Sunday, May 24, 2009

This and That May 24th Update

New member Mark MGinty has started a new review site, focusing on POD books - think of it as PODBRAM's little brother. It's called The Boogle, and it's here. Drop a line and let him know if you are game. Don't forget that PODBRAM is also available to review books, and so is the perennial favorite, Blogger News Network.

New member John Manuel, the Honorary Greek is looking for a mutual exchange of links with other writers' websites. Drop him a line at his website, or through the discussion group. (Which reminds me, I still have to read and review Moussaka To My Ears...)

And I am updating the IAG website to include first chapters of everyone's books... and a roll of those members' books most particularly honored with the awarding of rather nifty literary prizes... more to come.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mid-May Update

Terrific, fantastic, wonderful news - our own founding member Jack Shackley's "Confederate War Bonnet" has been awarded the gold medal for historical/military fiction in the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards! That's the IPPY Awards, for those of us who speak cluent Acronymish. Yay, Jack! Yay, for Independent Publishing! And yay us ... for over the last couple of years, many of the IAG member writers seems to be picking up a lot of those solid and meaningful awards!

Apropos of that, fellow member Lloyd Lofthouse sent a particularly cogent essay about writing and publishing through the email discussion group that deserves wider circulation: here it is, in full -

Self-published books start out untested, which means the book hasn't run any gauntlet like agents and editors that traditionally published books have to suffer to get into print. Yet, traditional publishing is a flawed system and good books don't get picked up all the time but what human system (corporate or government) is perfect?

Also, do not forget that traditionally published books go out to bookstores with a guaranteed buy-back if they don't sell. Why should a bookstore or a library take a risk on a self-published book that hasn't been vetted by agents, editors and reviewers before it is even available just because the author believes the book is good? There is only so much self space and most of it is already taken.

That's why the shelf space that is available goes to traditionally published books. The bookstore would rather take their chance on the book that comes with a guarantee from the publisher than one that has none.

So, there is no way to prove that a self-published book that just came out is worth shelf space in a library or bookstore unless that self-published book somehow proves that it is worthy of further attention. That's where the real battle begins.

It is up to the self-published author to prove that the book he or she wrote is worthy of further attention by gaining reviews, etc that can be used during the promotion. In other words, get noticed as often as possible until people start paying attention.

Sitting back and waiting for lightning to strike is not going to bring the vast majority of self-published books to the attention of the buyers when there are several hundred thousand new titles each year.

Who has time to read them all? Book store owners and librarians have more to do than read endless books from self-published authors, most of which may be of a questionable quality making it more difficult for those that are up to traditional standards to get noticed--like a rusty needle in a hay stack the size of a ten story building.

It may be easier to win a state lottery than getting a self published book noticed if the author sits around waiting to be discovered.

The best places to get started are close to home by becoming a salesman and taking a copy of your book into the local brick and mortar bookstores while also mailing out copies to the best reviewers you can find that will give the book a chance. One example is PODRAM. There are others.

If a writer doesn't have the confidence in what he or she wrote to send it to those reviewers that will give it a chance, why are they writing in the first place. Stick your neck out. Take a chance. Grow a thick skin. You might be surprised. You may also need to return to the drawing board or change directions to some other dream while holding down a crappy day or night job that doesn't pay much or one you would rather not be doing.

In the end, writing should be a passion. The passion may keep you going even when it seems dark and forbidding out there. If writing is your passion, at least on that day you draw your last breath, you can say you gave it your best shot.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Word of Mouth

Over and over, solo and chorus, I have been assured that word of mouth advertising is the very best, the ultimate platinum-standard when it comes to getting a product or a service out there; I even heard this, years before I even considered writing books. The CPA who does my taxes was referred to me by another client of his who coincidentally was a friend of mine. The technical services company that sees to the maintenance of my home AC unit came to me in a similar fashion- and you would not believe how essential that service over Texas summers. (Famously, 19th century General Phil Sheridan is reported to have once remarked, that if he owned Hell and Texas, he would live in hell and rent out Texas). So, no argument that the very best referrals come from satisfied clients and customers, who are ecstatically happy to tell other people about their experience.

So, it’s belaboring the obvious, pointing out that this applies to books as well. Every reader who reads one of our books, and sings its praises to their book-loving friends, who also love it and… well, it’s like that old fable/tale/mathematical demonstration about grains and rice and a chess-board, where you start out with a single grain and finish up (through the miracle of geometric progression, or something like that) with thousands and thousands of grains of rice. The exact technical name for this escapes me at the moment, since I was an English major.

