For some unfathomable reason, my daughter the working real estate agent scored an invite to a very posh event – the official San Antonio bash to announce the Benjamin Moore color of the year. Yes, it was a very post event, held at the very upscale and trendy Hotel Emma, which is an integral part of the Pearl Brewery development.

The honored color is something called Raspberry Blush, which to us looks more like a salmon-orange, a very bright, lively, cheerful color … er, well, the up-to-the-minute trendy and fashionable live for this kind of thing, even those of us old enough to remember the inexplicable fashion for avocado green and harvest gold, which made trendy kitchens of the 1970s so risibly ripe for redecoration as soon as those colors passed out of fashion.

I can’t help thinking that a whole room done in Raspberry Blush would be terribly overwhelming – unless it was something like a small powder room or bathroom, with white porcelain fixtures and neutral tile taking down some of the color impact. Otherwise, I can only see Raspberry Blush in a good-sized room under two circumstances:

As a pop of color contrast in a kitchen; the lower cabinets or kitchen island, with all else save the fabric potholders and kitchen towels being a cool neutral. That would be very pretty, especially if the potholders and towels were in Raspberry Blush. The other way that I could see it would be as trim – the doors, cabinetry, baseboards and cornice – to a room papered in a William Morris pattern, something with a vivid palette and an overall complicated pattern, with a color somewhere in it what would be close to Raspberry Blush – a Victorian-style library, parlor or dining room.

Your thoughts?

It rather seems, reading some of the movie and book criticism from various angles and for various recent mass-entertainment productions (both literary and cinegraphic) that the necessity for a female character to be a strong, fearless, unstoppable Mary Sue, without flaw and above reproach has overridden any impulse to tell a good story with believable human beings … which ultimately makes for bad and unrealistic storytelling. There’s no dramatic potential in a basically flawless character. Apparently, the audience is supposed to stand about, slack-jawed in appreciation of the amazingness of such paragons of female perfection.

Which is kind of sad, really; an offense against the concept of an author being the creator of entertaining stories and interesting characters. It limits the story-teller to just a few predictable tropes; no room for creating real, human, relatable and sympathetic characters. I do like to think I have managed to avoid such tropes, mostly because I’ve always tried to simply create characters, interesting and complicated characters, whose maleness or femaleness is just one single aspect of their character and their story arc. For my first two historicals, To Truckee’s Trail and the Adelsverein Trilogy, the standout, and tent-pole characters (that is – the characters who hold up the whole thing) were male: Dr. John Townsend of wagon train fame (who was a real person, BTW) and early Texas Ranger and Goliad Massacre survivor Carl Becker. (Created out of whole cloth.) But as essential elements of the plot, they were matched with able and strong female characters. Dr. Townsend had his wife Elizabeth, who started as a near-invalid and finished as a member of the party chosen to be part of the horseback rescue party when the wagon train was close to being stranded by show in the high Sierras, as well as the temporary single mother Isabella Patterson, determined to get her wagon and brood of children safely over the wilderness trail to rejoin her husband in California. Carl Becker was matched with Magda Vogel, the immigrant German girl, who was by way of being a tentpole character herself – backbone of her family, wife, mother and eventually the matriarch of her extended family. But she started the arc of that narrative as a slightly awkward but intellectually inclined teenager.

Carl Becker’s sister Margaret was merely a walk-on in the Trilogy, but she was the main character in the next two novels. (Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart), growing from a dreamy girl into that strong woman – but it was in progression, and for a good part of the way, Margaret was mainly motivated by suppressed fury and resentment over how she had inevitably been let down by every single significant man in her life that she had really depended on. She finished that arc in finally appreciating and loving that brainy but socially unskilled man who adored her unreservedly, and who never had let her down … and whom she had rather overlooked for years. So much for a strong woman.

All the other historical novels save one, The Golden Road, focused on female characters, front and center. Golden Road featured an older teen boy, Fredi Steinmetz, and his adventures in the goldmines and boomtowns of 1850s California – adventures which mostly meant that the other main characters were male, although at the end, one of his associates there turned out to be a girl masquerading as a boy, for reasons of keeping a low profile in a society in which women were few and far between. As that disguised girl acerbically pointed out to Fredi, in that place and time, no one paid any notice to a boy – but everyone noticed a woman. And that character had darned good reasons for wanting to be persistently unnoticed. She also had specific knowledge of placer mining and a set of her dead older brothers clothing to make the disguise good, until … well, never mind. Don’t want to give up too much plot.

