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Dog as Mrs. Santa

Yes, it is that time of year again – and for a wonder, the weather has finally decided to cooperate. One day we were running the AC because the temperature was in the 80s … and then the next morning, a chilly wind was blowing through the neighborhood – and we turned around on the doorstep to put on coats before we walked the doggies … because we had not expected it to be so suddenly cold!
So we were in the mood for Weihnachtsmarkt at the New Braunfels Civic center, and happy, happy, joy, joyful that it was an indoors venue! I don’t think we could have endured outdoors, as we did two weeks ago in Boerne, where it was cool and rainy, not ice-cold and windy. The author book tables are set up in the tall main hallway of the Civic Center, which runs from the front to the back of the building. There are three entrances from the front foyer and the hall into the rooms fitted out as for the market – and Santa is set up in the rear foyer. I am pretty certain it must be a tradition in New Braunfels to come and see Santa at Weihnachtsmarkt. Anyway, this is the third year they have had the author tables, and it’s just a short skip from home, it’s indoors, and most importantly, it draws people with money and the urge to shop, bit-time. I have lots of readers and fans in that area, too. And did I mention that it was indoors?

My daughter says, though – that if I write any more books, I will have to get another table, or at least a larger one. There’s only room for the seven, hardly any space for the various table-top attention-getting items or the little dish of candy that we like to put out … and it turned out that we had eaten all the dark chocolate and peanut-butter M&Ms anyway. This was supposed to be the official-official roll-out for The Quivera Trail – as I just knew that everyone who had read and loved the Trilogy would want to know what happened next!
All worked out as I had forseen – and we had much better results than at the Boerne Market; we came with three tubs and two boxes packed full of books, and brought home only two tubs. This recovered the table fee and the cost of the books themselves. One amusing sidelight was that on Friday afternoon, I realized that the author at the table next to us had a familiar name – and that I had used one of his books about the early history of Austin in researching Deep in the Heart – and that a good few of the incidents he included in his book I worked into mine. I even gave a credit in the notes at the back of Deep in the Heart. Jeffrey KerrThe Republic of Austin. This is not quite the first time this has happened to me; that was at the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene a couple of years ago, when Scott Zesch was one of the headline guest speakers. I had read The Captured, and was moved to include a story-line in the Trilogy about the tragedy of a white child taken captive by the Comanche and returned – too late – as a young man, never able to re-assimilate to life outside the People again.

The gratifying thing is that the other vendors that my daughter talked to all reported having goodly sales – which is a relief after lackluster sales in Boerne. With this, we have hope that the economy will revive here, at least a little for Christmas. My daughter is already making lists for our own Christmas gift-giving, although some of that will involve going through the ‘gift closet’ to see what there is, and who it would be suitable for. In between the next Christmas Market – at Goliad’s Christmas on the Square, we have Thanksgiving to consider… a roast turkey breast and at least some of the traditional fixings. All good wishes to you – and thanks to everyone who bought books from me, or who will buy them this holiday season!

The last words of the final chapter of The Quivera Trail were written this evening at about 6 PM. And is it a load from my mind, to have it done in mid-June, leaving the time from here until November for final polishing, shaping, editing, tweaking and otherwise fine-detail work.

I hope to have The Quivera Trail  rolled out officially at Weihnachtsmarkt in New Braunfels, on Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23rd, but it will be up on Amazon and B & N (and as an eBook in Kindle and Nook versions) by then for people who just can’t make the trip to New Braunfels.

An explanation of the title is here. The relevance to my story is that the plot concerns a number of characters who are all looking … looking for something; for love, acceptance, security, a future in 1870s Texas. I’ve described it as ‘Mrs. Gaskell meets Zane Grey.’ It might also be seen as a sequel to the Adelsverein Trilogy, as it picks up with Dolph Becker’s marriage to the very English Isobel Lindsey-Groves … a marriage not of convenience, but of pity and desperation. He feels sorry for her; a plump and rather awkward girl, bullied by her domineering mother  until she is absolutely desperate to marry … anyone at all. But Isobel does have qualities which might serve her well in Texas. On her journey to her new home, she brings her personal maid, Jane Goodacre … whose own talents and ambitions are suffocating under the limits and expectations of someone from a lower social class in Victorian England.

There’ll be some historical characters wandering in and out – although not as many as there were in Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, which was rather a literary Grand Central Station of famous early Texans. A lot of scenes are set in San Antonio itself, which is a switch from previous books, in which I took my characters practically everywhere else. I have tried as much as possible to make each of my books free-standing, so it is not required to read all of them in sequence to make sense of anything – but those readers who have read my other books will find appearances by characters who are old friends; Magda, Liesel and Hansi, Peter and Anna Vining, Hetty and Daddy Hurst,  Jemima-Mary Fritche and Don Porfirio.

…and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings — and commoners too, for that matter. The great William Shakespeare wrote many such sad stories, some of them more protracted and dramatic than others, some of them mercifully taking place offstage, as it were. The other night we watched the current episode of Downton Abbey, and even though we knew it was coming, we did sniffle a little at the shocking death of Lady Sybil – in childbirth, too. Whereas this was a tragically common cause of death in women of high and low social stature alike up until the end of the 19th century, it probably took real effort on the part of the writers to have it happen convincingly in the 20th – even the first quarter thereof. I’ll give the writers all props for creative research and as extra round of appreciation for avoiding the old soap-opera standby of a long fall down a staircase (although in fairness, they have hit upon a good few classic soap opera memes).

This also brought me to think on how many times I had to go into books, or perform a routine googlectomy in looking for just that very means of afflicting or removing one of my own characters. Which did turn out to be a fairly substantial list of conditions, ailments and cause-of-death, although some of them happened off-stage, so to speak or were referred to only briefly, while others had more detailed treatment. Let’s see: To Truckee’s Trail – threatened and actual near-starvation, malaria (called the ague) and cholera, both offstage before and after the time of the story. The Gathering – gunshot to the head, typhus (called ship-fever), malaria again, aftereffects of frontline meatball surgery in wartime, cholera again, and hints of manic-depression. The Sowing – more manic-depression, post-traumatic stress, pre-eclampsia, diphtheria, chronic alcohol abuse, gunshot to the back, multiple gunshots to the torso, and multiple sclerosis. The Harvesting; full-blown manic-depression, agoraphobia, more post-traumatic stress, incipient senility, stroke, peritonitis following abdominal wound with a bladed weapon, gunshot to the abdomen, drowning, and sudden massive heart attack/heart failure. Daughter of Texas: immediately fatal arrow-wounds, unspecified chronic illness, extreme dysentery coupled with heart failure, meatball surgery, and tuberculosis … plus, a war going on. Deep in the Heart: multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic shock, uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, massive stroke, again aftereffects of frontline meatball surgery, and malaria. Plus another war going on. So far in the latest book, Quivera Trail, I have only gotten up to a massive heart attack, but there is an operation for a depressed skull fracture in my plot outline, so I really should get back to work on that.

This listing actually makes it look as if it it is wall to wall General Hospital-type soap opera medical emergencies in the books, but actually it isn’t. It’s just that illness and death is a part of life – and in the 19th century, it happened with really dismaying frequency. Considering that Daughter of Texas/Deep in the Heart and the Trilogy cover more than fifty years of the lives of four different families, during three wars, and at a time when the best of doctors couldn’t do all that much … this list could have been much, much longer.

07. November 2011 · Comments Off on All Righty, Then · Categories: Book Event · Tags: , , , , ,

How about a picture of Santa Claus … riding on a long-horn! Just the thing to get into the mood for Christmas … or maybe a cute picture of a German Christmas angel?
Yes – even though we are only a week into November, I am already working on my Christmas book events! I had hoped to be at the Huebner Oaks Borders Bookstore Christmas bash in mid-December … but the whole Borders chain closing down kind of put the kibosh on that plan. So, this leaves me presently with two Christmas events – the first being the New Braunfels Weinachtsmarkt, on Saturday, November 19th. The event is held in the New Braunfels Convention Center – and more information is here at this link.

And then on December 3rd, which is the first weekend in December, I’ll be in the Author Corral at Goliad’s Christmas on the Square – which is another big craft show/sale and community event … only this one outdoors, around the old Courthouse in Goliad. (shiver!) Hope the weather is nice… and hope to see you there. I should have copies of To Truckee’s Trail – (second edition) at New Braunfels, and Deep in the Heart at Goliad – which will be the launch event for the sequel to Daughter of Texas.

(For your enjoyment – a selected chapter from the soon-to-be-released sequel to Daughter of Texas. Advance orders for autographed copies are being taken now, through my website catalog page.)

Chapter 19 – The Last of the Lone Star

 In the morning, Margaret rose at the usual hour, when the sky had just begun to pale in the east, and it was yet too early for the rooster to begin setting up a ruckus in the chicken pen. She had a house full of guests, even though most of them had not spent the night. One of the last things that Hetty had done before retiring for the night was to have Mose move the dining table back into the room where it normally resided, and return all the household chairs to their usual places. Margaret viewed the now-empty hall with a sigh, for the temporary glory that it had housed on the previous day – now, to see to breakfast for those guests who had remained. That breakfast should be every bit as good as the supper on Christmas night – for Margaret would not allow any diminution of her hospitality. She tied on her kitchen apron and walked into the kitchen, where she halted just inside the door, arrested by the expressions on the faces of the three within. Hetty bristled with unspoken irritation, even as she paused in rolling out the dough for the first batch of breakfast biscuits, Mose – who stood by the stove with an empty metal hot-water canister in each of his huge hands – had a nervous and apprehensive expression on his dark and usually uncommunicative face. Carl sat at the end of the kitchen table, interrupted in the act of wolfing down a plate of bacon, sausage and hash made from the leftovers of last night’s feast. He looked nearly as nervous as Mose, and his expression – especially as Margaret appeared in the doorway – appeared to be as guilty as a small child caught in the midst of some awful mischief, mischief for which he was certain to be punished.

Margaret took in each countenance in a lighting-flash, apprehended that something had happened in her household, and demanded, “What is the matter, then?”

Mose answered, in his thick and barely articulate mumble, “I took de hot watter to de gennelmun rooms, mam  . . .  an’ de Gen’ral, he still ‘sleep, mam  . . .  but he don’ chop down de bedpos’, mam.”

“What?” Margaret demanded, and Mose only looked more stolid. “He chop down de bedpos’, mam. Gen’ral Sam,” as Carl said, with an air of someone trying to placate an unappeasable fury, “He took an ax to the bedposts, M’grete. He  . . .  got a little merry last night, I guess – after you had gone to bed. Some of the others . . .  well, there was bottles bein’ passed. I didn’t think he would take to your best bedstead, though.”

Hetty looked from Margaret’s face to that of her brother, and the hapless Mose, and murmured, “Mother Mary save him, she’s got her Maeve face on, for certain.”

“There wasn’t anything I could do, M’grete,” Carl temporized, even as Mose returned to filling the canisters from the hot water reservoir at the side of the vast cook stove. ”He’s the General. I did not think you would object to the men getting a little merry on Christmas. You had wine with dinner, after all, M’grete.”

“I do not object to the drinking of alcohol under my roof,” Margaret answered, in a voice tight with suppressed fury. “I object when men drink of it to excess. And I object most strenuously to barbarous conduct, after they have drunk to excess. Little Brother, Mose. You may bring up the hot water later – for a now, each of you fetch a bucket of cold  . . .  from the spring-house, please.  . . .  Then all of you come with me.”

“I just put the biscuits in…” Hetty began to protest, but Margaret cut her off with a few curt words, as Mose and Carl obeyed. “This will not take a moment.”

The heels of Margaret shoes made a brisk tattoo on the floor, echoing in the hall as she swept imperiously up the staircase, in her fury outdistancing all of her acolytes. At the top of the stairs, the door to the best guest room stood slightly ajar: Mose had not closed it entirely on his departure. Margaret waited for the two men to climb the stairs, Hetty puffing in their wake. She took a deep breath, Mose’s words having prepared her for the worst. Well, now she knew why she had dreamed of someone chopping wood during the night. She opened the door all the way; oh, no. The room smelt faintly of stale drink, underlaid with odor of sweat and male toiletries. The slave man’s words and her own imagination had not prepared her for what she now saw. General Sam lay snoring in the middle of the bed, on top of the counterpane with his boots and coat cast carelessly aside on the floor amid splinters and roughly-hacked chunks of cherry-wood. All four of the tall and gracefully carved bedposts were roughly hewn down, almost level with the head and footboard. Margaret felt sickened by the intensity of her anger: her best bed, purchased at such a cost, from the earnings of hers and Hetty’s labor – a beautifully-wrought and cherished thing, deliberately mutilated. Behind her, Hetty gasped, horrified alike. They had both taken such pride in the new furniture, in the look of their best guest room. Now, Margaret was certain she would never look at it again, in quite the same way, now that it had been so desecrated.

“Carlchen,” she said, and her voice shook. “And Mose. I want you to waken the General with the cold water. And once he is awake, assist him in resuming his clothing. Assemble his luggage, too. Carlchen, you will see him conveyed to Mrs. Eberly’s without delay.” Carl hesitated, and Mose looked between them, and to the ruined bed with General Sam snoring in deep sleep.

“B’foa breakfast?” Mose ventured, and Margaret snapped.

“Yes. The water, Carlchen – it is how one rouses drunks, is it not?” Shrugging, Carl carried his bucket to one side of the bed, Mose to the other. They hoisted the buckets to chest-level, poised to pour them out onto the sleeping General Sam, while Margaret watched, hawk-eyed. “Now!”  More »

I suppose it does seem a little like magic, this storytelling thing. Explaining it even to yourself – much less to other people usually results in bafflement. Like the old joke about dissecting humor being like dissecting a frog – by the time you are done, there is nothing but a bit of a mess and confusion and the frog is dead anyway. My parents, as practical and hard-headed people,  were as puzzled by this aptitude as anyone else – they couldn’t for the life of them figure out how I came by the gift of spinning an enthralling story, of creating people on a page and making them so interesting and endearing that eventually they became quite invested in my characters.  More »