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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Joy of Research

Last week, Max and I loaded up the SUV and took off for a long weekend of R & R - Recreation and Research! Destination: East Texas. Since our 38th wedding anniversary was just around the corner and I had decided to set my next book in this area of Texas, we headed south. I inhaled the Texas air when we crossed the Red River. It's always a little like coming home since I've spent almost as much of my life in Texas as Oklahoma.

We spent the first night in Marshall, a beautiful city with some wonderful Victorian homes. What really captured my fancy, though, was this old cemetery in the historic part of town. And what's a research trip without at least once stop at a cemetery? This plot was particularly fetching with its fancy iron work fence and aging stones, many of which dated back to the Civil War era. And there's nothing quite like a trek among ancient gravestones at dusk.

The next day we went to Jefferson, named for Thomas Jefferson, and what a charming place. The first thing we learned is that it was once the second largest city in Texas. Today about 2500 people live there. The entire town could be on the historic register. And many, many buildings are. We toured the museum, visited the old time General Store which sported not one, but two soda counters, and then took a few minutes to peruse the "stacks" in the newly restored and renovated library. I could do some serious research in surroundings like this.

Authenticity is what brings a story alive for me, and I'd been nervous about writing about a place I'd never visited. My town will be fictitious, but I wanted to experience the feel of the bayou country, inhale the scents, and keep my eye out for tiny details I might use. Our tour guide on our trip down the bayou was not only a great historian, but also full of fun stories. And it was from him, I learned about the mayhaw berry bush (or small tree) that grows in the bayou and makes the best jelly in all of Texas. It reminds me of sand plum jelly. And yes, I brought home a couple of jars that I bought in his little shop after we docked.

One of the highlights of our trip came on Saturday morning. I'd learned of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club a while back and knew Jefferson was the home of the world's only beauty shop and book store combo. It's here that Kathy Patrick merged her two loves - doing hair (as they say in Texas) and reading. I was so excited that Kathy was open and greeting customers. Her shop is an absolute delight bursting with good books, jewelry and all sorts of fun accessories, and in the back . . . the beauty shop. Yes, I'm now a member of the Pulpwood Queens and am thrilled with my autographed book - The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life. Kathy is doing a fabulous job of promoting literacy and making women feel good about themselves. If you're ever in Jefferson, stop by Beauty and the Book. You'll be glad you did. I'm hoping for a makeover the next time I go :-)

And a special thank you to Kathy's daughter, Lainie, who is just as vivacious as Kathy and answered so many of our questions while her mother was "doing hair" for one of her customers. Before we left, Lainie was sweet and posed for us in front of the shop.

Our trip wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Caddo Lake, named for the Indians who lived in the area for many years before being relocated to Oklahoma. Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in Texas and is a series of connected cypress swamps.

It's an eerie and haunting beauty to travel through the swamps in our guided boat and see endless lily pads floating on the water while Spanish moss floats ghostlike through the cypress trees all around you. It's not difficult to imagine being lost in the swamp and wandering for years trying to find a way out. Luckily, our guide was a pro and knew exactly where he was the entire time. The view on the left was amazing as were the flapping blue herons and white cranes that appeared from time to time, startling us every time.

Last, this is the bed and breakfast where Max and I enjoyed the hospitality of Bob and Pam Thomas at The Delta Street Inn. The town of Jefferson has a host of Greek Revival, Victorian, and Prairie homes like this one. I could have stayed much longer, but Max was due to be in Denver on Monday, and for me . . . well, there are books to write you know.

Have a great weekend!!


Camille Eide said...

Carla, thank you for sharing your finds, how inspiring! Now I'm certain I have to go to Scotland to research my own novel. :-)

I am always amazed at your blog. You post a jewel every time! Thank you for sharing!

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, you've made me homesick for this little town we've visited so many times! Years ago, we used to stop over for a night every spring on our way between Houston and Hot Springs, Arkansas, and we've tried several of the B&Bs. Never been to this one, though. Looks lovely! We've been on the bayou cruise, too--fun!

carla stewart said...

Camille, I think you should go to Scotland and take me with you! Of course you don't have to visit a place to write about it. You, my friend, made me feel I was in Scotland, and yes, I have been there, so you did good. This little trip did square some things away for me, though, and it was really fun.

Myra, sorry for making you homesick. That's the way I often feel for Texas in general. This B&B has been open about 5 years, I think. Not sure if it was one before. I know they did a lot of restoring on it (11 months worth), and it is gorgeous. thanks for stopping by for my little tour.

Erica Vetsch said...

Next time, take me with you! I love the pictures! What a terrific vacation.

Vickie McDonough said...


I love your pictures. Where exactly in Texas is this? I'd love to visit this place.

Josanne said...

I loved the tour Carla. I feel like I was right there with you. Being in the swampy water was a little too much to take. I hope it was a motorized boat with no little critters running amuck. But the town was lovely. My favorite, the salon and the library. I could almost smell the atmosphere. Beautiful foliage as well. I'm with Vickie, the B&B is most inviting. I had no idea that research was so fun. Your photos were great. Thanks for sharing.

carla stewart said...

Thanks, Erica - I know you're a research maven . . . and Vickie, you are too! There's just nothing like being "on location."

Yes, Josanne, the hair salon was a delight. You can't miss it - it's on the main drag going through town.

Thanks for popping in to visit, girls.

Donna said...

Max had told me about your trip, and these pictures bring it to life. I love the swamp ones, esp the one with the light shining on the water with trees on either side. Wil definitely put this on my list to visit.