Anyway, I got a lovely email from another long-time San Antonio blogger who - although he blogs about drinking, music, tractors and gambling – has also been a fan of mine since way back. He wrote that he was at an event a couple of weeks ago – some sort of IT or business event in Los Vegas, I believe – and for some reason, he was involved in a video production, for which the producers had hired voice talent. In the breaks between shooting the video, he was chatting to the voice talent, a very pleasant and down-to-earth woman, whose husband also was from Texas. It developed that her husband was very fond of the Hill Country and had also lived in Germany, so my friend began telling her all about the Adelsverein Trilogy – which he had ordered and read, months ago when it was first released. She was terrifically excited to hear about the Trilogy, and said that her husband would be absolutely thrilled, because he loved, loved, loved history. She took down the information about ordering it, the author and titles and everything – and at the very end of it my friend found out the name of her husband; Peter Weller. Yep, “Buckaroo Banzai” and “Building an Empire” Peter Weller.

He was just tickled – and so was I; I didn’t even know that Peter Weller had any connection to Texas, or to Germany, even. I am waiting breathlessly for the Amazon ranking to hiccup slightly, and move upwards, meaning that someone – dare I hope? - has bought another set.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunday Afternoon at the Old German Free School

So, ages ago, Karen M. who manages the speaker’s schedule for the German Texan Heritage Society emailed me to ask if I would like to come and do a talk about the history of the Adelsverein in Texas, and how I went about writing three historical novels based on those events – which are dramatic to the nth degree and which hardly anyone outside of Texas has ever heard of. Of course I said yes, how could I resist any organization which contains a large number of people who are, or might be interested in my books, and whose’ tag-line on their website is “Guten Tag, Y’all?” Besides, they offered refreshments for afters; I will work for cookies and punch. Perhaps someday I will be able to throw all sorts of hissies and demand Perrier on tap, a fruit tray and a private dressing room before engagements, but that day is not yet – really, my sense of entitlement is all but stillborn. Either that or I haven’t become jaded – darn it, I still enjoy these things, once I get over the initial panic of standing up and looking at all those strangers or almost-strangers in front of me, waiting for me to say something deathlessly witty. This is where having been a broadcaster comes in handy. I know that I have spoken, through a microphone or a TV to larger numbers of people, but those audiences were not ‘there’, not in the same room. On those occasions, I could fake myself out, pretend that I was only speaking to a handful of people, be casual and friendly, informative and remember to stand up straight, not pick my nose and not cuss in front of them … but having them all look back at you – that is another kettle of fish. Fortunately, I am getting accustomed to a live audience…

Blondie programmed the GPS unit, and I did a google-map search for the venue, which was described as being “The Old German Free School” in beautiful downtown Austin, Texas… which is, I feel only fair to point out, really quite beautiful, as it is spread over a number of scenically lumpy and rather nicely-wooded hills on either side of a lovely deep-green river. A lot of the streets were strategically and alternately one-way, but – thank god – there was no particular festival going on, which might have clogged traffic unbearably – but we did have to go to one exit and then zig-zag through another couple of streets which afforded us some nice views of assorted college students enjoying their last day of spring break, and one particularly large complex which seemed to be ‘street-people central.’

The old German Free-School turned out to a lovely antique two-storey building, constructed of stone, and stone and plaster, and stone and plaster over rammed-earth, a long structure just one room deep and turned sideways to the street, with balconies and terraces overlooking a series of pocket-gardens connected by stairs. Most of the rooms opened onto balconies or the terraces, with long windows on either side, which reminded me irresistibly of 18th and 19th century townhouses in Charleston or Savannah or Beaufort, built up on relatively deep town-lots with the narrow end of the house on the street. All of the rooms had tall windows on both sides – to ensure a good draft through the room, essential in those far-distant summer days before the invention of air conditioning. It had just gotten over being unbearably chilly and rainy, so the rooms were quite pleasant.

The German Free School was the first institution of public education in Austin, according to one of the members of the society who came for my talk. In the mid-1850s, there were sufficient numbers of German-speaking settlers who were totally exasperated with the lack of educational resources; the only option for educating their children was to hire a private tutor, or send them to the Anglo-American ‘Sunday Schools’. According to my informant, one of the founders was totally fed-up, (possibly with listening to all his fellows kvetching about the subject) so he threw down a thousand dollars in gold and growled, “So, build a school!” and there you go – apparently the Free School predated the Austin Independent School District by at least a decade.

