The last two weekends of scheduled marketing events, in anticipation of the Christmas holiday season … no, strike that – the last two weekends, and the marketing events in October as well – have just not produced the sales figures that my daughter and I had expected, based on previous leading-into-holiday events. The October events were supposed to fund the November and December events, but those anticipated sales just did not happen; one of them fell to inclement weather, another to plenty of people looking, but darned little buying. So we could not venture into things like Dickens on Main in Boerne, as we had planned, and we were too late for another go at Johnson City for the courthouse lighting, as we did last year. I was even too late to sign up for Saturday in the Author Hall at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, and had to make do with Friday instead. While we did at least, recover the table fees and then a bit, it’s a lot of work and energy for very little return.

This is not just our judgement, but in commiserations with other vendors; they also experienced the same bafflement – plenty of shoppers at well-established and well-advertised event, not over-pricing the goods, we worked the crowd and engaged with shoppers, instead of sitting behind the table looking at our Kindles and iPads … but with disappointing results. We speculate that perhaps we have worked the weekly market days dry, after having been profitable over the previous three years. My daughter wants to do more of the art events, specifically in San Marcos, and I’d prefer more book-oriented events and author appearances, where at least people are primed to expect to consider books. The one good thing about book events, is that I am at the point where doing an appearance brings invitations to do others (and bring books to sell!) which is not nearly as labor-intensive as an all day, or a two-day market.

So – a slight rethinking of my marketing strategy, as well as signing on to Patreon, and committing to producing good bloggy ice cream for patrons and backers, while I work on the next book – tentatively entitled When the Lanterns are Lit. Which, if you like, is kind of a circle around to how I went about funding publishing of To Truckee’s Trail – friends, fans and readers made contributions to cover the costs of publishing it through a POD house, when interesting a mainstream agent and establishment publisher in the manuscript for it fell through. What goes around, keeps on coming around, I guess.

When we do a market or book event – my daughter takes care to put out all of my books along whatever table or display space that we have in chronological order. Eight of them are historicals, and can be described as a family saga, in that a good few characters appear in various books – although not always as a main character. Even so, I have taken good care that all my books (Chronicles of Luna City excepted) are self-contained; it’s not one of those series where you have to read each book in rigid order to make sense out of it all. (Personally, I hate those kinds of series.) But the Adelsverein Trilogy, and the five books which share the same four family trees span the years between 1825 and 1900 – mostly, but not exclusively in Texas. To Truckee’s Trail is set in 1844-45, on the California-Oregon Trail, but stands apart from these eight. Lone Star Sons is set in Texas in the 1840s, and has Jack Hays as an ongoing character – but is also stands apart. The Luna City series is set in modern-day Texas, and is completely different in tone, being more a gentle comedic diversion.

With that out of the way – this is the breakdown, in chronological order, for those readers who do want to read them that way:
Dot cover - smallerDaughter of Texas: Runs from 1825, and begins with the Becker family arriving in Texas: Margaret, her brothers Rudi and Carl, her parents Alois and Maria. The narrative deals with early days in the entrepreneur settlements of San Felipe-on-the-Brazos, and Gonzalez, Margaret’s marriage to the local school-teacher, Horace “Race” Vining, the build-up to and the outbreak of the War for Independence, the Runaway Scrape and the battle of San Jacinto. The remainder of the book tells of Margaret’s life in the tiny settlement of Waterloo, which became Austin, up to the year 1840 and the death of her first husband, under circumstances which set up plot elements of Sunset and Steel Rails – which is set a generation and forty-five years later. Besides Margaret, her brother Carl and her son Peter Vining as an infant, this book introduces the characters of Daddy Hurst, and sisters Hetty and Morag Moylan, carpenter and part-time soldier Seamus O’Doyle and Dr. Henry Williamson. Sam Houston, Harry Karnes, James Bowie, William B. Travis, Susannah Dickinson and her daughter, and those members of the Gonzalez Ranging company who went to the relief of the Alamo, Deaf Smith, Mirabeau B. Lamar, and Angelina Eberly are some of the historic figures which appear in this book.

Deep in the Heart Cover - 800 pxDeep in the Heart: This book runs from 1841 to 1847, and overlaps some of the events and developments in Adelsverein: The Gathering – although there is a brief “bookend” introduction and afterwards set in 1865, as the Civil War ends. This narrative follows Margaret and her four sons and her friends: she is a widow running a boarding-house in Austin catering to members of the legislature. Her younger brother Carl serves as one of Jack Hays’ Rangers, fighting Comanche war parties in the unsettled Hill Country, the invading Mexican army at the Salado Creek fight, and barely surviving the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War. The main narrative ends with Margaret’s second marriage. Historical figures appearing in this book include Sam and Margaret Houston, Angelina Eberly, Jack Hays and many real-life residents of contemporary Austin.

 

The Gathering Cover - smallAdelsverein: The Gathering runs from 1844 to 1849. Carl Becker is a major character here; Margaret makes a very brief appearance. This book is about the recruitment and emigration of German settlers by the Mainzer Adelsverein and their arrival in Texas – in this story, represented by the Steinmetz and Richter families: Christian Steinmetz, his wife Hannah, step-daughter Magda Vogel, his sons Johann and Friedrich “Fredi” and his daughter Liesel, who is married to Hans “Hansi” Richter and has two children with him; Anna and an infant named Joachim. The narrative follows their journey – first by sailing ship across the Atlantic, and by wagon train to first New Braunfels, and then to the new town of Fredericksburg, where they happily settle and begin to build prosperous new lives for themselves. The Steinmetz and Richter families are fictional, as are their friends, the Altemeullers – but most of their neighbors in the new settlements are historical figures, including John Meusebach and the innkeeper C.H. “Charley” Nimitz. Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels appears in this volume, along with his retinue, Jack Hays (again), Indian agent Robert Neighbors, Samuel Maverick, his wife and their household. One minor character – Porfirio Menchaca, the Tejano horse-wrangler at Carl Becker’s ranch, who appears at the end of this book, is the son of an old friend of Horace Vining’s, as mentioned in Daughter of Texas. Porfirio appears as a minor character in the subsequent Adelsverein Trilogy books, and in The Quivera Trail.

9780989782289-Perfect.inddThe Golden Road: This book follows the teenaged Friedrich “Fredi” Steinmetz to the gold fields of California during the years 1855-59. It was mentioned in Adelsverein: The Sowing, and in Sunset and Steel Rails that Fredi followed the Gold Rush, but without any particular success that he wished to talk about later. During those years, Fredi works as a cattle drover, freight hauler, washes dishes in a saloon, sells newspapers on the street, rides for an express mail company, and serves as bodyguard/stagehand for Lotta Crabtree, as she and her mother tour the gold mines. He does pan a little gold, too, in company with a mysterious and musical Irishman named Polydore O’Malley, who may be wanted in England for an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria. Or not. O’Malley is fictional, but Fredi does encounter a number of historical characters, some before they became famous – or notorious – including Sally Skull, Jack Slade, Charles Goodnight, Roy Bean, Juaquin Murrietta, William T. Sherman, Mary Ellen Pleasant, Old Virginny Finney, Lotta Crabtree, and Ulysses S. Grant.

Cover The Sowing - smallAdelsverein: The Sowing. The second volume of the Adelsverein Trilogy covers the Civil War years, 1860-65, chiefly following the lives of Carl and Magda Becker and their family, Hansi and Liesel Richter and their children during that time. The main narrative ends with the wedding of Magda and Liesel’s adopted young sister Rosalie to a returning Confederate soldier at the end of the war. There are a pair of brief “bookends” – opening and closing the book, set around 1910 with the aged Magda telling several of her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of what happened during the war. Magda’s brothers Johann and Fredi appear briefly, as does Porfirio Menchaca. Historical characters appearing in this book include (again) Jack Hays, Dr. Ferdinand Herff of San Antonio, Dr.Wilhelm Keidel of Fredericksburg, and a leader of the notorious “hanging band”, J.P. Waldrip.

 

The Harvesting Cover - smallAdelsverein: The Harvesting – This book picks up at the end of the Civil War, slightly overlapping events in the last chapter of The Sowing. The first chapters deal with the experience of Peter Vining, the youngest son of Margaret and “Race” Vining returning to the family home in Austin. He and the small son of his oldest brother are the only surviving males in the family. His three older brothers died at Gettysburg, he is an amputee – and both Margaret and Dr. Williamson have died as well. For lack of a better alternative, he travels to Fredericksburg in the Hill Country and takes employment with Hansi Richter, who has gone into the freight hauling and general store business, along with Fredi Steinmetz and Carl Becker’s oldest son, Dolph. The main narrative concludes in 1876, with Magda receiving news that Dolph has courted and married an Englishwoman. During the course of this book, the younger generation moves more to the front and center: Dolph Becker, his younger brother Sam, Peter Vining, Hansi Richter’s daughter Anna, and Magda’s daughter Hannah. Again, there is a ‘bookend’ beginning and ending, set in 1918, with Magda recollecting events for her youngest daughter Lottie, serving as a volunteer nurse at a military hospital during the great influenza pandemic.


The Quivera Trail
: This book slightly overlaps Adelsverein: The Harvesting, as it begins in 1875 with Dolph Becker courting Isobel Cary-Groves, a titled English aristocQuiveraTrai; Cover 1 - Smallerrat with a desperate need to marry … marry anyone. The main narrative follows Isobel and her very young ladies’ maid, Jane Goodacre as they journey to Texas and begin building new lives for themselves. Alternate chapters deal with their experiences and perceptions as Isobel builds confidence in herself and trust in her husband, and Jane – against her own expectations – develops a sense of independence and falls in love. Magda and her daughter Lottie, Hansi and Liesel Richter appear as supporting characters, as do Peter Vining and his wife, Anna Richter. Hetty Moylan and Morag’s daughter Jemima-Mary also appear. Historic characters appearing include the gunman John Wesley Hardin, and Lizzie Johnson Williams, famous as a woman rancher of the period. The character of Wash Charpentier, champion cowboy, is based on Nate Love, an early rodeo champion – who retired from cowboying to become a Pullman porter. The narrative concludes in the late 1870s, although there is an afterward, set in 1918.

