All righty, then – release of That Fateful Lightning is set for 1 December, for Kindle, and shortly thereafter for print! All done, and dusted … and now I can catch my breath with the holidays before picking up work on the next book …

Which most likely will be the next Luna City installation … and maybe begin research for the next historical, which will go into how the Vinings of Boston got involved with the American Revolution, and how Heinrich Becker came to desert the Hessian regiment that brought him to the Americas…

Decisions, decisions….

The Civil War novel is at last finished! I rounded off the last few bits of dialog and narrative this last weekend. I’ll have to look back in my archive for when I started on it … sometime in early 2020, I think. The narrative concerned the experiences of Miss Minnie Vining, of an old Boston family, who was an abolitionist crusader in the 1850s, and then a battlefield nurse during the Civil War which resulted. The rough outline of her experiences and the Boston Vining family were alluded to in Sunset and Steel Rails, when the indominable Miss Minnie was a very elderly character, whose importance to the plot in that book was to aid her niece in escaping a dreadful situation. Minnie Vining was also briefly mentioned in My Dear Cousin, when a distant younger relative also served as a wartime Army nurse. Miss Minnie was first mentioned in Daughter of Texas, as the older bluestocking sister of Race Vining … well, anyway, this book rather filled out her character as a strong-willed and determined spinster of independent fortune and considerable education.

This narrative also allowed me to explore through Minnie’s experiences a number of fascinating themes; the immense yet subtle power that women wielded in 19th century America, and the enormous degree to which the anti-slavery movement roiled every aspect of American society and politics during the two decades leading up to the Civil War. The commonplace perception among most 21st century Americans is that because women didn’t have full political rights and were often treated unequally in legal proceedings, that women were completely without power economically and within their communities; barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. And that is just not the situation at all. Women had and wielded considerable economic, intellectual, and social power within communities, even under those constraints. This was demonstrated nowhere more clearly than in the abolitionist movement, where many of the popular “influencers” of the time were women, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin … a narrative that turned out to be so popular in the North that Abraham Lincoln himself humorously attributed the war to it. So, contra the dark insistence of those pushing the 1619 narrative, that the United States was primarily and irredeemably founded and perpetuated on the institution of Negro slavery, the fight against it was long, passionate, and carried on by a wide swath of citizens, almost from the very first. Although only the most prominent of them are known today, many of their peers in the abolitionist movement are relatively obscure – but they left writings and memoirs of their struggle. A lot of those memoirs, published in the decade after the Civil War are available through on-line archives. Many such activists, like my fictitious Minnie Vining, were women. Quite a few were also later involved in campaigning for female suffrage, or like Dorothea Dix, reformers in other causes. A fair number of these women were friends, or at least, acquainted with each other, and became much more famed for their efforts in that crusade for full suffrage.

Another eye-opening aspect, at least to me, was the degree to which women contributed to the military effort in the civil war, by getting involved with the Sanitary Commission – a volunteer organization formed to provide to the Civil War era military what now is provided by a combination of the military medical system, the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation service, and the current Red Cross. Up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the US Army was small, the medical corps even smaller – and when the enormous numbers of militia volunteers took to the field, the existing medical care and soldier-support system was utterly swamped. Although the top leadership of the Sanitary Commission was male, women were everywhere else at regional levels, and formed the core of volunteers. Women, wishing to see to the welfare and care of their brothers, fathers and sons – raised funds to pay for all those necessary services through all manner of fairs, sales and donation drives, volunteered themselves as nurses, sewed shirts and knitted socks, contributed all kinds of comforts, and saw to goods being packed and distributed. The Sanitary Commission volunteer organization fielded hospital steamships to transport the wounded, opened hospitals, provided comforts for the troops, facilitated communications with families, and assisted soldiers traveling on furlough – all those services necessary to field a large national military and keep morale as high as could be expected. It was fascinating to read about all that.

