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’!