 

9780989782050-Perfect.inddSunset and Steel Rails: This narrative is divided into three parts, set in 1884, 1890 and 1900, following the experiences of Sophia Brewer, the granddaughter of Horace “Race” Vining by his wife in Boston. Jilted by her fiancée, bullied and exploited by her older brother, Sophia escapes by taking another name and employment as a Harvey Girl. Finding love and happiness at last, Sophia’s family and friends are threatened by the horrific Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Fredi Steinmetz is a major character in this book. Magda Becker, her daughter Lottie and daughters-in-law Isobel and Jane also appear, as do Peter and Anna Vining, Peter’s nephew Horrie, and George Richter – an infant in The Gathering, and a Confederate Army teamster in The Harvesting. Wash Charpentier, the cowboy turned Pullman porter also appears. Historical characters include Fred Harvey himself, his son and business partner David Benjamin, and cowboy-turned Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo.
And that’s the run-down – all in order, for those who wish to follow the fortunes of several linked families over 75 years, or who have favorite characters among them. Enjoy!

Some time ago and in another blog-post I wondered if it were possible for those with conservative and libertarian leanings to develop some kind of secret password, or handshake with which to identify themselves to new-met acquaintances who might possibly share those inclinations. We tend to be polite, do not relish open confrontation – and really, why pick unnecessary fights with neighbors, casually-met strangers, distant kin, or fellow workers? Most times, it just is not worth the hassle, or the chance of turning a casual social interaction or relationship turning toxic. Most of us do not eat, sleep, dream, live politics twenty-four-seven, anyway. But it certainly is pleasant to discover someone of like sympathies, usually after a few rounds of warily sounding them out, and assuring them that no, we will not come unglued if they confess to having voted for or liked (insert political figure or philosophy here).

But I think that I have hit upon a handy shorthand method for discerning the political sympathies of another without coming outright and asking. This insight came about through following a couple of libertarian-leaning or conservative blogs – Sarah Hoyt and Wretchard at Belmont Club being two of the more notable – and noting that the principals and many of their commenters all seemed au courant with Kipling.

Lines from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings“When ‘Omer Smote ‘is Bloomin’ Lyre”, “The Sons of Martha” “The Three-Decker” and “Dane-geld” or “The Wrath of the Awakened Saxon” and any number of other poems from the pen of the Glorious Rudyard were tossed about with abandon, along with references to various short stories and novels. Tags and lines from these poems and others were almost a currency in comment threads at these websites and blogs.
If you like Kipling … then you are likely to be some stripe of conservative, libertarian, or an original independent. I have not much of an explanation of why this should be so, other than that Kipling was an unparalleled master of storytelling, and his poems – traditional in the sense that they had a rhyme and meter – sometimes are still topical and always quotable. He has been out of fashion among the mainstream intellectuals and tastemakers for going on a century; In the place of the story-teller and poet there is a massive straw-image of him, labeled with every nasty -ism that can be applied; imperialist, racist, and so on and so forth. Die-hard fan of British imperialism – or not – he certainly was an acute observer of the institution and of his times. Perhaps it is the clear-eyed observer part of the Glorious Rudyard that appeals. Any other explanation would be welcomed, but the correlation between a liking for Kipling and conservative leanings is pretty well marked in my mind. Your thoughts?

24. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff

(This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
“How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
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19. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff

The last of the Christmas markets was done and over for us, as of about 2 PM Sunday – when it became plain that a) at least three-quarters of the other vendors at the market had packed it in over the previous evening due to high winds and very low temperatures. Saturday at the Boerne Cowboy Market was lovely and for me, fairly profitable. The town square was packed to the limits, the weather was fair and near to summer-warm, plenty of shoppers, live music, shoals of shoppers … but the forecast for Sunday had in it a dire warning of near-to-freezing temps, and high winds that were promised to diminish by about ten AM. It’s one of those things – there is the promise of the after-church-service crowd – but the bitter cold put the kibosh on that. So, with no other potential shoppers save other venders or friends of family of venders, we packed up our stock at early afternoon and came home.

Yeah, I know that vendors in outside Christmas markets in locations less salubrious than the Hill Country of Texas are probably snickering into their sleeves at our overall lack of cold-weather-hardiness … but still. Thirty degrees or less of wind-chill cold; up with which the casual browsing customer is not willing to put. The market management who had rented us one of their canopies came and took it down in the wee hours, to prevent damage to it, I guess – so we were left canopy-less on Sunday. Those of us surviving vendors – all of whom had put up the table fee for a two-day market and were by-damn agreeable to giving the second day a good old-fashioned try on the hope of seeing the after-church service crowd … well, no hope of that, with the brutal cold, and the wind that kept tossing the surviving pavilions and their walls about – although we all had long winter underwear, heavy coats, mufflers, hand-warmers, and propane heaters available to us. None of that does any good unless there are shoppers about, and of that were there none.

So, we packed it up and came home to thaw out … revising on the way, our schedule of markets for next. This has been a kind of exploratory mission for us – working out what venues, time frames and conditions work best. We will probably not do any markets past the second weekend in December, it being our conviction that people are “shopped out” at this point – and so are we. We probably won’t do Blanco again, but will be there for the Johnson City court-house lighting on the Black Friday weekend, even if that involves a two-night stay in a hotel or RV park. The Bulverde craft fair is a keeper, and so is Goliad. Another possible is Boerne’s Dickens on Main, although that involved two weekends – and evenings, at that. Still – large crowds, enthusiastic shoppers may make the table fee worthwhile. We’ll look at other events, throughout the year, mostly in order to build up Blondie’s Paper Blossom productions business. Showing up, building up clients and fans – even branching out and providing specialty items for other vendors would, hopefully, provide a steady income stream for her – but the effort has to be made.

Now begins our short Christmas break; a time of rest and relaxation, as well as enjoying the day in the warmth of indoors. Of course – now that the markets are done for the year, I finally have received the printed copies of The Golden Road. I did have one paid order for it – from a particular fan in Goliad who bought one of my other books, and ordered a copy of the Golden Road – but the order form was lost in the windstorm on Sunday morning. Did you order a copy of The Golden Road, at Goliad, on December 3? Please get in touch with me, so that I can send it to you!

From last year - a representative sample of our neighborhood Christmas gift

From last year – a representative sample of our neighborhood Christmas gift

Seventeen days to Christmas and counting … yikes. It’s coming at me like a freight-train. We finished the custom fleece blankets for the nieces and nephews … but have yet to package and mail them. I have yet to order some Christmas presents to be sent to family … seriously, where the heck does December go? And we’re just a week into it, too.
Of course, I am distracted by the weekly market events. Blondie’s Montero has been kept loaded since mid-November with all the market impedimenta; the pavilion and the weights, the tables, folding chairs, signage, display racks, table dressings, the strings of lights and extension cords for the events which require them, the tool kit for emergencies, the Rubbermaid tub with the folder of extra flyers, postcards … and of course, the other tubs and boards of merchandise which are the whole purpose for these excursions. We have not even unpacked the Montero between market excursions. The purpose for all this is pure basic capitalism: We have goods – books and origami creations, to exchange for cash or occasionally in kind – with people who desire to own said books or origami creations. This – leading up to Christmas, and the customary exchange of sometimes frivolous consumer goods between consenting adults, and presented to the immature specimens of our species of whom we are fond – is the reason that most vendors of consumer goods make their nut in the last quarter of the calendar year. I have no critique to make of this arrangement; it’s our custom, and not only do I demand respect for it, I participate willingly.
But enough about the commercial aspect of the season – now about the neighborly and altruistic aspect. It has been a long-established custom in our family to make home-made treats to present to hapless acquaintances and neighbors. My mother’s practice was for cookies – a fairly decent basket-assortment of butter-cookies and slabs of cake and fruitcake, which we attempted to emulate for a couple of years. Then we tried out giving small gift-baskets of other gourmet items, since simply everyone does Christmas cookies … until my daughter hit upon the notion of boxes of gourmet fudge, after visiting a candy store in in Fredericksburg some four years ago and sampling – and purchasing a few bits of their finest specialty fudge. Oh, a hit – a very palpable hit! Boxes, tins and plates of various flavors, made from the very best ingredients. High-quality chocolate, real butter and cream: We knew that we had a winner after the first year, when in late November of the second year, various neighbors began to hint, wistfully. “Say, are you gonna be doing that fudge again … that was soo good…”
This was the week that we scheduled for making up batches of eight different kinds of fudge; chocolate with nuts, chocolate with nuts and cranberries, brown-sugar and toasted-pecan, white chocolate coconut, raspberry-creamsicle, peanut butter, and Bavarian mint chocolate, and brandy-alexander chocolate. That was Monday thru Wednesday; Thursday and today are dedicated to packaging and delivering. We do a massive pair of boxes for the local fire station, and the nearest police substation to us; a smaller one for the Frost bank branch where we do business, for Alfred the mailman, and the guy who drives the trash collection truck. Those all went out yesterday, to great appreciation from the receiving staff at the fire station and police station, especially. Today – it’s another round of packing and delivering boxes for the near-in neighbors. Another Christmas objective achieved; tomorrow, it’s all day at the Old Courthouse in Blanco for the next to-last Christmas market. Sunday – perhaps we’ll feel sufficiently energetic to hang out some ornaments on the bay tree, and to sit down and do mail-order gifts for the family in California. And that was my week …

20. November 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff, Local

So passes another weekend in our grueling schedule of holiday events. Somehow, I didn’t quite grasp until this afternoon that this is the last weekend before Thanksgiving, and that was why there were so many shoppers in the local HEB buying frozen turkeys, trays of bake’n’serve rolls, sweet potatoes, et cetera. Well, of course – since next weekend is our three-day extravaganza in Johnson City, where they ceremonially light the courthouse and Courthouse Square with millions and millions of lights, and have a parade and Santa, and a market and a fair … it’s the kickoff holiday event for the Hill Country, apparently, and we have high hopes for it as far as sales go.
This Saturday was my brief turn at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt: the cost of an author table has been raised by the management, so I could only justify half a day on Saturday, which experience has taught me is the single busiest session. Since we were halfway to Austin, and a paper supply place my daughter wanted to see first-hand, we toddled on up there, after a moderately successful morning. And then – well, it was just a short jump to the Ikea store in Round Rock. Why not? See what they were putting out for Christmas, pick up some nice-quality items in the kitchenware department, and stock up on frozen Swedish meatballs and lingonberry preserves in the grocery department. We thought perhaps we might have a late lunch in the cafeteria, but it was so late in the day by then, we decided to drive home and make our own supper of them. The meatballs were as scrumptious as ever – and they had a sale on them. Our strategic Ikea meatball reserves are replenished as of this weekend. Although this schedule did push back dinnertime very late last night.

