When there may be mysteries darker than murder

Yesterday, BookPeople’s Mystery People blog published my article on murder and mystery, which came out of Anahuac becoming available at BookPeople earlier this year. I truly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to Austin’s prestigious independent bookstore in this way.

I like BookPeople for a lot of reasons, not least of which that it’s just a short and relaxing walk from where I live. BookPeople has been supportive of my efforts to market my books and those of other local Austin authors. The Writer’s League of Texas uses BookPeople’s meeting room for their meetings. All-in-all, BookPeople is a great model for an indie book store.

I wrote the article for BookPeople to say thanks for all of their help and also to explain why my idea of a murder mystery doesn’t include a description of heavy violence or gore.This paragraph, in particular, captured a lot of what I was thinking about as I was writing the book, and once I began to see people interact with it:

Most of us abhor violence. Yet mystery, especially when it involves murder, is one of our favorite literary genres. The “why” of its popularity is not so hard to understand when one accepts that the violence and death in a murder mystery are usually purely fictional. We shiver in anticipation as the roller coaster reaches the top of the hill, because the exhilaration of the bottom dropping out is “safe.” Mystery lets us enter into the violent world of murder without actually being in danger. The journey is aided by the fact that our imaginations don’t—in the moment, at least—distinguish between real danger and the imagined.

If you are a fan of mysteries I encourage you to subscribe to the Mystery People blog. There are great insights from mystery writers, including interviews and remembrances, as well as reviews on a whole range of mysteries. It’s a great resource for those of you looking for which whodunnit to read next.

Morgan's Point City Limit

Did Emily Morgan, the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” win the war?

I like to include a short Author’s Note in all the books in my “A Texas Story” series, providing a bit of historical information about the setting for the book. In Anahuac, I described the dust up that young lawyer, William Travis started with the Commander of the Mexican military’s Fort Anahuac in 1832 that predated the Texas Revolution by four years. Travis wound up as the Commander of the Alamo that cost he and his men their lives.

The Author’s Note in the first book of the series, Morgan’s Point, summarizes the story of the Texas Revolution against Mexico and ends with the Battle of San Jacinto that created the Republic of Texas. The battle occurred on April 21, 1836. The victory over a far superior Mexican Army changed the world, not just Texas. Did the “Yellow Rose of Texas” really win the Texas Revolution? That is up to you to decide. Like so many other stories of Texas, the facts are muddled. The legend probably has as much chance of being true as any other of the stories about this 18-minute battle.  The one fact that is clear is that the world is a very different place because of it. As the 182nd anniversary of the battle approaches, I offer the prologue for your consideration. My books are available at BookPeople in Austin and on Amazon.

 

Author’s Note

The flag of Mexico flew over Texas in 1836. The Anglo settlers who legally immigrated to Texas from the United States entered under agreements between land impresarios and the government of Mexico. The vast expanses of Texas and the limited presence of the government of Mexico allowed many additional settlers to cross the northern river boundaries illegally for a new life.
As their numbers grew, the Anglos chafed under a legal system that did not recognize rights that the Anglos had left behind in the United States. The disputes, real or imagined, stirred the Texicans to action. Some have speculated that the presence of men like Sam Houston, a former Governor of the state of Tennessee, was part of a more sinister plot to allow the United States to seize Texas from Mexico.

Speculation aside, a convention was held at Washington-on-the-Brazos to form an independent Republic of Texas. A declaration of independence was signed on March 2, 1836. As might be expected, the President of Mexico, Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, took exception. Santa Anna, as he was known, was already marching his armies to Texas to vanquish the upstart Texicans.

After crossing the Mexican interior, Santa Anna marched his large army to San Antonio, where they surrounded a vastly outnumbered garrison at the Alamo. It took thirteen days for a superior Mexican force to overrun the old church and kill the 180 or so Texican defenders. Those who died included several Mexican citizens who sided with the Texicans. Next, a portion of Santa Anna’s army went to Goliad where they surrounded a 300-man Texican army. The Texicans’ reward for surrender was execution.

Santa Anna was flush with these victories when he set off on a mission to capture the newly formed government of Texas. As fate would have it, Santa Anna’s army barely missed capturing the Republic’s interim President David G. Burnet and his family at a town called New Washington. New Washington was located on a peninsula called Morgan’s Point that juts into Galveston Bay. As Burnet and his family rowed away, a gallant Mexican officer commanded his troops not to fire because of the presence of ladies in the boat.

