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06. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Start of Another Lone Star Sons Aventure · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West, Uncategorized

(And I promise that I will finish this one!)

Into the Wilds

“I came as soon as I received your message,” Toby Shaw arrived at the Bullock House in Austin where Jack Hays and Jim Reade had taken rooms while they awaited the arrival of Jim’s trusted fellow ‘stiletto man’ on before the meeting with Governor Wood. The stage from Fort Belknap delivered Toby promptly on the third day after their arrival; Toby resplendent in a well-cut suit, fashionable cravat, and white shirt – his long braids the only jarring note in his otherwise conventional appearance. “What is so important regarding this task that we are both bidden to Austin?”

“I have no idea,” Jim answered. “Colonel Hays has been remarkably close-mouthed on that score … as always.”

“Part of my ingratiating personal charm,” Jack replied, with a hearty handshake. “Sit down, sit down … and I have no notion of the purpose myself. I know – difficult to credit. But I’ve been away for months, and had a war with Mexico to win, so I’ve lost touch with the day to day of things. I’ve organized a private supper, so that we can catch up – and not set gossiping tongues to wagging. Since it is the Governor himself driving this … I can only speculate that it is something to do with the United States.”

“Of which we are now one, since Annexation,” Jim pointed out. “And with the US Army to see to our security – what purpose do we have now? Toby and I, and your handful of other stiletto fellows?”

“Oh, there are purposes,” Jack replied. “One or two, still left to us as Rangers. I believe that the governor will be prompt in relieving all our curiosity tomorrow morning. We are bidden to a private conference at nine of the clock at the capitol building, and not to breath a word to anyone of this. It appears to be an extremely sensitive matter.”

“Aren’t all of them?” Jim raised an eyebrow. Jack laughed, and then his expression turned melancholy.

“Most of them, I think. I fear that the feats performed by my stiletto-men Rangers will never be made public; only recorded in certain dusty archives and locked in a sturdy iron safe for all eternity.”

“Well, we didn’t get into it for the glory, did we, Toby?” Jim shrugged philosophically. “We did it for … because it was in the cause of justice.” His blood-brother laughed, replying, “Justice, in the way of your courts, James-Reade-Esquire? We perform our tasks because it is right to do. If the Great Spirit alone knows – why then, what does it matter to us?”

“Well-said, boys,” Jack regarded the two with approval, and Jim thought that he looked … well, wearier and older. The brief sharp war with Mexico had aged their commander. A fair number of his old Ranger comrades had fallen in that field; Addison Gillespie and Sam Walker dead on campaign, and one of his oldest Ranger associates sidelined by wounds and walking away when his final enlistment was done. But it was as if Jack intuited that thought of Jim’s – for he smiled immediately, and exclaimed,

“I know the cooking at Bullock’s isn’t a patch on the market ladies in Bexar with their pots of good red stew – but I have an appetite tonight! Shall we swap stretchers about what we all have been up to since the last time we met?”

“I thought you would never ask,” Jim answered – and so the evening passed agreeably enough, especially since Jack produced a bottle of good bourbon whiskey – “From Kentucky, a gift from a good friend!” Jack insisted, although Jim had suspicions, since the bottle was absent any label. And Toby foreswore any of it, unless well-diluted with water, saying only that although he was not of the temperance persuasion, and not adverse entirely towards a jolly evening with old friends, he did not care to partake of liquor at full-strength.

 

In the morning, Jack, Toby and Jim strolled the short way up Congress Street to the frame capitol building which edifice crowned the top of the hill – a commanding height in Austin, which had been built in a fair and parklike meadow, dotted by copses of noble oak and cypress trees, and threaded through with creeks of clear water. Now the heights to north and south of the great silver sweep of the Colorado River looked down upon a city invigorated by the peace which followed on the successful prosecution of a war, and the consummation of a marriage between an independent Texas and the United States; a marriage which canny old General Sam Houston had labored to arrange for ten long and bitter years. Still, Jim slightly regretted the surrender of a state of independency. It meant that the Rangers were no longer needed; now the US Army, dressed in their fine blue coats and commanded by gold-braid-hung officers would be responsible for the frontier … and for those matters of security which had been Jack’s particular responsibility. Perhaps his term as one of Jack’s stiletto-men was also at an end, a matter about which he was in two minds. His father was old – still vigorous in the practice of law, and their joint practice in Galveston gave every sign of being lively and prosperous, could Jim only pay considerable more of his time and energies to it.

