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.

15. November 2022 · Comments Off on At the Market · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

My daughter and I did a craft market last weekend – one of our regular markets of the season. This one was at the Senior Center in Bulverde, and I have lost track of how many of these that we have done, but I do remember doing the first one, where my daughter had to drive back home for our tables, which it turned out that we needed, and I only made enough to buy a set of regular china from a junk outlet on the way home. (Oh, yes – 2014, and we have only broken one of the small plates since then. Still love that china, still use it every day.)

So, my daughter is moving on from eking out a small paycheck in doing the gypsy markets, to doing real estate full time, so what with Covid and the cancellation of practically everything, we aren’t doing many of the markets that we used to do. She is selling off the last of her stock of tiny origami earrings, and the knitted beanies and stuff… but she did have a notion that we ought to try doing homemade soap and scented candles, along with all my American Girl doll clothes … and we were able to score a lot of raw materials for the soap and candle projects through my Vine participation.

I made a decent profit on the doll clothes (which are mostly made from scraps left over from other projects), although not so much that I will make any more until the inventory draws down – and our big seller was home–made, hand-made soaps. We found some basic recipes and had the required equipment on hand – digital scale, crock-pot, immersion blender – bought the olive and coconut oils from Costco, the powdered concoction to make the lye solution from Amazon and tried it out. The basic recipes worked very well; I think that the only reason that crafters shy off from making soap is that the lye solution is genuinely dangerous and a bit scary, when one reads all the warnings … but we went ahead, put on the rubber gloves and the eye protection, and followed all the measurements exactly. With the result that we had some very pleasant and usable soaps, which sold like the proverbial hotcakes, packaged in little mesh bags from the Dollar Tree (soon to be the Dollar-25-Cent Tree, I believe) and priced them to sell … which they did.

We took Wee Jamie with us, and he behaved magnificently, just as he did last year. We took along the folding wagon, padded with plenty of blankets, and all the baby stuff, of course. He simply charmed so many people at the market, including a tall skinny teenager who mimicked him making faces and blowing raspberries, offering high-fives for nearly ten minutes … it was really most endearing. He’s an outgoing and endearing small child and loves interacting with people. Not a shy or withdrawn bone in his body. Another woman, especially charmed, asked if we could stay in touch with her – she would like to be one of Wee Jamie’s honorary aunties. He took a good long nap in the wagon around midday and generally behaved so very well. He was not cross or cranky at all during the day. I have plans eventually to dress him as Little Lord Fauntleroy in black velveteen and a Battenberg lace collar, so he can help me flog books. Best to teach them the craft early, you know…

My daughter went around and talked to so many of the other vendors, gleaning some rather dispiriting intelligence regarding their sales … well, we weren’t the only ones who didn’t make much. Her conclusion is that almost everyone is holding on to their money this year. We made bank on the soaps because we priced them considerably below what we have paid for similar at other markets. We have another market this weekend, this one in Starzville, near Canyon Lake, and then on the first Saturday in December, the long haul down to Goliad for Miss Ruby’s Author Corral, and Christmas on the Square, with Santa arriving, mounted on a very, very tame (possibly heavily tranquilized) longhorn steer, to the great acclaim of the crowd. I hope to have the print version of the latest Luna City installment available for sale at that event, but everything about publishing and printing slows down at this time of year. The ebook/Kindle version should be available within days, though.

17. April 2022 · Comments Off on Dressing the Part – Again · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

I am back to doing in-person book events again, after almost two years of practically nothing. Seriously, for all of 2021, I did two book events and one craft fair, which – to add insult to injury – resulted in sales so meagre that the sales tax reported and paid to the state amounted to about $15 bucks. With the end of the covid sort-of-epidemic trailing off, and the quiet death (at least in Texas) of mask and social distancing mandates, and people actually getting out of their homes and going to live events, big events like Folkfest and the upcoming Lone Star Book Festival in Seguin are back to something approximating normal.

Which is such a relief for me, although since these events are mostly outdoors, the matter of being comfortable in a historic costume does come up. Some of my Victorian and Edwardian outfits are polyester fabric, and as such are hideously uncomfortable in the heat. I’m not even going to chance wearing one of them at the Sequin event, which will be entirely out of doors and late in May. Last year, I wore a cotton dress with an apron over it, in the style of a WWI Red Cross nurse, which was comfortable enough, but this year it’s going to be a two-day thing (just as FolkFest was) which means two different outfits suitable for the out-of-doors in a Texas spring. I went with a long skirt and Edwardian-style cotton shirtwaist for both days, with the required underpinnings, which are all cotton.

I was asked several times if it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, in such clothing, Just about all the women reenactors were also wearing long dresses were asked the same question, to which the answer was – no, not really. The other ladies were wearing loose cotton dresses, although I was the only one who was also layering a corset and a petticoat over the shift undergarment. I had only the one shift, which meant putting it through the wash after the first day, before wearing it again. So in preparation for more summer events, I’m making another shirtwaist – in cotton, of course, and two of those late Victorian undergarments called ‘combinations’ – a one-piece version of underwear combining a shift top and knee-length bloomers. One has to wear a shift or combinations under a corset, as corsets, with the metal busk and bones, can’t really be washed. In the old days, it seems that corsets were worn, and worn and worn until they were in shreds – the layer of shift underneath and corset-cover over were to preserve the corset and keep it relatively clean as long as possible. I don’t mind wearing one, by the way – they’re really not that uncomfortable for the generously-busted, they eliminate the discomfort of bra straps digging into your shoulders and it does wonders for posture.