Tomorrow ….

LSS_Cvr_Comp.1 (1)Up in the wee hours for us – no sleeping in this Saturday! For I have a book event at the Harker Heights Library, tomorrow morning from 9 to 1 in the afternoon. The library is at 400 Indian Trail, Harker Heights, Texas … and at a stretch is about a two-hour-and-a-bit drive. There are other Texas authors promised to be there, and there will be a Friends of the Library book sale going in, in addition. Now, I don’t think the sale will be as totally massive as the yearly NEISD book sale in the NEISD indoor basketball court here in San Antonio … but books!
I’ll have copies of all of my books, including plenty of copies of Lone Star Sons … so, see you there!

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Annals of the Tiny Bidness

So – how to begin the story of how I became a business owner? I suppose that the very beginning came about when I realized that I was sick to death of working for other people, answering to sometimes erratic bosses, metaphorically (and sometimes in reality) punching a time-clock or logging my hours as an admin/office-manager/executive secretary or whatever the temp agency sent me to perform. I had also realized that I was good at writing, wanted to write professionally, and was on the cusp of transforming the amateur word-smithing into a paying job. I was encouraged in this ambition by a number of early blog commenters on a certain milblog who basically said I was very good at the writing and story-telling thing and they wanted more – mostly in the form of a printed book – while some other bloggers with slightly more extensive and professional writing credentials also said I was very, very good and ought to consider going pro myself… and then there was one commenter who didn’t have internet at home, and wanted to read my posts about my admittedly eccentric family – so he inquired after my mailing address, and sent me a box of CD media, so that I could put an extensive selection of early posts about my oddball family on it – one for him, the note said, and the rest for any other readers of the site who wanted a such a collation. I swear unto all, this was about the first time that it ever occurred to me that yes, I had an audience, and one willing to pay money, or at least, for a box of CD media.

Eventually, I did produce a book – a memoir cobbled together from various posts about my family, and growing up – and there it all rested, until another blog-post sparked my second book and first novel. Again, a blog-fan encouraged me to write it, and one thing led to another, resulting in To Truckee’s Trail. About two and a half chapters into the first draft I was let go from a corporate job – a full-time job with which I had become increasingly dissatisfied. On many an afternoon, walking through the duties expected of me, I kept thinking of how I would rather be and home and writing. It was a small shock being fired, actually – but I kept thinking Whoo-hoo! I can go home and work on the third chapter! I was oddly cheerful throughout the actual firing process, totally weirding out the HR staffer in charge of processing my dis-engagement from the company involved.

I went home and worked on Truckee. Which, scout’s honor and all, I did market to traditional publishers through the established route; find an agent who would be dazzled by my brilliance, and market Truckee to an establishment publisher, et cetera, et cetera. I gave it a go, for a good few months; I did have agents interested, one of them so enthused that he asked for the whole MS. Alas – although he loved it, and said many complimentary things, he regretted that it just wasn’t ‘marketable’ to the establishment publishing trade. Historical fiction was a hard sell, he said. Especially if it was about an event that hardly anyone had ever heard of – which I thought would have been a selling point, but what do I know of the New York publishing scene? He did give some good advice overall, so the experience wasn’t wasted. The other agents that the MS was submitted to said very much the same thing on a shorter sample … and at that point I realized that I already had a nice, solid readership and fan-base, so I ran a fund-drive to publish and print Truckee through the same POD publisher which had done my first book. In the meantime, I worked the odd week or two, or even a day, through various temp agencies, and for an old friend, Dave the Computer Genius, who had his own Tiny Bidness in computers – as in teaching, repairing, de-bugging and general installation of same. Dave paid me to work two days a week in his enterprise; marketing and keeping his accounts was the most of it, but he also taught me to build websites and started me off by helping me set up one for my own books. Working for him wasn’t so much a job so much as it seemed like hanging out with a cool high-school friend. This marked a line, though, in the way that I thought of myself. I wasn’t an admin/office-manager/executive secretary who wrote on the side. After that bright and defining line, I was a writer who worked as an admin/office-manager/executive secretary or even the ultimate professional hell – a year in a corporate phone bank taking hotel reservations – as a means of supporting my writing. I will never publically say anything bad about that one firm, BTW. I had racked up a fair number of paid holiday hours during that year, which I never took. For some months after I had turned in my notice and walked away, they sent me a check for those paid holiday hours which I never took and which I had pretty much written off. So, yay, corporate America – some promises are delivered on.