If Toby felt something of the same regrets, he gave no sign of it, as they crossed the porch of that white-washed frame building which served as the capital, and stood in the entryway. The door stood halfway open to a hallway. They were a few minutes early, by Jim’s stout hunter watch. Without hesitation, Jack thumped on the door panel with his fists, and called,

“Say, anyone at home? I’m Colonel Hays, and we have an appointment with Governor Wood.”

“At least I didn’t have my heart seat on a grand reception,” Jim remarked, and Toby – standing at several paces behind, peered over Jack’s shoulder, saying, “Maybe we should ask that soldier?”

Hearing those words, a stocky, grizzled man in US Army blue sprang from a seat at the foot of the stairs, straightening into something resembling attention, and rendering a crisp salute. His sleeves bore a satisfactory number of stripes, testifying to the utter solidity of the man and his value to the federal Army.

“Colonel Hays, sah! I was told to expect you at any moment.  The gentlemen are waiting upstairs. If you and your good gentlemen would be so kind as to follow after me. The General is a man who esteems punctuality.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Jack returned the salute with a nod, never having been much of one for military protocol and the practice thereof. “Have you any notion of what this is about, Sergeant …”

“Grayson, sah – and I do, but I have been given the strictest of orders, straight from the General, which the Senator hisself approved in the next breath.”

“I expect that it is a matter of national importance then?” Jim ventured, as they climbed the stairs, and Sergeant Grayson looked over his shoulder at them. Jim wondered why the man seemed so … familiar, and in a way that suggested a previous encounter had not been a pleasant one.

“In a manner o’ speaking. But if you ken the matter properly – there is a touch o’ the personal as well. And to more than just to the Senator. But,” Sergeant Grayson recovered his sense of discretion, a sense which warred against the propensity of non-coms to pass along interesting gossip and suppositions. “I should say no more, properly. But it is personal to me as well. Captain O’Neill was … well, he was one of the good ones.” Ah – English; Jim made a note to himself, and a reminder to conceal at all costs his instinctive dislike of the man. Grayson was an Englishman; in appearance and manner very like that English agent who had been involved in the matter of the old Casa Wilkinson … and more balefully, in the lost San Saba Treasure.

“Captain O’Neill?” Toby looked across at Jim, as they followed Jack and Sergeant Grayson up the stairs at a discreet distance. “What of this – and what to do with us, James Reade Esquire?”

“I can’t be certain,” Jim whispered back. “But if he means Captain Brendan O’Neill – and I am thinking that he must – the Captain was one of the rising bright stars in the Army, if the newspapers have it right. A favored child of fortune, as my father would put it. A graduate of West Point, although his background was hardly favorable, being the child of poor Irish immigrants. He was taken prisoner briefly in fighting in Monterray, but made a daring escape to our lines on the city outskirts. Feted all around Washington and promoted for his trouble. Then he was given command of an expedition into the western territories, even before they were turned over as part of the peace settlement.”

“Ah then,” Toby whispered, as Sergeant Grayson approached a door at the head of the stairs. “He was favored by the great chiefs to lead a war party.”

“Not a war party,” Jim corrected him. “Rather a party of exploration – to make maps of land features, find natural roads, and make friends with the Indian tribes, in the expectation of making allies among them.”

“A far-thinking notion,” Toby nodded. “Most uncharacteristic of what I have seen so far of the Yengies. What has this matter to do with us?”

“Likely because he never came back from it,” was all that Jim could say before Sergeant Grayson rapped briefly on the closed door at the top of the stairs. At a word from inside, Sergeant Grayson opened the door and announced in a stentorian voice reminiscent of a parade ground, “Colonel Hays, with…”

“Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw,” Jack stepped through the door, while Jim winced. Yes, a captaincy was a nice thing to have, but it was more for a show of authority – a courtesy title, rather than an actual rank. On the other hand, he reflected as he followed Jack and regarded the four men within, it was a small but significant thing, in their eyes.

Fire engine appearing by courtesy of the Giddings VFD – The latest installation should be out by the middle of May!

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29. April 2017 · Comments Off on Up to the Minute · Categories: Uncategorized

So, I have been a little … absent from the blogs for the last week or two. There are only so many hours to the day, and I have been caught up in finishing Luna City IV, for publication at mid-May, formally to be launched at the Wimberley Book Festival on the second Saturday in June. Which book is actually a little ahead of schedule; I had thought it would be completed in another month, so I am running ahead of the self-imposed schedule – even with a couple of Tiny Publishing Bidness projects to spend time upon.

