Wednesday, February 7, 2018

YOU CAN'T ALWAYS TRUST SANTA

As they say, "The stars at night are big and bright..."

By E.E. Kennedy

My husband and I raised our two daughters in Eastland, Texas, between the years of 1985 and 1996. Back then, it was a diminutive town with a population of about 4,000, famed for Old Rip, its embalmed horned toad (a fascinating story in itself). It was a great, friendly, safe place for a kid to grow up in. As a newcomer to the state who wanted to learn all I could, I soon heard that there were countless legends and tall tales native to this part of the country. I was also fascinated to learn that many of the stories we associate with the old West came from Eastland County itself: the setting for the movie Boom Town, the Cisco Kid, and the Lone Ranger. Even our county was named after a victim of the infamous Black Bean Massacre in the Texas War for Independence. (Prisoners of Santa Anna, who had surrendered under a flag of truce, were made to pick a bean from a sack. If you got a white bean, you lived, if a black bean, you were lined up before a firing squad. This is just one explanation for Santa Anna’s unpopularity!)

Of special interest to me was the infamous Santa Claus Bank Robbery. The bare bones of the story are these: In 1927, a rag-tag crew of four robbers set out to rob the bank in Cisco, Texas, during the Christmas season. Since there was a $5,000 bounty on the head of any bank robbers in Texas at the time, one of the men decided to disguise himself as Santa to avoid being identified. His disguise made entry into the bank easy. Everyone wanted to say “Hi” to Santa. It was when the perpetrators revealed their true intentions that the shooting started. Despite the cheerful name of the crime, it was not a happy situation, and resulted in many injuries and several deaths.

Later, when the captured criminals attempted to escape, one of them killed a popular sheriff’s deputy. Outraged citizens of the town stormed the local jail, extracted the guilty party and hanged him without trial from a nearby telephone pole behind the old Majestic movie theater.
To this day, there’s a plaque on that spot commemorating the last recorded lynching in the state of Texas.

I was primarily interested in the first part of the story, because there were children involved: a woman and her small daughter who saw what was happening and spread the alarm and a young teen who cleverly took away the car keys when the robbers tried to hijack his parents’ car. I knew there were the seeds of a narrative for me in there somewhere.

When the opportunity to write a mystery novella for a Christmas anthology arose, I decided to use this historic event as a springboard for a contemporary story. I would have a bank robbery sometime in my protagonist’s past, and it would be a defining event in her life. My character Georgette was a child when Santa Claus robbed the bank and shot her beloved Grandpa and it’s no surprise that she’s disliked the jolly old elf ever since. Of course, in writing a story that is mostly in the present day, many elements of the plot must be different. Mine included such recent developments as a shopping mall, the Internet, Skype and the US Army in Afghanistan.

CAC Writers' Circle (That's me, kneeling)
I belong to a weekly writers’ group and we’re blessed to have people from all walks of life: several missionaries, a former Marine/police detective, and a retired restaurateur, to name a few. Thanks to expert advice from my friends, I included a military element in my tale and had my character working in tandem via Skype with her deployed husband to solve her personal mystery. When Georgette’s husband is missing in action, thanks to my friend Jim, I was accurately able to write about how she would be informed. And how her husband might let her know he was okay after all. I was also able to draw on the same expertise in the description of a police station and how a police detective might respond to a witness of a 20-year-old murder. The novella, One Red Mitten, was the result.

Story ideas are everywhere in life. I’ve always said that if I ever taught a course in writing, one of the assignments I’d give would be for each student to get a copy of USA Today, tear off the page with the little state-by-state paragraphs and write a short story based on one or more of the paragraphs. Another would be to find a human interest story in any newspaper and write an outline for a novel based on it.

Once you start writing, your story may veer away from the original, but that’s okay. You’ve kick-started your imagination, and you can take it from there.
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Comment below, leaving your EMAIL ADDRESS and your name will go in the hat to possibly win the Miss Prentice E-book of your choice, for you, or for whomever you choose to receive it! ______________________________________________________
E.E. Kennedy is the author of the Miss Prentice Cozy Mysteries: Irregardless of Murder, Death Dangles a Participle, Murder in the Past Tense, and Incomplete Sentence.

ONE RED MITTEN can be found in the E-book anthology, The Mystery of Christmas 2
A detailed account of the 1927 Santa Claus robbery can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus_Bank_Robbery


8 comments:

  1. I love that state-by-state paragraph in USA today. It's spawned a couple of my blogs. :-) Very interesting story about your novella!

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  2. Very informative story about the story background. Thank you Rose blackard (at) Gmail (dot) com

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  3. Great story! It’s fascinating to me where writers get their story ideas. I was reading another blog and the writer was going in for surgery and was trying to put to memory how she felt as they were wheeling her into the OR! I think it would be interesting to be a teacher and propose a story idea. Then see how many different stories and perspectives you would get! I really enjoy the Miss Prentice Mysteries! Thanks for the post. paulams49ATsbcglobalDOTnet

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  4. Thanks for a great post. I admire your ability to find stories in many places! Red Mittens sounds like a great read.
    Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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  5. Fascinating! Thank you for a great post and for the opportunity to win. lhanberry1(at)gmail(dot)com

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  6. Wow! I loved reading the history behind the idea for your story! And thank you for including a military theme! Sounds like a book I wouldn't be able to put down!

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  7. Enjoyed the history behind the story. It is fascinating to discover what happens behind the scenes before a story is written.
    betsylu2@msn.com

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  8. What a great story, Nancy!!!
    Janice
    pjrcmoore@windstream.net

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