And there I was – two books out there, and another one – subsequently three – in the formative stages. After giving the two-finger salute to the corporate phone bank, I never worked in another ‘regular’ job again. I had met up with Alice G., who had founded the Tiny Publishing Bidness some twenty-five years previously, after having decided that she also would rather work for herself. We had a mutual good friend in Dave the Computer Genius; Alice was one of his regular clients, and he mentioned now and again that I ought to go hook up with her and learn publishing. He thought we would get on very well … but such plans as I did have for doing so came to an end when Dave died of a sudden heart attack. It was six months before I thought that maybe I ought to give Alice a call … and Dave was right. We did hit it off, something which I hope amuses Dave, wherever he is now. Alice was in her eighties, and considerable of a night-own: Dave was under orders never to call her before 2 in the afternoon. She did her best work at night, and slept during the day. Likely being a night-owl was another reason for being an independent business owner.

Alice and I went into partnership; first with a 60-40% profit-sharing arrangement. She had made a living for years with her Tiny Bidness, publishing specialty books for a variety of fairly well-off local writers, producing as many as six books a year, or as few as one. She contracted out things like layout and cover design, printing and binding, but she did editing herself, and part-timed for another slightly larger local publisher. She was absolutely one of the best and most exacting editors around; likely I will never be in her league, even with the aid of certain software functions. We used to joke (especially to prospective clients) that she had been married three times; twice to mere mortals and once to The Chicago Manual of Style. The books that she produced over the years are all beautifully done, to the highest standard. One or two of them are works of art in themselves. Such does not come cheap, though, and although Alice was well-connected in the community, business was slowing to a trickle. I thought it very likely that we were losing business to the various POD publishing houses which had sprung up to utilize digital printing – which is ideal for small print runs, rather than the traditional lithographic printing, which requires a large print run (north of 250) to be profitable. I suggested that we start doing POD books as well, setting up an imprint to print and distribute small runs of books through Lightning Source/Ingram. She was not especially keen on it, since the quality was a titch less than what she was accustomed to produce as a final product. But I finally convinced her that we had to compete, and that clients able to spend $10,000 to $15,000 on their book project were going to become mighty thin on the ground, given competition from Booksurge, Author House and the rest … as well as the economic situation overall. Finally she told me to go ahead – and for the last year that she was active in the business, the POD imprint provided most of our publishing projects.

Alice had no children, and none of her nieces, or grand-nieces or grand-nephews were interested particularly in the business. It was expected that I would take over the running of it all – and eventually the business itself. When her health began to fail, about a year ago, I had already been shouldering most of the work. By March, Alice’s niece and executor, who is a CPA for a fairly high-powered firm in Austin, suggested that the time had come: I should buy out Alice, for a sum which I could just about afford, since I had funds from the sale of some California real estate. Alice’s niece and I disentangled the various files and projects, sorted out the business bank accounts, and worked out what I had to do to get a DBA and open new accounts in my own name. I wrote a check, brought home the three shelves of Watercress-published books and several boxes of files and took over paying the hosting fees for the Watercress website. It turned out that we did this just in time, for Alice’s condition worsened rapidly over the following two months. Still, I was able to tell her that there are were some promising prospects on the horizon; people and establishments who want very much to work with a local publisher they can meet with, face to face, and not a website with an 800-number on the other side of the country. I’ve inherited the relationship with the local printer and bookbinder, quite a lot of the local connections – and there we are, since I am going to train up my daughter in what is essentially a small family business.

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There Was a Lady…

There is a Lady, sweet and kind
Was ne’er a face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by…
Thomas Ford 1580-1648

lottiedenoHer name was Lottie, probably short for Carlotta, and she was a lady. She was usually described as a gorgeous red-head, who arrived in the wild frontier ‘ville that had formed around the military outpost of Fort Griffin, west of Fort Worth, in the years after the Civil War. She was intent on making a fortune for herself … but not in the way that bold, pretty, enterprising and unescorted women usually intended to earn it on arrival in a wide-open frontier town. Or anywhere in the barely-tamed far West, come to think on it. She was not an investor in some chancy enterprise, a mail-order bride or an enterprising whore or brothel madam. She stopped clocks and hearts … but never a poker game.

That was Lottie Deno’s profession – and supposedly, she was good at it; very, very good, with ice-water in her veins instead of blood. One legend has it that one night in the saloon in which Lottie was at the poker-table (likely skinning a green-horn, an unwary cowboy, soldier or drummer of all the coin and valuable property on him) when a sudden exchange of lead civility broke out, and everyone not immediately involved hit the deck. When they rose up from the floor, it was to see Lottie, calm and perfect to every curl of red hair and ruffle on her elaborate dress, saying, “Gentlemen, I came to play poker, not roll around on the floor.” She came by the alias she was best known by after an evening of marathon poker matches in which she had won every hand, when an appreciative and well-likkered-up onlooker with a command of Spanglish whooped, “With winnings like that, you otta call yourself Lotta Dinero!”

She was the older of two daughters of an imperishably respectable and formerly well-to-do Kentucky family named Thompkins, educated in an Episcopalian-run academy for young ladies. Her father had business interests in farming tobacco and hemp … and breeding and racing fine thoroughbred horses at his plantation at Warsaw on the Ohio River. Mr. Thompkins traveled widely – to New Orleans, mostly but also north, to Detroit and apparently to Europe at least once. He reveled in those pleasures of life available to a man of wealth – including gambling, at which he was immensely skilled – or lucky. And for some reason – perhaps because he had some inkling that the future was uncertain and that his daughter might just need a useful skill or two – he taught Lottie to play cards, and to play them very well. Or it just may have been that it amused him to have an able opponent on those evenings at home, before television and the internet.

When the Civil War broke out, Lottie was 17. Kentucky, a border state with strong ties to both North and South remained in the Union. But within a short time, her father had volunteered for service in the Confederate Army and fallen in battle. The fortunes of the family declined precipitously, along with the health of Lottie’s mother. Neither Lottie, her mother, or her younger sister seemed equal to the task of running their property or the late Mr. Thompkin’s business interests, especially not in the middle of a war. The solution as the Thompkins relations and advisors saw it was that Lottie should marry a rich and able man to take on that responsibility – and she was dispatched to Detroit, three hundred miles north of Warsaw, accompanied by her maid and former nanny – a tall and formidable black slave named Mary Poindexter – to achieve that end. Perhaps Lottie was not very keen on the idea to start with, perhaps she ran out of money, or maybe the man who she did strike up an amiable friendship with in Detroit – a man named Johnny Golden, who had ridden her fathers’ horses as a jockey – was unacceptable to her remaining family. Johnny Golden was also a gambler – and within a very short time, Lottie and Johnny, with Mary Poindexter as an attentive chaperone, duenna-and-body-guard combined – were working the professional gambling circuit. Another legend has it that a brash young Union soldier accused Lottie of having cheated him in a game on a riverboat. He started for Lottie, but Mary Poindexter stepped in, and launched the soldier overboard into the river.

