One of the most important aspects of writing a scene in creative historical nonfiction is the requirement of teleporting oneself back to the time of the event. Exhaustive research is necessary in order to describe events in the best story-telling manner possible.
One of the scenes in the book is where Sam Houston and Dilue Rose are chosen to lead a Grand March at her best friend’s wedding. She was the Maid of Honor and he was the Best Man. As a disc jockey for oldies radio station KOOL99 in Austin, Texas for several years, I performed over 500 weddings and knew the Grand March dance like the back of my hand. At almost every wedding reception, I would line the people up and demonstrate how the Grand March is done. The music would begin and everyone enjoyed the beginning of the dance.
But, it is the waltz I was having a problem with in my writing. My memory fades, but I am able to transport myself back in time many years ago when I was a clumsy and awkward youth taking dance lessons at the Wintermann Community Center in Eagle Lake, Texas. This was the time that my interests, other than football, began to turn in the direction of girls. My mother grew up enjoying to dance and had the foresight to realize that dancing was an important skill. I stood there on the dance floor (my mother was a chaperone), not scared to dance, but scared to hold a girl’s hand. But, no matter, I learned how to waltz, that’s what is important. At this time in my life, it was nothing more than a way to meet girls and the significance and importance of the dance historically was furthest from my mind. I do, however, look back on the good ole days and learning to dance as fun and enchanting.
In writing my scene, I closed my eyes and pretended I was Sam Houston for a moment. How to grasp and gently hold my partner’s hand? How not to bring my dance partner too close to my body? Oh, and yes, when I closed my eyes I saw Rhett Butler dancing with Miss Scarlett O’Hara…how beautiful they could glide across the ballroom.
But, again, one has to look at music from many different eras to get the full impact of dance. That’s right, 1957! You might ask, ‘how does a writer come up with the stuff they write.’ My grandparents, especially my grandmother, covered her eyes and could not believe how vulgar it was to watch Elvis dance on the Ed Sullivan show. In the early 1800’s. In France, Ernst Moritz Arndt described the waltz as erotic and lustful in nature. In England, a mother could barely stand next to the ballroom floor and watch her teenage daughter so engaged. In the 1830’s, at the time that Sam Houston and Dilue Rose danced the waltz at the wedding, Johann Strauss had changed the complexity of the dance and helped legitimize the waltz as the finest and most beautiful graceful dance of the time.
Again, with my eyes closed, trying to find the words to write the scene, the words began to fall effortlessly to the paper. Something as simple as writing the scene between Sam Houston and Dilue Rose in THE YELLOW ROSE – The Runaway Scrape, was fun, much like my learning to waltz in Eagle Lake, Texas where I was enchanted by the creativity of the music and its sublime beauty.
Now, an entirely different part of this scene, the Dance Card, really required extensive research, but that is another post for another time.
Sean E. Jacobs