The next three novels, which were follow-ons to the Trilogy focused chiefly on female leads – but none of the women involved started as faultless, perfect, and overwhelmingly charming Mary Sue types. Isobel and Jane, in The Quivera Trail began as Victorian women, straitjacketed, and strangled in the expectations which their relative social class placed them: Isobel the lady, who knew herself to be fat, clumsy, and socially inept, and her personal lady’s maid Jane, hampered by the limitations expected of her comparatively lowly background. Both managed, once they were set loose in Bicentennial-era America, to discover that they could be a bit more than what had originally been demanded and expected of them. I had enormous fun writing that book looking at the manner in which a fair number of Victorian-era ladies managed to overturn all conventional roles and still live quite satisfactory lives on their own terms. The husbands whom Isobel and Jane attracted were also fully fleshed individuals, by the way. I did get a bit of ironic satisfaction out of making their characters authentically pure in a Victorian manner – that they really did long to be married to manly men and accepted without question that their ultimate role in life was to be a wife and mother … but also as a side-line, to support their husbands as the second-in-command authority of whatever enterprise their husbands operated. Sophia, in Sunset and Steel Rails also followed that path, although with a stint of work as an independent woman in one of those businesses which did offer very fair terms of employment to women in the late 19th century. That would be the fearsomely high-class and high-standard hospitality national corporation, Fred Harvey Company. The Fred Harvey Company was almost a hundred years ahead of anything else which could be classified as a national hospitality chain, so that book offered me an opportunity to explore that aspect of the late 19th century frontier.

As for the most recent historical, My Dear Cousin, the whole concept is based on a matched pair of mid-century American women experiencing a world war – one as a wife and mother, the other as a military nurse, holding her own as a woman in a male-dominated sphere. Neither Peg or Vennie are wonder woman, or Mary Sue; just two young women doing the best that they can in a world which went from tranquil to perilous in the blink of an eye. Comment as you wish.

It’s one of those things, a series which I have had a lot of enjoyment out of writing – the Luna City series, for which my daughter and I had the brainstorm for creating a few years ago. A cast of scores of characters in every walk of life, a nice romp through the vagaries of eccentric personalities and comedy of small-town south Texas, the present day and a lot of real-life overlap… and before readers get all in a twist – no, the series is not coming to an end. No, not really. It’s been written in real time, starting in 2006, sometimes going slightly ahead of real time – and now coming up to a couple of real-time deadlines. Several real-time and no-kidding deadlines, in that two of the people who were our real-life inspiration for characters in Luna City have passed away for good and all. That’s not important, really – but there is one dramatic thread above all which dictates a conclusion of sorts; that Richard will marry Katie Heisel, in spite of all the dramatic quirks and turns of plots that we can throw in front of them. He is, over theatrical and usually screaming protest, finally acknowledging his development and his responsibilities as a mature human adult of our species. That kind of development is a certain death to a series which played on romantic tension in part or whole – witness how Moonlighting ran out of gas as did Northern Exposure, that series which inspired Luna City to start with. A large part of Luna City’s plot is that Richard began as an immature, spoiled and unthinking, juvenile a-hole … and that over the course of the series he has belatedly and with emphatic nudges from the denizens of Luna City, working past all that. He has been given a second chance to become a responsible, adult human being … he does meet the challenge. He has acquired, sequentially, a potted plant, a pet … and eventually a love of his life. He will be set on the pathway to being an adult… and that character arc will come to an end. A nice and complete story.

Other characters have also been working through a milder story arc: Jess and Joe working past their old lost loves, and becoming a family, Araceli coming into her own as the boss manager that was already within her … a collection of minor arcs reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Life does go on, you know. People grow, develop, have adventures of a sort, and for most of us – we settle down and have a contented life.

We are also coming up to the real-life circumstance of the beginning of the Covid epidemic … and really, I don’t want to deal with that, fiction-wise. It’s just too depressing, in a series which is primarily expected to be gentle and comic escapism. Luna City is an refuge from horrid reality, for me as well as readers and fans Writing about the impact of Covid would have put a screaming halt to everything in a small-town public life; the future of the Café as a small business, as well as business at the Cattlemen Hotel and at Mills Farm; the schools closed – no community frolics and festivals, no Homecoming game or Friday night football, no 4th of July or Founder’s Day celebrations. It would have spoiled the fun of readers and myself, in writing about it all in accordance with what actually transpired in 2020 through early 2022. So there will be a nice round finish to the grand arc at 12 volumes, concluding in early 2020 … or sometime in the next six months or so.

But this does not mean the end of Luna City – oh, no – most definitely not. There is a cast of scores, all with their own stories and concerns, and I intend to write them all, within the confines of that charming little town in Karnes County. One of the temptations for me is a series of historic escapades and mysteries involving the chief of police in the 1920s and 1930s – Alister McGill, and his sidekick, the elderly retired Texas Ranger, John Drury, assisted by the gang of teen and tween children; Douglas and Letty McAllister, and their friends, Stephen Wyler and Artie Vaughn – a kind of American version of Emil and the Detectives. There are dozens of potential stories, in the lives of all the varied cast of characters – the many cousins of the Gonzales and Gonzalez characters.

So that is where that goes. Comment as you wish.

