us across Texas on its way from Wyoming to the North Carolina, can’t bring itself to cross more than the Panhandle before slipping into Oklahoma and leaving Texas behind. I couldn’t swear to this, and I plan to look into it more sometime in the future, but speaking from my own experience, I’d say it was probably true that we writers have problems crossing too much of Texas at once, and therefore blending too much of Texas culture.
But this, like the regional authors thing, is fodder for a future post. Today I am gearing up for National Novel Writing Month, and to make things more complicated, I’m setting my new NaNoWriMo novel in Louisiana. This might seem a shift away from my own professed regionalism, but to be honest, the new book will be set in southwesten Louisiana, where my mother was born and one of her brothers still lives, so I’m not straying too far.
I’ll be posting occasional updates on my progress in NaNoWriMo, but if you want to sign up and sacrifice all your spare time to the project like the rest of us fools, my NaNoWriMo user name is simply Snoek-Brown, and you’re welcome to follow my progress at the website.
Happy Halloween and Festival of Samhain! And if I don’t get back online tomorrow or the next day, happy All Saint’s Day and Dia de los Muertos too!