Ok, so the look-inside feature isn’t bolted on yet, but the Adelsverein Complete Trilogy has gone live at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as of yesterday – and in Kindle and Nook editions. Now that it’s well-launched, I’m back to the next two projects: the sequel to Daughter of Texas – which will be called Deep in the Heart and be ready for launch at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, which will be held at the end of November. And just in case there is not quite enough to on all of that, Watercress Press is going to do a second print edition of To Truckee’s Trail . . . which I have wanted to do, both because it would be at Watercress and at a slightly lower retail price than previously . . . and because I had found out from a descendent of one of the real-life people that I wrote about – that he had actually been to California two decades before crossing the Sierra Nevada with the Stephens-Townsend Party in 1844. The character of Old Man Hitchcock, the mountain man and fur-trapper was painted as an entertaining teller of tall tales . . . but in this one instance he had been telling the absolute truth. So – the second edition in print will be out by mid-October. And one last thing – I’ve been asked, in person and via email, if there wasn’t a way to have the Adelsverein Trilogy translated into a German edition, as there would be a terrific audience among all those Karl May fans, who absolutely eat up anything to do with adventures in the 19th century American west. Anyone know anyone in the literary agent world who pitches to German-language publishers, and wants to negotiate rights to a German translation of the Trilogy? Any agent looking to explore that option would make out like a bandit, even at 15%. Fortunes in the book-world these days favor the nimble. It may be a bit of a niche market relative to American publishing – but owning a large chunk of a niche market is not bad.

30. July 2010 · Comments Off on Writing the Past · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

The Book Table

In January, 2007 I had just launched into the first book about the German settlements in the Texas Hill Country – a project which almost immediately came close to overflowing the constraint that I had originally visualized, of about twenty chapters of about 6,500 words each. Of course I blogged about what I had described as “my current obsession, which is growing by leaps and bounds.” A reader suggested that “if I was going for two books, might as well make it three, since savy readers expected a trilogy anyway.” And another long-time reader Andrew Brooks suggested at about the same time “Rather then bemoan two novels of the Germans in the Texas hill country, let them rip and just think of it as The Chronicles of Barsetshire, but with cypress trees!” and someone else amended that to “Cypress trees and lots of side-arms” and so there it was, a nice little marketing tag-line to sum up a family saga on the Texas frontier. I’ve been eternally grateful for Andrew’s suggestion ever since, but I have just now come around to thinking he was more right than he knew at the time. Because when I finally worked up the last book of the trilogy, it all came out to something like 490,000 words – and might have been longer still if I hadn’t kept myself from wandering down along the back-stories of various minor characters. Well, and then when I had finished the Trilogy, and was contemplating ideas for the next book project,  I came up with the idea of another trilogy, each a complete and separate story, no need to have read everything else and in a certain order to make sense of it all. The new trilogy, or rather a loosely linked cycle, would pick up the stories of some of those characters from the Trilogy – those characters who as they developed a substantial back-story almost demanded to be the star of their own show, rather than an incidental walk-on in someone elses’.

I never particularly wanted to write a single-character series; that seemed kind of boring to me. People develop, they have an adventure or a romance, they mature – and it’s hard to write them into an endless series of adventures, as if they stay the same and only the adventure changes. And I certainly didn’t want to write one enormous and lengthy adventure broken up into comfortably volume-sized segments. Frankly, I’ve always been rather resentful of that kind of book: I’d prefer that each volume of a saga stand on its own, and not make the reader buy two or three books more just to get a handle on what is going on.

