11. May 2023 · Comments Off on The Shape of Research To Come · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

So, now that a number of items off the 2023 to-do list have been checked off, I have to apply myself sternly to the next item on the list, which is to complete the Civil War novel That Fateful Lightning. Which at this point is about half completed … the half remaining though, is about Miss Minnie Vining’s journey through the Civil War as a battlefield nurse, after the previous decade and a half as an Abolitionist campaigner.

I have been reminded once again, how small was the circle of intellectuals and campaigners for the Abolitionist cause, especially when it came to the female personalities. They all knew each other, or at one or two connections removed, and many of them continued in various other causes – notably for the rights of women with regard to legal matters and the vote. So, now the deep, deep dive into the American Civil War; on one side, Shelby Foote’s massive three-volume history, a fair number of Bruce Catton’s books that I have on hand (since my mother had an abiding interest in the Civil War and had nearly all of his books) a volume of Alexander Gardner’s photographs, and sixteen or seventeen of the Time Life series on the war, which is useful to me for the pictures more than the scholarship involved. I need to be able to visualize scenes, places, and people. My father once asked me how I went about describing a scene, and I told him it was almost like building a miniature set, only I built it in my mind: picturing the room, the place, the people in it, how the sunlight poured through the windows, what they could see from those windows, imagining the way that the place smelled, the little details of dust, sounds from outside,  and small things in the corners.

So, I need to be able to build a picture in my mind of the characters; how they would have moved, spoken and the words they used, acted towards each other. I won’t go much into the battles and personalities of all the ‘big’ players of the war – it’s just the little hints, details and insights that I am snorkling after. Like the death of Elmer Ellsworth, the first officer to be killed in the war – taking down a Confederate flag from a building in Alexandria, just across the Potomac from Washington. He was a handsome man, a minor celebrity and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. (Huh – Sam Houston once described Jefferson Davis as ‘ambitious as Lucifer and cold as a lizard’. Not that this will have a bearing on the story, but that Sam Houston found Davis to be a ‘dislikable man’ … interesting.) And Lincoln himself was so very much the odd fish, as a president; scorned as ignorant backwoods, uncouth yokel, a hick from the sticks, who didn’t understand how things were properly done in the ruling chambers and corridors of power among those who were bred and educated suitably to rule… hmm. The contemporary political cartoons lampooning him, and the editorials about him were positively vicious, especially in the European newspapers. The English magazine Punch was especially poisonous. I’ve wondered if the viciousness was precisely because he proved to be a better and more able man than he appeared at superficial glance and the carpers and cartoonists were embarrassed by their inability to see this. I’ve already written a scene where Miss Minnie meets him and is wholly charmed.

But a lot of the details I am after, aren’t in the significant histories of the war itself – they’ll be buried in the memoirs of various women and men who volunteered for the Sanitary Commission in various capacities, especially the women who were moved to volunteer as front-line nurses and after the war was done, wrote about their experiences. Fortunate I am that a lot of them were available online – including one that I am still pursuing, since it gives me the personal link between the Bostonian Minnie Vining and the Chicagoan Mary Bickerdyke … who was apparently an irresistible force to be reckoned with; WT Sherman allowed that Mary Bickerdyke outranked him, in the general scheme of things. My general plot has Minnie joining up with Mary Bickerdyke, and the Union Army in the west.

The specific plot depends on what I discover in this. Pray for me as I venture forth…

29. March 2023 · Comments Off on Scam Spam Man · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

Just this morning, my daughter and I both got sloppily-misspelled text messages on our phone about our Netflix accounts being suspended because of a problem with billing … spam, of course. The links in such messages are intended to do nasty things to your phone, if clicked upon by the unwary. We’ve been getting quite of few of these messages – alleged to be from Bank of America, PayPal, Amazon, and no, the completely illiteracy of the message makes it screamingly obvious that they are just another spam scam.

Like the email spam messages which eventually completely swamped functional email addresses back in the day, such messages are cheap enough to generate, as long as that one in a million profitable and gullible sucker bites on it. There was a frustrated blogger back then who wished profoundly that they could track down that one in a million person who bit on a spam message and lost their shirt, slap them silly for being such a gullible idiot and making it all profitable for the scammers. It’s the one person in a million who makes it all profitable for a spam scammer … and yes, I’d like to see them slapped silly, for unleashing the spam scammer annoyance on the rest of us.

Just as my daughter and I have gotten ruthless with the romance scammers who infest social media like carpenter ants or termites. Some Instagram accounts that my daughter follows, mostly because the account holders are funny and amusing and have interesting posts – one ‘like’ and seven or eight scammers – usually with names which don’t follow the Western pattern, pictures cribbed from somewhere else and a whole lot of unrelated quotes about romance and God – are zeroing in on her own account. It’s not quite that bad for my own FB page, since I have gotten pretty shrewd about considering ‘friend requests’ – look, guy, if you claim to be a widower of a certain age, highly-educated, perhaps serving in the military, and stationed in some exotic locale, yet there is only a banner heading and a single picture of you on your account, I am deleting your friend request.