This will give me a head start on the sequel to Lone Star Sons, which I hope to have done in time for the Christmas marketing season. Rather like I had hoped for The Golden Road, only what with one thing and another, that particular book missed all but one day of the Christmas marketing season and that one day was a bloody, cold, wind-whipped disaster. Plus, in that wind-whipped disaster, I lost the information for the one person who had paid to order a copy in advance. (Sorry – please PM if you are that person, still looking for your pre-paid copy! Give me the date and place where you ordered it! You’re a fan, and I OWE you a copy!)

Other than that – real life, the garden, the dogs and cats and chickens. Last month’s project was the construction of a set of gates, a lattice gate to keep the chickens in the back garden, and another at the front of the property, to allow a long open garden along the sheltered and south-facing side of the house, dedicated to flowers and vegetables. Plants in the ground, plants in pots along one side, a couple of lattices now half-covered with pole bean vines and lemon cucumbers, and a long bed of native plants and a pair of tomato trees along the other. All of these projects take time, either out in the garden or chained to a hot computer – but I have hopes of both paying back bountifully over the remainder of this year.

The low lattice fence at the back of the house

The low lattice fence at the back of the house

06. March 2017 · Comments Off on Ladylike · Categories: Uncategorized

Late last spring, I was inspired to do a little more, sartorially speaking, when I appeared at a book event. I had always tried to dress up a little, half-heartedly doing a sort of Dale Evans/cowgirl/Santa Fe western style as a means of at least looking the part. A member of the old on-line writers’ group who had written several historicals set in 19th century China had a magnificent set of mandarin robes, with accessories, which he wore to book events, to wild acclaim – so I seemed to have been on the right track, if not with the right selection of my chosen ‘author drag.’
The inspiration last spring came from my daughter insisting on a trip to the nearest Handcock Fabric store, as it was announced they were going out of business within months. My daughter wanted to check out their assortment of embroidery threads, both for hand and by machine embroidery. And I went off to flip through the pattern books in a desultory manner, more or less to kill time. However – in the Butterick catalog, there was a section for ‘costumes’ – a market for providing such to reenactors and cosplayers must have become significant in the last couple of years. Only logical, when you think on it. People are still sewing, but not for making every-day clothing as it was when my mother made all my school clothes, and I made the same for my daughter. Every-day wear is cheaper to purchase ready-made; those sewing garments today are more likely to be making special occasion outfits; prom and bridal dresses … and costumes.

Among the costume patterns was one for an Edwardian-era walking suit, which I liked the look of, the more I contemplated it. Tailored jacket, ankle-length skirt – not very much removed from what I wore when I worked in an office for various enterprises which required standard women’s business attire. The Edwardian suit wasn’t from the era in which most of my books are set – but I nixed the idea of going full corset-crinoline and bonnet to a book event, not least because stuffing me and all that into the front seat of my daughter’s Montero and then helping to set up the pavilion and the tables of goods in that get-up was simply out of the question. But an Edwardian, or even late Victorian outfit, with a narrow, ankle-length skirt or perhaps a slightly fuller skirt and modest bustle; that was doable, and potentially very eye-catching. I bought the pattern and a length of marked-down suiting and lining materiel, and went to work. That first outfit came out OK, but I did another one in even more marked-down brown tweed suiting which came out very, very well (it’s my favorite, actually) … and then I got ambitious, once I had my long-disused Singer sewing machine tuned up.

I bought a Butterick pattern for making various vintage-style hats. Millinery is just a special sort of sewing and requires an ability to follow written directions and nothing in the way of raw materials that is not readily available from places like Joann’s or Hobby Lobby. The hats and bonnets, bashed from various patterns available here and there all came out so well that by fall I had a different outfit for every day of a three-day event; something to wear for every book event over the Christmas season. My ambition now is for a wardrobe of six or eight different 1880-1910 period outfits with all the appropriate accessories – an evening gown, a couple of lightweight cotton day dresses in cotton or lawn, plus the walking suits. Hats, gloves, reticule, whatever …

The eye-catching thing worked out, which is why I decided to expanded the wardrobe of author drag in the first place. All attention is good, when it’s a lead-in to talking about books: “Hi – I write historical fiction, so why not dress the part?” is a fantastic ice-breaker, and a lot more dignified than a bald, “Hey, wanna buy my books?” There is another very curious effect, too – the effect that the whole thing has on males of a certain age – say, older than forty, or so. And let me put it out there right away – I am not movie-star spectacularly attractive, and never was, really. I am sixty-plus, overweight, and in the bloom of youth might at best be described as “cute,” or “not bad looking.” But when I am in one of my full author drag outfits – hat, gloves, reticule, and all, it absolutely astounds me how courtly and full of gentlemanly deference certain men become. It’s almost as if they are channeling manners from a more courteous era than this present one. It’s quite charming, actually. And another good reason to go full out with the period wardrobe and accessories.

