Sunrise Over Texas is my first historical novel, inspired by a lesson I taught my fourth graders about Jane Long, “The Mother of Texas,” who was left alone at a fort on Bolivar Peninsula, near Galveston, with only a servant and child. I had taught this lesson at least twice before, but never was I struck by what a brave thing this was. I wanted to write a story with a heroine like that, and give her a happy ending (Jane Long was widowed and never remarried.)
Some things I learned:
- Researching Texas in the 1820s is hard. It was very wild then, and not a lot of records were kept. I found an online resource, The Texas Handbook Online that was invaluable to me — even told me when the first boarding houses and hotels were built.
- I learned the Bolivar Peninsula is LONG. One day during spring break, my step-dad, mom and brother took me to San Felipe, the state’s original settlement where Stephen Austin brought the original 300 families, then we continued down to Galveston, where the fort still stands. This was 8 months after Hurricane Ike, and the damage was still pretty severe. We took the ferry to Bolivar, where people were returning from working salvage. The line to get back on the ferry was LONG, so we drove down the peninsula, halfway between Louisiana and Houston. There is NOTHING out there, y’all. We were starving by the time we got to Houston.
- My step-dad has amazing patience. I should have known this, since he taught me to drive, but facing the traffic going to Galveston, then waiting for the ferry, then driving endlessly down Bolivar…yeah, he’s patient.
- The fort looked nothing like I expected, and it was RIGHT on the beach. I modified this in my book, since I wanted my characters to suffer a bit more.
- The Native Americans who lived in the area, the Karankawa, were tall, tattooed and rumored to be cannibalistic. VERY little is known of this tribe, who’d I’d taught my students were hunters and gathers.
- I learned I can write 50,000 words in a month for NaNoWriMo, but not be done with the book. In fact, I didn’t finish this book until April (NaNoWriMo is in November.) I had some other obligations along the way, but found myself going back to research certain points along the way.
- I learned to go with my gut. I complicated matters for my characters, and had to write three different ways for them to get past it, which is also why it took me 6 months to write it :)
- I learned I really enjoy writing western-set historicals. I have three more ideas outlined—if only I had more time!
MJ, a four-time Golden Heart finalist, travels wherever her imagination takes her, from Honduras to Africa to the past. Find MJ online: