As eagerly anticipated as the Academy Awards. Not.

Thanks so much, John Branch, http://comicskingdom.com/john-branch

Okay, the biannual roundup of what posts you read most during the past year is not exciting, but it always interests me.

As usual, he Alamo floats up near the top. While lots of you read my “Dear Mayor” post, it seemed to have little impact at City Hall despite its direct delivery to the inboxes of the 11. I actually was writing about the Alamo some yesterday, slipping Alamo politics into the historic fiction manuscript on which I am focusing. The passionate stands and debates about the Alamo and its plaza a century ago differ little from those of today.

You hold the King William neighborhood and Brackenridge Park dear as well. And am hoping some of our recent travels help serve as inspiration or guides for yours.

The numbers in parentheses represent the rankings from six months ago:

  1. Dear Mayor and City Council: Please don’t surrender Alamo Plaza, 2017
  2. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (2)
  3. What’s up top counts, 2017
  4. Brackenridge Park: ‘Is it still a postcard place?,’ 2017
  5. Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago, 2016 (3)
  6. Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away, 2016 (12)
  7. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (6)
  8. Thanks to the Mister on his day for persistence in obtaining my Mother’s Day present, 2017
  9. Introducing Otto Koehler through a Prohibition politics caper of yesteryear, 2016 (11)
  10. Postcard from Bologna, Italy: Volunteering to eat at E’Cucina Leopardi everyday, 2016
  11. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (4)
  12. Postcard from Campeche, Mexico: Sittin’ on Campeche Bay, 2017

Thanks for dropping by periodically. Love hearing your feedback.

Footnoting historic fiction too cumbersome for me to handle

The historical novel requires an extra set of choices – what sources to consult, what shape to cut from the big picture – what to do when the evidence is missing or contradictory. Most of these choices are invisible to the reader. You must be able to justify you decisions to the well-informed. But you will not satisfy everyone. The historian will always wonder why you left certain things out, while the literary critic will wonder why you put them in. “Because I could” is not a good reason.

“Can These Bones Live?,”  Dame Hilary Mantel, Reith Lecture, BBC Radio, June 24, 2017, The Spectator

How to handle historic fiction. I’ve received all kinds of advice and foolishly continue to reject most of it as too cumbersome.

Recently, a published author told me I needed to classify my novel about Hedda Burgemeister, the woman who shot Otto Koehler more than a century ago in San Antonio, as creative nonfiction. Her approach to citing references, accepted for print as mine might not be, is that, as the lead characters once lived, everything in the book must be footnoted. Meticulously. She also added that everyone’s names must be changed – both to protect the innocent and to protect oneself from lawsuits.

Well, the names in An Ostrich Plume Hat need to stay put because of the very fact they belonged to real people. But I admit, this is just one of Gayle’s new rules.

As for footnotes? I recently completed a manuscript about the Coker Settlement – nonfiction – with hundreds upon hundreds of numbered, well-documented endnotes. It almost killed me. And I’m quite far into writing this unfootnoted novel upon which I have been working for more than a decade as time allowed.

Last week, my solution hit me. Will Cuppy. A few years ago, blogger Bluebird Blvd introduced me to his The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. Cuppy wrote about real people. With great artistic license taken. He footnoted his text, but certainly not according to the Chicago Manual for Style. In fact, Cuppy’s footnotes are a pleasure to read and contain some of his most amusing lines.

So I have decided to tread water instead of drowning in footnotes. I’m electing to float somewhere between Cuppy and the Chicago Manual.

I’m creating Gayle’s own rules for documenting historic fiction with unnumbered endnotes. This requires me to honestly identify what is true, what is unknown and what is invented for the sake of the story. This is particularly important in cases where I violate Dame Mantel’s “Because I could” mantra from above.

As of now, Gayle’s rules for endnotes are somewhat fluid, evolving as I strive for consistency. I want to establish credibility with the reader.

Chapter Three’s endnotes include this:

Please pay attention to spare me from typing portions of the following over and over: Resemblance to actual persons, no longer living, locales and events is far from coincidental. For the majority of characters, almost everything included about them was reported in print during their lifetimes. If some of these so-called facts are gleaned from fake news, please direct libelous claims to the appropriate publishers of more than a century ago.

I hope you will go review and evaluate my approach to documenting the first three chapters.

Let me know if you think Gayle’s rules will fly. I need advice and value yours, but please don’t be offended if I am too damn hardheaded to listen to it.

 

Dear Mayor and City Council: Please don’t surrender Alamo Plaza

It’s hard to send a letter to you, because I don’t yet know who will be occupying those offices at City Hall. But, whoever you are, your first week in office, you will be pressured to approve a plan to wall off a major public plaza, the historical heart of so many of San Antonio’s cherished celebrations.

Please do not vote unconditionally to support the Reimagining the Alamo Master Plan in a rush to meet the budgetary cycle of the State Legislature.