23. January 2017 · Comments Off on A Gallery of Illustrations from The Chronicles of Luna City · Categories: Uncategorized

24. December 2016 · Comments Off on Say it Loud and Proud – Merry Christmas! · Categories: Uncategorized

And a lovely carol to go with it – sung by the chapel choir of King’s College, Cambridge, England.

03. November 2016 · Comments Off on Behold – the Holiday Marathon Schedule! · Categories: Uncategorized

OK, the holiday season schedule of markets is complete – as of yesterday. This is what it looks like –
November 12th – At the Bulverde Senior Center on Cougar Bend, Bulverde, Texas, for the Christmas Craft market.
November 19th – at the New Braunfels Weinachtsmarkt in the New Braunfels Civic Center on Coll Street. I’ll only be there for Saturday morning.
November 25, 26, 27: a three-day event in Johnson City, Texas, in the vendor area around the Courthouse. We have hopes for this, as it is a huuuuge festival, with a parade, lavish lights all over the Courthouse Square into the late evening on Friday and Saturday.
December 3 – in Miss Ruby’s Author Corral, at the public library in Goliad, Texas. Another community event at the Courthouse Square.
December 10 – At the Old Courthouse in Blanco, Texas – in the vendor area around the courthouse square.
December 17 and 18 – in Boerne, at the Cowboy Christmas market on Town Square.
And this year, I am offering a special gift pricing; Celia’s Christmas Gift Bundle. This is selected sets of my books; all tied up in raffia, with a gift tag and a wee Christmas ornament. This pricing only applies to the gift sets at these specific events. See you there!

holiday-marketing-bundles-2016

14. October 2016 · Comments Off on The Press of Events · Categories: Book Event, Random Book and Media Musings, Uncategorized

Well, here we go, my daughter and I, poised like divers at the very end of the board above the deep end of the pool, ready to plunge in to the long schedule of weekend markets that will keep us busy and occupied … and hopefully well-remunerated for our labors into mid-December. The projected schedule has every weekend in November locked in, and the first two weekends, or at least the Saturdays in that month. This is an exhausting schedule, one way or another: but these are book events and markets, markets and book events, mostly within an hour’s drive of San Antonio. This is when people are purchasing stuff – regardless of events political in the national sense and in the international.

It was my daughter’s insistence that we broaden our market schedule, since participation in back-to-back markets in San Marcos – both to do with the Mermaid Festival – proved to be so very profitable for her. The Boerne Book Festival a couple of weekends ago was marvelous for me, after a couple of rather discouraging experiences over summer … pro tip: the chances of book sales in mid-summer are rather slim, unless the event has been advertised to a fare-the-well – and your name is J.K Rowling, Stephen King or some other smith of words blessed and anointed with a regular lease on the NY Time Best-seller list. None the less – one must still keep doing them, just to keep the brand out there. The third Luna City book is out there already (and yes, I fixed the booboos with the Kindle version.) The next historical, The Golden Road – the adventures of a very young Fredi Steinmetz in the gold mines of 1850s California will also be available in mid-November. By then, I will be offering a special Christmas book-bundle gift package; details to be posted later, as soon as I have the cover for The Golden Road sorted. (Not to give away any plot points at all, but Fredi encounters a whole raft of semi-famous Western characters at the peak of their fame, or more often, even before they were famous: Sally Skull, Roy Bean, Lotta Crabtree, Jack Hays, Charlie Goodnight, and Mary Ellen Pleasant, and many others.)

So – there is the schedule, posted on my Amazon Author Page – look for the pink pavilion with the black and white tiger-striped top. Don’t know where we will be exactly in the various markets, as these things are variable, and in some cases the event is an indoor venue where the pink pavilion will not play a part. In that case – I’ll be in period garb with a totally flamboyant hat.

So that was a fun Saturday, although exhausting as it always is to pack the Montero, drive a certain distance, unpack the Montero, find a good spot, transport the canopy, tables, the tubs of books and the tub of table dressing and giveaway materiel, and the two camp chairs to it, and set up, ready for business. Then – four to six hours of face-to-face direct sales, broken by a sandwich from the HEB deli (No, lunch is a chancy thing at these events. There may be a food truck or a concession handy with something that we’d want to eat and don’t mind paying for … or not. We have wised up. We bring HEB deli sandwiches, and an insulated bag of bottles of drinking water.)