Early on, when sorting out the schedule, my daughter was considering a Sunday market in Giddings to follow on Saturday at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, but we decided not to, because of the long drive for a single-day event. Just as well; the bulk brush pickup for our neighborhood has been set for the week after Thanksgiving. Sunday and the first part of the week were the only days that we could see to taking down the dying mulberry tree in the back yard. The original owners of my place planted it, apparently – for it was a lush, mature tree which shaded the whole back of the house, especially in late afternoon. But the local utility company went through about five years ago, clearing away branches from the wires at the wrong time of year. Then the tree was stressed by a couple of drought years, and last year fell to some sort of ghastly tree plague-fungus that was killing the exposed roots, bark and branches of about a quarter of it. Local tree expert consulted, trimmed away some of the dead bark and branches, but didn’t give much hope for long-term survival.

A View of the garden and the bare mulberry three years ago

A View of the garden and the bare mulberry three years ago


We made the decision that we’d hire the neighborhood handy-guy to bring his chain-saw, ladder and rope, and we would help. So, he knocked the price down on that account, and Sunday was the day that he could work. The tree is now down and the stump trimmed off level, half the yard is deep in bright mustard-colored sawdust, and a couple of trunk segments cut into drums to use as plant stands, and there we are. My daughter and I are totally exhausted. This is the one tree that I have had cut that I will genuinely miss, mostly for the shade it offered the back of the house in the late afternoon. All the others I have paid to be taken down were ones that I hated – especially the overgrown red-tipped photina by the front door that made the den into a dark cave. Now the entire back yard must be re-thought, with accommodation for the chickens, of course. There are certain green plants that they adore and will eat down to the stem – fortunately citrus trees in planters are not one of them, and the citrus plants adore the strong sunshine. I will fiddle with a new garden layout over the next couple of weeks, one which must accommodate voracious chickens and strong late afternoon sunshine. And that was my week – yours?

15. November 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Good Stuff, Memoir
The Front Cover - if there was ever a dust-jacket, I don't remember it

The Front Cover – if there was ever a dust-jacket, I don’t remember it

Thanks to the wonders of the fully-engaged internet, I finally got around to finding and replacing a book that I had as a kid. It was a collection of poetry, with nice little introductions to each poem aimed at enlightening the junior reader. I certain that I had this book as one of my Christmas or birthday presents sometime between the age of eight – when I began to read confidently – and the age of twelve when I was doing so voraciously. I remembered the poems in the book better than I recollected the title: there was The Lady of Shalott, and The Highwayman, poems by Longfellow, Kipling, Edgar Lee Masters, William Shakespeare, Robert Service and Robert Browning, John Greenleaf Whittier, an excerpt from The Lays of Ancient Rome, a comic bit of verse from W.S. Gilbert, Coleridge’s’ Kublai Khan and a poem by Robert Nathan about two English teenagers venturing to Dunkirk in their own sailboat to rescue the British Army. The poems were enlivened by simple line drawings. Of course, some of these poems were further set in my mind by being assigned to memorize them in Mr. Terranova’s sixth grade class, but in its way, this slim little hardback book was an excellent short compendium of old poetical standards, of the sort that once everyone knew and could recite a verse or two from … or at least recognize an illusion dropped into ordinary conversation or in a popular novel.

Eventually, just about all our childhood books devolved on me. I was the first of my parent’s children to produce offspring, and they took the opportunity of packing up just about every scrap of the remaining kid-lit in their house upon the occasion of the Air Force offering a generous hold baggage allowance after that year that she spent living with my parents. They obligingly directed the packers to the kid-book library, the few personal items of mine left behind, and dispatched them along with my daughter’s hold baggage. But the book of poetry was not among them, although I did look for it, now and again. I can only think that perhaps it was overlooked, or had gravitated to the household of my sister or brothers. In any case, I missed it. All that I could remember was that it was called The Magic Circle. Fruitless looking for it by that name – until a year or so ago when I found it among the used book offerings on Amazon. Yes – that was that very same fabric cover, dark blue with a two-color embossment on the cover of a horse-mounted highwayman under a full moon. I added it to my wish list and ordered it some weeks ago – and there it was, arrived in the mail on Friday.

Yes, the very book that I remembered – although absent the inscription in the front from my parents, noting what birthday or Christmas that it was given to me. It’s about as lovingly worn as my own copy was – and someone took a pencil and wrote “Billy” in block letters along the long side of the pages, and “St Paul” along the top and bottom. But still – the book that I remembered so fondly. I didn’t remember that it was subtitled “Stories and People in Poetry” – but that was a thing obvious.

A Poem about George Washington - Illustrated

A Poem about George Washington – Illustrated

I leafed through it – noting that it was edited by Louis Untermeyer. I presume that he wrote the various introductory notes to the poems. And another thing that I noted too – the very maturity of the poems. I mean – it was a casual expectation up until recently that elementary- and middle-school children would eagerly read this material. I leafed – metaphorically – through several recent collections of poetry for children which didn’t contain nearly as many of the classic, heavy-hitter poets of the 19th century as this single volume did. Too many long hard words, I guess. Lots of more modern minor poets in the newer anthologies, most of whom I have never heard of, and materiel written specifically for children. And the categories for the poems were quite a bit more mundane. Looking through The Magic Circle, I see “Strange Tales”, “Gallant Deeds, “Unforgettable People,” “Our American Heritage” and “Ballads of the Old Days” among others. Practically an antique, this collection is – and dear to me because many of the poems were as challenging as they were stirring, not dumbed-down pap meant to be read in a safe space.

Anyway, I’m glad to have it back – even better than I remembered.

The first of our Christmas market events was yesterday at the Spring Branch/Bulverde Senior center, which is located on a side street in what passes for downtown Bulverde, Texas … which is not really one of those compact and easily recognizable towns – but rather one of those scattered along a half mile or so of several roads about twenty minutes’ drive north of San Antonio. This is the third year that we have done this event – and it was a good and reassuring start to the season, after a pair of disappointing events last month in Blanco and Johnson City. It is my daughter’s theory – and a good many other venders at those events agreed – people were either uneasy about the election, and not in any mood for Christmas buying. It was our fondest hope that with the election done, and Christmas creeping ever closer … that we would do well at this market.
And we did; I did as well this year in sales as I did at last year, which is pretty good, considering. We had a spot where we could set up three tables in a narrow u-shape, and market my daughter’s Paper Blossom Production Earrings from one side, and my books on the other. There was a good crowd out, and yes, they were in the mood to spend money. I even swapped three books to the vendor next to us in exchange for a covered bowl hand-turned out of local pecan wood – I have been longing for one such, after seeing them offered by woodworkers at other markets, but their prices were always too rich for me. But I liked the covered bowl, and the woodworker’s wife was thrilled to bits to pick out a book each for her daughter, granddaughter and grandson, which were approximately the same value as the covered bowl – so, all happy.

I wore the latest addition to my “author drag” wardrobe; brown poly-wool tweed walking suit, with hat, reticule and shirtwaist, all color-coordinated – and yes, very eye-catching, although the receptionist at the Center related with a giggle, that someone remarked to her that they had just seen Mary Poppins walking in. Another vendor exclaimed that I was just as “cute as a button” – a compliment that I don’t believe has been applied to me since elementary school. The whole thing was eye-catching – as intended – and not all that uncomfortable to wear. So – onto Weinachtsmarkt next weekend in New Braunfels and then to Johnson City for three days the weekend after that.
And The Golden Road is now up at Amazon, for pre-order and release on the 18th. I hope to have the print version available early in December. Fingers crossed…

We have a breath of non-market time this weekend, and plan to use it most wisely. This week has been a slack time for us, after the Johnson City market last weekend. (A routine medical screening for me, which involved drinking a disgusting fluid and fasting the day before, and world-class sedatives the day of. Enough said, although the experience wasn’t as totally unpleasant as the previous repetition. And the gastroenterologist was a wise-cracking funny man, in the best tradition of M*A*S*H.; “Yeah, any polyps found, we’ll take ‘em out – we don’t do photo safaris here.”)
After careful consideration, we have decided to go for the big event of Christmastime in the Hill Country – the ceremonial lighting of the Courthouse in Johnson City, which associated market event will go over three days – a Friday afternoon, all Saturday and a good bit of Sunday. Everyone assures us that this event is more than huuge, so we are resolved to commit to it. The downside is that the Friday and Saturday market times run until 10 PM … and Johnson City is a little more than an hour drive from home. Which is tolerable in one iteration … but over three days, and six times up and down the highway … and in the dark late at night for two of them, with deer and drunks and god knows what on the highway on a weekend?

No. We bit the bullet and decided on a hotel for two nights; problem being that the affordable motel/hotels in the vicinity of Johnson City are already booked for that weekend. Yes, the event is that big. Finally, we opted for a cabin at an RV park a few miles away, which miraculously was still available at their regular price. The cabin is one of those nicer ones with a shower and toilet in it, and equipped with Wi-fi and a microwave oven. That will be our brief winter vacation. We’ve passed the RV park coming and going last weekend, and it looks quite nice. We’ll be able to set up at the venue and then return there to sleep and refresh ourselves, and I will likely be able to wear my author drag all three days…
Yes, the author drag. I have committed to making a splash by wearing a period costume, and seeing it work out so well in the “attracting attention” department at book events this summer, I am resolved to doing the same this season – but I will need more than just the plain grey and black Edwardian walking suit outfit, especially for multi-day events. So – chained to the sewing machine, doing a small wardrobe of late 19th-century or early 20th century outfits, with accessories … aided in this by shopping the going-out-of-business sales at the local Hancock Fabric outlets this last summer, stocking up on lengths of fabric at knock-down prices, plus judiciously shopping at an on-line fabric warehouse outlet, where I must take the fabric on trust. Which so far has worked out, but gosh, I miss a place like Scriveners, an eccentric local retail outlet here in San Antonio which had a legendary fabric department. (Pause for the obligatory tear for Scriveners … their high-quality wool suitings, their silks, muslins, notions, and their old-style premier staff. Yes, I was a beloved customer with these dearly old-fashioned salesladies; not for being able to spend a bomb as many of their other clientele could, but for being one of the few with the nous to tackle the complicated Vintage Vogue patterns.) This weekend is dedicated to finishing a brown tweed wool outfit of the same pattern as the grey and black… as some of the market events will be out of doors, and yes, it does get cool in Texas in winter. Not just the suit – but the hat and accessories to go with.)

