November 8, 2009

Local history

I'm writing a "novel." Truthfully, I don't expect to finish it on time, but I started it under the impression that it would kickstart my creative juices and get me writing more fiction and creative stuff. For the most part, it has.

I've been rereading Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and it's getting me more and more interested in the art of storytelling. Maybe more specifically, the art of telling local history and how it influences who someone is. There's a story in there called "Speaking of Courage," where a young soldier comes back to his Iowa town after Vietnam. Without retelling the whole plot, he's trying to come to terms with how he didn't win the Silver Star and drives around the lake in his town all day, having fake conversations with different people around the town (his dad, his ex girlfriend, his best friend) in his head.

My "novel"'s concept is still hazy, but I'd like to explore this a little bit— the idea of local legends or local history and where history and legend meld into one. Maybe I'm trying to hard to be Faulkner, I dunno. But I did a bit of research on Missouri history — I might set the novel here, plus I was doing a bit of research on local sports history anyway.

That's why this website got me into a brainstorming frenzy. It's an archive of Missouri place names and basically tells you, by county, everything you need to know about how a particular town, school, landmark or anything got its name.

For instance, the Roubixdoux Creek, in my county, is one of the tributaries of the Gasconade River. It got its name from French explorer/ settler Joseph Robidoux. (It did not say why the townsfolk dropped the first "u" but not any of the other vowels.) Wikipedia did not originally know about this. It now does, thanks to me.

This search for a little local flavor of my new home got even more of my internal engines whirring and led me to more gems that even the non-Missourian SadBear brethren would appreciate.

I sought out the Pulaski County Historical Society and looked at the last names of some of the original settlers. I now know just how many families around here have lived here for generations.

From there I found the Osage County Historical Society (for reference, Osage compared to me and our capital), which has a much snazzier website and more stuff. Including the crown jewel, which I am seriously thinking about pointing out to the Strange Maps blog: JPEGs of the 1892 Map of the United States of America for the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis.

Notable for the fact that despite being so old and before the advent of the highway system, each state map is pretty well-detailed.

Looking at old-school eastern states like Virginia or Ohio or Michigan doesn't reveal much new about said states that we don't know already. But the maps for the more sparsely-populated Midwestern and Western states still have an air of mystery about them. For instance, Oklahoma is still considered Indian Territory here, and I'm pretty sure neither Oklahoma City nor Tulsa existed yet (or else they were nothing more than cowboy towns). Wayne Coyne and Oral Roberts were just a gleam in the worlds' eye...

I also found some even more interesting stuff on the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, which runs directly through my county (now called BNSF) and directly contributed to the high school sports league I cover, but that stuff's so good I think I'll save it for another post.

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Blogger Chase said...

Nice maps.

Speaking of incorporating local history into your work -- in a routine I'd like to continue, I've started referencing almanac and local history information for a couple of my stories.

It's fun, and totally a great excuse to learn a little bit more about the area. I hope to do more in the future.

November 9, 2009 at 12:32 AM 
Blogger M. Perkins said...

This makes me think in general about mixing history and fiction, which makes me think of Jim Shepherd's latest collection of short stories, an interesting collection that I really loved.

I have realized that I can't really write fiction at all, but I can do a decent job of reconstructing non-fiction.

PS: I that idea, Chase--including local tidbits in your stories.

November 9, 2009 at 4:54 PM 
Anonymous Econ said...

How you coming on that novel you workin' on?

November 13, 2009 at 11:34 AM 
Blogger SC said...

Go for that novel, Jack. As someone whose writing projects almost never see completion (except plays, now), I admire your chutzpah.

Go for that local history, too. Novels and collections of shorts about a specific area are always worthwhile, and you can be sure the local publishers and readers will want to get a copy. Especially if Grandma and their Great Uncle Pete are mentioned.

I'm working on a brainstorm for The Children's Theatre over here, trying to find ways of incorporating local history into our plays. I think it'd make us more marketable to local schools.

November 22, 2009 at 8:39 AM 

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