So, launched upon two of the next project – when I got bored with one, or couldn’t think of a way to hustle the story and the characters along, I’d scribble away on the other, and post some of the resulting chapters here and on the other blog. But it wasn’t until the OS blogger Procopius remarked “I like that you let us see the goings on of so many branches of the same family through your writings. The frontier offers a rich spring of fascinating stories!” This was also the same OS blogger who had wondered wistfully, after completing reading “The Harvesting” about young Willi Richter’s life and eventual fate among the Comanche, first as a white captive and then as a full member of the band. And at that point, I did realized that yes, I was writing a frontier Barsetshire, and perhaps not quite as closely linked as Anthony Trollop’s series of novels, , but something rather more like Angela Thirkell’s visualization of a time and place, of many linked locations, yet separate characters and stories  . Yes, that is a better description of how my books are developing – not as a straight narrative with a few branches, but as an intricate network of friends, kin and casual acquaintances, all going their own ways, each story standing by itself, with now and again a casual pass-through by a character from another narration. And it’s starting again with the latest book, I’ll have you know – I have a minor character developing, a grimy London street urchin, transplanted to Texas, where he becomes a working cowboy, later a champion stunt-performer in Wild West Shows . . .  and eventually, he is reinvented in the early 20th century as a silent movie serial star. The potential for yet one more twig branching out into another fascinating story is always present, when my imagination gets really rolling along.

So – yes. Barsetshire with cypress trees and lots of side-arms, Barsetshire on the American frontier as the occasionally wild west was settled and tamed, a tough and gritty Barsetshire, of buffalo grass and big sky, of pioneers and Rangers, of cattle drives and war with the Comanche, war with the Union, with Mexico and with each other. This is going to be so great. I will have so much fun  . . .  and so will my readers.

29. July 2010 · Comments Off on The Gonzales Ranging Company · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Texas map

One of the challenges of writing about a frontier-era woman of fairly conventional background and 19th century limitations, and trying to keep it all exciting for a reader comes when you have to start tackling things like  war, politics, commerce, Indian raids, and frontier exploration adventures. All the above were happenings that only men participated in fully. Mostly, in order to write directly about them is to either tell of them through male characters, or to create/locate a female outlier, of some variety – perhaps a tomboy who dresses as a man, or an unusually determined woman following her husband or lover. Generally, women were on the fringes, watching from the sidelines, holding up the home-front and generally cleaning up afterwards; which makes the drama rather understated – since a lot of it will be happening offstage. For the current WIP I am having to fall back on Margaret Mitchell’s stratagem in the first half or so of Gone With The Wind, when it comes to the Civil War – that is, having male characters appear, breathless and exhausted, from the wings, and giving an account of the varied events to my leading characters, mostly wives and mothers, sitting restlessly at home and waiting for word. In this way I have dramatized elements of the Come and Take It Fight, the Grass Fight  . . .  and the siege of the Alamo. Kind of hard to find any fresh aspect or angle of that to write about: but when I was tackling the story of the rise of the cattle industry in Texas I also thought all of the stories had been told. Lucky for me, they haven’t been. To the larger world, the story of the Gonzales Mounted Ranging Company is a relatively small footnote in the Alamo saga, and the Runaway Scrape – the civilian counterpart to Sam Houston’s strategic withdrawal to East Texas, likewise.


These two elements are linked, however – and in a terribly dramatic way. Gonzales, the farthest west of the American grants and settlements in Mexican Texas, was also the nearest such settlement to the seat of Mexican civil and military authority in San Antonio de Bexar – seventy miles or so by road. Oddly enough, relations between the citizens of Gonzales and the Mexican government had been fairly amiable; Gonzales was the locus of the ‘peace party’ which favored accommodation, as much as possible – as opposed to the ‘war party’, centered in San Felipe, who touted independence and took a hard line in response to the ongoing ‘Federalist-Centralist’ dispute in the politics of an independent Mexico. That is, right up until the Commandant of the presidio in Bexar had asked for the six-pound cannon to be returned, and then all heck broke out.

