My MFA program at USC required a non-fiction book as well as a novel and a screenplay. I don’t remember who told me about Sontag and Evans but their story fascinated me. Basically, Chris Evans – a family man – and his buddy John Sontag became central California folk heroes by repeatedly robbing the hated Southern Pacific Railroad. The story everything – exciting robberies, a noble cause, escapes from jail, mountain communities aiding and abetting the outlaws and a shootout at the Stone Corral!
My in-laws invited me to make their home my research base and I stayed with them for several weeks. Most of my destinations were less than thirty minutes away. Today I could do it all faster on my laptop but in 76, I had to drive to actual locations, scroll through microfilm and handle old newspapers. It was hard work but to my surprise I loved it.
I wanted to focus on Evans’ oldest daughter Eva, seventeen. Eva broke them out of jail and married bachelor outlaw Sontag. Their union was brief because Sontag died from his Stone Corral wounds.
Information on Eva was hard to come by but I believe I discovered a few things nobody else knew. So why can’t you find my Sontag and Evans book at Barnes and Noble? Why didn’t I go the extra mile and write it after all that research?
Ironically, all that research sunk the project. I fell in love with how much I knew and got mired in minutiae. The smallest detail had to be accurate and corroborated. The net result? My first paragraph required seven footnotes. Nobody wants to read a pedantic tome like that.