Originally, when I set out to write about the Texas Panhandle, I intended to author history books in the pure academic sense. I thought that what had been published so far, concerning the period from 1875 to the present, was lacking in detail and objectivity.
But the more I researched, the more I became convinced that the genre of “historical novel” would be more appropriate for what I had in mind.
For me, the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz, is the best example of what I hope to accomplish in my series, Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle. This acclaimed book does indeed give the history, during the twentieth century, of the Dominican Republic and the Dominican “Diaspora” in the United States. But it tells this history through the genre of historical novel.
The characters of this brilliant novel embody different aspects of Dominican history: Oscar and Yunior, the unique Dominican concept of masculinity; Lola, Beli and Ybón, the valiant feminine side; the Gangster and the Captain, the barbaric Trujillo government. And each of the other minor characters embody other notable aspects of Dominican society, culture and history.
Similarly, through the stories I tell in my novels, which are centered in-and-around the fictitious town of Mackenzie, I narrate the history of Amarillo, Texas and the Texas Panhandle, but using the genre of historical novel, rather than using so-called objective history. Each character embodies a different part of the region’s society, culture and history, during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.
In my novel, Tayla of the Golden Spread, Tayla represents the despised folks, who endured their bleak lives in the ramshackle trailer parks of Amarillo; Jacques, the hardworking custom-combine crews, who harvested the area’s abundant crops of wheat; Aunt Maureen, the plucky Irish immigrants, who formed a large part of the region’s Catholic population.
In my novel, Little Alice Landergin, Miss Julia represents the overbearing farmer-rancher class, who dominated and controlled most of the area’s land; Little Alice and Little Harriet, the oppressed Native Americans, who had been cruelly displaced by the cavalry and the white cattlemen; Attorney Sanchez, the few lawyers who dared to oppose the injustices of the established judicial system; Major Tom, the outsider, who, when he came into the Panhandle, tried to change the prejudices of area; Oskar and Gretchen, the Jewish and other ethnic minorities, who struggled to maintain their identities in the face of the deeply hostile WASP culture.
In my novel, Beth’s Story, Beth represents the wealthy, elite, ranch-farm-oil families, who owned, dominated and controlled the Panhandle; Captain Silas, the great number of returning veterans, who had been changed by their over-seas experiences and therefore no longer accepted “the way things have always been”; Pastor Jim and Mary, the down-to-earth, sincere and truly religious mentors, who did not accept the hypocrisy of most of the organized religion of the area.
In my novel, Nadya, Nadya represents the many refugees—“displaced persons”—from post-war Europe, who could not and would not accept the Hitler-like ideology of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority; Howie, the uncounted number of returning veterans—from the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War—who were struggling with PTSD, trying somehow to live normal lives of love and family; Gabriela, the children who were being brought up by their devout families without the numerous prejudices that their village wanted to impose on them; Star, the mixed-race children, who had to deal with the region’s horror of “miscegenation.”
I try to imagine what is going on in the minds of each of my characters, and through their eyes see the “subjective” rather than the “objective” history of the Texas Panhandle. This kind of history cannot be documented in footnotes, but it is valid, nonetheless. Historical novels have an acceptable place in the libraries of reputable universities, alongside traditional, academic history books.