(An update on last weekend at the Bulverde Fall Market. This weekend, we’ll be in Fredericksburg for a private book-club meeting on Monday afternoon – but on Tuesday morning at 10 I’ll be in the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center on Austin Street behind the Museum of the Pacific War, to lead a walking tour of Fredericksburg places which feature in the Adelsverein Trilogy.)

My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.

This includes New Downtown Bulverde, not quite so unobtrusive, and a few miles farther north at the intersection of Hwy. 281 and FM-46 West. This is where is where the schools are, as well as the fire department – newly built and lavish, the shopping center with a huge HEB Superstore. Bulverde is what my daughter terms as one of San Antonio’s bedroom slippers – once distant and separate communities now in commutable distance from the big city. The other bedroom slipper is Boerne, which boasts a more definable, scenic and historic downtown. Physical evidence of a wealthy yuppie demographic contingent is strong in Boerne – wineries, gourmet grocery stores, chichi designer boutiques retailing everything from country furniture, clothing, jewelry, baked goods and coffee – not so much in Bulverde. Boerne has a monthly community market; Bulverde has them twice yearly, spring and fall. Boerne’s is on the historic downtown public square, or what our readers in England might call a common – a half-acre square of lawn, edged with mature pecan trees and adorned with a Victorian-style bandstand. Bulverde’s community market is – as said – in the parking lot of Beall’s, in New Downtown Bulverde and organized by the Bulverde/Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce. A friend of ours, who was part of the planning committee, told us that every single slot was filled – all 135 of them, a substantial increase over the spring market in May. But of course, Christmas is coming.

Our day began at 5:30. Not to beg any pity over that, but we did have to eat breakfast, scroll though our regular news sites and email accounts, walk the dogs and water the garden, before pulling out for the half-hour drive to Bulverde. We had already packed Blondie’s Montero SUV the night before; the pop-up pavilion, the necessary weights for it, the tables, folding chairs, the necessary racks and display items – and of course, the plastic tubs with all the stock; my books, her origami art. Blondie calls this exercise ‘Automobile Tetris’ – packing in everything which we will need. The bulkiest item is the wheeled rack to display her origami earrings – a repurposed and repainted soft-drink rack. The heaviest is the pop-up pavilion, which takes both of us to carry – and to put up. We had to be set up and ready to go before 10:00, when the market opened – and hopefully before then, for the Montero had to be out of the way and parked in the designated vendor lot. Having the pavilion, the chairs and the tables saves us a fair amount of money – some other market venues offer them for rent for vendors. The practice is for regular vendors to have all their own market furniture – not just the pavilion and tables, but things like display racks and signage – and a trailer to haul it all around. One little local boutique maintains a vintage Airstream trailer as their portable premise. Many of the regular stalls in local markets are run by hobbyists who have a full-time regular job and do gypsy-retail on weekends; artists in metal, beadwork, fabric, wood and pottery, small truck farmers and producers of small-batch soaps, candles and skin-care products, or artisan gourmet foods. Sometimes they scale up to a permanent location, or already have a permanent location and do the local markets to build awareness of their products. Our immediate neighbors, by the way, were a crafter who did bead jewelry (we remembered her from the spring market) and Miss Scarlett’s Farm – organic produce. Which was quite good, and reasonably priced, too; Miss Scarlett’s owners are a young couple with a two-acre plot in rural Bulverde, where they intensely cultivate a wide variety of vegetables – and bees. We came away with half a dozen yellow squash and zucchini; he runs the farm, she does the weekly markets.