Before the war ended, Johnny and Lottie had split up … and Lottie, with the ever-vigilant Mary in attendance … went west. Some say she told her mother and sister back in Kentucky that she had married a wealthy cattleman. Lottie and Mary arrived in San Antonio in 1865, and Lottie took up a job as a dealer in an establishment called the University Club. She was immediately popular, even though the permitted no drinking or cursing at the poker table over which she presided – and Mary Poindexter sat on a stool at her back, just to remind the punters of the respect due to her mistress, who was always elegantly dressed, cultured and the very soul of Southern belle-hood. Very soon she was known as the Angel of San Antonio. The University Club was owned by a man named Frank Thermond; soon, he and Lottie were in love, and Mary Poindexter had soon decided to go her own way. When Frank got into a fight with another gambler and killed him with his Bowie knife, he had to leave town fast. He wound up in New Mexico, while Lottie worked as a professional gambler in various raw settlements in West Texas, where she earned her reputation as the queen of the paste-board flippers.

The end of the story? Not quite what you’d expect. By 1882, she and Frank Thermond were reunited – and married – and living quiet respectable lives in Deming, New Mexico. He went into business – real estate, mostly – and was vice-president of the local bank. Lottie also was an upright pillar of the community, helping to establish an Episcopal church in Deming. She died in 1934, outliving her husband by 26 years, but not a certain legend. It is commonly said that she was the model for the character of Miss Kitty, in the old Gunsmoke radio and television series.

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Added To the Event Schedule

Christmas Onna LonghornYay! We gave just heard from Estelle Z. who organizes the yearly ‘Author Corral’ as part of Goliad’s Christmas On the Square! I am glad to know that the Author Corral is on again, because it’s always been a nice book event for me, although the drive is long. Where else does Santa arrive, riding on a long-horn, eh? It’s the first Saturday in December, December 6th this year, a weekend where many small towns in this part of Texas have their big Christmas shin-dig. Last year, the event was quite ruined by a brutally cold snap, which practically emptied Courthouse Square in Goliad of everyone but the poor suffering vendors in their open-air booths, and Santa arrived to a small crowd of about thirty children, most of whose parents I suspect took them home immediately afterwards and tucked them up for the rest of the day swathed in quilts, sitting in front of the fireplace or heater.

But it will be different, this year! And of course, my book for the year is Lone Star Sons, where the classic Old West rides again! (But on horses. Not on longhorns, although given a choice of things, Toby Shaw generally prefers to walk.)

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Retail Therapy ‘n Woes

Crazy Texas BootsWith so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?

Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio. When we first met her, the thrift shop was on the main drag in the historic part of town, and benefited from an enormous amount of walk-in traffic because it was on the main drag – although in a cramped three rooms and a teeny bathroom which doubled as an overflow storage room. But Kay was a pro when it came to management, coordinating unpaid volunteer workers, in attracting wonderful donations, and she used social media like a champ … I swear, many of the most enticing donations which came into the shop were pre-sold almost at once. Yes, a charity thrift-shop, of which there are already a few in the town of which we speak, but this particular one stood head and shoulders above the competition. The goods on display were often of an amazingly-superior quality and the pricing was reasonable. It’s a truism familiar to those of us relatively-poor people with high-end tastes; the very best pickings are to be had in charity thrift-shops in upscale locations. When my parents went to re-fit their own retirement house—burnt to the ground in the 2003 Paradise Mountain Fire—my mother often preferred shopping in such thrift stores. They could pick out things roughly similar to what they had lost; of superior quality and lightly used, at a reasonable price. Such things fitted their lifestyle and pocketbook; where is it written that those on a budget must settle for cheap cr*p, anyway?

So we loved the little shop which Kay ran, and brought home many fine things for a mere pittance – items like my vintage Ariat cowgirl boots, and a set of unused quality bedding – matching bed-skirt, quilted coverlet, pillow shams and boudoir pillows that originally retailed for nearly $1,000 all told. Alas, after five years of operation, the shop had to close around mid-summer. The historic building which housed it was being renovated – and the three rooms which housed the shop were no longer available to the charitable organization, nor was any equivalent premise available at a price which said organization was willing to pay. Still, we rejoiced with Kay was hired to run another charity shop in the same town, benefiting yet another and somewhat similar charity. Superficially, all was as it had ever been and at first seemed like even better; the shop was now in a larger space, a quaint Victorian cottage where there was now more room to suitably display the wide range of items which Kay attracted from the same kind of donors. Alas, there were two flies in the new pot of ointment; the cottage was a little off the beaten track when it came to walk-in traffic – and never underestimate how miserably hot it can be in a Texas summer, even in the Hill Country. But Kay’s regulars and volunteers loyally followed her to the new place, and when the monthly open market was held – there was a good turn-out. With the coming winter, and a number of special events in the town where the shop is located, there was a hope of business returning to something like the same level as in the old location.