There were about fifteen or twenty attendees – and the room was fairly small, so I went ahead and used the podium, with my notes and my pictures of certain relics and locations, 81/2 by 11 pictures mounted on foam-core board, with little hinged supports to hold them up – all of essential items or evocative locations in Fredericksburg. It really went well, this time – I have quite a sort-of-planned talk-with-notes that I use for these occasions, a list of notes, names and things that I simply must cover, and in the proper order; not a set script, for that is the absolute death of this kind of event, just a memory-jogger of the high points. This is the best and most-spontaneous seeming kind of talk, I am not bound by an every-single-word script and can play up or play down things, and respond immediately to what the audience seems to be most interested or engaged in. I wing it, every time – but a wing-it with some sturdy yet invisible supports! Finished with a reading – a couple of pages from “The Gathering” – about the feast and bonfire the first settlers held among the trees of what would become Fredericksburg, and took questions until everyone repaired for punch, home-made coconut cake and a plate of little baked pastry and sausage nibbles.

The members of the audience were all enthusiasts – the very best kind of audience an author can ask for, for they had interesting questions and a lot of knowledge behind them – even if only one person among them had actually the Trilogy. Doris L. purchased the Trilogy and read it all – her husband is from one of the old Gillespie County families and by one of those interesting coincidences of history and the internet and all – it was her husband’s several-times great grandfather who owned the sheep-flock that a boy named Adolph Korn had been watching over, when he was taken by raiding Comanche Indians. Adolph Korn’s g-g-I don’t-know-how-many-times grand-nephew Scott Zesch wrote bout his life and the ordeal of a number of children taken by Indians from the Hill Country in his book “The Captured” – which was one of my references in writing Book Three “The Harvesting” – about the multi-leveled tragedy of young children taken captive by the Comanche or Apache and later returned to their white families. Some of the other questions asked of me were about Prince Solms – who I do still think was rather an idiot, in spite of what one of his particular partisans could say. Sorry, buying into the Fischer-Miller Grant was not an act bringing any particular credit upon Prince Solm’s financial or political acumen. Also, the train of personal servants and his insistence on his title of nobility – not a good move, all around, no matter what his qualifications as a serving military officer might have been in other fields. Although there was an excellent point made, about how perceptions about Germany and German settlers went to the bottom of the tank after about mid WW I or so.

Until that era, and in most places in these United States – being from the German settlements and of German ancestry were seen as pretty favorable things. It was OK to be one of ‘the folk’, to remember Germany as it was… until history turned a corner and Germany changed. The place that these hard-working and cultured immigrants came from, the place that they remembered with fondness and reminiscent affection morphed into something ugly. That Germany – or those duchies and principalities that they came from – changed during their absence, even as they changed themselves, becoming a place that they would not have recognized, these innocent and ambitious immigrants, taking ship from Bremen, carrying their memories and those wooden trunks with them. By the mid-20th century, their new country would have fought fight two wars against the old – against what the old country had become, even as they were busy building lives and towns, bringing up their children as free citizens in America. Funny, how history happens, when you are just trying do your business and get by.

All in all, a most gratifying Sunday afternoon spent, in the company of book and history enthusiasts. And Blondie did make sort-of friends with the garden cat.

Spring has Sprung...

And its all been very quiet out there for the last couple of weeks.... however, the following are noted:

New Member John Manuel, who is a semi-retired graphics designer is offering to help members with page layouts. A sample of his work is available here. He may be contacted through the email address posted in the group files.

Nan Hawthorne is channeling Maid Marian, with "Secrets of a Good Marriage" at her blog. And she has a fan-fiction story about one of her "Involuntary King" characters, too!

S.A. Rule has got a lovely review for her latest "Cloak of Magic" at Fantasy Book Review, here.

And Steve Knutson recommends this site, for locating radio stations for the use of authors looking to get radio coverage.

And finally - but not least,Kim McDougal's "Rainbow Sheep" won an EPPIE for best children's e-book of the year!

Friday, March 6, 2009

March Round-Up

All right then - so that's my excuse and I am sticking to it.