One person captured at Morgan’s Point was Emily Morgan. Emily was far from being part of the new revolutionary government of Texas. She was the former indentured servant of James Morgan for whom the peninsula was named. Emily, a Mulatto woman, was said to be fair of face. Rather than being a prisoner of war, she was conscripted by the Mexican army for the pleasure of Santa Anna. Ms. Morgan would also be known as the Yellow Rose of Texas after the battle to come.
With Emily Morgan in tow, the Generalissimo turned his gaze to Sam Houston and the last Texican army in the field. Sam Houston’s army had been engaged in a defensive flight across Texas. Some had named it derisively the “runaway scrape.” Depending on which group of Texican soldiers one asked, Sam Houston was either a worthless coward or a brilliant military strategist. The Texicans had suffered grievous defeats at the Alamo and Goliad. Sam Houston would fight when fate and geography gave him an opportunity for success.

Houston sprang into action upon learning that Santa Anna was nearby at New Washington and that President Burnet had escaped. Houston had his chance. Santa Anna’s forces were now split into three widely separated armies. Sam Houston drove his men in a desperate race to San Jacinto.

San Jacinto, a tiny village, was located at the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River near the site of Lynch’s Ferry. The ferry was a focal point for all routes of escape for the Texican civilian population fleeing Texas for haven in Louisiana and the United States across the Sabine River. Some said that Sam Houston was fleeing Texas along with the civilians. Lynch’s Ferry continues in operation at the site today.

No matter which of the theories was true, the destinies of two armies were sealed. Sam Houston and Santa Anna found themselves camped less than a mile apart at San Jacinto. Santa Anna’s camp lay hard against Peggy’s Lake. The inopportune location of Santa Anna’s camp was met with disbelief by the professional soldiers who commanded his troops. Sam Houston’s back was to the waters of Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River. Like knife fighters with their left arms tied together, it was clear that one of these armies would not get out alive.

The tides of not only Texas history but of the world’s history were changed in a merciless eighteen-minute battle on the low-slung salt grass marsh. The silence of the quiet swamp was broken by a sudden barrage of cannons, rifles and pistols. A late afternoon charge by Sam Houston’s army drove the Mexicans into the shallow muck of Peggy’s Lake. The Texican Cavalry was into the Mexican camp with drawn sabers before an alarm could be sounded. The terrified Mexican troops raced to escape from the Texican force who screamed, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”

The irregular Texican army, set on avenging massacres at Goliad and the Alamo, butchered the remnants of the Mexican army mired knee deep in the mud. Their screams of “Mi, no Alamo, Mi, no Goliad,” only inflamed the Texicans. Peggy’s Lake was blood red by nightfall. A lucky few were taken captive or fled into the countryside.

One of those who fled was Generalissimo Santa Anna. Santa Anna, at least by legend, was said to have been entertaining Emily Morgan in his tent at the start of the battle. Santa Anna’s attentions were so diverted by the Yellow Rose, that a Texican victory was assured.

Captured two days later, Santa Anna was taken to a large oak tree where Sam Houston lay recuperating from an ankle wound. Sam Houston did not give in to the natural urges of his army. Rather than hang Santa Anna from the oak tree, he required him to sign an order directing the commanders of two larger Mexican forces advancing toward Houston’s army to withdraw back across the Rio Grande. With the stroke of Santa Anna’s pen, a new Republic of Texas was at least temporarily assured.

Peacock at Mayfield Park

The S.S. Hangover at the Contemporary Austin

You have to know the story of Clara Driscoll to fully appreciate the location of the Contemporary Austin art exhibit Kathy and I attended last Sunday. Laguna Gloria is Driscoll’s former home on Lake Austin. Clara Driscoll was a larger than life individual, whose legions of accomplishments included saving the Alamo from demolition and writing a Broadway show. Her father, Robert Driscoll, Sr. and mother Catherine McGrath Duggan Driscoll owned among many other assets, the 83,000 acre Driscoll Ranch just outside of Corpus Christi in South Texas. Wikipedia has an extensive discussion of her education and life accomplishments. She was a Texas original, educated in New York City and Europe. If you don’t know about her, it’s worth reading the Wikipedia article.