Not as cool as a couple of years ago at Goliad’s Christmas on the Square, where it plunged into the 20s, by the thermometer, and by the wind-chill factor, likely a few degrees colder than that. That weekend was ghastly, BTW – minimal attendance at what was normally a big local thing. I’m on the docket for this year’s iteration – and Miss Ruby’s Author Corral will be in an open space on the Courthouse Square next to the library – where a couple of years ago a narrow shop-front was demolished, to reveal a nearly-pristine mural Bull Durham advert on the side of the building adjacent. This is now a pleasant courtyard, part-shaded by an awning – and this is where I will be on the first Saturday in December.
Other stuff … a considerable kerfuffle in my neighborhood over the late summer about the community mailboxes being raided by some dirtbag with a penchant for stealing mail and packages with possibly valuable contents. (We adore our local mailman – his name is Alfred, he is hard-working and efficient, also a veteran; he has put us wise to some of this.) The dirtbag possibly responsible for the most recent round of vandalism and theft has been busted by the SAPD – apparently red-handed, which was the only way said dirtbag could be arrested… that is, caught in the act. Meanwhile, those of us in the neighborhood are considering our own methods of protection for the community mailboxes. Mainly this involves either installing security cameras at our own expense, or tilting those which we already possess in order to focus on the community mailboxes. Alfred approves of this community and self-organized thing. I have a security camera, which covers my own driveway – and alas our house is too far away to cover the nearest mailbox. I will note that functional communities have no need of a self-proclaimed community organizer – they are of themselves self-organizing. No need of outside talent when that within is sufficient.

Oh, and we went to the early voting location today. Might as well get it over with; the line went out the door and almost to the end of the parking lot. Never seen that before. We did meet two of our neighbors, and had a lovely chat as we stood in line for nearly an hour. Yes … interest in this current election cycle is particularly intense …

I am currently torn three ways, between the start of the holiday market season for myself and my daughter’s various enterprises, my own blogging and writing, and a book project for a Watercress Press client. The book project is to do with local history, and a particularly contentious event during the Civil War – in Texas. Even as far west of the Mississippi as Texas was, from the main theater of war, some comparatively minor skirmishes in the first Civil War took place in Texas. And the final battle, and surrender of the last hold-out Confederate command took place down on the Rio Grande, and the very last Union Army casualty fell in that Texas fight. But that is stuff for history trivia contests. (The answers are, FYI, the battle of Palmito Ranch, and Private John J. Williams, of the 34th Indiana.)

The book project has a fair amount of my attention, as it touches on a local history matter featured in my own books – but in the interesting coincidence of the Tiny Publishing Bidness having published some of the local history books noted as sources, or citing local historians whom I have met or have had something to do with; the late Rev. Ken Knopp, James Kearney, and Jefferson Morganthaler, most notably – and referring to many of the sources that I read as research for the Adelsverein Trilogy. This book that I am working on now caps a series which can only be produced by a writer/researcher involved to the point of intense – yea, even fanatical interest – in a specific Civil War event. Seriously, Colonel Paul Burrier (USA, Ret.) has gone back into the archives of various establishments and re-published at his expense just about every relevant document there is to find in national and state archives regarding the locally infamous incident memorialized by the True to the Union monument in Comfort, Texas.

I’ve written here and there about the Nueces Fight/Battle/Massacre here, here, and there…and how the peculiar situation in the Hill Country of Texas – well-stocked with Abolitionist, pro-Union inclinations – generated a bitter civil war-within a civil war.

You would think that the Confederacy, after establishing the principle that if you don’t like the results of an election, you can take your marbles and secede, had little ethical grounds for persecuting those elements within Texas who didn’t like the results of the secession convention, and wished to take their marbles and rejoin the union – but they did, anyway. “It’s only OK when WE do it” has a longer-than-suspected-history in the Democrat Party, it seems. Colonel Burrier’s thesis is that influential elements among the Texas Hill Country Germans were organizing an all-out, balls-to-the-wall armed and political resistance movement, with the aim of breaking off from Texas, establishing a separate and free state, and rejoining the Union, just as West Virginia did. It’s liable to be a controversial one, since it is contrary to the accepted opinion, which tends more to the concept of relatively innocent non-participants in the peculiar institution generally, and disinclined to participate in the Confederacy’s war specifically – being brutally persecuted for exercising their rights of free speech and association. Repression bred resistance, and violence on both sides.

As in all civil wars, this one split families, friends and communities. One of the most heartbreaking that I can imagine, from reviewing and formatting Colonel Burrier’s assemblage of chapters and notes is that Fritz Tegener, who was elected leader of that party of militant German Unionists who went south towards Mexico together in 1862, was a married man with a small daughter and a two-months-pregnant wife, Susan Benson Tegener. When his party was ambushed by pursuing Confederates, he was badly injured, to the point of incapacitation in the resulting fight, but managed to survive and spend the remainder of the war south of the border in Mexico. Susan Tegener, whose two older brothers were members of the Confederate militia unit assigned to keep order in the Hill Country was taken into custody, along with the families of other suspected Unionists, but eventually released. Assuming her husband dead, Susan married twice more – to Confederate sympathizers. After the end of the war, when Fritz Tegener turned up alive and well, her divorce from him was, as might be assumed, spectacularly ugly. Fritz Tegener never acknowledged the second child as his … and Colonel Burrier suspects that Susan Tegener may have spilled all to the Confederate authorities about her husband’s planned departure with sixty other Unionists in 1862 anyway. Fritz also had two brothers; Gustaf, summarily hanged at Spring Creek later in 1862 by Confederate authorities (or vigilantes – hard to tell which, sometimes), and William – also lynched by pro-Confederate vigilantes the previous year – apparently for his disinclination to embrace the Confederacy.

The other sobering element is how swiftly things turned, and turned again, for many of the well-established and respectable men in the German community. The elected sheriff of Gillespie County, one Philip Braubach, was taken to San Antonio in the indignity of chains with a heavy cannon-ball weight attached. His companions in miserable captivity included two Hill Country store owners – one a former justice of the peace, and the other a former officer in the local militia. They all three were charged by a military tribunal and found guilty – fortunately they escaped shortly thereafter. Others coming under suspicion and persecution were just as well-established in their respective communities. They held responsible offices – state representative, justice of the peace, surveyor, militia company officer, ran profitable businesses, had the absolute trust of their friends, neighbors, communities … and for a season of madness, were branded traitors, plotters, brigands and revolutionaries. And for that, they spent three or four perilous years, hunted as outlaws and traitors until the wheel turned again …

Well, hallelujah and hurrah, I finally finished out the final draft of The Golden Road which was conceptualized something like five years ago when I mentally mapped out another trilogy-companion set to the Adelsverein Trilogy. Yes, there would be a book about Margaret Becker Vining Williamson, which would slot into the sequence as a prelude to the trilogy – and that took two books to bring to completion. (She was a fascinating character, who saw a lot of Texas history either happen right before her eyes, or just around the corner and out of sight.) There would be a book following on to the Trilogy – the Quivera Trail, which would pick up with Dolph Becker’s English wife and her travails in a new and alien country. And – in between the first and second Adelsverein volumes, there would be the Gold Rush adventures of Magda Vogel Becker’s young step-brother, Fredi Steinmetz. Fredi appeared as a minor character with some brief dramatic turns in the plot. He had gone to California following the rush for gold … but was never forthcoming about what he had done and seen there, between the settling of Gillespie County and the start of the Civil War. I always wanted to write a Gold Rush adventure somewhat like The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, or so I told myself … but it kept being put on the back burner, metaphorically-speaking. I bashed out the two books about Margaret, and then Quivera Trail … for a good bit, I was actually writing them simultaneously. When I got bored or stuck, I’d work on the other. Which is a good method, as long as one is equally motivated. And then I wandered off-track.

First it was Lone Star Sons, then I got taken up with Sunset and Steel Rails – in which Fredi appeared as an older man, a hard-bitten, yet courtly romantic interest for a heroine who chose (through a series of dramatic circumstances) to be a Harvey Girl – and then by the ongoing Luna City Chronicles. Really, I wonder just how much I did want to write a Gold Rush adventure after all, since it kept getting back-burnered so frequently. I posted the first chapter in January, 2014 – but two years in the writing is about par for me, in a historical. So – actually not all that bad in the actual writing and research. So – finally roughed out, start to finish, send to the beta readers, and now to buckle down again with the various contemporary accounts collected. Lot of blanks to fill in – where, for example, was Mary Ellen Pleasant’s boarding house/restaurant in 1856-57? What were the names of express companies in operation in the northern diggings in that same year? How far degraded had the riverbank of the middle fork of the Yuba River become by that same period? Had that vicinity pretty well been overtaken by hydraulic mining – in which whole hillsides were washed away by huge gets of water. And how – exactly were daily newspapers distributed in San Francisco. I am certain that subscribers must have had theirs delivered, and equally certain that they were also sold on the streets … anyway, back to work.

The fall book event schedule carries on this Saturday with the Boerne Book Festival in Boerne, at the Patrick Heath Library, a little off Main Street at Johns Road, just past Main Plaza Park. I’ll be set up in the park and amphitheater by the side of the library – hope to see you there! When the market schedule lets up, after Christmas, I will turn to working on two more book projects – another Lone Star Sons adventure, and the 4th Luna City Chronicle for release in late 2017.

19. May 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff

Well, not quite everything, of course. I am speaking of the Edwardian-style suit that I was moved to construct, as something eye-catching to wear at an author – especially a multi-author event – of which I do have a few, coming up over the next months. The Second Chronicle of Luna City was done and put to bed – that is, uploaded, signed-sealed-and-delivered to LSI last week, and so I had a bit of time to devote to other-than-writing chores. I finished the suit, re-trimmed a flamboyant wide-brimmed hat to go with, a small bead and lace-trimmed hand-bag ditto, bought all the parts to make a small fake-fur tippet, of the kind that I used to see the elderly church-ladies wearing … although I still do have to make the tippet. It will be the kind made to look like a small furry animal biting its’ own tail.

This should amuse small children immensely – much as it used to divert my brother JP and I, seeing the ladies at church, with their menageries of furred stoles, slung about their shoulders, glaring at us over the back of the pews with their very-realistic glass eyes. The furry stoles, not the elderly ladies, I mean. Those stoles had glass eyes, little toothy jaws, and little black noses, and sometimes dangling paws as well. Yes, we were often horrifically bored during long sermons. Fancying that the little furry stoles were live animals, and might come bounding over the pews amused us at least as much as sorting out the various Biblical stories and parables limned in the splendid early 20th century windows of a church which was designed to look sort of like a minor English cathedral, inside and out. (Granny Jessie was a member from earliest days, Mom and Dad were married there, all of us were christened, and my sister married there and still is an active member. Supposedly, it was made in sections from poured concrete and supposed to be faced in stone, but the Depression put paid to that ambition, and eventually everyone agreed that the concrete had weathered so nicely, that why go to the bother and expense?)