Blondie has a unique inventory – origami paper jewelry. She does mostly earrings; miniscule cranes and tulip flowers, which astound people for their tiny size, with a side-line in hair ornaments, pins and magnets. The crane earrings were a particular hit at this market, since they are priced to be readily affordable, and in practically every imaginable color. There was a lot of foot traffic, pleasingly constant for all the six hours that the market was open. That there was a good retail turnout is reassuring, in the light of current events. The day was fair, clear and warm, with a regular cool breeze that beat back the heat until about 3:00. Blondie had more sales than I did, dollar-wise, but many people took away information about my books – another thing to keep in mind for something like this: business cards and postcards. Quite often, there is an uptick of sales of my books on Amazon in the week or so following an event, from having handed out information. For both of us, the more that we are out and about at the markets – the more shoppers know about us. This is much more important for Blondie, since it may be harder to sell her origami items where people can’t actually look at and handle them in real time. I had a nice time, and several nice talks with readers; especially with a young student, all of eleven years old named Lorena, who picked out To Truckee’s Trail when I said it was the book of mine most suited for her age – although Lone Star Sons is intended as YA, it’s not available until mid-month and the only copy I have was for display.

The last hour of a market usually drags; the numbers of shoppers begin to drop, and while the vendors are committed by agreement with whoever is managing the market to stick around until the official closing, there is usually some surreptitious packing-up going on leading up to that point. Everyone is tired, bored as the crowds diminish, and more than ready to pack up and go home. The Chamber asked that we take down and pack up completely before bringing our cars and trucks into the area, which is a reasonable request – the gridlock is horrific, otherwise. We had everything broken down and packed in the Montero in twenty-five minutes, and were dropping with exhaustion by the time we got home. We’ll be doing this or something like it almost every weekend until mid-December – Ebola, or not.

(All right – here it is, the first chapter of the next book but one – the Gold Rush adventure that I have always wanted to write. This one takes place in between Book One and Book Two of the Adelsverein Trilogy.  Enjoy – I’ll be posting occasional chapters here. )

Chapter 1 – Two Boys

             Spring came to the lowlands around San Antonio de Bexar as it always did – with the springs of clear water flowing clear and ice-cold, with meadows of flowers splashed in swaths of yellow, pink and the deep rich blue of buffalo clover as if a reckless artist had chosen to go mad with the paint. Young Friedrich Steinmetz, whom most everyone called Fredi, had come with his brother-in-law’s herd of cattle and three hired buckaroos to sell in the market-plaza in Bexar. Carl Becker’s ranch spanned a stretch of the hills that defined the valley of the upper Guadalupe, where he had built a tall stone house and brought Fredi’s older sister to it some eight years before. The hill country – ranges of limestone hills quilted with oak trees, formed the wall between the grassy and well-watered lowlands, long-settled by white men and Mexicans, and the Comanche-haunted plains of the Llano country. For more than half his life, it had been home to Fredi and his twin brother Johann. They were alike in form, being wiry of build, hazel-eyed and with light-brown hair, but different in character.  Fredi was the scapegrace, impulsive and bold. Johann was the clever one; this very spring he was to sail away and study medicine in the Old Country, that country where the twins had been born sixteen and a half years before.

“I want to go and see Johann off when the cattle are sold,” Fredi said, that night when they were less than a day’s journey to Bexar. The sun had already faded to a deep apricot blush in the western sky, and the stars to glimmer pale in the sky overhead. The herd was pastured in a meadow on the bank of Salado Creek, running deep and cold at this time of year. The cattle drank from it eagerly, after a warm afternoon of being chivvied across a dry stretch. Fredi’s brother-in-law Carl Becker helped himself to another piece of journey-bread, and answered through a mouthful. “You’re gonna have to travel on your own, then. I can’t stay long enough from the place to see you to Indianola and back an’ I sure as hell can’t pay your way on the stage.”

“That’s what I planned on,” Fredi answered. “An’ … if I run out of money, I’ll work my way back.”

“That’s the ticket,” Carl Becker grinned. He was a big young man, Saxon-fair and soft-spoken, some fifteen years older than Fredi. They spoke together in German, that language which Carl had from his family, who had been settled in America some three generations longer than the Steinmetzes. “But you better get yourself back as soon as you can – I don’t want to explain to Magda and Vati that I’ve let you loose on the world, all on your own.”