The other fly was the peskier one; Kay now answered to a manager – an absentee manager in another state, who had very definite ideas on what the shop should accept and market – ideas which turned out to be a radical change. The take-in from the shop was unacceptable, said the absentee manager. It was simply not enough. So, henceforward, the absentee manager dictated, the shop would only carry collectables, high-quality jewelry (costume and otherwise) and original art. Everything else – shoes and clothing, household items, knickknacks and sports equipment had to go, immediately. Items should be labeled with a little price tag on a string, and be priced competitively – and none of this accepting just any old donation. Only quality stuff in a few limited categories, even if it had to be obtained from estate sales and auctions … no word on how this kind of activity would be funded, or who would be doing it, or researching the market-value of the select inventory. And the town of which I speak is thick with antique shops, collectable shops, and art galleries, most of which seem to be run by either entrepreneurs and paid professionals. At this juncture, Kay handed in her two-week notice. They let her go after a single week – and now, apparently, the shop will be run entirely by volunteers.

So, without knowing any of the economics – how much was the lease on the shop, how much it actually cost to run vis-à-vis the intake, and how much Kay’s personal connections with the donating and volunteering community contributed to the shop – I can only look at it from the outside, and what it all looks like to me as a consumer. Essentially, this one shop dominated the retail niche it occupied. It was open every day but Mondays – which put it ahead of the other shops, and Kay’s on-line marketing through social media made out-of-town shoppers well-aware of what was available. The goods were attractively and tastefully arranged by a professional. Oh, sure, some of them were the usual sort of junk which gravitates to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but taken overall – it was a far superior shopping experience, in quality and aesthetics. And now, under the dictates of the absentee manager, it will be just another boutique in a town full of them. My daughter and I agreed – we likely won’t be able to afford anything in it, and it will only last about six months before the charitable concern running it pulls the plug.

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It Never Rains …

American Gothic - Texas-style

American Gothic – Texas-style

But it bloody pours. Here I am, starting the marathon of book events for my own stuff and for Blondie’s origami art, which runs from early October until well into December, (Lord willing and the Ebola don’t rise) and suddenly all the Tiny Publishing Bidness clients who have been languidly considering their potential books – some of them from last year or this summer and one of them from out of the clear blue sky – want to move ahead with their projects. Now, if not a day or so ago. It should have been a warning to me that the business bank accounts were all at low ebb … that’s when something happens to fill them all up again. It never fails – something always appears, just in the nick of time. There was the written-content job of so many chapters for a publisher of study guides who found me through the milblog; they wanted someone with military experience who could also write to order and somehow stumbled onto little ol’ me. That project upheld the lifestyle at Chez Hayes for nearly half a year; I was in two minds about committing to it, but closed my eyes and plunged in away. Then there was the document transcription project … again, good for maintaining the lavish Chez Hayes lifestyle for most of a year, when taken in together with the other writing projects and sales of my own books.

I had a lovely book event in Fredericksburg early this week – a local book club contacted me through my website; would I come to their social, and more importantly – do a guided tour of the spots in Fredericksburg which featured in the Adelsverein Trilogy? One private tour for the club members, and another the following day for the general interested public?  As it was mapped out, the tour comes out to a shade less than three miles, to cover it all – from the town cemetery and that little church building which served the black community in the mid-1840s, all the way to the Marienkirche, which served the Catholic community from the earliest days. Good thing I suggested that everyone wear comfortable shoes … and that there were plenty of stopping places with shaded benches, and that at the point of two-thirds into the tour we were at the old established town square, where there is a very clean and well-maintained public lavatories and some picnic tables in the shade. The ladies of the book club were enormously welcoming, and hospitable, having secured us a room for one night at the Sunday House – which we fell upon with gratitude, being completely exhausted by the tour and the evening meeting. Yes, I will try to come to book-club meetings which have read the Trilogy or any of my books, as long as such are in a commutable distance from San Antonio. I am not such a big-name author that I can be snotty about such invitations.

