Friday, March 21, 2008

Texasisms (or: If promises were persimmons, possums could eat good at my blog)

I know I promised I'd write about The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman today - and I just bet you were waiting on pins and needles for that one - but I have other things on my mind today that I thought I'd share.

If you've read any of this blog lately you'll know I am in the process of researching my next novel, writing bits and pieces of it, but mostly still in the forming stages.

I thought I'd tire quickly of this. Not that I don't love researching; I absolutely love researching. I watch TV with my laptop on my... um... lap, so that I can look up actors to see what else they've been in; fact check; learn more about some topic briefly touched on that piques my interest. I love researching. Just not when it takes the place of writing. It seems like I am just spinning my wheels here waiting to know enough to write.

But lately, I am in love with it. I bet now you are on the edge of your seat wanting to know why. Let me tell you.

My story takes place in a small Texas town: one of those towns where many of the roads are still mostly dusty and barely paved, where old men still hang around the barber shop and play checkers, and church socials are the highlight of the week. These places exist. I know. My husband used to get his hair cut in one of those barber shops not many years ago.

So this week I am taking a metaphorical trip back in time to find my Texas roots, and I can tell you this: there are very few places and people and cultures that make me smile the way Texas does. They have their own kind of food, their own kind of celebrations. You can attach the word "fest" at the end of almost any word and add a ferris wheel and pow! you have a Texas celebration! Try it: strawberryfest - in Poteet; Mosquitofest - in Clute; wurstfest - New Braunfels; chilefest - in San Antonio. I've been to most of them over the years. The strawberryfest was so dusty I couldn't ever see the tables of strawberry wine through the dustbowl-like conditions. The chilefest was my first, and last thank you very much, experience with jalepeno peanut brittle, which hast to hail from hell itself.

But the best part of Texas culture is it's language. Ifn you ain't from therebouts, you probably reckon they speak English there. You'd be wronger than a pig walking into a bar-b-que. Here are some of our family favorites, even after moving away ten years ago:

  • He's busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kickin' contest.
  • You look more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin' chairs.
  • Slicker than snot (as in, after that last gully-washer our porch stairs are slicker than snot)
  • Well, you'll have that...(a great way to get the last word in the conversation if you don't really have anything intelligent to add)
  • Knee high to a grasshopper (do I need to explain that means young?)
  • Older than dirt
  • He's all hat and no cattle
  • white on rice (as in: did you see that new guy at church? He was all over Becky like white on rice! Or: Did you take out that trash like I asked? Yes'm, I all over it like white on rice.)
  • We've howdied but we haven't shook (this is relevant way more than is appropriate to use it, since you sometimes gotta watch who you're talkin' Texan to outside of Texas)
But in researching I've come across others I've either forgotten or plain didn't know.

  • She took to you like _______ (fill in the blank: buzzard to roadkill; sticker burr to bare feet)
  • It's so dry the trees are bribing the dogs
  • Confused as a cow on astroturf
  • Lower than a snake's belly
  • Higher than a Georgian pine (drunk)
  • He's only got one oar in the water
  • Madder than a wet hen

As I've tried to get the voice of my characters, more and more of that Texas talk is coming to mind, and it occurs to me that Nathan Bransford might curl up and die there in Texas with all those great similes that are the mainstay of conversation. (Curl Up and Dye was, by the way, where I went to get my hair cut). And honestly, one of the greatest challenges of this book is getting the voices right: balancing the voice of real Texas talk with the tolerability level of outsiders. If I actually wrote the book through the eyes of the main character in this kind of language, it would drive the readers mad. Mark Twain might have been able to pull off that kind of narrative, but I'm not kidding myself. A little goes a long way. The great thing is that, despite the very serious side of the topic of the story, these colloquialisms lend a certain amount of levity to an otherwise heavy topic, and the add color to the cast of characters. I think my last book missed some of that.

Sometime I'll blog about the parents I've interviewed as well. I've gathered enough stories about kids being diagnosed with diabetes to fill a book of its own, and they are so heartwrenching and touching and uplifting they each deserve their own say. I am blown away by the generosity and openness of people to tell me about their experiences and their fears. I'm glad I have type 1 and not my kids, but for the next year or so, I'm going to have to crawl inside the mind of a mom who wishes she had it instead of her daughter. It's not enough for me to just try and imagine, because who among us really can know unless it's actually happened. So thank you to all those moms and dads who filled me in what went through their minds and how their lives have radically changed. You guys are awesome!

I'm so excited about this I could spit!


  1. I love that stuff.

    We had a huge rivalry when I was growing up. My father was Oklahoman; we all lived in Oklahoma, but my mother's mom and dad were *fierce* texans. And it was battle royal whenever we'd go to visit.

    I think they were joking when they started those simile races. I think.

    The one that always got my dad and shut him right up was the @the only thing that ever came out of Oklahoma was steers and qu*Rhymes with steer.

    Shut him up every time.

    The wet hen remark was a huge great one of my grandmothers.
    Man did I love her. The only woman on the earth who could be named Princess (seriously, what were her parents thinking? And her the third girl) and get away with it.

    I lvoe researching too! Best part!!

  2. I wonder if people who grow up in the north think about language as being so intricately intertwined with personality as those in the south? It doesn't seem like such a big deal anywhere else, but in the South it's definitely part of the personality!

    Do you miss that in Germany?