The most wonderful news for the IAG crew came from our fearless leader, Dianne Salerni, who uncorked the wonderful news that her novel "High Spirits" - and her follow-up-book have been purchased by publisher Sourcebooks,Inc ... and the film rights to High Spirits is also being negotiated for by an independent (only fitting, considering!) film producter. Bravo, Bravo! (Cheers, whistling, footstomping!)

Fairly recent new member Chester Campbell has some advice on his blog entry, entitled "Selling Outside the Box" He also had a great review of one of his books here.

Marva Dasaf recommends Flamingnet Book Review, saying "I also received an email from FlamingNet Reviews. This is a site where teens review the books. You can get info on how to put your book out for review on the site. However, the email was asking for
adults to preview the teens' reviews and mentor them to some degree, giving suggestions etc. on how to. It's unpaid, of course, but it might be something the teacher-types would like to do. More here.

Member Linda Austin recommended this article, about how to keep up your spirits when it seems that no one on earth is interested in reading your books. There was also a post about the Perils of POD publishing, which is a very good overview for those of us who haven't already discovered much of what lies therein...

Dianne Ascroft also got a lovely review for her book "Hitler and Mars Bars" here - Dianne has been touring and marketing to beat the band lately!

And Kim McDougall also has a review - the first - for her latest book project, here.

Trudy Schuett has a gig at a local newspaper! She writes that she is now working for "The Rural Arizona Headlines Examiner." On Sundays, she is hoping to feature authors in who either live in Arizona or have books set there, or are about Arizona, fiction or or non. If anyone or their books qualify, let her know by emailing "thezonieATdishmailDOTnet" with "AZ Books" in the subject line.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Name On the Marquee in Lights!

Perhaps not in lights, but it was definitely my name on the marquee in front of the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library in Kerrville last Saturday. Blondie took a picture, so we have the evidence. It seems that they like to do author talks on Saturday afternoons, and it would appear that Phillippa Gregory or Diana Galbadon already had busy schedules – so the librarian in charge of author-wrangling emailed me to ask if I would come and talk about the Trilogy. Of course I said agreed; I’d much rather drive an hour and talk with a group of people about my books, or local history, or the vagaries of 19th century frontier Texas then sit at a small table in the front of a big-box bookstore and watch shoppers carefully avoiding me for an hour or so. There’s just no contest there – and frankly, doing a talk and answering questions is much the better way to build my local fan base anyway.

This talk turned out to be for an audience of about a dozen or fifteen, in the basement meeting room of the library, which – since it is built on a steep hillside overlooking the river, looked out on a stone-paved terrace and a line of trees at the edge. I’d feel such an idiot, standing at the podium and talking to such a small group, so we circled the chairs and sat down. As it also turned out, most of the audience hadn’t been able to read any of the Trilogy yet, not even the librarian. Although the library does have a single copy of all three books – they have hardly spent any time at the library and the reserve list for them is lengthy. Gratifyingly, as soon as they return, out they fly again! Excellent news for me, and perhaps they might even consider buying another set, if Adelsverein is going to be that popular.

For my talk, I did a brief overview of the entrepreneur scheme, the grand plans and bungling that doomed the Mainzer Adelsverein, outlined how I came to be interested in such a relatively obscure historical event, and what I did for research, and how I really had to make up very little regarding the various historical events that I touched on. Amazingly, most of the people present – just about all of them from Kerrville or close by - had not heard much about either the Adelsverein, or the travails in the Hill Country during the Civil War, so much of I had planned to talk about was a) new and b) interesting. All in all, a pleasant afternoon, well spent – although we did have to hustle back to San Antonio in time for me to get to work – in my ‘author’ tailored suit and well-chosen accessories, which proved something of an astonishment for the Saturday evening co-workers, who are used to seeing me slop around in something considerably less professional-appearing.

On Tuesday evening, with my computer returned to me and functioning more or less normally (fried mother-board and CPU, but all docs retrieved and saved – whew!) I followed up the library talk with a book-club meeting, on-line and through an organization called Accessible World, which provides books to the vision-impaired. Nan Hawthorne, another author and IAG member, had finagled me into putting the Trilogy into the Accessible World library, and Book One was the book to read for Accessible World’s historical novel book club. So that made another very gratifying hour, linked into their internet ‘conference room’, with about fifteen people who had read “The Gathering” and loved it, loved the characters, and had lots of detailed questions about what was real, what were the character’s motivations, and why had I written things in the way I had. Now, that was an hour that went past very quickly. It’s caviar to the writer’s soul, hearing from people who have read your books and are passionately interested. It makes up in a small way for the months and days, spent alone but for the world that you have created in your head, when you hear from people beginning to share that world and to become as engaged and interested in that world as you are.