Fredericksburg was blissfully uncrowded on a Monday, and Tuesday morning, and a two-hour long walk, plus some evening socializing let us catch up on all the local gossip, and note some changes in the town: a wonderful and theatrical 1920s Spanish Colonial style house on Austin Street has been torn down, to the regret of all; an apparent victim of black mold and extensive termite damage being found upon a new owner commencing renovations. But a classic German-Texas style house on Adams – which was under renovation for as long as I can recall has finally been finished very charmingly as a day-spa. There are now little bed and breakfast accommodations all over the historic part of Fredericksburg, tucked behind old houses; one of the club members told us that there were 350 B&Bs in town now, not to mention several good-sized hotels. And there is a new museum going in – a Ranger museum, next to historic Fort Martin Scott. That makes four museums in a single small town, which must be some kind of record. Alas, the yearly Comanche pow-wow used to be held on the land where they are building the museum – and the pow-wow is banished to the Gillespie County fairgrounds.

Kenn Knopp, the local historical expert who was a considerable mover and shaker in Fredericksburg and was kind enough to read the Trilogy in manuscript and approve of it all with extravagant enthusiasm passed on last year. I had kind of expected something had happened to him, as he was not in the best of health the last time we were in touch, and he dropped off Facebook entirely … still, I wish that I had known in time to go to the memorial service.

Finally – one of the walking tour participants told me that the corner plot which I allocated in fiction to the Steinmetz family was actually his family’s town plot, and that they held onto it until the 1940s, when they sold it to the church which presently has their activity center on the site. He’s a Luchenbach, and an old friend of Monroe Behrend, the master of the fast armadillo.  Small towns – you have to love them, but also be careful, because everyone knows everyone else, or they are related to everyone else. So, that’s my week – and I’ve written this between doing up a couple of contracts and estimations for the new projects.

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Autumn in the Autumn Market

(An update on last weekend at the Bulverde Fall Market. This weekend, we’ll be in Fredericksburg for a private book-club meeting on Monday afternoon – but on Tuesday morning at 10 I’ll be in the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center on Austin Street behind the Museum of the Pacific War, to lead a walking tour of Fredericksburg places which feature in the Adelsverein Trilogy.)

My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.

This includes New Downtown Bulverde, not quite so unobtrusive, and a few miles farther north at the intersection of Hwy. 281 and FM-46 West. This is where is where the schools are, as well as the fire department – newly built and lavish, the shopping center with a huge HEB Superstore. Bulverde is what my daughter terms as one of San Antonio’s bedroom slippers – once distant and separate communities now in commutable distance from the big city. The other bedroom slipper is Boerne, which boasts a more definable, scenic and historic downtown. Physical evidence of a wealthy yuppie demographic contingent is strong in Boerne – wineries, gourmet grocery stores, chichi designer boutiques retailing everything from country furniture, clothing, jewelry, baked goods and coffee – not so much in Bulverde. Boerne has a monthly community market; Bulverde has them twice yearly, spring and fall. Boerne’s is on the historic downtown public square, or what our readers in England might call a common – a half-acre square of lawn, edged with mature pecan trees and adorned with a Victorian-style bandstand. Bulverde’s community market is – as said – in the parking lot of Beall’s, in New Downtown Bulverde and organized by the Bulverde/Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce. A friend of ours, who was part of the planning committee, told us that every single slot was filled – all 135 of them, a substantial increase over the spring market in May. But of course, Christmas is coming.