The next event on my author schedule is a book festival in Wimberley, Texas, on June 11, at the Wimberley Community Center. There will be forty other writers there, so – standing out in the crowd is imperative. Then, following in July, there is the second annual San Antonio Indie Book Fest – this will be at Say Si, in downtown San Antonio on July 16th. There’s nothing set yet for August, and I have not yet heard anything firm about the Giddings Word Wrangler, in September. I’ll have a full supply of my books to carry me through the year, and am investigating the possibilities of drop-cards, so that buyers who want an ebook edition can buy the card from me. We have finished up all but a single one of the Watercress Press projects as well – so until a new one pops a head above the parapet, I’ll be working on my own books from here on out, for the foreseeable future.

14. April 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History, Literary Good Stuff

Coming up for air, after more than a week of … well, stuff. Firstly, Blondie and I decided to bring out the sequel to Chronicles of Luna City at the end of this months, rather than try and do three books all at once at the end of the year. I have the sequel to Lone Star Sons to write, and The Golden Road to finish – those last two got set aside in the rush to finish Luna City and Sunset and Steel Rails in time for the Christmas market season. Inspiration, OK? It strikes where it will. So – finishing that sequel and going through editing and layout, and devising new pictures for the chapter heads … and right in the middle of all that, my main computer chooses to not be able to internet. Seemed to be a purely mechanical thing – as in some connection in the innards not being able to connect – and I had some handy work-arounds, which were sabotaged by the wireless router crashing shortly thereafter. And then my daughter’s computer crashed utterly and irretrievably. Sigh.

This is why we have a spare everything, in boxes in the closet. Computer, monitor, router … and also why I back up everything to a thumb drive and an external hard drive as soon as I finish writing a chapter. And a laptop, which those generous people running the Amazon Vine program offered me earlier this year. I will never forget that horrible day around Christmas 2007 when I was just about ready to sit down and write that fifth chapter for Adelsverein: The Gathering – where Carl and Magda meet cute on the bank of a river when she is desperate and he is heroic – and the then-current computer crashed, taking all four previous chapters with it. My dear late friend, Dave the Computer Genius was able to sort out the crippling virus infestation after a couple of days, retrieve all my files (including the chapters!) and revive the then-current computer unit to serve for a few years more … but prepared is to be forewarned. Hence the redundant back-ups. And I also bought into some particularly effective virus-killing programs and have used them religiously ever since. This is my livelihood, OK?

Still, it does take some time to migrate everything to the new unit/units. It’s rather like a PCS – moving into a new space. There is some time required to settle everything familiar into the new location, get comfortable with the layout, locate the new electrical switches – especially because the new units and the laptop came already pre-loaded with Windows 10 … as well as some kind of leftover function that made me sign-in repeatedly, if I walked away from the computer or didn’t move the mouse or strike a key in one minute. Took two days to sort that one out, which tends to tell on the writing time, let alone re-installing certain necessary programs, which I was foresighted enough to have on original discs. (What is with this thing about paying a monthly fee to have certain programs available – a rant for another occasion, I think.)

Anyway, now settled into the new work-space and picking up those writing projects set aside, and thinking about new ones. What to work on when I finish The Golden Road? I’ve been toying with the thought of a WWI novel, since there are characters in The Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails of an age to have been affected by it. I may still do something of the sort, but writing about how the 19th century world came to an end in bloody mass-slaughter of men and empires, not to mention a certain degree of confident optimism … at this present depressing time, I don’t need any additional depression. I’m toying more energetically with the idea of an adventure set in the American Revolution; how the original Becker paterfamilias came to America as a Hessian mercenary, and deserted at the end of the war to stay behind, marry a local girl named Katerina, and set up a prosperous farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. That would be more to my liking – picking up the circumstances briefly mentioned in Daughter of Texas, with a young Margaret Becker fondly recalling her grandfather; the wisest, kindliest and most humorous man of her acquaintance, who made certain that she and her brothers spoke proper German.

How careful he had been in speaking the old language, ensuring that she and Rudi said words in the proper way, so that Oma Katerina laughed and laughed, saying that the children sounded as if they had a broomstick up their backsides, so prim and careful with words and sounding like proper children of Hesse. Margaret had never thought that Opa had been sad about leaving his family, and his soldier comrades. The story of Opa and Oma had a rightness about it, the comfort of a familiar fairy-tale for children; of course young Opa Heinrich should stay in America and marry the young Oma Katerina. That was the happy ending which all fairy tales had.

That will be an interesting book to write, although I shall have to stretch my research library in a whole ‘nother direction; I do have some materiel about late 18th century America and life in the colonies – but more will be required.
And I will have to find the time to get out the sewing machine and start to work on my author-garb for the upcoming year – the Edwardian-style walking suit and a towering period hat to wear with it.

It seems that there is a great social and literary kerfuffle going on in some circles about J. K. Rowling writing about the sub-rosa magical world of Harry Potter, and extending it into North America … and collecting a ration of butt-hurt thereby, over an interesting concept called cultural appropriation. She earned this through including Native American – as in Indian-with-a-feather rather than Indian-with-a-dot – legends and aspects of culture in her writing and world-building. In using the feather/dot descriptive extension, the Gentle Reader may gather straightaway that I care not for jealous cultural-claim holding, so if a wide-ranging and imaginative use of literary sources outside the one that a writer was born into offends thee, then retire to your fainting couch and trouble this noble company no longer!

Or attend to my gentlewomanly words … sorry, I seem to be channeling the idiom of the great English genius, William Shakespeare, who was and still often is accused of not possibly being the person that he seemed to be – a hard-working lower-to-medium-middle-class actor, playwright and greedy cultural-appropriator of every thing going and available to him in the 15th century – and also imagining the character and conversations of nobility and royals, of soldiers, lawyers, cutpurses and bawds, of innocent virgins and the not-so-terribly-bright lovers who loved them …

So – clearing my throat and waving off the last vestiges of the various cinematic Shakespeare romps that we have watched over the last several evenings – really? Certain tropes are now off-limits? Because … ohhh – those doing the writing and appropriating are not of quite the same matching color and culture of those doing the appropriating. Really?

Sorry, my own dear segregationist cultural warriors … won’t wash. First – if it is out there, it will be used by story-tellers. Full-stop. Oh, it is still frowned upon to outright plagiarize – but there is nothing new under the story-telling sun. To take an element, a character-type, a plot device, a trope – as it were, and run away romping with it in one’s own style … well, that’s pop-culture all over. I did a college course in Greek and Roman lit, back in the day – where the professor confessed that in all of Roman comedy there were only about three plots and half a dozen stock characters, which made it sound like late 20th century TV situation comedies, or possibly even classic commedia del arte.

So appropriate away – just for the love of the audience, make it good. Take those little Lego blocks of characters, tropes, plots, legends … and build something new and amazing. At the very least, make it interesting.

(This is another short essay about the mostly mythical South Texas town of Luna City … which Blondie and I have created together. We have a website for Luna City — here, and the first book about it is upon Amazon, here. Official release date is November 12. This is my tenth book in ten years. Yay, me! And WHERE has the time gone?)

Luna City is well-equipped with military veterans, as are many small towns in fly-over country – especially the old South. The draft is only somewhat responsible for this. After all, it was ended formally more than four decades past. But the habit and tradition of volunteering for military service continues down to this very day, with the result that veterans of various services and eras are thick on the ground in Luna City – while a good few continue as reservists. There are not very many pensioned retirees, though; Clovis Walcott is one of those few, having made a solid career in the Army in the Corps of Engineers, and then in the same capacity as a Reservist. But he is the exception; mostly, Lunaites have served a single hitch, or for the duration of a wartime mobilization. They come home, pick up those threads of the life they put aside, or weave together the tapestry of a new one. What they did when they were in the military most usually lies lightly on them, sometimes only as skin-deep as a tattoo … and sometimes as deep as a scar.
The oldest veterans among present-day Lunaites are from the Big One – World War Two, although that number has diminished to a handful in recent years. Doc Wyler, who served in the Army Air Corps is the most notable representative of that cohort. Miss Letty’s late brother Douglas McAllister, the eminent historian, was also in the Army Air Corps, and Miss Letty herself served in the European theater as a Red Cross volunteer. The greater portion of the Luna City VFW post, though, are of Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans, with a younger cohort – including Joe Vaughn and Chris Mayall – having served in various capacities in more recent operations in the Middle East.
There is not much need in Luna City for very elaborate observances of Veteran’s Day; flowers and wreaths appear on the steps of the pale obelisk in Town Square which is the war memorial. The Abernathys’ display window has a pair of American flags with the staffs crossed, over a large vase of red, white, and blue artificial flowers, and a fan of those magnets shaped like loops of yellow ribbon with various patriotic and veteran-supporting mottoes on them. The notice boards outside of the various churches make respectful note of the day … but in the main, the most notable civic event marking the eleventh day of the eleventh month is the late afternoon BBQ at the VFW post. This is more of an open pot-luck; the VFW members pass the hat for the purchase of brisket, pork roasts, sausages and chicken quarters … and everyone else brings salads, bread, chips, and relishes. The bar has been well-stocked with beer and soft drinks for weeks. The weather is usually mild – neither hot or cold, although rain has threatened in some years – so the party spills out from the clubhouse, out onto the paved patio under the trees which line the riverbank. The air is rich with the good smells of roasting meats slathered with the spicy sauce provided by Pryor’s Good Meats BBQ. The veterans and their families nibble on a bit of this and that, as they reminisce and gossip. Sometimes someone works up an impromptu flag football game, played on the mown grass out in back of the Tip Top which sometimes serves as an overflow parking lot during Founder’s Day, six weeks before.
The only thing which might strike a casual visitor as curious is that table set up in the corner with a plate and silverware for one, a beer mug empty and turned upside down, even as unopened bottles of beer accumulate during the afternoon and evening. There is a small square of black fabric draping this table, which is centered underneath the POW/MIA banner which hangs on the wall – the table set for those who are not able to return to Luna City for the Veteran’s Day BBQ at the VFW. Their friends buy them a beer, though. By unspoken understanding, the money paid for those beers goes into a gallon glass jar which once contained pickle relish … and at the end of the evening the cans and bottles lined up on the black-draped table are put back into the storeroom. The day after the BBQ, the money in the pickle relish jar is forwarded to a military charity which sends comforts to those troops deployed overseas.
And that is Veteran’s Day in Luna City.

