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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.

30. July 2012 · Comments Off on Personal Barsetshire · Categories: Domestic · Tags: ,

In January, 2007 I had just launched into the first book about the German settlements in the Texas Hill Country – a project which almost immediately came close to overflowing the constraint that I had originally visualized, of about twenty chapters of about 6,500 words each. Of course I blogged about what I had described as “my current obsession, which is growing by leaps and bounds.” A reader suggested that “if I was going for two books, might as well make it three, since savy readers expected a trilogy anyway.” And another long-time reader Andrew Brooks suggested at about the same time “Rather then bemoan two novels of the Germans in the Texas hill country, let them rip and just think of it as The Chronicles of Barsetshire, but with cypress trees!” and someone else amended that to “Cypress trees and lots of side-arms” and so there it was, a nice little marketing tag-line to sum up a family saga on the Texas frontier. I’ve been eternally grateful for Andrew’s suggestion ever since, but I have just now come around to thinking he was more right than he knew at the time. Because when I finally worked up the last book of the trilogy, it all came out to something like 490,000 words – and might have been longer still if I hadn’t kept myself from wandering down along the back-stories of various minor characters. Well, and then when I had finished the Trilogy, and was contemplating ideas for the next book project, I came up with the idea of another trilogy, each a complete and separate story, no need to have read everything else and in a certain order to make sense of it all. The new trilogy, or rather a loosely linked cycle, would pick up the stories of some of those characters from the Trilogy – those characters who as they developed a substantial back-story almost demanded to be the star of their own show, rather than an incidental walk-on in someone elses’.

I never particularly wanted to write a single-character series; that seemed kind of boring to me. People develop, they have an adventure or a romance, they mature – and it’s hard to write them into an endless series of adventures, as if they stay the same and only the adventure changes. And I certainly didn’t want to write one enormous and lengthy adventure broken up into comfortably volume-sized segments. Frankly, I’ve always been rather resentful of that kind of book: I’d prefer that each volume of a saga stand on its own, and not make the reader buy two or three books more just to get a handle on what is going on.

So, now I am well into that project – having written one (Which turned into two) and now on the second and third – when I got bored with one, or couldn’t think of a way to hustle the story and the characters along, I’d do some research, or scribble away on the other, and post some of the resulting chapters here and on the other blog. But it wasn’t until the OS blogger Procopius remarked “I like that you let us see the goings on of so many branches of the same family through your writings. The frontier offers a rich spring of fascinating stories!” This was also the same OS blogger who had wondered wistfully, after completing reading “The Harvesting” about young Willi Richter’s life and eventual fate among the Comanche, first as a white captive and then as a full member of the band. And at that point, I did realized that yes, I was writing a frontier Barsetshire, and perhaps not quite as closely linked as Anthony Trollop’s series of novels, , but something rather more like Angela Thirkell’s visualization of a time and place, of many linked locations, yet separate characters and stories. Yes, that is a better description of how my books are developing – not as a straight narrative with a few branches, but as an intricate network of friends, kin and casual acquaintances, all going their own ways, each story standing by itself, with now and again a casual pass-through by a character from another narration. And it’s starting again with the latest book, I’ll have you know – I have a minor character developing, a grimy London street urchin, transplanted to Texas, where he becomes a working cowboy, later a champion stunt-performer in Wild West Shows . . . eventually, he is reinvented in the early 20th century as a silent movie serial star. The potential for yet one more twig branching out into another fascinating story is always present, when my imagination gets really rolling along.

So – yes. Barsetshire with cypress trees and lots of side-arms, Barsetshire on the American frontier as the occasionally wild west was settled and tamed, a tough and gritty Barsetshire, of buffalo grass and big sky, of pioneers and Rangers, of cattle drives and war with the Comanche, war with the Union, with Mexico and with each other. This is going to be so great. I will have so much fun . . . and so will my readers.

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 »