Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Research Trip/Belated End of the Month Update

The reason new posts have been pretty sporadic on this blog recently is that for most of the past five weeks, Livia and I were on an extended research trip to Rockport, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico about thirty miles up the coast from Corpus Christi. She went down there every year with her parents when she was younger and knows the area very well. I’ve been there a few times, too, beginning in 1976 when I took a trip there with Livia and her family. We drove down on October 1 so that we could attend Rockport’s annual SeaFair celebration, which for the first time this year featured a dessert competition. Since Livia writes the Fresh-Baked Mystery series for Signet/Obsidian and sold the fourth book in the series not long ago, she needed some sort of baking contest for her characters to enter, and Just Desserts at SeaFair seemed perfect. The characters get to go on a road trip . . . and so did we.

We stayed at Hunt’s Castle, a waterfront hotel in Rockport. The first couple of weeks our only Internet access was a single computer in the hotel lobby. Either that or go to the public library, which we also did at times. Then the hotel got a wireless network hooked up for all the rooms and things improved, but there were problems with some of the equipment and service was still inconsistent. Overall, though, it was a great place to stay, with some of the friendliest, most helpful employees you'll ever find. And the view just couldn't have been any better.

I didn't want to spend a lot of time on the Internet anyway. Not with research to do and pages to write (I took my work with me, of course), and miles of waterfront to walk along and a bunch of fish in the Gulf waiting to be caught and great places to eat and a handful of good used bookstores to poke through. I intended to write a detailed diary of what I was doing every day down there and then post it here on the blog when I got back, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was too busy (and too lazy) to do that. So what you’ll be getting is some random memories and a bunch of pictures, when I get around to posting them.

I’ve never been much of a fisherman. When I was a kid I fished once on Lake Brownwood, but after that I never dipped a hook in the water again until I started going down to the coast with Livia back in the Seventies. And then I wasn’t any good at it, not catching much except crabs and hardheads, and I couldn’t get them off my hook. Over the years we’ve fished a little in the surf on Mustang Island (which is what Padre Island turns into north of Corpus Christi, for those of you interested in the geography). The last time we went to Rockport I didn’t even bother getting a fishing license. I did this time, though, and I’m glad that I did because I discovered that fishing off the pier at Rockport Beach Park is a lot of fun. We didn’t catch anything big enough to keep, which is all right because my motto is if you don’t keep ’em, you don’t have to clean ’em and cook ’em. I enjoy catching them and throwing them back, though, and I did plenty of that, hauling in a nice black drum, a few speckled trout and redfish, the occasional skipjack or whiting, and a bunch of perch. Perch put up a good fight, even the little ones, and they can be vicious when you go to take them off the hook. I learned how to handle them, though, and tossed back probably fifty or sixty of them during the trip, if not more. One of the appeals of fishing, I discovered, is that you never really know what’s out there, and every time you cast, there’s a chance of something really good getting on your hook. That didn’t happen while I was there this time, but maybe next time.

There was also the day I accidentally threw a crab at Livia, but we won’t go into that.

Every day we also took at least one long walk up and down Water Street, which runs right in front of the hotel along, you guessed it, the water for a little over a mile. Most mornings we were up in time to see the sun rise during our walk, and it was incredibly beautiful. Rockport is also a birder’s paradise, not that I’m a birdwatcher, but I did enjoy seeing all the pelicans, cranes, blue herons, sea gulls, sandpipers, ducks, and black skimmers. I got a kick out of seeing the pelicans fly along low over the water, then suddenly plunge under the surface with a huge splash and come up with fish in their beaks. The last week or so we were there a group of small black ducks was always in the water right next to our route, so we got used to seeing them. The last day they weren’t there and I was actually a little worried about them. They’d just moved down to another place, though, so we saw them later.

Speaking of the water, it was extremely high for the first week or so, higher than even the locals could remember seeing it before. The local newscasts were talking about astronomical high tides and issuing warnings. Several of the roads along the shore were underwater at times, including Water Street. That didn’t last, though, and by the time we left the tides were actually a little lower than normal, I think. It always boggles my mind when I see someone wade-fishing a quarter of a mile or so from shore, and they’re only knee-deep. That’s what you get with these coastal bays, though. A lot of them are pretty shallow except in places.

