I sent The Last Key manuscript to my wonderful proofreader at 3:30 a.m. one morning last week. My old dog Daisy, almost seventeen years old and blind, deaf, and a bit senile, usually gets me up two or three times a night to do her business (her appetite and digestive tract are working overtime, doggone it), so at 1:15 I decided to finish proofing the last thirty pages or so. Then CJ goes over the story with a keen eye and a fine tooth comb (oh, my... I've said that for years, but it just dawned on me... could that be a reference to head lice?), checking dates and historical details to make sure the factual parts of the story are accurate and true to the time period.
The story takes place in 1900, and most of it on Galveston Island the week before the Great Storm. I did a lot of research for this book, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I even hitched a ride with my daughter and her hubby when they attended a wedding in Galveston in May. I drove up and down the streets looking at the architecture and the beaches and the ocean to get a feel for the place. I was thrilled to attend a Basement to Attic Tour of Bishop's Palace, originally built by Walter and Josephine Gresham in the late 1800's. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot when it came to listening to great stories. The Galveston Historical Society sponsors it, and it's well worth the price. The fortress-looking house provided shelter for about 200 people during the hurricane of 1900. Some claimed it was over-designed and over-constructed by Nicholas Clayton, but he must've done something right since the house has survived every hurricane since it was built.
I think previous readers of the Taylor Family Saga will be surprised and pleased to see who the main characters are in this book. I loved writing their story. And I intertwined their story with real people and their actual experiences. I hope it will ignite further reading about this amazing city and its history-- especially how the citizens resurrected and rebuilt their community after the worst natural disaster in our country's history that took the lives of over 6,000 people. During the years following the storm, the survivors built a seawall and raised the elevation of five hundred city blocks and their buildings. That incredible story is worth reading about, too. I've included a reference list in the back of the book that shares the resources I used while writing this story.
My goal when I started this series was to publish a book a year, and I missed getting this one in 2010 by a couple of months. What I thought would take two or three months to reorganize our church's library ended up taking six months, so that put me behind on my writing. But the project needed to be done, so I'll just plan to publish two novels in 2011, and a picture book is almost ready, too.
I broke my own rule of minimal expository writing, but I really wanted readers to get an accurate glimpse of Galveston and what life was like at the turn of the century before the storm hit. There was nothing like it in Texas, or even most of the whole United States for that matter. Many of the firsts of anything in Texas happened in Galveston. Men who arrived on the island with little money turned around and made fortunes.
Some say the city's best days are behind it, but others are committed to preserving its remarkable architecture and history. And to those determined, hard-working folks, we are so grateful. I love to include Texas history in my stories, and our state has a fascinating history. But based on what I've learned about Galveston this past year, I think its story represents a culmination of the best there is to find in our state's history.