In 1917, Driscoll and her husband purchased 28 acres near Mount Bonnell on the Colorado River. At the time the property was five miles outside of Austin. The property was bounded on one side by the Colorado River, now Lake Austin and on another by a tributary called Taylor Slough. The slough feed into a small lake adjacent to Driscoll’s mansion before it flows into Lake Austin. They called their estate Laguna Gloria. The property was first owned by Stephen F. Austin. This is one of the most prized properties in Texas. The beautiful grounds and Italian influenced mansion are now a Contemporary Austin art gallery.

Last Sunday, Kathy and I attended an art exhibition performed on the small lake. In my younger years I would have questioned whether the performance was art. Thankfully, I’m not so strict these days and the SS Hangover exhibit was particularly enjoyable. The waters of Laguna Gloria were never used for better purpose than the surreal scene of a Scandinavian sailing craft (actually propelled by a secret motor) plying the tranquil waters of the lagoon. A brass orchestra played calming beautiful music, and Kathy and I were transfixed on the shore. Even the cold temps of the day disappeared for a time. We recommend you consider it.

Plus we recommend a stop over to the Gardens and the free ranging peacocks of Mayfield Park right next door. Kids and grandkids would love to see the peacocks, ponds and beauty of the park’s nature trails down to the water.

 

A Snowy 2nd Day of Spring in Washington, D.C.

The beauty of a snow in the spring is that you know it won’t last forever. As the pictures show, it is one of those days in D.C. Heavy wet snow in March is no match for the sun and the 45 degree high of tomorrow. The sun will get us back to spring. But today just looks like winter. Yesterday was the first day of spring and D.C. looked like it was trying.

There is a plus on snowy spring days. They keep me inside writing. Writing in the spring time is more of a challenge than most of the year. Spring in D.C. can be intoxicating—I mean, with flowers and trees blooming, although there is no shortage of booze in the District. I’ve learned over the past six years that practicing writing discipline is among the most challenging of quests. When writers are sitting quietly behind their typewriter hoping for a wisp of inspiration, it is easy to dismiss them as goofing off. Trust me it is some of the hardest work (though I really love it) I’ve ever attempted. It would be easy for a spouse or other relative to say,”Since you’re not doing anything can you run this garment to the cleaners?” I am lucky that my wife, Kathy, is just the opposite. She is the one that shoos me back to the writing desk when I am just messing around.

I will take some more pictures to share later, when it is perhaps 100 degrees.

Audio Book brings Anahuac to Life

Today Anahuac was issued on Audible.com as an audio book. The novel is now on Amazon, ITunes and Audible. There is a free preview of a portion of the audio book available on Amazon.com. The audio version of Anahuac was performed by Alan Adelberg, a professional narrator with national credits. Joel Block of The Block House Studio who is an award winner produced the recording. I was truly blessed to find such talented professionals. I described a bit of the recording process in prior blogs. There is great joy in hearing the words come alive and all you have to do is close your eyes and listen. Authors hear character voices when they write. I was pleased to hear some different inflections in Alan’s performance than what I heard when I wrote the words. His ideas actually enhanced the story. If you have friends who like audio books please tell them about Anahuac. I would encourage you to take the time to listen to the preview that is available. Even if you don’t think you would like an audio book (I was one of those before this) you might be surprised.

An Evening with the Anahuac Book Club

Book clubs are a writer’s best friend. The book club that meets at the Chambers County Library (in Anahuac, Texas) honored me by selecting my first novel, Morgan’s Point, as their novel for the month of March. Last night, the club met to discuss my book. What made the evening even more special for me was their surprise invitation for me to join them via Skype. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I enthusiastically accepted. What a grand evening it was for me and (I hope) for the members of the club. I would love for other book clubs to read my books and extend me that same invitation.

If authors have to explain too much about their book, they probably missed the mark. The Anahuac folks were full of questions, but they were the kinds of questions that I would have asked of authors whose books I enjoyed. I don’t want to provide any spoilers for those who might want to read Morgan’s Point or Anahuac, but women who meet the world on their own terms, predestination, mangled justice and the origins of the name Faircloth were hot topics. During our discussions I discovered  that Faircloth, the last name of major characters Taylor and Cooper Faircloth, is also the last name of the State Representative for the area. I had to explain that there were specific reasons I used the name Faircloth, but not because of the Honorable Mr. Faircloth.