There is much merit to parts of the proposal. The Alamo building itself is crumbling, and the plan targets its restoration and preservation. That is urgent.

The Phil Collins Collection is waiting for a home in San Antonio, and the State has acquired several historic structures on the westside of Alamo Plaza to display the valuable artifacts. (Adaptive reuse is wonderful, but please urge the State to reconsider gutting the entire interior of the landmark Crockett Block, designed by Alfred Giles.)

So the east and west parts of the plan on the state’s existing turf seem on somewhat sound ground. But then we get to the plaza.

As we approach San Antonio’s Tricentennial, we should be particularly attuned to the city’s early history. But, at least in the Executive Summary,* the Master Plan ignores the history of Mission San Antonio de Valero – a site not dubbed the Alamo until years later.

In the aftermath of the Battle, General Santa Anna ordered his troops to destroy as much of the site as possible. This was the beginning of the decline of the historic Alamo compound. Restoring the reverence and dignity of the Alamo is the obligation of our generation and the mission of our efforts.

The decline of the compound that originally was Mission San Antonio de Valero began earlier, before the mission was secularized. Where is that layer of history of the mission days? Not on page 1. Mission San Antonio de Valero is not even recognized by name in the summary until page 24. In the appendices.

Reimagining apparently calls for walling in the plaza and locking it up every night. The planners evidently believe members of the public incapable of envisioning the original walls of the compound. To do so, they must be restricted from entering the plaza aside from as a herd entering through a southern portal.

If returning the Alamo compound to its appearance at the time of the battle truly was a principal adhered to by the Master Plan, the “bold” plan would call for the removal of the iconic parapet added later by the United States Army.

Vehicular movement north and south through downtown currently is impaired. Removing another street from the existing clogged pattern is impractical. Yet, even so, it is difficult to argue that closure would not enhance the experience for pedestrians on the plaza.

But ceding the rights of pedestrians to cross through the plaza makes absolutely no sense. Public parks should be porous, easily accessible from all sides. Yet access to this civic space will be reserved to one entryway on its southern side.

Behind glass, this current pedestrian crossroad will become a dead-end. An Alamo cul-de-sac.

Thanks so much, John Branch, http://comicskingdom.com/john-branch

The city of San Antonio has struggled for years to revive Houston Street, and it finally provides a healthier retail environment. Houston Street merchants will again disappear if they lose the pedestrian traffic they need. Pedestrians will all be funneled in and out by way of Rivercenter.

Trees will be removed from the center of the plaza between the Alamo and the Crockett Block to create an open space, a space too hot under the Texas sun for anyone to linger.

A sizzling comal for tourists. A playground for reenactors. A place locals will avoid.

Paraphrasing W.S. Merwin, there is no recipe for “unchopping a tree.” Walk the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Improvements Project and envision how many years, or generations, of growth it will take for the new saplings to recreate the groves of trees Spanish missionaries originally found along the river’s banks.

In exchange for placing much of the city’s space in a fishbowl with restricted access, the plan offers San Antonio “a new civic space – Plaza de Valero,” a tiny sliver of the plaza in front of the Menger Hotel. This is billed as: “an opportunity for visitors to have a quiet moment, in the shade of mature trees, enjoying food and refreshments, as they experience the reimagined Alamo.” This “new” space already exists.

The very definition of civic is “relating of or to a city or town or the people who live there.” We have a great civic space, the entire plaza, now. A place for exuberant celebrations and the exercise of first-amendment rights, rights championed by those who died at the Alamo. A spot for gathering in the shade of trees.

There is no reason City Council cannot approve the Alamo restoration on the east and the Museum concept on the west side of the plaza as envisioned in the Master Plan on May 11.

Obviously, improvements can be made to enhance historical interpretation in the plaza, but eliminating Alamo Plaza as a pedestrian passageway or civic gathering place for your citizens need not be a requisite to forward a portion of the plan. Judgment on the disposition of the roadway and plaza should be withheld pending refinement and public release of the full plan.

The many volunteers and professionals tackling this project should be commended for their efforts. But that does not mean this initial plan merits a rubber stamp. The streets and plaza belong to the City of San Antonio.

Please request a reexamination and rethinking of this portion of the plan. Don’t consent to turning a beautiful urban park into a walled-off wasteland of a plaza. A place completely isolated from the fabric of San Antonio.

Thank you for your consideration of this request from a concerned citizen.

P.S.  If one haunts the place of one’s death, would it not seem a Sisyphean hell if the only thing you got to witness was men reenacting your painful death over and over? Would you want the site of your bloody end preserved in the desolate state it was in in the aftermath of your death?

Or would you want to witness people actively enjoying the freedom for which you fought on a daily basis?

One resembles a horror film, the other a fulfillment of your dreams.

*As of this time, the only portion of the plan available to the public online is the sketchy Executive Summary. The public comments you receive prior to voting are based solely upon that and what can be pried out of presenters during hearings. The publicly funded Master Plan appears a closely guarded secret.