Someone asked me what drew my interest to the founding of the California missions.
Well, the answer isn't easy. I grew up in a home full of books. I can't remember when I first started to read but know it was before I entered kindergarten. I read everything. Fiction. Non-fiction. Encyclopedias. Collections. Book of the Month. And lots and lots of National Geographics.
Reading naturally led to writing. I took a typing class in elementary school and took advantage of it by using an old Remington manual Grandmother Duple had. Then, when I entered the Army and was reassigned from the shop to the parts room, I continued to write on evenings when there wasn't any cash in my pockets and the television [Armed Forces Network] wasn't showing any programs I enjoyed.
However, it was only when I bought my first PC in the mid-80's that I became serious about writing. I wrote a lot of short stories and sold them to esoteric magazines that nobody read. It wasn't for the money, just to see if I had what it took to become published.
Being introduced to the world of slot teams took away whatever time I had for writing. Endless hours sitting in casinos pulling the handles of One Armed Bandits was not an inspiring way of spending one's times and coming up with ideas for writing. As I've written in Lost Wages in Las Vegas, the best thing about that was winning some jackpots that led to a vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico where I met and married Alejandrina, my wife of more than 20 years.
I don't quite remember when I bought a new PC, only that it was the type that came in a black and white spotted box. It opened up a whole new world to me. I had no idea how fast and graphic the internet had become. Being able to conduct research online gave me an entirely different format for writing.
With that out of the way, what brought me to writing about Father Serra?
It was a combination of several things. I came up with an idea of a story where a young boy crosses the Atlantic to escape Vikings and lands in the New World. He meets an Indian boy and the two journey across the land, facing and overcoming all sorts of dificulties. In the end, it became more of a travelogue than an interesting novel. With a lot of re-writing, I came up with Follow the Raven which I ended up self-publishing on Amazon.com. But, the basic idea was still there.
My next effort was a story about a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD. He goes AWOL in frustration and meets an ex-Green Beret who is an Indian living on the reservation south of Tuscon. I've spent time in the desert and thought it would make a good background for the story. That, Native American myths and healing methods, along with learning about the flora and fauna of the Sonora Desert helps the soldier overcome his amnesia. Sonora Symphony was published by a publisher I had no faith I, so we ended our collaboration and the book was removed from the sale lists.
But, the basic ideas were still there. Two young people of entirely different backgrounds. The Desert. That left a story line to make it work.
I grew up in Southern California and had, at one time or another, visited every one of the California Catholic missions and even spent time assigned to the Presidio of Monterey. I had also driven from La Paz to Tijuana, passing many of the missions there.
On to Google Search and Wikipedia! How to put it all together?
One thing that had bugged me for years was hearing politically correct types spout about how the cruel Catholic priests enslaved the pristine, innocent Indians, covering their backs with blood as they forced them to toil in their fields. I remember time spent in the county museum, Mission San Gabriel, Olvera Street, and other historical spots in Southern California and that was NOT what the history told me about that time.
The first individual who stood out in my research was Father Junipero Serra, a simple man from a small farm village who took vows of poverty in the Order Minor of Friars of Saint Francisco de Asis. He did not seem to be the kind of person who would enslave anybody, even as he became firm in his beliefs and goals. This is the “politically correct” version I heard and read in so-called “history books.” In fact, as he showed in his efforts to found the five missions in the Sierra Gorda region of Mexico, he treated his disciples as if they were his children – an outlook of his order and his own.
How did his small, often ill man manage to lead an effort to explore unknown lands, deal with Stone Age people, and toil to create self-sufficient entities to feed and clothe those who came to the church, as well as supplying the soldiers?
Thus started the research. The more I found, the deeper my interest. The Internet, while not an end-all, is an amazing tool for discovering worlds far away and deep into the past. There were, of course, some questions I could find no answers for. Again, thanks for the Internet, I discovered where to go to get those answers and friars at all levels of The Order of Saint Francis, to include someone in Rome, I received the answers.
Thus, the when and where was traceable. Now, how to tell the story away from how dusty tomes told it and how to bring the human side in front of the reader?
Creating fictional characters isn't as easy as it seems. What do they look like? What happens when they become emotional? What are the strengths and weaknesses? How do they react to new or dangerous situations?
There are plenty of guidelines available to help do this and I studied every one I could find. Once that was done, the next was delving into the time and place from which each character came. If Timothy was on a merchant brig on the 1700's, what did it look like? What were the details of the rigging, watches, food, and so on? If they set out to reach the far norther shores of the New World, where would they stop for supplies and what difficulties would they encounter?
Jaime – christened by the woman who first cared for him as Jaimenacho for Saint James and Saint Ignacio – was not that difficult. He too is forced from his simply life into a completely new environment with every little thing different. How does he look upon those who have brought him into this new world? How easy it for him to learn Spanish?
Only when all of that was done could I start the story. What followed involved research on Baja California itself. That wasn't all that difficult as I've been there and there is plenty of material available on it.
I hope this answers the questions.