“If Johann is old enough to go study medicine in Germany,” Fredi answered. “Then I don’t see how anyone would mind me making my way in the world. You told me that you enlisted in a Ranger company when you were the age I am in now.”

“That was different,” Carl answered, but didn’t offer any explanation as to why that would be. “And if something happens to you, your sister will skin me alive.”

“She’s all taken up with the baby,” Fredi answered, carelessly. “But I won’t see Johann for years and years, Carl – we’re brothers! I want to see him one more time … we can hurrah in Indianola for all the times we won’t be there with each other.” He fixed Carl with pleading eyes. “I promise I’ll come straight back to the ranch.”

“Promises like that are nut-shells, made to be broken,” Carl answered, with a touch of wry cynicism. “You and Johann are as thick as thieves and I always like to think that he keeps you out of trouble … Go and see him away – but if you do get into a ruckus on your own, I promise I will come down and skin you myself. Especially if I have to bail you out of the cabildo.”

“Excellent!” Fredi exclaimed, joyfully relieved. “As soon as you sell the cattle, then – I’ll take the road towards the coast. Johann and Mr. Coreth were to take passage on the steamer to New Orleans in three weeks. I’ll be back well before mid-summer. You can count on me!”

“I can count on you to be a handful – and that’s what worries me,” Carl answered. More »

28. November 2013 · Comments Off on Revisiting Barsetshire · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings · Tags: ,

350px-BarsetshireNot so much the 19th century Barsetshire of Anthony Trollope, but the 20th century version; a cycle of interlinked novels by Angela Thirkell, which were sort of chronological in that they were contemporary to the time that they were published – about one a year – between 1933 and her death in 1961. The books were part gentle social comedy, part romance and totally English. The novels were set in a mythical English county, and featured a huge cast of characters, a dozen or more families, houses grand and humble and several small towns. In passing, the books also chronicled those wrenching changes wrought by WWII and its gray aftermath. Quite frequently, a character, or a set of characters that would be front and center in one or two books, would retreat to the sidelines in another, while another character or family – mentioned in passing previously – would be the leading lights in the next. And it was not necessary to read every book in strict chronological order to know what was going on in Barsetshire, although it was obvious that the society which the books reflected had changed substantially from the relatively serene 1930s, to the wartime 1940s and into the uneasy peacetime which followed on it. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you could pretty much dip in anywhere and enjoy.

Some years ago, when I was blogging fretfully about how the research material I had reviewed for writing Adelsverein was leading me inexorably towards making it into more than just one book, a long-time blog fan just advised me to think of it all as Barsetshire with cypress trees and a lot of sidearms – let it rip and make it into two or three volumes. After thinking it over, I realized he was entirely right. And when I mapped out more novels set in Texas, before, during and after the events chronicled in the Trilogy, I realized that this was a most excellent way to think of those books of mine set in Texas; not as a straight start to finish ladder of a narrative, but more like an interlinked network – like Thirkell’s Barsetshire. People and characters change, over time; they have experiences, grow older and settle down, or they move off into something else. I simply couldn’t write the same character over and over again, as if nothing about them had been changed by experience and time. I was already doing this in the Trilogy – by the time of the last volume, The Harvesting, quite a lot of the narrative load was being carried by characters who had been babies or small children in the first two volumes. And there were so many characters whose experiences and back-stories I wanted to explore … really, The Harvesting was nearly twice the page-count as The Gathering, and if I gone down all those entrancing side-corridors, it might have been three times longer still.