My two books for the year are done – both the historical adventure, and the contemporary romp. (Two in the space of a year? Haven’t come close to that since the Adelsverein Trilogy, which was three separate books – but one single narrative – done in the space of two years, research, writing and all.) Now comes the hard graft of putting the two out in front of the reading public, via the usual internet publicity methods, and in doing Christmas market events in various small towns, and somewhat larger towns in the neighborhood of San Antonio.

Yes – writing the book is just half the job. The other half is the marketing thereof – which starts next weekend with a craft fair at the Community Activity Center in Bulverde, Texas, followed on the next weekend with the Christmas market – Weihnachtsmarkt – in New Braunfels. Weihnachtsmarkt is staged in the New Braunfels Civic Center every year as a benefit for the Sophienburg Museum and Archives. A good few years ago, they began setting up for local authors in the long hallway which leads from front to back of the Conference Center. And it’s indoors, and the tables are supplied … although, my daughter has been saying lately that if I write any more books, I will have to start getting two tables … or even buy a floor stand to display the books, and flyers and postcards about my books on. With Sunset and Steel Rails and The Chronicles of Luna City, and that doesn’t even count the German edition of Adelsverein: The Gathering, the hard-bound all-in-one volume of the Trilogy, or that first harmless little family memoir, assembled from early blog-posts and published through Booklocker in …(hastily checking copyright page of Our Grandpa Was an Alien) … 2004? Wow! Time does fly when you are having fun.

Ten books in ten years. That’s the same rate achieved by some of the professionals, although there were scribblers of pulp fiction who managed even more than that. Still, at this point in the game, every one of my books – even the YA adventure collection of Lone Star Sons, and the comic narrative set in contemporary small-town Texas – is an advertisement for all the others, historical fiction-romance-western, call them what you well.

And with that – off to work up promotional flyers for the market events. The work, as it says on those comic office signs, isn’t over until the paperwork is done …

I know that I have not been posting much lately – here or anywhere else lately; just the bare minimum of commenting on other people’s posts and other people’s blogs and websites, but I had a couple of projects for the Tiny Publishing Bidness to work on, and then the two major projects to finish, format and upload to various platforms. Yes, I decided to go all-out and finish two books in time for the Christmas marketing season this year. Amazingly, neither one was the one that I had declared at the beginning of the year that I would have all done and ready to launch by this time  … yes, the adventures of young Fredi Steinmetz in Gold Rush-era California is rolled back another year. Sigh. I still have to do an epic-truck-load of reading of contemporary accounts and skull out a plot sufficient and historically-accurate to fill the last half of the book; which so far in my head will include a stint in San Francisco the year of the epically well-organized Vigilante organization, encounters with various historic personages, to include William T. Sherman, Lotta Crabtree and her formidable mother, some murderous claim-jumpers and a young woman seeking justice – while disguised as a boy. So, yes I will get on to that presently. After all The Quivera Trail was held at a third completed while I worked on Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, and it didn’t seem to do any harm in the long-run.

So – the Harvey Girl adventure, Sunset and Steel Rails is done and ready for release on the 19th, in print and in Kindle. Amazon is dragging their feet apparently, in expediting the ‘Look-Inside’ feature. It isn’t up at present, but it should be in the next couple of days. Not bad, for something that I only got inspired to start in February of this year.  But The Chronicles of Luna City is a light and amusing present-day trifle which my daughter and I only got started on at the end of July – and here it is November, and that book is done and nearly finalized as well.  Three months, and just 70,000 words (but with pictures!) which is short for me, as most of the other books run 125,000 and up. (Although Lone Star Sons pegged in at 65,000.) There was one of the professional pulp adventure fiction writers – whose name escapes me at the moment – who was said to have done a book a month at one point in his career. Don’t know what the total word count was on any of them, but he must have worked in a white-hot blaze of energy … and Luna City is a light and diverting trifle, requiring very little research. Well, except for looking up restaurant equipment, and the names of obscure British TV series of the 1980s, and making certain that there aren’t any real companies with the same names of companies that I have mentioned in Luna City. Movie production companies really go for the obscure, I have to say. Had to nix six or seven possible names because there is a real production company out in the world with the name of something I thought would work for a movie production company. Luna City is pure contemporary escapism, utterly devoid of any redeeming social value in the eyes of the established guardians of our high literary culture … which I believe a lot of us have a need of these days, given how particularly screwed up, violent, and depressing real life seems to be, lately. (Oh, Established Guardians of our High Literary Culture? Yoo-hoo … over here! Now, gaze lovingly upon my upraised middle finger!)

So, light blogging will commence, now that all the hard labor of writing, editing, formatting and polishing have been done. Did you miss me?

So, leafing – metaphorically speaking – through the video delights on offer through the Acorn video catalogue in search of something amusing to while away the evening after a day’s labor on various book projects, the most pressing of which is not my own, but a paid client – we came upon a two-part version from about ten years ago of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. I suggested that we watch it, since I had a bout of Waugh fever about the time that I was in college upper division, in hot pursuit of that relatively useless degree in English. (But I enjoyed the pursuit very much on its own merits, not being one of those one-percenters with delusions of the diploma leading me author-matically into an lavishly paid gig anywhere in the academic or in the publishing establishment.)

Anyway, I had read a good few of Waugh’s books early on; liked Scoop – as vicious an evisceration of Big Media as it was in the 1930s as was ever set to page – and the first book of the Sword of Honor Trilogy, as a similarly bitterly cynical romp through the first years of WWII. The training year, the ‘Phony War’ year … when nothing much (aside from Nazi Germany overrunning Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark, and France) was happening. And then it all turned deadly serious, with which Waugh just didn’t seem able to cope. The seriousness of it all, I mean. Literary and serious observers, looking through their lorgnettes at current events sometimes have this difficulty, I know. Poor P. G. Woodhouse also had the same trouble, regarding WWII, even as it caught him up in its ghastly coils. I surmise that dear old P. G. dealt with it by moving to America and never dealing with it at all, within the frame of his books; probably a wise literary decision, since he had the formula down pat, so to speak.

We watched the whole two-part distillation of the Trilogy – enjoying the scenic views of Daniel Craig no end – but the miniseries kind of left us cold. I suspect that re-reading the Trilogy entire would also leave us rather cold. Apparently in the purview of the Great and Good English Literature Establishment, The Trilogy is held to be one of the Majorly Significant Novels dealing with WWII … to which I blow a large raspberry. (That all you got, English Literary Establishment? Really…) Yes, Evelyn Waugh was a magnificent prose stylist, and his satiric novels in the 1930s are bitchy and hilarious, Return to Brideshead is elegiac and heartbreaking … but the Sword of Honor Trilogy is a very odd fish. The first volume was true to the bitchy and satiric form; frankly, I found it very funny because … well, it was to do with the weirdness of the military. Of any age and country, really; a sort of inside black humor, best appreciated by those who have lived through and endured. (G. M. Fraser’s McAuslan cycle is a wonderful example of this, only not burdened by the weight of being A Majorly Significant Novel, so it can be appreciated for its own merits. What a lovely miniseries the McAuslan cycle would make – I can’t imagine why it has been overlooked in this respect… anyway, back to the subject…)

The rest of the TV version – and take into consideration the fact that I am trying to recall the source novels that I read a lifetime ago – rather fell flat for both of us. We agreed that Waugh couldn’t really write women – although he did have the manipulative bitch subset of the species down cold. It was just rather depressing that just about all the various characters which the hero character tried to help in some way came to rather awful ends. Perhaps that was the inclination of the screenwriters; but really – the message is that it’s useless and futile to be a decent person and do the right thing? How nihilistic is that?

I wonder also if trying to write a novel about current events isn’t rather a trap for the writer; in retrospect it certainly seemed so for Waugh; the Holocaust together with the Communist aggression in Eastern Europe were just too horrific for a satirist to manage within the scope of a serio-comic novel.

With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)

A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Oh, yes – outraged science fiction fans had had fun with this resulting thread.
And who can blame them? Four sentences which manage to be packed full of misrepresentation and a couple of outright lies; the voicing of similar calumnies had to be walked back by no less than
Entertainment Weekly when the whole Sad Puppies thing first reached a frothing boil earlier this year. Now we see a manager of some note at Tor rubbishing a couple of their own authors, and a good stretch of the reading public and a number of book bloggers … which I confidently predict will not turn out well. I have not exhaustively researched the whole matter, but tracked it through According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club, where there are occasional comments about anti-Sad/Rabid Puppy vitriol flung about in various fora. I would have opined that Ms. Gallo’s pronouncement probably isn’t worst of them, but it seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming as it does from an employee very high up in Tor management. People of a mild-to-seriously conservative or libertarian bent, are just sick and tired of being venomously painted as – in Ms. Gallo’s words – “right-wing to neo-nazi” and as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic,” when they are anything but that.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at my book blog, and at chicagoboyz.net)

This is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks – tending to home, and to the business, and wrapping up two of the three current book projects. The two authors involved are thrilled to bits with the work done for their books, and both of them – marvelously – have each a follow-on project which will come to me by the end of the month. Hopefully, the third follow-on project will be completed by then. The visual elements for that book are … well, the author is one of those who has to see the completed project before deciding if it is satisfactory, or not. Anyway, the business is paying nicely, and so I can afford some more home renovations and repairs.

Last month’s home renovation project was a complete revamp of the kitchen pantry – basically, a small closet, 25 inches wide, and about 27 deep. The original builders put in five or six wooden shelves, which ran the full width and depth of the closet … and basically made anything shoved to the back of the shelves unfindable and irretrievable. Unless you emptied everything out. Last month we hit Peak Exasperation with the whole thing – that is, the point where the hassle of doing anything constructive about about the problem is less than the hassle of continuing to put up with it. So – emptied everything into cardboard boxes, knocked out the shelves, repaired the various small dings in the drywall, repainted to cover the patches … and applied about $140 worth of wire shelving from Lowe’s, an assortment of square bulk storage containers from the Container Store, and mirabile dictu, now we can find everything easily.

