Why I Changed My Mind About Memoirs

History Where You Live – © Tony Craddock stock.adobe.com

I’m fussy about what I read. So many books, so little time. The Memoir and Biography genre doesn’t typically interest me. Self-aggrandizing celebrities and politicians with their pictures splashed on a book cover written by someone else – hard pass. Then I started doing research for my novel about the Santa Fe Trail. My notion of memoirs changed a bit. The most impactful book I’ve read to date is a memoir not written by a sports star, but rather written by a woman living her life in the Southwest during the 1800s.

Land of Enchantment: Memoirs of Marian Russell Along the Santa Fe Trail is an authentic account of a courageous woman who traveled the Santa Fe Trail (more than once) and lived in old Santa Fe. She lived in a few forts with her soldier husband as well. Then helped him build a town in a rugged part of Colorado.

Her recollections make this memoir real for the reader. We share her shock and fear when the wagon train comes across gruesome deaths and other violence against innocents. These accounts, for me anyway, were more troubling when I stopped to consider this isn’t a work of fiction. The murders – witnessed by Marian as both child and woman – really happened. I found myself grieving with her when she experiences tragedy as a young wife. Marian was an extraordinary woman who took on a sometimes-brutal land. She was a true pioneer.

I believe part of the allure of this book for me is the setting. I’ve lived in the Rocky Mountains most of my life. Many times, I’ve traveled across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada (in a car) passing through the places she mentions in her book. How about you? Do you know who lived in your hometown before it was a town? Seek out the stories that reveal more than one dull paragraph in a history book. You might be amazed by what you find.

Be Positive. Be Happy. Be Well.

Look To Your Own Backyard

Stuck for inspiration? Have a story idea, but not sure where it takes place just yet? Look to your own backyard. Your hometown/ home state has a history. I know what you’re thinking. Yawn. Nothing interesting happens here. Are you sure about that? Delve a little. You may find some juicy history interesting to a reader who’s never been to your part of the country. Don’t forget about the folks like me who love old unsolved crimes or haunted places.

I’m one of the blessed souls who gets to live in the state of Colorado. Stunningly beautiful, impossibly mellow with the addition of our newest agricultural commodity (Puff. Puff.) and dripping with interesting history. Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, The Unsinkable Molly Brown…the list goes on. Denver is full of history (and ghosts), as is the rest of Colorado. It makes a great location for several genres.

Doing research on the early days of the Colorado and New Mexico Territories for my new Horror novella, The Hounds of Perdition, has been an amazing journey into the past. I walked into the story with preconceptions for certain simple details about life in 1865. Yep. You guessed it. They were all wrong. The Civil War had just ended in 1865, affording me the opportunity to throw two characters on opposite sides into the same bad situation. Indian attacks had risen to a high intensity, necessitating several forts to be built in the territories to protect settlers. Famine. Disease. Life wasn’t easy and civilized townships were far apart. In fact, Denver wasn’t established as the capital or recognized central government until a few years later.

Now it’s your turn. Check out your state’s history. Do any ideas come to mind? Good luck and have fun!