So, some of those interesting characters demanded their own books – Margaret Becker, of course – who knew everyone who was everyone, and had a very interesting life of her own, while her brother was off adventuring on the far frontier. And with The Quivera Trail, there is Dolph Becker’s English bride – and Sam Becker’s as well. In the next book, Fredi Steinmetz’s adventures in Gold Rush California and on the various western trails will fill in his own interesting frontier experience. As I look over it all – good googly moogly, have I written six books already about these people and their web of kin, friends and associates? There are so many more at-present-minor characters begging for attention. A reader once wondered wistfully, why didn’t I do something about Willi Richter and his long sojourn among the Comanche? Then, what about little silent Grete, his sister who was retrieved after a year with them? There must be interesting material enough about Tom Becker, the Bandera Kid, who was born in a London slum under the name of Alf Trotter – but at the end of The Quivera Trail, he is a silent movie cowboy star. Surely, there is a fascinating story in that – and in Peter Vining’s brother Jamie; a small child in Deep in the Heart, and dead in Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg two books later. Little Horrie, Margaret’s grandson, a small child in the two books about Margaret, a teenager briefly mentioned in Quivera – what about him? And there is yet another thread – the daughter, or possibly the granddaughter of Race Vining’s Boston wife, coming to Texas by chance and discovering the skeleton in the familial closet?

No, not a ladder – but a net, drawing in all the various stories in our American history, in our past. And there are more of them to be told. Just wait.

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.

04. April 2013 · Comments Off on From The Quivera Trail – Chapter 22 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West · Tags: , ,

(From the work in progress:Chapter 22 – Daughters and Sons. Isobel Becker, staying in Liesel and Hansi Richter’s San Antonio mansion. has just given birth. Her husband Dolph is in the Palo Duro country at the new ranch property, coping with the threat from a clan of rustlers, the deadly Whitmire family.)

Isobel drifted up from the grey depths to just below the surface of wakefulness, aware of the sound of a woman’s voice, a sweet cracked voice, singing in words that she didn’t understand … because she was so tired. She would have gone all the way up, opened her eyes and came awake, but for the awareness that her body pained her – or that it would, if she came entirely awake. So she lay quiet, soothed by the song and the voice, content to float in the grey world and keep the knowledge that she ached in every bone at a distance. Gradually, she became aware that she was alone in her body again; that the almost incessant twitch and flutter of the baby within her belly had ceased. This both saddened her – for now she felt quite empty and alone – but also relieved her immensely, as this meant that the birthing was done. The last thing she could recall was someone lowering a gauze tea-strainer over her mouth and nose and a sickly-sweet odor, which mercifully wiped out the sight of the heavy-set bearded man in shirtsleeves, standing at the foot of the bed brandishing a heavy, gleaming metal instrument . . . and telling Aunt Richter to have it boiled. The man also had blood on his hands and wrists, and Isobel knew without a possibility of doubt that it was her own blood.
But it was over now, and Isobel listened drowsily to the woman singing and was comforted. She floated a little farther away from the surface, covering herself like a cozy quilt with the grey unthinkingness, and when she floated up again the woman was no longer singing – but the bedroom was flooded with the golden light of late afternoon. No – no longer could she pull that blissful greyness around herself; her mouth tasted like a cast iron pot boiled dry and she was aware of an urgent need to use the chamber pot. She opened her eyes; yes, she was still lying in the bed of that room which Aunt Richter had allocated to her, with a smaller one adjacent which Aunt Richter had seen fitted out as a nursery. There was someone standing by the window, watching the sunset; Anna Vining. Isobel must have made a sound, because Anna turned around; she had a baby in her arms, a bundle swathed all in white, and too large to be Anna’s own little daughter.
“Ah… you are awake at last,” Anna observed without any surprise. “How do you feel? I need not ask, but it is considered courteous to do so. Three times have I done this … although not for two at once. I assume the discomfort was not doubled.”
“Two?” Isobel croaked. Well, Dr. Herff had said something about twins, once Aunt Richter had suggested the possibility.
“Twin girls,” Anna answered. “You would like to see them, I think. They are very well. This one was born first … see where Dr. Herff’s patent forceps made a little bruise on her forehead?” She brought the child to Isobel’s bedside. “The other is not marked … but Mama said we should tie colored ribbons on their wrists, so that we may learn to tell them apart.” Isobel sat up, wincing as she did so. Below her belly, she felt that she had been ripped into tattered rags of flesh. Anna laid the baby in her lap, and capably settled some pillows behind her so that she could rest against them. Isobel and the infant regarded each other with no particular sentiments at all. Her daughter was a pink-faced mite with a wide-open, unfocused blue gaze, regarding Isobel solemnly over a pink fist balled against its mouth. There was a narrow length of yellow ribbon tied around her wrist, and a faint blue bruise in the center of her forehead. Anna went to a cradle at the foot of the bed and bent over it, drawing out another white-wrapped baby; this one was not awake, but sleeping with brief pale eyebrows drawn in an accusing scowl. Anna laid the second baby next to Isobel on the bed, where it stirred and then settled into sleep again. This one had a pink ribbon. “They have been fed. Mama engaged a wet-nurse for them, one of Dr. Herff’s recommending. What had you thought to name them?”
“In my last letter to my husband, we had agreed; a boy should have our father’s names, a girl our mother’s.”
“So … a name for each.” Anna sounded pleased. “Auntie Magda would like that. Her name in English is Margaret, which would honor my husband’s mother also. What is your mother’s name, then?”
“Caroline,” Isobel answered. “I think the oldest should be Margaret … and this one should be Caroline.” It must have been a trick of the light, or of familial blood, but the sleeping infant’s unformed features looked so like Lady Caroline when she was most displeased with her youngest daughter. Isobel hoped that wouldn’t prove to be an omen. It was bad enough knowing that her mother was unhappy with her; having her daughter similarly disproving would be unendurably horrible.