Our day began at 5:30. Not to beg any pity over that, but we did have to eat breakfast, scroll though our regular news sites and email accounts, walk the dogs and water the garden, before pulling out for the half-hour drive to Bulverde. We had already packed Blondie’s Montero SUV the night before; the pop-up pavilion, the necessary weights for it, the tables, folding chairs, the necessary racks and display items – and of course, the plastic tubs with all the stock; my books, her origami art. Blondie calls this exercise ‘Automobile Tetris’ – packing in everything which we will need. The bulkiest item is the wheeled rack to display her origami earrings – a repurposed and repainted soft-drink rack. The heaviest is the pop-up pavilion, which takes both of us to carry – and to put up. We had to be set up and ready to go before 10:00, when the market opened – and hopefully before then, for the Montero had to be out of the way and parked in the designated vendor lot. Having the pavilion, the chairs and the tables saves us a fair amount of money – some other market venues offer them for rent for vendors. The practice is for regular vendors to have all their own market furniture – not just the pavilion and tables, but things like display racks and signage – and a trailer to haul it all around. One little local boutique maintains a vintage Airstream trailer as their portable premise. Many of the regular stalls in local markets are run by hobbyists who have a full-time regular job and do gypsy-retail on weekends; artists in metal, beadwork, fabric, wood and pottery, small truck farmers and producers of small-batch soaps, candles and skin-care products, or artisan gourmet foods. Sometimes they scale up to a permanent location, or already have a permanent location and do the local markets to build awareness of their products. Our immediate neighbors, by the way, were a crafter who did bead jewelry (we remembered her from the spring market) and Miss Scarlett’s Farm – organic produce. Which was quite good, and reasonably priced, too; Miss Scarlett’s owners are a young couple with a two-acre plot in rural Bulverde, where they intensely cultivate a wide variety of vegetables – and bees. We came away with half a dozen yellow squash and zucchini; he runs the farm, she does the weekly markets.

Blondie has a unique inventory – origami paper jewelry. She does mostly earrings; miniscule cranes and tulip flowers, which astound people for their tiny size, with a side-line in hair ornaments, pins and magnets. The crane earrings were a particular hit at this market, since they are priced to be readily affordable, and in practically every imaginable color. There was a lot of foot traffic, pleasingly constant for all the six hours that the market was open. That there was a good retail turnout is reassuring, in the light of current events. The day was fair, clear and warm, with a regular cool breeze that beat back the heat until about 3:00. Blondie had more sales than I did, dollar-wise, but many people took away information about my books – another thing to keep in mind for something like this: business cards and postcards. Quite often, there is an uptick of sales of my books on Amazon in the week or so following an event, from having handed out information. For both of us, the more that we are out and about at the markets – the more shoppers know about us. This is much more important for Blondie, since it may be harder to sell her origami items where people can’t actually look at and handle them in real time. I had a nice time, and several nice talks with readers; especially with a young student, all of eleven years old named Lorena, who picked out To Truckee’s Trail when I said it was the book of mine most suited for her age – although Lone Star Sons is intended as YA, it’s not available until mid-month and the only copy I have was for display.

The last hour of a market usually drags; the numbers of shoppers begin to drop, and while the vendors are committed by agreement with whoever is managing the market to stick around until the official closing, there is usually some surreptitious packing-up going on leading up to that point. Everyone is tired, bored as the crowds diminish, and more than ready to pack up and go home. The Chamber asked that we take down and pack up completely before bringing our cars and trucks into the area, which is a reasonable request – the gridlock is horrific, otherwise. We had everything broken down and packed in the Montero in twenty-five minutes, and were dropping with exhaustion by the time we got home. We’ll be doing this or something like it almost every weekend until mid-December – Ebola, or not.

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Just a Brief Note

… in D-sharp ! Tomorrow begins our season of books and paper jewelry, a long, long schedule of events that will likely give us no break until about mid-December!

We’ve packed the car, and are off tomorrow to the Bulverde/Spring Branch Fall Market. Look for the pink tent with the black-and-white zebra-striped top.