This month, the project was – where to store Blondie’s inherited vintage Chambers stove, and all of the gear we need to do the various markets, especially around Christmas; the tables, the pop-up, the dolly, the chairs and all. The garage is packed pretty full with Blondie’s household goods already, and so … it came to us – a shed. A nice, tidy little shed in the back left corner of the yard; for the stove, and all the market gear, and various gardening tools, the home-brewing and canning things – which take up an incredible amount of space in a small house … any way, whatever we decided on would have to be fairly attractive, because the windows at the back of the house look out on that patch of garden. Function and beauty – as William Morris’ dictum has it, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

All the wooden sheds that I really, really liked the look of were way too expensive, even if we put them up ourselves – and I am just not interested in that kind of construction any more. The inexpensive ones – Rubbermaid makes them, and I seem them all over the place – do not age very well at all. We compromised on a metal version – temporary and portable – the salesman assured us, but built to order. It was a bit more than I had thought to spend at first – but we wanted one that had the appearance of a small porch with an overhang at the front, although the porch is really more of a wide step. It has one little window, and a door, rather like a kindergarten drawing of a house … and two carpenters from the company came to install it yesterday. It had to be assembled on site, but the four walls were already pre-fabbed, so they only had to build out the foundation, slide it into the most advantageous position, put the four walls on it and nail them together, and then do the roof. It only took half a day – Blondie thought it would be more than a day, but they were quite terribly efficient.

So – the project for the holiday weekend is to fit out the inside with shelves, move everything intended to be inside it to them, paint the bare wood of the support posts and balusters to match the color of the trim (dark green) and to re-accomplish the landscaping around it so that the shed itself presents an attractive appearance. We’ve promised a couple of pictures to the company, of course. And that was my chief concern – Blondie’s is how to go about moving the Chambers stove from the back porch into the shed. I think we’ll appeal to some neighbors for help on this.

I don’t know if I can really claim to be a science fiction fan – I am not hard-core, at any rate. I have had my moments with particular authors in the genre, I’ve been to a couple of cons (Salt Lake City and Albuquerque – the con here in San Antonio costs too much at the door for my budget) – I have all of Blake’s 7 on VHS tape (taped from broadcast on Salt Lake City’s public TV station in the early 1990s), most of Babylon 5, and I have purchased every on of Lois McMaster Bujould’s Vorkosigan novels when and if they present themselves in paperback. Oh, and I really enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but they’re not really science fiction – more fantasy with a wry twist. I watched Star Trek when it was originally broadcast – but who of the age that I am now didn’t, unless their parents were Luddites who wouldn’t have a TV in the house?

And Dad worked as a scientific sub-contractor for NASA, now and again. Something to do with circadian rhythms and space travel might possibly affect them, either positively or negatively, so –yes, science!

I guess I can say that I’m a kind of casual sympathizer; it’s not my own genre as a writer, but I dip into it now and again, and I have a writer friend or two of the online-variety who are a great deal more serious about science fiction. Because of this mild interest, I have been casually aware of the great SFWA bru-hah-hah of recent months, mentally crossing myself and thanking the deity that at least those who scribble historical fiction seem to be much less prone to epic fits of politically correctness and inclined to go off on witch hunts directed against those who offend. Or maybe they do – and I just don’t know; the only professional writer’s association that I belong to is the Texas Association of Authors – and they seem to be more about … well, promoting books, authors and local events. Whatever the current active leadership of the SFWA are epically pearl-clutching about, the TAA doesn’t seem to give a damn. But it’s a state organization, in a state which seems lately to be more focused on economic and societal realities, not every politically-correct momentary interest that appears, dancing across the intellectual horizon.

Anyway – (Yes, I do have a point and I am getting to it) following on the latest round of Savonarola-like fiery cleansing of those determined to be unclean from the holy halls of SWFA membership, there is a new and rather painful issue arising. Of course, I can appreciate the double or perhaps triple-strength irony of an organization which raised the holy banner of anti-sexual harassment and feminine empowerment on high, and whose members went on what amounted to a kind of Stalinist internet show-trial against those held to offend the most mightily … now discovering that Marion Zimmer Bradley – one of the most respected and feminist science fiction authors in their pantheon was complicit in child sexual abuse – by her husband at best interpretation, and herself at worst.

And that it was one of those weird open secrets among insiders and common knowledge among the inner circle – apparently – but just now breaking into the wider world of fans and readers. The freak-out is epic, and to me, rather personal. I very much enjoyed the Darkover novels, when I first discovered them in the early 80s, after coming off a tour in Greenland; cold, dark and very, very isolated – yes, I could relate to that. I even scribbled some fan-fic and submitted it for one of her anthologies. (Without any luck, I might add – she had stopped accepting fan-fic by the time I got around to it.) There is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance here, you would understand; a writer whose books I rather enjoyed and who had a good reputation for mentoring younger writers is revealed as having conducted herself in a manner quite the antithesis of the public persona. I am pretty certain that if I went back and re-read those books of hers which are still on my shelf that I would not enjoy them now nearly as much. Mind you, I don’t demand that writers whose books I enjoy have a perfectly blameless personal life and innocuous political opinions – but I do draw the line at child abuse.

Finally, there is the element of hypocrisy involved, one which I watch with a certain amount of glee – schadenfreude, even. The Social Justice Warrior element within SWFA, who went all Savonarola on Larry Correia, Vox Day, Orson Scott Card, and Sarah Hoyt, among others, for politically incorrect thought-crimes, ought to be just as righteously steamed about reverencing and/or enabling a pedophile and sexual abuser of their own child. Correct? No? Well, then – please explain why it’s bad when someone who disagrees with you on certain social or political fundamentals, but perfectly okey-dokey or at least excusable when someone whom you do agree with commits serious crimes. Ah, yes – another spectacular SWFA melt-down, resulting from the violent collision between reverencing a past honored member of the in-group, and application of their own rule-book.

I still haven’t made up my mind, though – if I ought to get rid of the Bradley books entirely. Maybe I should just put them in a box in the garage until I do make up my mind.

I honestly do not know if all of last weeks’ horrific headlines and those of the week before are a cunning plot to serially distract the body politic and public by dropping everything on us all at once, without a chance to analyze or begin fighting back, or if it indicates that the wheels are coming off the Obama administration once and for all. Either way … there is a lot to write about, just at the time that I don’t have the time or inclination to muse upon it all at leisure in a way which would give my venom full justice; all in good time, my one or two regular remaining readers. Among other things, I am fighting a god-awful summer cold and cough, a return of the chronic cough I had last year, which took about eight months to throw and on several occasions had me coughing so hard that I threw up. And another thing of a personal nature; Alice, whom I bought the Tiny Publishing Bidness from early this spring, passed away early in June. She was tended by her family and Blondie, and a series of very professional and compassionate home-hospice-care nurses for the last three weeks before that. She had been given six months last October when she was proscribed aggressive chemotherapy … but she detested chemo and refused it after two rounds, and lasted for three months longer than forecast at the time. She actually did pretty well, with Blondie doing her housekeeping and errands … until the last three weeks.

Just as all this was happening, of course I had two books projects to juggle, and Alice’s last book for an old friend of hers, a local poet who brings out a small chapbook of his writings every year or so. She kept his most recent book back from the sale, intending to work on it herself, but her memory and her health was failing catastropically, and so I inherited it as well. So – three books to juggle at a time; isn’t commerce grand? And I still have two books of my own to work on (The Golden Road and Lone Star Sons), plus reviews, four websites (three of them being my own) and little chores like the garden, housekeeping, walking the dogs and cooking regular meals.

By the way – we found another dog this week; a small boxer-colored female, who may be part lab, possibly boxer with a bit of small pit and Wiemeraner, as she has rather lovely golden-green eyes. She looks, if anything, like a quarter-sized version of Calla-puppy, my daughter’s Boxer mix. We are resisting the allure of keeping her, but caved on turning her into the county shelter. She is very people-oriented and very, very affectionate. Onward with the chore of finding her a permanent home and not with us; anyone in the South Texas area want a new dog; 25 pounds, about half-grown that we can tell, just having cut her permanent teeth, still catching on to that house-breaking and obedience thing, but tolerant and affectionate, and OK with other dogs and cats. Let me know in comments – we can provide pictures and delivery within reason.

I did a book event in Sisterdale, the first weekend in June – and it was born upon us that we need a shed in the backyard, first for the garden tools and supplies, and second for the various items that we have acquired for doing events … like the pop-up pavilion. You may say, as Mom did, ‘But you have a garage!?’ Alas, it is full of Blondie’s furniture and various other gleanings from yard sales, against the day when she has an establishment of her own, or I have my Hill Country retreat/country cottage. We can not fit another blessed thing into the garage, or find it if we did … so. Shed; for the storage of items of professional gear in – the pavilion, the tables, the weights, the display racks, et cetera; likely we will go with a local small enterprise which does bespoke tin sheds for a price competitive with the big box places. The backyard being so small, the shed must and will be attractive, since we will be seeing it from the back porch and two of the three windows at the back of the house.

And that’s what I’ve been working on, these last two weeks, but I promise that regular vicious commentary will resume as soon as the bile reservoir has replenished itself.

It actually hasn’t been exactly half a year since I bought out the founder of the company, contract signed and witnessed and the major down-payment made, but it has been about six months since she – her favorite niece and executor rather forcefully backing her up – suggested that the time had definitely arrived for me to step up and formally and officially buy her out, website, client files, and all. Alice had always intended that I would take over, eventually. We were both cranky and independent spirits, and tired of working for other people or enterprises. Since I had been carrying just about everything to do with the firm for more than a year at that point, I didn’t have any argument. A nice chunk of the savings that I had from sale of the California property went to buy the Bidness – which we are pretty certain will be earned back – I have three projects working at present, two of them with repeat projects … plus a number of other repeat clients who may come up with re-orders at random intervals. The Bidness is a going concern, with nice local word-of-mouth among authors who would prefer to go independent, and a some profitable repeat clients.

Alice, who founded the company some three decades since, had spent some weeks in the hospital last year, eventually being diagnosed with cancer in the upper lobe of one lung, and being successfully operated on for it … but alas, it seemed that it had begun to spread, insidiously. She tried out chemo, lasted two rounds and then essentially said, “Sc**w that and the horse it rode in on.” They had given her six months with chemo, which made her miserable and even sicker… but even with giving up chemo and feeling temporarily much better, she was not up to much. Her insurance plan paid for home hospice care (not for nothing had she worked in the days when she worked for other people, at an insurance company!) and the regular nurses came every couple of days since she bagged chemo. We accepted this – so did her family. Blondie went to her house two and three days a week, to keep house, run errands and drive Alice to required appointments. Alice herself plodded on, much as she had always done, plagued by fits of exhaustion, forgetfulness, and inability to navigate anywhere without a walker. She told Blondie several times that she wouldn’t in the least mind if Blondie appeared one mid-day, walked into the house and found her dead in her chair with a book in her lap. What better way to go? She hated hospitals – another thing we had in common.