I spent several days booking. There are a couple of used bookstores in Rockport, one in Portland, and two in Corpus Christi. Many years ago, back in the Seventies, there was a store in Corpus called Collector’s Bookstore that was run by a local judge who wrote and drew independent comic books on the side. (Yes, I know that’s sort of an odd combination.) His store was filled with comics, vintage paperbacks, and pulps. I spent a lot of money there on my first visit. By the time I got back a few years later, the store had moved and was mainly a comic book store, but there were still a few pulps stuck off in a corner, and I got the best of what was left. Now the store is completely gone. But I enjoyed poking through the places that are still there and bought maybe two hundred paperbacks on this trip. Nothing spectacular, though, and when I got back home and looked at the space I have left for books – none – I had to ask myself what I was thinking. I’ve sworn off buying books, at least for a while. Now we’ll see how long that lasts.

As you might expect, there are plenty of seafood restaurants in the area. I like Charlotte Plummer’s, which is right on the water at the Fulton Boat Basin, but the best place is The Big Fisherman, about halfway between Rockport and Aransas Pass. They have a chicken fried steak special for lunch on Tuesdays that draws people from miles around, not only because it’s very good but because the price is unbelievable -- $1.75 for soup, excellent mashed potatoes, and all the chicken fried steak you can eat. That’s right, finish your steak and they’ll bring you another one, for as long as you want. However, I never ate more than one because that was always enough.

The most unpleasant part of the trip came about because of a game of dominoes we were playing one evening. I tend to get enthusiastic, especially when I domino, and after slapping down the last of my dominoes I sat back – and the chair rolled right out from under me. This dumped me unceremoniously on an extremely hard tile floor, and as a result – to use precise medical terminology here – I whacked the hell out of my tailbone. It’s still sore, more than a month later, and I have a hard time finding a comfortable place to sit. It’s slowly getting better, though, so I’m hoping the pain won’t linger the rest of my life.

When the time came to go home, on November 1, neither Livia nor I wanted to leave. We did, though, and now that we’ve been back for almost a week, I’m starting to get caught up on things, including this blog. I have lots of pictures from the trip to post, and a few reviews, and I’m hoping that things will continue getting back to what passes for normal around here.

But the sea is calling me . . . well, the Gulf, anyway . . . actually Aransas Bay . . . but you get the idea.

Now for a very belated end-of-the-month update.


As I said, I took my work with me on the trip, and to my great surprise, I set a personal record for the most number of pages I’ve ever written in a month. I was about 20% into the book I had started before the trip, so my goal was to finish it while I was down there and maybe get a little of the next one done. Well, I not only finished that manuscript, I had it done by the middle of the month. Then I turned around, started the next book, and wrote three-fourths of it before we came home. What amazes me is that I was doing this by working until only one or two o’clock in the afternoon on most days, leaving plenty of time to do other stuff, too, like all that fishing and walking and eating. I may have to go back just to get more work done. Of course, if I was there all the time I might not feel so energized . . . but there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?


I didn’t read as much as usual in October because of all that other stuff I was doing. Here are the books I read:

RAINTREE: HAUNTED, Linda Winstead Jones
UNFORGIVEN, Lindsay McKenna
PAL JOEY, John O’Hara
THE DARK GATE, Pamela Palmer
THE BUTCHER #4: BLOOD DEBT, Stuart Jason (James Dockery)


Since we didn’t have a DVD player, my movie-watching was almost non-existent. The only one I saw all the way through was THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT, and I didn’t really see all of it because I dozed off a couple of times. We also watched most of the Nicolas Cage remake of THE WICKER MAN one day, but I didn’t care much for the original and liked the remake even less. To me, one problem with creepy movies is that they spend so much time trying to be really creepy, they often don’t amount to much plot-wise. That’s certainly true with this one.

So, to wrap up what has to be my longest blog post ever, I had a great month in October, one I’ll probably always remember. And bear with me as I post the pictures. I’ll get through them eventually and will break them up with other stuff.


Cap'n Bob said...

You certainly deserved a break and it sounds like you had a lulu. Glad to hear it. If I went there I'd gain 100 pounds just from the chicken fried steak.

Unknown said...

Great post, James, and ain't it wonderful being a writer who can charge the whole trip off to research?

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like you had fun. When I was off for summer I got so much writing done and still had time for walks and to sit and enjoy my back deck. So nice.