And Lone Star Sons is up for pre-order on Amazon for both print and eBook versions, so – yay, Amazon!

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And So It Begins …

… The fall book selling and event season. The first of our fall events will be this very weekend – Saturday from 10:00-4:00 -Bulverde Market Days. This will be going on in the in the parking lot by Beall’s at Bulverde Crossing. We’ll be in the bright pink-with-zebra-striped top pavilion, with my books and my daughter’s origami paper art and accessories.

Origami Earrings and Watercress Press Mobile HQ

Tuesday, October  14th – that’s the day after Columbus Day, I’ll be leading a walking tour of various places in downtown Fredericksburg which feature in the Adelsverein Trilogy.  Meet me at 10:oo AM in the parking lot of the Visitor Center on Austin Street, around in back of the main Museum of the Pacific War building.  I’ll be in town on Columbus day, doing the same for a private book club meeting – the Tuesday event is for anyone interested.

Historic House #2

Saturday – October 23 – I’ll be at the Texas Book Festival, on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin, at the Texas Author’s Association table, table 604/605, from 11 AM until 1 PM. This will be in a tent, just across from the Barnes & Noble and the Big Name Author area, in front of the Texas State Capitol Building, where Congress meets 11th Street.

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The Last of Her Ilk

I was going to write about another mildly notorious woman – an imperishably ladylike and competent professional gambler who was a figure of note in her day on the Texas frontier – for today, but I noted the departure of Deborah, known to her family as Debo, the last of the notorious Mitfords, from this mortal plane. Yeah, it was in the Daily Mail website, but they had a number of lovely archive pictures of her, taken throughout her life – which through no particular fault of her own – was spiced with notoriety. Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – which sounds like a made-up title for one of those horrible regency romances – was privileged and burdened, I think – in about the same degree.

That she bore that burden with a fair degree of graceful competence – and added to that – wit, insouciance, and that indefinable quality called ‘class’ and remained stalwart under it for all of her life – is something that bears contemplation. She was home-schooled, as it seems, eccentrically under the rule of a very eccentric father. She and her sisters were only expected to marry well, into the peerage if it all possible, and be ornaments to their husbands various careers, much as Englishwomen of their class had been schooled to do since time immemorial. But unexpectedly, she and her sisters – all attractive, intelligent and charming – also turned out to be fairly strong-willed and wildly independent in thought. In the hothouse of the 1930s, that meant political thought. This led three of her older sisters down some very strange political and social paths; two into notoriously enthusiastic sympathy verging on the treasonous with the Nazis in the lead-up to and during WWII and one – a dedicated Communist – into eloping with her second-cousin and going with him to report on the Spanish Civil War. One older sister became a writer of considerable note, penning historical biographies and several popular novels based on Mitford family life, the dedicated Communist sister ventured into journalism and civil rights, while another married into relatively respectable obscurity … just as Deborah herself did in 1941, to Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of a duke. Likely they had also expected lives of relatively respectable obscurity, although that could not entirely be depended upon, due to their bonds of kin- and friendship with any number of newsworthy people on either side of the Atlantic.

Such expectations were shattered by the wartime death of Andrew Cavendish’s older brother, the expected heir to the honors and property, along with the responsibility and the crippling tax burden. Within another handful of years, they took it on; the huge, crumbling stately manor of Chatsworth, which had been neglected for many years. Together they worked to open it to the public, to restore and revive an architectural and cultural treasure. It took, according to the linked account, nearly a quarter of a century to pay off the death duties on the Devonshire estates. She and her husband were also keen gardeners, and the grounds of Chatsworth are at least a much of a work of living art as the house itself. Always a prolific letter-writer, and with the example of two of her sisters to inspire her, she also turned to writing books – chiefly to do with Chatsworth, but also a memoir of her husband, her own memoir of growing up Mitford, and a collection of letters between herself and Patrick Leigh-Fermor. Many of the comments attached to the linked story mentioned encounters with her in person; a gracious, charismatic and quietly formidable woman, and one of a sort that we will likely not see again.

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