07. October 2010 · Comments Off on The West Texas Book & Music Festival · Categories: Ain't That America?, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

This five-day long celebration of books and music has been going on for a good few years; two weekends ago, I made the five-hour long drive from San Antonio to participate in the Hall of Texas Authors – for the second time. The Hall – that’s the main display room at the Abilene Convention Center, wherein local authors and a handful of publishers (some established and well known, some whom only hope to be established and well known at some future date) have a table-top display of their books on the last day of the festival. All during the week there are concerts, a medley of free and open events, readings and panel discussions. All of this has several stated intentions: to benefit the Abilene Public Library system and to support their programs, for one, to spotlight local and regional musical and authorial talent, for another, and for a third, to promote Abilene as a cultural Mecca and tourist destination. It isn’t New York or Las Vegas, by any stretch of the imagination yet, but that isn’t for lack of trying.

Abilene, you see, was established in the boom years of the Wild West: every element embedded in popular imagination about the Wild West was present there for one reason or another, from the classical wood-frame buildings, wooden-sidewalk and dusty streets visualization of a typical frontier town, the railways and occasional Indian warfare, to cattle drives and gunfights in the streets and saloons. (And the Butterfield Stage line, buffalo hunters, teamsters, traders and Army posts, too.) A lot of interesting stuff happened in and around Abilene, and a fair number of interesting people passed through town, or nearby. Many of these people are featured in a state-of the art museum called Frontier Texas, where there was a nice get-together for visiting authors, for volunteers and various members of the Abilene literary scene on Friday evening. I was especially interested in meeting one of the two big-name featured authors: Scott Zesch, whose book The Captured, was an account of white children kidnapped by Indians in raids on Hill Country settlements during and just after the Civil War. The story of his great-great-uncle, captured as a boy of ten or so, and eventually returned to his white family haunted me. Such a cruel thing, to loose a child, get the child back years later – and then to discover that the child has been lost to you for all time; I simply had to make that a plot twist in my own book. He’s from Mason, and from one of the old German families who settled the Hill Country. Anyway, interesting person to speak with, and listen to: he spoke briefly at that gathering and at the awards luncheon the following day. He is another of those completely convinced that a place like the frontier was so filled with interesting and heroic people, of fantastic events and things that seem too bizarre to be true (but are!) – and furthermore are almost unknown – that a writer can’t help but try and make a ripping good yarn out of them. The second featured writer had done just that, with creating a novel about a relatively unknown hero: Paulette Jiles, whose book The Color of Lightning was about Britt Johnson – supposedly one of the inspirations for the storyline of the movie The Searchers. It looks like Britt Johnson may get a movie in his own right, according to what Ms. Jiles said at the awards luncheon. The script for a movie based on Color of Lightning is in the works – all about how he went looking for his wife and children, taken by Indian raiders in 1864, and went back again and again, looking for other captives. He was, as Ms. Jiles said in her own remarks, very proper classical hero material: on a quest for something of great value to him, against considerable odds, blessed with a companion animal (his horse), good friends, and lashings of pluck and luck, so it is only fair that he get to be better known than in just dry-as-dust local historical circles. (Blondie and I inadvertently toured the Frontier Texas exhibits with her; just three of us and a hovering volunteer/docent. I didn’t recognize her – not being good at remembering faces. That is, I recognize people that I have seen before, but not always remember who they are or where I know them from.)
I sold a few sets of the Trilogy in the Author’s Hall the next day, and passed out a lot of fliers about my own books – including the one that’s due out in April, 2011 – but it’s not about sales, it’s more about getting out there and connecting with readers and potential readers.
And some darned nice BBQ, too – but that came later, from the Riverside Market in Boerne, on the way home. Only in Texas!

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