Another fact that I learned during the meeting was that the old Mexican Fort that once stood on a high bluff along Trinity Bay in Anahuac had tunnels that were used to bring cargo up from ships. I wish I’d known that when I wrote Anahuac. There would have been some underground fun. Maybe it’s not too late. I am busy writing two books now. One is a prequel about Sarita Jo Franklin, the toughest woman on Smith’s Point, Texas, who was an important (albeit briefly appearing) character in Anahuac.

The first time I ever heard of a book club came back to me as I waited for the Skype call last night. I was only eight or nine years old when I first saw the movie The Third Man at the Woodlawn Theater in San Antonio. Joseph Cotton played the role of Holly Martins, who wrote schlocky Westerns. Martins is in post- war Vienna because of the death of a good friend, Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles. As a young boy, I was lost for most of this film noire masterpiece because of the film’s complexity. One uncomfortable scene I did understand was at a Vienna book club meeting to which Martins is invited to speak. It seemed that Martins has a following of intellectuals in Vienna who were dying to pick his brain about his cowboy works. Martins is out of his depth and their deep questions about his shallow works leads to an embarrassing evening. That memory was probably not the most settling of remembrances to have immediately before an appearance before a book club. Fortunately, I think I escaped Holly Martins’ fate last night.

Last night was enjoyable and instructive for me, and I’d like to thank the members of the Anahuac book club for such a wonderful evening. If you are a member of a book club and want to read one of my books, I will myself available for your meeting to discuss the book. Skype is an easy, fun way to make this happen.

Do You Have What You Need?

In my most recent novel, Anahuac, Reverend Randall Clay, radio evangelist extraordinaire, fervently asks, “Do you have what you need?”

Reverend Clay believes the answer to his prayers involves his listeners writing a check to keep the Reverend Randall Clay Prayer Hour on the air. Did God tell him that Sarita Jo Franklin was listening to his voice over nine hundred miles away, or was it just a wild dart that hit its mark? Sarita Jo thought that making a donation to the “Prayer Hour” was just what she needed. Her reasons for her gift may be different than what you might imagine. If you chose to read Anahuac, you can draw your own conclusion. I’m writing novels these days that I hope make you ask questions about the characters’ motivations and about your own.

Anahuac A Texas Story

The answer to the question “What do I need?” is as varied as the number of people on the face of the earth.  It is surprising how many times our troubles start when the needs of our loved ones or co-workers don’t jive with ours. We learn quickly in this world to negotiate with others for what we think we need. My mother claimed that as a two year old, I would quickly eat my ice cream and look at her with doleful eyes and say, “You don’t want all of your ice cream?” Was young William genuinely interested in his mother’s needs or simply practicing his skills to become a radio evangelist? The preceding example needs no deep analysis, but in my case I didn’t go into radio religion, although some might say that becoming a lawyer was pretty close.

In 1986, Robert Fulgrum wrote a book called, All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulgrum’s hypothesis was that things like sharing, being kind to one another and cleaning up after ourselves would be an excellent way for adults to act, not just kindergarteners. I suspect that one of the biggest blunders we make is to hide our needs from each other. No one around you can divine your needs, unless perhaps they are Reverend Clay. The bottom line of this is best summed up in something I heard years ago and has stuck with me. On first hearing I thought the statement was ludicrous. In my more mature years I have come to embrace it, but still struggle to practice it.

Ask for what you want (need), listen to the answer and celebrate the noes.

I encourage you to take some time to digest this statement that might seem crazy to many of you. I can hear myself long ago saying, “But I don’t want to be told no.” Many times when my life becomes complicated, I can trace it back to my failure to communicate my perceived needs. Breezing through life with illusions that others share your needs is a prescription for conflict and disappointment. Being told “no” frees you to see the world as it exists, not as you wish it were. Staying in the moment is indeed hard when the “moment” is painful. The alternative is even more painful. Now my needs are that you to go reread the statement again. I promise you it might help you.

Bad Boy Books in San Marcos hosts Book Signing Event

Bad Boy Books in San Marcos is hosting a book signing event on Thursday, February 22 at 7:00 pm. This is a great place and will be a fun evening. Click on Thursday above and check out the book store and gallery. I hope you will join us.

