By Mark W. Danielson
I love Texas for its attitude as well as its landscapes. Texas is “The Lone Star State” because it was once the Republic of Texas. Paris, France, still commemorates the Ambassade Du Texas, 1842-1843, as shown in the photo. Interestingly, the Republic of Texas’ relationship with France was strong enough to warrant naming one of its towns after the City of Light. Love it or leave it, Texas is one unique state.
I spent many years living in Texas, and from its panhandle to the Gulf, Texans are full of pride. The “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs that dot its highways warn outsiders of its no-littering policy, but truthfully, this slogan is also an anthem. Where else but Texas would you find a semi-automatic pistol mailbox? ’Nuff said.
Writers love creating Texas characters because of their distinctive qualities. Movies and TV shows love to portray oil barons as rotund, boozing, loud-mouthed middle-aged men who wear cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and drive Caddies with bull horns on their hoods, and while I’ve seen plenty of Texas businessmen in boots and hats with their suits, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a bull-horned Cadillac on the street. Now gun-toting pickups are a whole different animal, and they’re certainly not on the endangered list.
Because of its stereotypes, people may not realize that Texas has as much geographical variety as California, and along with its topography, its dialects can vary by city. Even towns that are physically close like Fort Worth and Dallas have completely different feels, so if you’re going to write Texas characters into your stories, you had better know what you’re talking about. You’ll find Dallas is as cosmopolitan as Chicago while Fort Worth rivals any cow town. I suspect that Fort Worth’s “Billy Bob’s” is where the country group Alabama realized that “if you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” Of course, some might compare Houston to Nashville because it’s turned out so many country musicians.
The point to all of this is that researching characters is as important as researching locations. Sometimes stereotypes are suitable, but most of the time they’re not, and thinking that Hollywood has done its homework is simply naïve. For example, when some Navy friends of mine spoke to the director of the movie Topgun about its inaccuracies, the director replied, “We’re not making a documentary.” While it’s true that fiction writers make up their stories, unless you’re writing fantasy, it’s best to keep your characters and locations believable. Doing so makes it easier for the reader to put themselves in the setting and become emotionally attached to your characters.