“I should write to my husband,” Isobel ventured at last. Anna answered briskly, “Yes – about what you have named them. Papa sent a messenger to him once they were safely delivered. Dolph will be most pleased, I am certain. Children of his own instead of dogs, or those orphan boys … and that pleases Auntie Magda.”
“I hope he will be happy with the news.” Isobel looked at the faces of her children and wondered why she felt so … bleak. Empty, as if she could not feel any emotions at all. These were her children, mothers were supposed to love their children dearly … was there yet something else wrong with her that she didn’t?
“Of course – he will be overjoyed.” Anna answered. Well, at least she was acting if everything were perfectly straight-forward, and nothing at all was wrong with Isobel’s cool reaction to hers’ and Dolph’s children. “You look tired, still. When you have had enough of admiring your daughters, I will return them to their cradle, and tell Mama and Aunt Magda that you are awake. Doubtless, they will want to pay a call, hein?”
“Yes,” Isobel agreed. It was too much trouble not to. She wished that Anna would just take away the children now. She wanted to wrap that grey unthinkingness around her, and sleep and sleep, to dream of the blue sky over the steep carved canyons of the Palo Duro, or of hunting in the green hills around Acton … anywhere but here, any time but now. Eventually Anna took the babies back, laying them each in the cradle with a casual familiarity which Isobel only hoped she could manage in time. They were so tiny, as helpless as puppies – and so fragile!
“I go downstairs,” Anna announced. “To tell Mama and Auntie Magda that you are awake – do you wish to see them, or would you rather rest more?”
“I need to … wash …” Isobel answered, miserably, having made the unfortunate discovery that the necessary rag was saturated. Without turning a hair, Anna pointed out where the fresh rags were, and brought out a clean nightgown. There was something bracing about her very matter-of-factness, but Isobel was quite relieved when Anna said, “Ten minutes … I can only restrain Mama for that long.”
Isobel couldn’t think of anything other than to thank her for her consideration, and then to wonder if Anna didn’t think she was responding to kindness by being rude. There were moments when she didn’t know how to talk to her husbands’ relatives, even the ones who spoke English well. More »