Far to the west – and on the very edge of American settlement – Gonzales of the early 1830s was a tidy little town, a hub of entrepreneurial activity; settlers had brought their wives and families, the tools of their trade. They had qualified as generally good and law-abiding citizens of the places they had come from, and of their new town. They were settled and relatively prosperous – not easily driven to open rebellion which would put at risk everything they had build in five hard and dangerous years on the frontier. When William Barrett Travis sent out a plea for reinforcements for his tiny garrison, one of the first of his messages went to Gonzales. And Gonzales was the first to respond, sending thirty of their own. These were not newly-arrived volunteers from the United States, land-hungry, restless and ready for a fight: but men of family and considerable substance, relatively long-established in Texas, in comparison to those who they were going to join, behind the crumbling adobe walls of a former mission. Most left wives and large families behind them, although four of the Gonzales relief company were teenagers. One of them, fifteen-year old William King argued his way into the company even as they were departing, insisting that he could well substitute for his father  . . .  but his father was desperately needed at home.

A bare week and a half later, of course – the news arrived that the Alamo had fallen, and all the defenders were dead – including those leading men of Gonzales, whose remains were burned with all the other defenders (save one) in two large pyres on the Alameda by order of the victor, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Their widows and orphaned children hardly had time to grieve, for by then Sam Houston had been put in complete command of what passed for the Army of Texas. Sam Houston was not going to risk his lightly armed, ornery and quarrelsome body of some three hundred soldiers and militia volunteers out on the farthest edge of American settlement, in a place where they could be mopped-up and massacred by a larger and well-equipped Army. Santa Anna had all the advantage of the ground, of fast-moving and well-mounted cavalry, of experienced artillery and disciplined and professionally officered infantry. Santa Anna had just finished putting down rebellion against his authority in half a dozen other Mexican states, including Zacatecas, where his army was permitted to loot and pillage at will for two days.

Well knowing of Santa Anna’s reputation for reprisal against those he defeated, and realizing they would be left defenseless, settler families began to flee, even as Houston gave orders for his force to abandon Gonzales. Much of Houston’s baggage train was turned over to evacuate women and children; equipment and supplies were dumped in the river or burnt. The town of Gonzales was purposefully burned; Houston, knowing that Santa Anna’s force was at the end of a long supply line, wanted to leave a scorched earth, as he and his army retreated eastwards. He sent word to Colonel James Fannin, at Goliad, in the old Presidio of La Bahia, to fall back to the line of the Colorado River. Fannin, at best an indecisive man, boxed in by an inability to make hard decisions, left departing too late to save himself or the 400 men of his garrison. He was defeated in a pitched battle at Coleto Creek in middle of March; those who survived Coleto were executed on Palm Sunday, 1836 – again, by the order of General Santa Anna.

Holding a line at the Colorado River was not possible: Houston fell back again, upon hearing of the massacre at Goliad, and the refugees fell back with him. Conditions were not helped by it being the rainiest spring in years. Rivers and creeks were running high – which did put the pursuing Mexican forces at a disadvantage in pursuit – but intensified the suffering of the refugees. Many had left their homes on a bare half-hour notice, packing in haste and burying such valuables as they could not take with them. Their homes were abandoned to the elements. Pregnant women gave birth with no other shelter than their friends holding pieces of canvas over them. Houston fell back again – San Felipe, which had been the heart of the American colonies, having been established by Stephen F. Austin, was burned also to the ground, although by whose orders – or if by the pursuing Mexican column has never been quite clear. In the space of a month, all that had been built in ten years across a vast tract of the lowland plains of Texas was abandoned, empty, and burned-out. Some even thought, in despair, that Houston and his army, and the fleeing settlers would have no other choice but to take refuge by crossing back over the Sabine, the final river dividing Texas and Louisiana.


But in April, at a meadow at edge of Buffalo Bayou, near the present-day town named after him, Sam Houston saw his opportunity to strike, and took it. Perhaps sensing that his ragged and contentious little army only had one fight in them, he wished to make it where it would count, and where they had a better than good chance of winning – and in a brief 18 minutes they did.