Murder by The Book Event Houston, Texas

Murder by The Book, an iconic independent book store in River Oaks in Houston, hosted a reading and book signing event on Saturday afternoon. The staff at the store was  extremely professional and courteous. We tried something different for the reading portion of the event. Anahuac is recorded for an audio book and we are waiting for the final editing to be completed. We had some chapters available so we played a short excerpt from the audio. As I have said before, the audio book is something new to me. Alan Adelberg, our narrator, brings the characters to life. I am way behind those of you who are old hands at listening to audio books. I liked the way it worked.  I will be doing a book event in San Marcos at Bad Boy Books on Thursday February 22 at 7 in the evening. I am looking forward to playing another excerpt from the audio book then.

Old friends Ivan and Margaret Ann Wood joined us for the signing in Houston and it is always fun to see friends at these events. We had dinner with another old friend, Ray Wright. We had breakfast this morning with Harry Wilbanks and his wife Ann. Book signings are a way to get out and meet people and promote your books. It is also a great way to catch up with old friends. Be watching your local book store. You never know where you might find me.

Author William Darling signs Anahuac at Murder by The Book

“Anahuac” will soon be an audio book

 

Picture of an Anahuac sign.

SOME DAYS in our lives represent the end and the beginning of something. Today is one of those days for me. Over the past three weeks we have been in Joel Block’s studio (The Block House) in Austin, Texas recording my latest novel Anahuac as an audio book. Today we will wrap up the recording.

The process of recording an audio book began for me with the selection of a recording studio and a producer. Joel Block was recommended to me by a knowledgeable author and was the perfect choice. Kind, patient, talented and professional are all words that come easily when I think of Joel. I would have been lost without his help.

Joel called for auditions from his list of vocal talents. Choosing a talent to read a novel is not as easy as you might think. We listened to at least ten audition tapes and pared the list to three. Those folks were kind enough to record an additional audition and from them we selected Alan Adelberg. Alan is a true professional who has brought life to the characters of Anahuac.

Courtesy of The Block House Audio Studio.

“Hearing” a book is a new thing for me. “Old school” describes me best. I want to hold the book in my hand. After listening to Alan, I have a new perspective. Audio books are not exactly like the old-time radio drama. First of all, there is only a narrator. The narrator must use nuanced voices to distinguish between speakers. The dialogue in Anahuac is sometimes fast and furious. Using subtle, but clear voices to let the listener know who is speaking is a talent and I mean a real talent. Alan has exceeded my wildest expectations. After the first session I felt like several people must be coming out of the recording booth when he finished.

Courtesy of The Block House Austin Texas

Here is a secret I didn’t know. I assumed that an audio book was read straight through without any breaks. In fact it is not possible to do that. There are pauses, unwelcome breath sounds and other interruptions that are deleted by Joel. The finished product is seamless. Joel has shared a few chapters with me to let me hear what the audio book will be. It is amazing.

There was another side benefit to recording the novel. I have been sitting with Joel with my face buried in a book I swore I couldn’t read again as we recorded it line by line. The process is slower than I could imagine and it has given me a deeper understanding of what I wrote. Sometimes I hear things that I didn’t fully understand myself while I was writing. I believe writing is more about learning to listen to something or someone unseen  than being personally brilliant.

I am thrilled to say that within a short time Joel will have the audio recording produced and you can travel to Anahuac in a different manner than reading the book. Consider traveling to Anahuac with an audio rendition. It will be fun.

Chambers County Library Book Event

 

I was recently back in Anahuac for a book event at the Chambers County Library. There were three other local authors there and we had a great time with a knowledgeable audience. I am honored that the library book club is reading Morgan’s Point this month

Chambers County Book Club

I feel strongly about an author’s responsibility to support library organizations. The Chambers County Library System is doing a great job in supporting their citizens with a modern library and a knowledgeable staff. Sue Hawthorne worked tirelessly to organize the book event.

It was great to get back to Fort Anahuac State Park and fantasize about days of yore when the Mexican Army Fort ruled Trinity Bay and William B. Travis practiced law in Anahuac. Texas revolutionary history had its beginnings at this site on 1832. The trip to Anahuac is not easy, but I recommend it. The annual Gator festival is a spring event that brings in large crowds. I hope to be there this spring.

Book Signing Anahuac