This is the second year for the Boerne Book Festival – last year there were about twenty of us, spaced out in a back room in the main building. If records and memory serve, we did sell a handful of books, but mostly, us authors were reduced to looking at each other after a certain point in mid-afternoon. I did have a table across from a local historian, Jefferson Morgenthaler, who did a very good book about the German settlements in the Hill Country – a book that I absolutely recommend, as he covered the same territory in non-fiction the same ground that I did in fiction. He is one of those local authors that I knew of, but had not met until that point – so last year’s event was not a totally wasted effort.

Neither was this year’s; they set us up on the landscaped grounds of the library, under the trees where a winding paved path went down to an amphitheater which was the venue for a couple of scheduled events, starting with a children’s ballet company performance: the mini-dancers performed as various forms of sea-life to the music of Saint Saen’s “Carnival of the Animals”. This was the most-well attended segment of the presentations in the amphitheater, I will have to admit, although the later presentations/discussions did have an audience. One of the authors wrote zombie thrillers and was of sufficient celebrity as these things go to have the local Barnes & Noble store with a representative sample of his books.

There were about thirty-five authors present, plus Alan of the Texas Author’s Association, who had a booth filled with books by members of the association. One of them was Clay Mitchell, who was a client of Watercress Press. Alice and I had done some substantive and line editing for his book, Amid the Ashes and the Dust, which is a terrific and evocative read, set in East Texas. Another was John Keeling, who has started a western series about cattle ranchers in Texas; the first book is called Take ‘em North: The 2E Brand Begins. We had a brief chat about writing about the post-Civil War long-trail cattle drives; always go back to the primary sources, we agreed. Just about anything about that enterprise that you saw in a movie or a TV show during the Golden Age of the Western (say from 1930-1970)  is liable to be howlingly inaccurate.

Boerne is one of those towns just about commute-distance from north-side San Antonio; with a very distinct identity, and a well-established historical district. The ambiance is one of very substantial proto-yuppie prosperity. A couple of new developments on the outskirts of town have sprouted up in the last few years, and the various businesses in the historic downtown have – for as long as we’ve been visiting – been very, very upscale. It is, in a word – a prosperous place.

My daughter and I did venture by turns into the used-book store, which is an outgrowth of the Patrick Heath Public Library; a lovely building on the grounds, with a two-level terrace at the back, and a beautifully-arranged selection inside. Seriously – this is a library used-book outlet, which was as well-sorted and set out as any high-end retail book store. My daughter bought Alison Weir’s bio of Henry VIII and I found a copy of the Crabtree and Evelyn cookbook, which I bought for sentimental reasons. And yes – I can’t resist cookbooks of a certain sort. I really used to love that company when they had an outlet in North Star Mall, across the street from the office building where I had a job, some years ago. Sadly, the Crabtree & Evelyn outlet vanished, seemingly between one week and the next. Eventually, there was nothing left in that mall which I was interested in, on my lunch hour, save maybe the Williams-Sonoma outlet. It all became high-end designer clothing, makeup and jewelry. I commiserated with the volunteer cashier at the bookstore about that. She was leafing enviously through the cookbook during the time it took for me to go back to our tent and get my purse. ‘Hah!’ I said. ‘You had your chance!’

So – a very good and reassuring start to the last-quarter-of-the year selling season. One of the readers that we sold a set of the Luna City Chronicles to, stayed for a while to lament about how her widely-geographically-spread friends visualized Texas … in a most unflattering way, of course. My daughter has marveled at how her English FB friends seem to think that we all live in little desolate towns, where tumbleweeds roll through deserted unpaved streets, and everyone lives in tumbling-down shacks with outhouses out at the back and gunfights in the streets on a regular basis.

No, it’s not like that – not anything like that at all… But perhaps we want to keep that quiet, because then everyone would want to move here, and that would quite wreck the place. Say, did I mention how hot it is in Texas during the summer? It’s boiling hot, miserable-hot, fry-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. For five whole months, and sometimes six! No, stay away, stay away!

Anyway, the Daughter-Unit and I are planning out the next market events on our schedule; Johnson City and Blanco are a go for their markets, and Saturday morning at the New Braunfels Sophienburg’s Christmas marked in November at the New Braunfels Civic Center. Dates to be posted as soon as confirmed.

27. August 2016 · Comments Off on A Diversion – The Last Day of Pompeii · Categories: Uncategorized

I visited Pompeii in 1970, and then again in 1985 with my daughter. It is a fascinating place, a ghost town, and once away from the main gates, quite empty; winding little streets between walls that stand higher than a single story. It’s easy to close your eyes and picture it as it might have been …