I was mildly amused to read this story, of how Melissa Gilbert, once the kid TV star of Little House on the Prairie has retreated with her current husband to an old hunting cabin in the Catskills, to live, as they say, the simple life. It certainly looks simple enough – a modest small house in the country, which she described as dilapidated and run down until she and the husband began renovating. While interesting that she pleads the joys of the simple life, away from Hollywood and still has been featured in several stories in the Daily Mail over the last few days, I do have to admit that pictures of the place and the interior do make a strong case for her current simple and modest lifestyle. The interiors look cozy, cluttered with vintage-looking and modest knickknacks which must mean something sentimental to Ms. Gilbert and husband. The furniture looks like the random odd bits that one can pick up at a country auction, inherit from family and friends, find on the curb, or buy at a good thrift store. It’s not to my taste, which is a little more spare, and oriented towards Craftsman/Shaker/country cottage – but it’s as far from the expensively designed House Beautiful/Architectural Digest kind of interior as can be imagined; the enormous spaces, sparely staged with furniture that looks to have never been used, bookshelves with few or no books on them, sterile spaces of walls hung with expensive statement pieces selected by a set designer – as impersonal as a five-star luxury hotel suite. Ms. Gilbert’s new digs actually look like a real home, where real people live – not a movie set, or a empty home made up to look good for quick sale in a booming real estate market.

A writer friend put a promo link to one of my books on one of the major news aggregator sites last week, with the refreshing result that sales of the book skyrocketed – this was my first historical, To Truckee’s Trail, and the one which was almost the most fun and the fastest to write. I was a bit downcast when I finished it, because it meant that I was done with the story and had to say goodbye to all the characters, especially the one or two which had been created for the story out of whole cloth. Truckee must have been such a fast write for me because the whole plot was already there: the first wagon train party to make it over the mountains into California with their wagons, and not having lost a single person to the emergency of being stuck in the deep winter snow with slowly diminishing food supplies. The participants in that great adventure were all real, historic people, with the exception of the little boy Eddie Patterson, and the noble mastiff Dog; it was more a matter of teasing out what little could be deduced about what they had been like, and then and fleshing them out to become real, breathing, sympathetic characters. There had only been one diarist among that party, and that diary was later lost, and only one member of the party left a memoir later on … so I had a little bit to work with and was sorry when it was all done. I couldn’t write a sequel – the story was whole and perfect the way it was, and in any case two of the central characters, John and Liz only lived for a few years after – I still think that is why the story of the Stephens-Townsend-Greenwood-Murphy wagon train party was so little known, otherwise. John Townsend would have been an important and influential person in California, historically, and how he helped lead the party to safety from the jaws of icy death in the mountains would have been part of it.

There were three interesting connections between the Stephens-Townsend Party, and the tragic Donner-Reed Party, aside from the circumstance of both being trapped in nearly the same place in the pass over the Sierra Nevada. The first was that elements of the Donner-Reed survivors took shelter in the same little cabin by Truckee Lake which Moses Schallenberger, Allen Montgomery and Joseph Foster had built to winter over, hoping to guard the wagons which their party had to leave behind for lack of oxen to pull them. The second was that Martin Murphy’s youngest son, John, later courted and married Virginia Reed, who is usually cast as one of the heroines of the tragedy. And finally, the old mountain man and trail-guide, Caleb Greenwood, was a volunteer – in spite of his great age – in one of the organized relief efforts to rescue the survivors of the party. I did consider, when I came around to writing the Gold Rush adventure of Fredi Steinmetz in California a decade later, of having him meet briefly with Moses Schallenberger, and John and Liz’s little son, or maybe even some of the Murphy family just to complete the circle – but the plot just didn’t allow for that.

Other “after words” to my books – it was suggested that following Willi Richter’s life and adventures with the Comanche in the late 1860s, and his return to his birth family ten years later would make a ripping good yarn. But that would make necessary a really deep dive into Comanche history, life and culture, and I just didn’t feel it. Another reader suggested maybe exploring the anti-German lurch on the part of the general public around the time of World War 1, but I just didn’t feel that, either. So much came crashing down in that war and immediately afterwards – empires, optimism about the future and society generally – I just couldn’t feel that, either. Although I did reference in passing in My Dear Cousin, that Steinmetz’s family legally changed their name, because of the anti-German animus of the time; which is why Fredi and Sophia’s granddaughter went by the surname of Stoneman.

I wonder if I should have added a bit more to that book, mapping out how the post-war world treated the two cousins and their husbands. The couple that I based part of Peg and Tommy’s lives in Malaya on, eventually had to leave their rubber plantation for their own safety because of the Communist insurgency. They had children by that time, and the constant threat against all of their lives – threats carried out to the point where they had to fortify their main residence – forced them to leave. I rather think that Peg and Tommy, with the children that they had after Tom and Olivia (and they would have had more children) would have eventually relocated to Australia and rebuilt a secure life there.

For Vennie and Burt, I have a feeling that they would have had a rockier road. I couldn’t see Vennie settling down to be the perfect wife of an up and coming academic at a moderately snooty west coast private college. I think that they would have separated – but not divorced — after a couple of years. I could picture Vennie going back into nursing, serving as a military nurse in Korea. She had a rather overdeveloped sense of duty. And eventually, Burt would have taken up another position, somewhere in the intermountain West, and he and Vennie would reconcile, perhaps adopt a couple of war orphaned Korean children, before having a couple of their own. So that’s how that ‘after word’ might have gone – but I don’t believe I’ll be writing it out – the story was complete as it was.

Now, to finish the Civil War novel, which is half-done, and leaving Miss Minnie Vining as an established lecturer on feminist and abolitionist causes … a writer’s work is never done.