And as of this morning, and possibly thanks to a wonderful write-up from David Foster at Chicagoboyz – the Amazon ranking for all three books of the Trilogy was at and around 150,000, which is possibly the highest it has been at since all three were released for sale in early December. So it appears that I am a few steps closer to being a famous ‘arthur’!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wild West Monday

So a number of fans of Westerns are trying to raise interest in that particular genre, by mobilizing other fans, around the world to go into their local library or bookstore and ask for Westerns - any western, new, traditional or somewhere in between. More here, thanks to Gary Dobbs of "The Tainted Archive".

Gary says, in part:

"At the moment we are in a situation where bookshops control the market (a select amount of buyers chose the titles they think we want to read ) and they seem to think all we want to read are massive tomes with more padding that substance.

The days of cheap paperbacks that existed to entertain, excite and delight are long gone. Strange when those are the reasons we started reading in the first place.

But it doesn't have to be so - so come on get involved, hit the bookshops, hit the libraries. All of us on MARCH 2nd.

Come on get involved."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weekly Update - 21 Jan

OK, so it's the middle of the week, and I didn't do an update last week... I had one of the most awful colds/allergic reactions/flu imaginable, and my heart was seriously into nothing more energetic than crawling out of bed for a fresh cup of herb tea and some ibuprofin now and again. But I am feeling better now, so without farther ado -

IAG member Patricia Gott (So You Wanna be a Cowgirl?) was interviewed on the Western blog - The Tainted Archive! (Yay us - everywhere that western writers want to be!)

Jack Shakley had a review posted in the latest Internet Review of Books: it doesn't seem to me like he liked the book at all. (and thanks for the warning, Jack - since I have a low gross-out threshold anyway!)

L.S. Cauldwell is over the moon, with a good review for "The Golden Treasure" at "The Midwest Book Review"! So sayeth head reviewer Diane C. Donovan:

"The Anna Mae Mysteris: The Golden Treasure is a multi-cultural
mystery novel for young adults. Twelve year old Anna Mae Botts, her
eight year old brother Malcolm, and Anna Mae's bet friend Raul Garcia
encounter a ghostly black fist on their fist day of school. It drops
paper clues about Jeffeson Davis' lost Civil War treausre, and later
a school fire occurs. Paranormal events multiply, and the young
people are led along the same trail the Jefferson Davis once took
with his gold-laden wagon train. A fascinating story of uncovering
history's secrets as well as hidden welath, The Anna Mae Mysteries-
The golen Treasure is sure to captivate the imagination and is a
welcom addition to young adult library collections. "

And there is a new e-book publisher out there called "Smashwords" (link to side here)
with something of the same mission as the IAG. Check it out, if interested.

And the January Spotlight up at Dianne's plase. Well, it has been up for a bit. Her monthly spotlight is now also on the IAG home-page in the "links of significance".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Imagination and Will

Sometime around the middle of the time my daughter and I lived in Athens, the Greek television network broadcast the whole series of Jewel in the Crown, and like public broadcasting in many places— strictly rationing their available funds— they did as they usually did with many worthy imported programs. Which is to say, not dubbed into Greek— which was expensive and time-consuming— but with Greek subtitles merely supered over the scenes. My English neighbor, Kyria Penny and I very much wanted to watch this miniseries, which had been played up in the English and American entertainment media, and so she gave me a standing invitation to come over to hers and Georgios's apartment every Tuesday evening, so we could all watch it, and extract the maximum enjoyment thereby. We could perhaps also make headway with our explanation to Kyrie Georgios on why Sergeant Perron was a gentleman, although an enlisted man, but Colonel Merrick emphatically was not.

