Guest Post: David Hansard on “The Lonely Star”

Our final author to contribute an essay for MysteryPeople’s celebration of Texas Mystery Writers Month is David Hansard, writer of One Minute Gone, one of our best selling thrillers in MysteryPeople. David questions who he is as a Texan and reflects on the power of writing to provide him with the best answers.

“About the only thing common to the various Texan prototypes is that they have almost nothing in common, and really don’t like each other much. Although they do all like being Texan.”

“The Lonely Star” by David Hansard

Texas is romance, myth, legend, and stereotype. A bunch of them, and they’re all different and to a significant degree, contradictory and incompatible. Just like Texans. About the only thing common to the various Texan prototypes is that they have almost nothing in common, and really don’t like each other much. Although they do all like being Texan. I’m not talking only about rural vs. urban or farmers vs. ranchers vs. oilmen, let alone any political denigrations. Among animal people, sheep raisers and cow raisers don’t like each other, and among urbanites, Dallasites and Houstonians like each other as much Longhorns and Aggies. Ft. Worth is next door to Dallas, and those tribes really don’t like each other. Wealthy Ft. Worth native and philanthropist, Amon Carter, was known for taking a bag lunch when he had to go to The Bid D for a business meeting so he didn’t have to spend a nickel in that town.

“So what is Texas for a writer? It’s romantic, mythic, and legendary, with enough characters and character types to populate the Milky Way. It’s not a singularity but a plurality. It’s just about anything you want it to be, assuming you include an epic drought and a few floods of Biblical proportions. It is Texas, and like the star in the middle of its flag, it stands alone.”

I was born in Texas, my family has been in the state for six generations, yet I can’t tell you with any particular acuity what it means to be a Texas writer. In many ways, it’s easier for me to talk about New York where, notwithstanding that I lived there for over a third of my life, I will always be an outsider, and will forever view the city with alien eyes. Porter Hall, my protagonist, largely shares my backstory and the first in his series, One Minute Gone, is set in NYC. Porter feels like, and navigates the city as a familiar stranger. Things that seem commonplace to native New Yorkers never cease to be curiosities to him. The second in the series, How the Dark Gets In, which will be out this summer, begins and ends in New York, but takes place mostly in Texas. For me, writing about Texas was a much different experience, more organic, in a way, because it is who I am without thinking about it. Yet, I can’t describe it in the same way I can describe New York. It’s sort of like asking a manta ray to describe the ocean. “Uh, what’s an ocean?”

In one of her recent newsletters, Taylor Stevens, another Texas author (of the Dallas persuasion), responding to a fan’s question as to what her protagonist, Vanessa Michael Munroe looks like, said apart from her age, size and body type, she really doesn’t know. Strange as it seems, most authors I know don’t know exactly what their protagonist looks like other than in a general sense. I wouldn’t know Porter if I passed him on the street, though I might recognize his clothes, especially his boots. He wears good boots. The reason for this, I suspect, is because you write your protagonist from the inside out. It’s much the same when it comes to writing about a place that’s implanted in you as opposed to one that’s not. In How the Dark Gets In, one scene is set in an actual weedy, hardtack graveyard in West Texas where many members of my (and Porter’s) family are buried; another is set in a house on Sunset in the West U section of Houston, where an ex-girlfriend grew up; and others occur in Austin locations like the Blackwell-Thurman Justice Center, the Whole Foods at Sixth and Lamar, the Book People parking lot, and a condo on West Sixth Street where I lived when I was in graduate school.

‘For me, writing about Texas was a much different experience, more organic, in a way, because it is who I am without thinking about it. Yet, I can’t describe it in the same way I can describe New York. It’s sort of like asking a manta ray to describe the ocean. “Uh, what’s an ocean?”’

Texas is a place I feel as I write while New York City is a place I observe. There is no arguing about how significant “sense of place” is in crime fiction, or how many components there are to it, from landscape to weather to era (think Chandler’s LA compared to that of Connelly and Crais and Marcia Clark, all overlapping, but all distinct). But in my mind there is no component of place more significant than the people who make it up, because that’s where stories come from. That is why my New York stories could never be my Texas stories, and vice-versa. People are place, and place is people.

So what is Texas for a writer? It’s romantic, mythic, and legendary, with enough characters and character types to populate the Milky Way. It’s not a singularity but a plurality. It’s just about anything you want it to be, assuming you include an epic drought and a few floods of Biblical proportions. It is Texas, and like the star in the middle of its flag, it stands alone.

You can find copies of One Minute Gone on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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