When I was doing research for The Outcasts, I ventured with my brother—who is an avid historian of the American Civil War—into the bayous southeast of Houston. My novel is set, partially, in Middle Bayou (now called the Armand Bayou Nature Preserve) in 1870, the Reconstruction Era; a time of uncertainty, shattered hopes and, on occasion, violence. The greater area surrounding the still-swampy inlets and streams are residential developments, h0uses of ticky-tacky red brick, trailers with abandoned cars settled on cinderblocks and the occasional industrial park.
But once you enter the Armand preserve, a different environment unfolds: channels of slow-moving water, filled on either side with forests of elm and oak, thick underbrush, populated by 12-foot long alligators, wild boar, copperheads and banana spiders the size of dinner plates. OK, you’re thinking that because I’m writing about Texas I’m exaggerating. I’m not. The log floating in the photo above is not a log, it is in fact a large gator swimming alongside my brother and me as we walked on the rare foot path that followed the bayou’s edge. We kept a close eye on him, because alligators are fast coming out of the water. Very fast. And my brother, to get his attention so I could get a photo of him, had fed him the rest of our lunch: chicken nuggets. He followed us the whole distance of the path until it veered off into the underbrush again and we moved farther and farther away from the water.
I looked over my shoulder, though, for a good while wondering if I could run faster than my brother. To be continued next week. . .
The Outcasts will be published on October 1, 2013 (Little Brown)
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