On occasion, the Greek broadcasting network screwed up, and the next episode of Jewel didn't air. Penny and I would talk for a while, and Georgios would encourage my daughter to all sorts of rough-housing; pillow fights, mostly. (Blessed with two sons, the Greek ideal, Georgios rather regretted that he and Penny didn't have a daughter as well.) On those Tuesday nights when Jewel in the Crown didn't air, the Greek network most often substituted something appropriately high-toned, classical and in English. Brought out from their library and dusted off, most likely— the Royal Shakespeare Company, in all their thespian glory. And Penny and Georgios and all I noticed on one of those warm spring evenings, that Blondie was sitting on a cushion on the floor, totally absorbed, wrapped up in one of the Bard's duller history plays. She was then about four years old— but she was enchanted, bound by a spell of brocaded velvet words, swirling cloaks and slashing swords, glued to the television while we sat talking about other things, drawn in by a spell grown even more lightening-potent over the last 400 years. And it happened, the next time that Jewel was preempted - it was the RSC again, and Blondie was glued to the television, her concentration adamantine, and almost chillingly adult. I was quite sure she had never seen anything of the sort before, I wasn't one of those frenetically over-achieving mothers, stuffing culture down the kidlets' throat. I barely had time and energy enough to be an achieving mother: we hardly watched TV at home, VCRs were barely on the market and her favored bedtime reading was Asterix and Obelix, although we had branched out as far as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. No, it was not anything I had done - it must have been something innate in Shakespeare, a spell that has been cast, and drawn them in since Shakespeare himself was a working actor and playwright.

A couple of years ago I got "Will in the World" as a book club bennie. It's a good book, a speculative book by necessity, since we know so very, very little for certain of the real William Shakespeare. The author is dependent on speculation and imagination, much given to assuming that if such and such were happening in the neighborhood of Stratford-upon-Avon in the lifetime of the glove-maker's son, then he possibly would have known about it, and might have reason to weave it into one of his spell-plays. Did he have a good education, or not? Might he have been a school-teacher? A soldier? A clerk? Might he have been a Catholic sympathizer? Might his marriage been unhappy, his father a drinker - we have no way to know for sure, in ways that would satisfy the strict accountants of history. In fact, many have been the symposia, the experts, the finely honed intellectual authorities who have insisted over the years that the Shakespeare who was the actor, the manager and entrepreneur, the son of a provincial petty-bourgeois, simply could not have written the works attributed to him. Such expert knowledge of statecraft, of law, of international polity, of soldiering and the doings of kings and nobles - no, the tenured experts cry - this could not be the work of any less than an intellectual, highly placed and noble, gifted with the best education, and extensive mileage racked up in the corridors of power! Any number of candidates, better suited in the eyes of these experts to have written the works attributed to Wm. Shakespeare of Stratford are advanced, with any number of imaginative stratagems to account for it all, but every one of them I have read, leaves out the power of imagination itself.

Imagination, which takes us out of ourselves, and into someone else— the common thing all these great experts disregard, as if it were something already cast into disrepute, something useless, of no regard, but it is the major part of the actors - craft and entirely the part of the writers - that part that is not given up to intelligent research. All those great experts seemed to be saying, when they credit other than Shakespeare, the actor and bourgeois householder of Stratford and London - is that imagination is worthless, null, of no account or aid. It is impossible for a writer to imagine himself, or herself into anything other than what he or she is. One cannot imagine oneself convincingly into another time or place, gender or role in life. Imagination is dead and you are stuck with writing about what you are. How sterile, and how horrible. How pointless and boring—
but that is what the highly-educated would have of us. We must not, under pain of what the academicians judge, imagine what it would be like that it is to be whatever we were born to be.

When I was about 17, or so, I wrote a story for a high school English creative writing class, incorporating an account of a historic event which I couldn't possibly have witnessed— because I had been born fifteen years after the events I described. But I had done research, and even at 17 I was pretty good at writing description and I had the gift of imagination. It creeped the hell out of the creative writing teacher. He knew of the events that I had written about, and I had gotten it pretty well right. So, imagining again; what would have prevented a young actor from sloping up to a friend of his, in a tavern someplace, a friend who was a soldier, or a law clerk, a priest or servant in the house of a noble, and saying " Say, I've got this thing I'm working on - what d'you say about it? What do you think, how would it work, really?"

Which was the creepy, magical part, the part that academicians and writing teachers cannot fathom - how far the intelligent and well-researched imagination can take us. To insist that Shakespeare couldn't have written Shakespeare, is to deny the power and authority - even the authenticity of imagination.

Which may explain the relative shittiness of novels written by all but the most deviant of academics. Education— all very nice, but nothing will take a writer farther than imagination and some good contacts in other fields. Imagination - it' s what we have that separates us from the beasts. Never underestimate it, use it what you must. Especially when it's necessary to get out of what you are, and see through the eyes of someone else.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh, Pioneer Museum!

