The great American suburb has always been depicted in the media as a land of cookie-cutter homes, boring softball leagues and dark secrets, all covered by a veneer of the perfect, happy life. One of those suburbs got a searing depiction in last year’s novel Friendswood, written by Houston-raised author Rene Steinke. In the book, the author presents the small Texas town as a tightly knit community centered around faith and family values, all contrasted by plenty of painful secrets—like the Brio Superfund site, which was created to clean up a refinery spill, and whose contaminants are still affecting community members.
“I was interested in making people aware of these environmental issues, but also how they affect people, and the stories about what happens after the incidents,” says the author, calling from her adopted city of Brooklyn, NY.
Steinke takes a trip back to Houston next Wednesday, Aug. 26, as she hosts a conversation with Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Lise Olsen about fiction, research and the Houston-area environment at the Julia Ideson Building, part of Houston Public Library's "Four Books For Houston" series. For the novel, Steinke herself became a detective of sorts, culling through hordes of data and information about how the incident affected families, and blending it all with her own upbringing in the sleepy town.
“It was really a labor of love. I wanted to show the resilience of people in the community.”
For the talk next Wednesday, Steinke and Olsen will talk about how researching a subject—especially daunting, real-life events—shapes their writing, be it fiction novels or non-fiction newspaper reporting.
“What I want to get across is how I implement [research] in storytelling, in my narratives. I want to show why it’s so important and why I want to get the stories out.”
Steinke's take on storytelling is vivid, stark and humanizing—holding up a mirror to the communities she writes about and the dark secrets that lie within.
“Friendswood is a very proud town. This part of the town’s history is painful…I’m interested in the stories of what happens after the media leaves.”
Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. Free. Julia Ideson Building, 550 McKinney St. 832-393-1313. houstonlibrary.org