Any kind of work at editing gradually became hopeless, and what was the worst part – she knew and was exasperated at how her steel-trap mind was painfully rusting shut. She was, in her seventies, an early adopter of computers and the internet, but that went by the wayside. Over the years when we were in partnership, I would get up in the morning and find a half a dozen emails or forwarded, from her in my yahoo.com account – but not in the last few months, when she spent most of her waking hours in an easy chair in the living room, reading. She was one of the very few people I know in real life who possessed more books than I do – with the added fillip of having edited and published a good few of them, or at least had been acquaintances of the author. In mid-May she urged me to take any of the reference books that I wanted and would need – I came away with two bags full of books. I think that was the last time that I saw her, still fairly fit and able to go into her home office.

The final spiral came two weeks ago, and in one terrible rush. I went to see her again, when she was not able to get out of the hospital bed they had brought in; her one old-friend client, whom she had held back upon sale of the company, had a book that she was working on, in fits and starts. She handed the project on to me, I searched out the files and went home with a couple of letters from her friend. I’ve basically had to start the project paperwork all over, Excel worksheet, contract and all. A week ago, Memorial Day weekend, her sister called to say – not going well. We hurried over, dodging rain all the way, which only seemed suitable. She was not conscious – I don’t think ever became really conscious again. She passed away about mid-day last Saturday.

So, that’s what I have been up to, for the last couple of weeks. Real life, and all that.

17. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, Literary Good Stuff, Wild Blue Yonder

From the temple of Poseidon at Sunion, Greece

From the temple of Poseidon at Sunion, Greece

I see from a link from a Facebook friend that author Mary Steward has passed on to that great and ultimate publisher in the sky. (Facebook links and Twitter posts – I swear, this is how we find out news of a relatively minor nature these days.) She was well into her nineties, and the books that were her mega-popular best-sellers were all from several decades ago. (Including The Crystal Cave – the first of a five-novel retelling of the Arthurian cycle; these are the ones which most readers remember.) I, on the other hand, remember finding, reading and adoring her earlier books – the romantic-suspense-mystery ones. Yes, because they not the least bit risqué, no bad language or anything more sexually-explicit than a fond kiss or a close and comforting embrace – I recollect that I first encountered them in the library when I was middle-school age and no one burst any blood vessels over me reading them. I might even have read them first in the Mount Gleason Junior High library, at that – since the movie that Disney had made from The Moonspinners was shown in the school theater over summer. Although I was a bit disappointed when I looked up the book and read it after seeing the movie. Everything was different, just about! But for the setting and … well, the setting; I did get to appreciate the books, later on – as the memory of the movie faded. Especially those of her books with a setting in Greece; My Brother Michael, (Delphi and environs) and This Rough Magic (Corfu), especially … and then I had a soft spot for her very first book, Madam, Will You Talk? – which was set in southern France. I never did get to check out Corfu – but I did visit Athens and Delphi – and Provence, as well – motivated in large part because of the beautiful way that she had of establishing a place and the character of it.
Never mind about the romance and all … dumpy and rather plain fifteen-year-olds, cursed with glasses and metal braces – still have a wistful affection for romance. Even if the prospective hero is at first meeting grumpy and impatient – even slightly mysterious. Someday, my fifteen-year old self hoped – I would go to Greece, or the South of France, although the romance part was perhaps a little bit too much to hope for.

And I did – but that is another story. At any rate, she and Rosemary Sutcliffe were among the first writers that I came back to, over and over – because of the way that they wrote about a place; every leaf and tree and flower of it. I would like to think that I have taken some lessons from them, or at least had their very good example before me when I began to write about specific places.

As a matter of interest as an independent author, with some affection for science fiction … (principally Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and once upon a time for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, both of which explored in an interesting and readable way, a whole range of civilizational conceits and technologies with a bearing on what they produced vis-a-viz political organizations, man-woman relations, and alternate societies of the possible future … oh, where was I? Complicated parenthetical sentence again; science fiction. Right-ho, Jeeves – back on track.) … I have been following the current SFWA-bruhaha with the fascinated interest of someone squeezing past a spectacular multi-car pile-upon the Interstate. Not so much – how did this happen, and whose stupid move at high speed impelled the disaster – but how will it impact ordinary commuters in their daily journey, and will everyone walk away from it OK? So far, the answers to that are pretty much that it will only matter to those directly involved (although it will be productive of much temporary pain) and yes – pretty near everyone will walk away. Scared, scarred, P-O’d and harboring enduring grudges, but yes, they will walk away, personally and professionally. Some of these are walking away at speed and being pretty vocal about why.

The crux of the matter in this particular instance, is that the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – hey, what happened to the ampersand and the second F … guess the domain name was already taken or something) – got overtaken by the minions of the politically correct. The SWFA is, or was – a professional association of writers of science fiction and fantasy materiel (traditionally-published writers only, BTW), intended as a kind of support group, to lobby with publishers on behalf of wronged writers, and provide professional services, like health insurance. Sort of like the AARP … only for science fiction and fantasy writers. Alas, it seems that the minions of the politically-correct now appear to insist that to be members in good standing and to be considered for various book awards (and this is the short version) one must write glum and politically-correct bricks of sensitivity, emphasizing obedience to all kinds of shibboleths regarding race, gender, et al. Never mind about writing a cracking good story … the glum gruel of a liberal arts curricula at an expensive university is what the Social Justice Warriors at the SFWA have said we should have, and that readers deserve to get it, good and hard. Through a tube down the nasal passage, apparently, if all else fails. Naturally, being a somewhat cantankerous and creative provider of popular amusement, many of the existing membership has sad ‘no’ and not just no, but ‘no, with bells on.’ It seems from various discussion threads that many of the long-standing, better-selling and more popular creators are bailing out of SFWA, or at least, warning caution.

The organization may survive – or not. From the viewpoint of someone passing by the tangled wreckage on the Interstate, it’s of only academic interest. But I began to meditate on it all – another once-thriving and valued establishment, overtaken by the grand Gramscian march through our social and political establishments. Sure – they have taken them over, but at what cost? Yes, the politically correct, the Social Justice Warriors in every theater and establishment … they HAVE taken them over – and many others besides the SFWA, but at what cost if what they have is just a wrecked and hollow establishment?
So, this leaves me to wonder, whither SFWA? If the popular writers, with an existing or a soon-burgeoning readership leave, what then as far as the future of the organization is concerned? Indeed, what then, o wolves?

What then, of the many institutions, taken over and hollowed out by the Social Justice Warriors, or their Gramscian ilk? Most of them are bigger and more influential, then a little pool of writers perpetrating science fiction and fantasy … and yet they also appear to be ridden by factionalism, if not teetering on the edge then cratering economically. Just a few and from off the top of my head – the Episcopal Church, old-line print publications like Newsweek and Ladies’ Home Journal (and possibly very soon Time Magazine, too), and broadcast networks like CNN and MSNBC. Instapundit often points out how colleges and universities are staggering, and how more and more people who can are choosing to home-school their children. I can just barely remember the last Oscar-nominated movie that I went to see in a theater, (The King’s Speech, BTW) and the TV audience for the Oscars is plummeting also. Mainstream publishing is fragmenting, as independent writers go out on their own, cable television is also fragmenting. Just as the long march through the institutions is nearly complete … the institutions themselves crumble. They are run into the ground, as the audience, consumers, and genuinely creative flee in all directions.

There is talk of a non-ideological organization to replace the SFWA; likely the disaffected refugees from the establishments and organizations listed above (as well as many, many others) will form new associations. Creative destruction at work? I’d like to think so. Discuss.
(cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

OK – so, since we are now almost a year into giving the heave-ho to cable TV, and busily exploring the delights available through Hulu/Amazon Prime/Acorn, I took it into my head that I should like to watch the original Upstairs, Downstairs series. The very first season of this, which aired on Masterpiece Theater when it was hosted by Alistair Cooke, was seriously truncated when it showed on PBS … which was when I was in college, umpty-umph years ago. Not only did I miss seeing most of the first season, but I also missed absolutely all of the last season, through having enlisted in the Air Force and promptly been assigned overseas. That was the season which romped through the post WWI decade. Very likely I missed other episodes throughout the run of the program. Although I regretted this, I have always declined to spend however much it would cost to buy the entire series of Upstairs, Downstairs, no matter how much I wanted to watch it and no matter how much it is marked down through Amazon specials, or considered in comparison to How Much It Would Have Cost When First Made Available. (Yes, I laid out an ungodly sum of money for the VHS set of Jewel In The Crown, which I watched again and again and thoroughly enjoyed, but never again shall I spend more than I did then for a costume mini-series. So, bite me, vendors of classic TV series – I will wait and wait and wait until the ones that I want are available in slightly-used DVD editions. Or on streaming internet … yes, where was I? Oh – Upstairs, Downstairs.)

First off, my daughter says that she hopes that producers, writers and show-runners for Downton Abbey are paying a mint, or at least giving the original producers miles and miles of artistic credit and acknowledgements. Downton has re-used sooooo many characters and situations. They’re probably in public domain these days, though – so never mind.

Yes, it is screamingly obvious that the first season was produced on the cheap – and very obviously on a set; outdoor shots were at a bare, bare, bare and almost daily soap-opera minimum. My daughter even noticed the walls shivering slightly, whenever a door slams. Outdoor scenes only begin occurring in the second season, wherein Miss Lizzie’s marriage is turning to dust and ashes. There’s a lot more indoor-to-outdoor scenes at that point; obviously there’s more in the budget, and the producers pretty much established the cast below-stairs that would carry on for the next four.

But dear god – what they had to do for the female leads’ costumes. Not so much for downstairs; plain black or pastel-colored long-sleeved dresses with elaborate aprons – hard to mess up the working costumes of the female working class way back then. Their get-up was obviously uniform and practical. But for Upstairs, they obviously, went into some vast internal closet for long dresses that at a squint appeared vaguely Edwardian. A good few of Lady Marjorie’s costumes look as if the costume department had cornered a herd of wild 1960s upholstered furniture, slaughtered them whole-sale, skinned them, and made her dresses from their pelts. It’s bad. How bad? I frequently spotted my own particular bête noir when it comes to period pieces; obvious zippers up the back. No – in my admittedly less than expert study of female costume, circa 18th-19th-early 20th centuries … zippers did most emphatically not figure. They fastened in just about every other way and in every other place than a zipper up the center-back seam. Trust me, when I tell you this. Let this particular book – Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail be a guide, should you wish further enlightenment. I leaned on it rather heavily, in working out Lady Isobel’s wardrobe in Quivera Trail; my own take on the perils and challenges of Upstairs and Downstairs. Otherwise – I am enjoying renewing my acquaintance with the series, and if memory serves, the latter seasons did get very much better as popularity of the series grew.