It was even more interesting to read the memoirs and accounts of the volunteer nurses, practically all of whom had any formal training for that field. Only a few orders of Catholic nursing sisters had any kind of training in the profession which we would recognize today. Just about all the nurses recruited for service in Civil War hospitals came straight from their homes, which might sound curious from today’s perspective, but caring for the sick at home would have been a large part of woman’s work, before vaccinations, modern sanitation standards and sterile surgery. Nurses Rebecca Pomroy and Mary Bickerdyke, just to give an example of two real-life women who feature as characters in That Fateful Lightning were widows who had spent years caring for husbands with compromised health. As an indication of how important this was in the 19th century, Mrs. Beeton’s popular cookery and household management book, contained a whole chapter on invalid cookery – light, nourishing and appealing dishes intended to appeal to the appetites of the ill. Those women volunteers who came into Civil War service already possessed a practical knowledge of nursing.

So there it is – all finished but for the final polishing. The next two book projects after this likely will be the 12th Luna City installment, and another collection of YA short adventures for the Lone Star Sons series – probably not to start on those until after the holiday season, though.

The name of the town, incidentally, is pronounced “Bernie” – it’s one of the small Hill Country towns first established by the German settlers enthusiastically crowding into to Texas by the Adelsverein, and then by the failure of the various 1848 revolutionary movements. It’s rather more wealthy than most such, to judge from the number of very nose-bleedingly-high-end retailers lining Main Street. We hadn’t been up to the town in more than a year, when we visited just before Christmas to have a picture taken of Wee Jamie, the Wonder Grandson sitting with Santa, and in that time some things have changed – the gas station/meat market/BBQ place on the corner of Main and River Road closed, and the building demolished. It’s now an empty lot. The beautiful Victorian house on Pecan Street which my daughter loved with the intensity of a stalker has changed hands. The new owners apparently cleared away most of the garden and trees, and put up a fence around the yard. A good friend of ours used to manage the Squirrel’s Nest thrift shop, in an old building on Main which benefited a local animal charity, but the shop had to relocate to a less-well-trafficked location because the owner of the property wanted to expand the restaurant next door into that space. The Bear Moon Café seems to have closed their dining room inside their premises. All cause for sadness on our part.

But there were some positive developments, and one of them was discovering a new independent bookstore, at the back of a newish building on Main – a relatively tiny but comfortable place, of two rooms filled with an appealing and well-curated selection of books. The very best part is that they are ready, willing, and eager to stage author events – and so, when I had dropped off my card with the staff, when we discovered the Boerne Bookshop, I heard from them almost at once. We set a date for a Saturday in February – which was yesterday – and it all went very well. Very well, indeed – the Bookshop was frequented by lots of walk-in traffic over the two hours. Not a bit like the last time I did an author signing – sitting at a table in an almost-deserted bookstore, watching people try not to catch your eye. Perhaps I have gotten better at this kind of thing, or the elaborate Edwardian costume with hat and all makes a good ice-breaker for starting conversations. That, and in a small place like the Bookshop it might be considered rude to ignore someone sitting there, with a stack of books at hand. Anyway, enough copies of My Dear Cousin and Adelsverein; The Gathering sold, and I handed out enough of my business cards and flyers about my historical series to have made it worthwhile. I’ll definitely go there to launch the next installment of the historical series – That Fateful Lightning – when I buckle down and get it finished. My daughter noted that the cashier was ringing up sales on a regular basis – including her’s – as she had found four books that she simply had to have, unlike the last two or three times she wandered through a Barnes & Noble outlet; which now seem to be novelty stores, selling toys, magazines and stationary … oh, and a few shelves of books in the back.

It’s a mixed bag for indy authors, dealing with bookstores, large and small, independent bookstore and chains alike. We often lamented this, in the various indy author groups that I have been a part of, over the years. Barnes & Noble were generally hostile, with a few individual exceptions, if they had a manager or an event coordinator who could think outside the box. The local Borders outlets were magnificent to local indy authors; one location here in San Antonio even held a mass indy-author event at Christmas; alas, they went under. Hastings outlets were also nice about hosting author signings, although their focus wasn’t really books, but media generally. It was just very pleasant to have an event at a welcoming store, where there were enough interested people among customers and staff, and I didn’t feel that I had wasted my time for two hours. It’s often said among other indy authors that writing the book itself is just half the job – and the other half is marketing it. It’s also been said often enough that the national chains of big box bookstores like Barnes & Noble drive the small independent bookstores out of business entirely – but looking at independents like the Boerne Bookstore and others like them, who are holding on by getting and staying involved with local readers and writers – the independent little book stores may have the last laugh after all.

