Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How the love of an Island Helped Shape A Writer's Series

South Padre Island
Author Hebby Roman
            South Padre Island is, after the Florida Keys, the southernmost point of the United States. But unlike the Florida Keys, South Padre is not a well-known beach destination. Unlike Key West and most of the larger Keys, you can't get there by air. The closest place to fly into is Brownsville, Texas, and then you'll need a car to get to the island.  

Padre Island is a long barrier island (several hundred miles) that stretches down the Texas Gulf Coast from Houston to the tip of Texas where the Rio Grande River marks the border with Mexico. The town of South Padre Island is situated on the southern tip of a strip of the island that's less than a mile wide, and the town is relatively new because of its unique history.
Before European expansion in North America, the island was inhabited by native tribes. Western settlement started when Padre Jose Nicolás Balli arrived in the early nineteenth century. The remote island had been granted to his grandfather by King Carlos III of Spain in 1759. The Padre brought the first permanent settlers and established a church to bring Christianity to the native Karankawa Indians. He and his family were driven out by the Mexican-American War and ownership of the land was contested for a century and a half. Within the last decade most of the ownership disputes were settled via a series of lawsuits.
Because of the ongoing land dispute, access to the island was closed by the National Park Service until 1962, after which limited settlement was allowed and newcomers began to establish a beach tourism economy on the island. By 1978 the island had a population of around 314 and a decade later it had a population of 1,012 and 111 businesses. Today, the permanent population hovers around 2,000.
With its unique history and remote location, South Padre might not be well known, but its wildness is a big part of the island's charm. All the beaches, even in front of the newest and ritziest resorts, are public. And large swathes of the island remain under the control of the National Park Service as a protected National Seashore. Wildlife is prolific in this part of Texas: hundreds of species of migratory birds pass through South Padre, sea turtles lay their eggs on its protected beaches, and dolphins play in the surf.
The weather is mild year round. The natural beauty of the place, abundant wildlife, and the beach attracts tourists, most of them native Texans. With one exception, thousands of self-employed people and retirees from the northern reaches of the U. S. spend winter in South Padre to enjoy the mild climate. Many of them drive down in recreational vehicles. And the locals have given them an appropriate nickname: "snowbirds."

My new series, "Snowbirds" took its inspiration from this influx of winter Texans and is set in an RV Park. It's a series exploring romantic relationships among mature couples, and the first book is entitled: "Catalina and the Winter Texan."

Hebby Roman can be reached at 

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