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Friday, October 7, 2011

Why I Haven't Written in Awhile

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog since September 15.  I also can’t believe I started a blog with “I can’t believe.”  Your writing really starts to stink when you don’t put in the practice, like anything else that requires a regular training routine.

A number of things have been taking time I would otherwise have spent writing.  Not counting plain laziness, we’ve been traveling a lot in the last month.  This not only stole time from writing, but messed up my whole writing schedule.  Normally, I want to write something about our trips.  Fascinating little incidents occur on even the most mundane excursions.  But I try to refrain.  Most people don’t really want to hear about your vacation.  Like so many things, you have to be there.  So I didn’t write about our weekend in Corpus Christi or the week we spent in Playa del Carmen.  People were naturally concerned about the dangers of traveling in Mexico, so they might have perked up if we’d gotten kidnapped and tortured by drug lords or something.  But that didn’t happen.  The scariest people we saw were time share salesmen at the Cancun airport.  Come to think of it, that’s also the nearest we got to being kidnapped. 
My 1992 book.

Another reason I have neglected by blog is I’ve gotten sidetracked by a couple of other writing-related projects.  For one thing, I’ve been working on converting a print book into an ebook.  But allow me to backtrack. 


In 1992, I wrote a book and was lucky enough to have it picked up by a major New York publishing company.  As far as public achievements go, that was probably the high point of my life.  Now, I’m converting my out-of-print book into an e-book.  I purchased some software to accomplish that and have been wrestling with that little project for longer than I care to think about.  Computers are not my forte.  Out of sheer frustration, sometimes I set my e-book project aside for weeks.  It’s still not quite finished.

Another writing project that’s captured my attention involves Texas history, specifically, the Texas border patrol in the decades spanning more or less the late 50’s through the 70’s or 80’s.  James has an elderly uncle who was a border patrol agent during that time.  He worked out of Del Rio and patrolled the Rio Grande on horseback.  Now he’s retired.  He lives peacefully in the Hill Country, where he keeps a pecan orchard and has a few RV hook ups.  One of his regular RV visitors, a couple from Colorado, spent many evenings sitting around with Boyd and hearing about his adventures as a border patrol agent.  They were convinced the stories should be captured and published.  So before returning to Colorado, they left him a tape recorder.  The problem was, Uncle Boyd wasn’t comfortable talking into a machine.  So the project was abandoned. 
 
That is, until I got wind of it.  I thought, why not visit him in person and capture his stories on a digital voice recorder?  Such recordings are called oral histories.  Places like the Institute of Texan Cultures are keen on collecting them, and his chronicle would be captured for future generations.  Even if it languishes for years in a dusty corner, someday a PH.D. candidate may stumble upon it in his search for obscure dissertation material.  And who knows? I might be able to craft a book or at least an article out of Uncle Boyd's tales. 

So far, the oral history project has entailed mostly research.  As usually happens once you start learning about something, you find out there’s a lot more to it than you thought.  First, I looked into the whole topic of oral histories:  what they are, how to conduct them, what questions to ask, how to preserve the oral history, and so on. 

 Now I’m finishing the second phase of my research:  the background of the border patrol and its place in Texas history.  I’ve thumbed through books about the history of cattle in Texas, cattle rustling (Uncle Boyd’s field), law enforcement in general, and so on.  I even skimmed the official history of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.  I’ve read about the legendary Texas Rangers, whose duties and responsibilities often overlap with those of other law enforcement agencies, including the border patrol.  In that vein, I’ve read Joaquin Jackson’s fascinating memoirs, One Ranger and One Ranger Returns. 

The third part of my research I’m not looking forward to.  It’s learning how to use that digital voice recorder.  I’ve been putting that off until the last.  But it’s a pretty nifty little tool.  You can transfer the recording into a computer by just plugging it in.  Even fancier software exists that will convert the recording into print.  Wow!  I don’t know yet whether I’ll avail myself of that – these little toys are not cheap. 

They say that every time someone over 70 dies, it’s like losing a library.  And Uncle Boyd is undeniably a dying breed.  He’s a gentleman cowboy, polite and tough at the same time, a man of few words who means what he says.  Put it this way - I’d hate to be the cattle rustler who had to tangle with Uncle Boyd back when he patrolled the Big River on horseback.