That was a treat – yesterday at Fredericksburg’s Pioneer Museum. I had a talk and a discussion for an hour, with a group of interested historians and readers, and then sat behind a small table the visitor center, between a shelf of scented candles, cowboy postcards and other souvenirs, and a large rack of maps and information about Fredericksburg and the Hill Country and signed copies of the Adelsverein Trilogy for two hours. All in all, exhausted, happy and talked hoarse. Richard Bristol, the event manager was a little disappointed that it was not standing room only – but alas, it seemed that an elderly retired admiral, who was very much a big wheel in local historical circles had died this week, and his memorial service was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. And Kenn Knopp, who is also very big in the local historical society, was ill and in the hospital … so not as many of the local enthusiasts were in attendance, but those who were, were very keen. One of them had seen the write-up in the Fredericksburg paper, had driven 200 miles.

They had set up a podium and folding chairs, in the old parish hall, which is now part of the museum complex, but I would have felt so stupid, standing up and talking to barely a dozen people, so I just said, heck with it; we pulled some chairs around in a circle, and I rattled on for a bit about how I came to write the books, what was so fascinating about the 19th century, and how I did research, then I read a bit from Book One (the part where the first party of settlers had a bonfire and celebrated among the trees on the first night after arriving at the site of Fredericksburg.) After that – question time!

Not terribly difficult ones; most about Fredericksburg, and the Civil War, and the Mainzer Adelsverein. All those present were interested and knowledgeable, and I have been so steeped in the original sources over the last two years that I could hold my own. Brief discussion of how many murders there actually had been on Main Street (only two, of the Itz brothers during the Civil War – J.P. Waldrip was killed a little way off Main, Louis Scheutze was taken from his house on Main and killed elsewhere), of the ways in which Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels was an idiot (a practically endless list), the origin of the Easter bonfires on the hilltops around Fredericksburg (transplanted regional folk-way, nothing much to do with Indians) and the fact that long-trail cattle drives from Texas to Kansas only went on for barely ten years.

And the most gratifying part was that almost everyone at the discussion had either already bought a set of the Trilogy, or went and bought one directly afterwards, and brought it back for me to sign. As I had hoped, many of them have some connection or special interest: the lady who came 200 miles now owns the house which was built by the Itz family. Richard has ancestors on either side who are mentioned; Lt. Wilke, who went with John Meusebach on his peace mission to the Comanche, and the Stielers of Comfort who were strong Unionists – and still have a large ranch property on the road between IH-10 and Fredericksburg.

After that – two hours, as noted in the new museum reception center. Well, not exactly new, it’s an old historic stone house which became a restaurant at the other end of town, then painstakingly disassembled and put together again on the museum grounds. According to Richard, it took so long that the numbers on some of the stones had weathered away, and it was the very dickens to put it all back together again. It’s much lighter and more open than the house in which it first was – that house was very dim and cramped. Good for working up a mental picture of what the inside of the original houses must have been like, but a bit cave-like to spend two hours in. And the resident cats have moved one: one of them vanished, and the other made such a hit at the local ASPCA that she is now a foster-mother for kittens needing socializing, and lives there permanently. The Museum now has a crying need for some resident cats; the mice are insatiable, even though there isn’t any food kept in most of the structures.
There was a constant trickle of visitors, since this is the last weekend of the holidays. Most of the shops along Main had very serious after-holiday sales going on. After we were done at the Museum – all the complete sets of the Trilogy sold, BTW – and Richard bought the last set himself, Blondie and I walked down Main, and stopped in at a little bookstore specializing in Texiana, where I have hopes of them carrying the Trilogy also. It used to be situated in a nook of a store specializing in Christmas paraphernalia, but the owner has sold the stock and goodwill to another shop-owner a little way along. We spoke to the new owner, who is busy setting up all the books in a larger and more comfortable space. She was very interested about carrying the Trilogy, and wanted to know where and how to order them. (She also turns out to be a descendant of the Nimitz family - yay! Another local connection in the Trilogy!) Berkman’s, at the other end of Main, where I had a signing two weeks ago, sold out of the last copies they had within a day or two; as predicted, the people who bought Book One came back to get the subsequent volumes. We finished up with hamburgers and fries at a little joint called “Buffalo Nickel”. A good day – exhausting, but a good day.