So – I established the practice of wearing late Victorian or Edwardian-style outfit when out doing a book event; everything from a WWI-era grey nurses’ dress with a white apron and kerchief, to a black taffeta bustle skirt and jacked with a blue ribbon sash hung with orders and jewels and a white widow’s bonnet (a la Queen Victoria). It’s an attention-getter in a room full of other authors and readers, and a wonderful social icebreaker/conversation starter: Hi, my name is Celia, I write historical fiction, so I like to dress the part!

I am also helping to raise my grandson, Wee Jamie – and fully intend, when he is just old enough to be a help – to draft him as my assistant, teaching him well the craft of direct sales. We have already carted him along to several market events this last fall, and he was angelically good, quiet and very charming to all – so I have every reason to expect that he will continue in that vein. He will be dressed appropriately, in proper Victorian/Edwardian small boy’s outfit, and I tease my daughter by insisting that I will fit out Wee Jamie in a dark velveteen Little Lord Fauntleroy suit – jacket, knickerbocker trousers, and shirt with a lace collar. We’ll skip the long, curly golden locks. His own hair is light brown and stick straight. I also tease her by telling her that it should be cut in a military high-and tight. (You know – that haircut where it looks like the guy has shaved his head entirely and parked a small furry rodent on top.)

In any case, the black velvet Buster Brown suit was all the rage for little boy’s best outfits in the wake of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s best-selling 1885 novel, subsequently turned into a popular stage play version, and to generations of movies and television series. She based her title character, Cedric Errol, on the charming personality of her younger son, Vivian – who as a small child,  was bold, amiable, socially at ease and given to making endearing remarks to all whom he met. The character Cedric proved to be just as endearing – a sympathetic, well-spoken, and egalitarian lad, who was inclined to use his considerable wealth and rank for innocently charitable purposes; the very beau ideal of the Victorian age. (His metaphorical descendants died in droves, on the Western Front.) He served as the model for the illustrations to the book when it was published – and proved to be as popular as the Harry Potter series, more than a century later. Vivian, as one might surmise, did have some trouble in living the embarrassment of this down, as he grew up … went to college, and married in his turn. He turned out to be a stout guardian of the wealth that his mother had earned through her own work as a writer. Fittingly, he died of a heart attack in his sixties in 1937, through over-exerting himself in the rescue of passengers on a foundered boat.

Well … maybe just a knickerbocker or a sailor suit. Something that doesn’t embarrass Wee Jamie in coming years.

12. December 2022 · Comments Off on Christmas, Closer and Closer · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

Thanks to a really splendid and profitable Saturday spent at the New Braunfels Heritage Society Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture (thank you, Leslie and Justin and all!) I could do a little impulse gift shopping for my daughter, Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson and for my distant family in California, which now checks off one more item on my Christmas “to-do” list. We send my youngest brother one of the fruitcakes from Corsicana, which he loves, and my sister and her husband and family, a selection of only-Texas-available rubs, sauces and spices from HEB, to include a big bottle of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup. We think of this as a care package for the sadly deprived California branch of the family. Since we didn’t do Giddings Word Wrangler this year, we couldn’t send the bottle of Harley’s, bottle of which usually among the offerings in the swag bag for authors and which my sisters’ family loves, but what the heck, it’s available now through Amazon anyway.

The big thing – no, the two big things accomplished today were 1) getting everything mailed; this at the central post office on Perrin-Beitel, where for a miracle, every window was opened, so it all went briskly, although the line went out into the lobby. I quite like doing business at the central post office, by the way; sent mail and packages move fast, being that it is the central post office, and the staff are amazingly friendly and helpful. I have no idea of why this should be the exception in San Antonio, when tales of shoddy and abusive service elsewhere are legend – but I have never had a complaint about the post office staff, or that of the local Department of Motor Vehicles, either.

And 2) We got the Christmas tree assembled and decorated, mostly with the decorations that my daughter has begun acquiring for her own eventual Christmas tree – not the massive collection that I had gotten over the years. More importantly, all the assorted boxes and tubs which littered the living room and hall are moved out to the garage. This is a project that we had been putting off for some days, mostly because of the humongous chore that it presented … but it was important that we get it done, because this may be the year that Wee Jamie begins to acquire memories of family Christmas, the tree and decorations and lights and all … and my daughter wants to establish those memories firmly for him.