I suppose that the most insulting thing is that the Spam Scammers, and the Romance Scammers don’t even try very hard. You know, like being able to spell, figure out conventional Western name conventions, and post a hella lot more pictures on their fake profiles. But then, they might be more effective … So carry on, Spam Scammers – as you were, illiterate in English and all… but if you could let us all know who that one person in a million who falls for your not-terribly-convincing text… Oh no reason at all. Really.

13. March 2023 · Comments Off on Just a Heads-Up! · Categories: Old West, Random Book and Media Musings

The next installment of the Lone Star series is done – the further adventures of Texas Ranger James Reade and his blood-brother, Toby Shaw of the Delaware – Yes, it’s titled Lone Star Blood, and will be launched in print and ebook by the end of this month! Yay, me! Another item checked off my yearly to-do list! One of the short adventures was published last year in the anthology volume Tales Around the Supper Table Vol. Two! I intended it as a retelling and homage of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, which at least two reviewers of the anthology considered to be a rip-off. No, it’s an homage – every excellent plot ought to be taken out for a romp in every geographical location where it might be made to fit! Anyway, my version of that adventure and four others will be available in print and ebook by the end of March, 2023.

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.

12. February 2023 · Comments Off on Getting Ahead of the Game · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

At only five weeks into 2023, it does look as if I am closing in on some of the goals outlined in my end-of-year wrap-up. As for the books in progress, there is only one more story to round out Lone Star Blood. I looked over the four completed, and they strike me as rather grimmer than some of the previous stories in Lone Star Sons and Lone Star Glory – but then, on looking again at those two volumes; eh, they deal with personal treachery, several murders, suicide, political treachery … and escaping to another life, so maybe not all that grim.

That Fateful Lightening still remains half-finished, while I do that last short adventure for Blood.

But as for the household goals, one is done and dusted – the dryer vent. Yes, finally got that one done, although it wound up costing about four times what I thought that it would. Still – the amount of lint scraped out of the vent was enough to line every bird nest for at least half a mile around, and now the dryer completely dries a load in one brief cycle, unless it is one of the heavy cotton blankets which always took forever, anyway. I definitely know that the dryer vent was never cleaned during the time that I owned this house – save for efforts by my daughter and myself with a vacuum-cleaner attachment to suck out lint from the inside of the house. It may not even have been done by the original owners. The tech hired – and who did the job for about four times as much as I was expecting to pay, as none of the other local companies never did me the courtesy of responding to my requests for bid – said that the cap of the vent was firmly nailed into place and looked to him like it had never been shifted at all. Yeah, my mind boggled, at that point. But now that the job is done – we are happy with it. So now the house won’t catch on fire through the accumulation of heated lint in the chimney-vent, which is always a plus.

The second goal is construction of the short fence and gate to make a little private patio and play space in the paved area by the front bedroom – a room that when I had the windows replaced, I asked for and had installed a French door, instead of a double window. The contractor/handy guy/crew came on Friday morning to start work – it’s just a short run of fence, all of 12 feet, but with the gate – it complicates the project a bit, necessitating four postholes, two at either end and two on either side of the planned gate. And the construction crew, which is run by the husband of another realtor who is my daughter’s good buddy at the brokerage – dropped off one single worker to dig the four holes, before heading off to another job. So that one late teenaged worker went to work with a posthole digger and shovel and managed to drill down into the rock-hard caliche layer – which lies about a foot down, after a layer of solid, brick-like-when-dry adobe clay. He finished gouging the required four yard-deep holes after lunchtime, and then sat with his cellphone in the little patio … and then and then …

We messaged the handy-crew boss; Hey, your guy is still here. Gonna come and finish the job or at least collect him?

Reply – yeah, this is what they do. They get paid for the day, if they finish early, they get to slack off.

Us – OK.

But it was getting cold – it really was. And it was getting later and later.

Ok, surely the crew is gonna finish whatever job they are working on at five … six … and the minutes ticked by, and their worker is still there, sitting on the bench in what will be the small patio, absorbed in his cellphone. And it’s getting colder and colder, supposed to get down to near freezing in the wee hours … my daughter finally came out and told him to come inside. His grasp of English turned out to be nearly non-existent, but my daughter found some translation programs, and was in touch with the manager of the firm, did manage to discover that the work crew were coming back from another job, some distance from the city. And this was Friday at rush hour…

I should point out that we didn’t have any apprehensions of doing this; he was barely teenaged, had no visible tats and was wearing paint-splattered clothing, and we have a large and very protective dog as well as divers other means of personal protection. So – we wound up giving the kid supper – since we were both starving anyway and it would be horrendously bad-mannered to eat in front of him and not offer a plate. If the crew hadn’t shown up, I think we might have just given him a blanket and let him sleep on the couch but they did show up to collect him, eventually.

They are supposed to return on Monday to finish the job. Pictures to follow of the completed patio project.