Read about my tour of 18th-century Jesuit missions in Central and Eastern Sonora State, Mexico . Also read: Sleuthing for Ignaz or, how research on an 18th-century Jesuit missionary in Sonora, Mexico led me to travel in Spain, in Germany, and ultimately to his hometown, Unkel-am-Rhein.

Happy New Year 2014!

Warmest greetings to all my friends and family!

Just as for all of you, I’m sure, 2013 was an eventful year for me, beginning on January 4 with the third operation on the middle finger of my left hand. Two previous operations, one here in San Antonio and one in Germany, had failed to restore the finger that had been snapped in half at the middle joint so that it pointed left at a right angle, more or less like the Greek letter Γ in reverse. Dr. Nancy Otto, one of the best hand specialists in the country, substituted a small, curved bone from the back of the hand for the shattered middle joint, and the operation worked. I can now use the hand normally, and am typing with it now.

I was busy with two literary critique groups: Daedalus, which has existed for decades, and Ink Blots, a new group trying to establish itself. A number of jobs editing novels came my way, and I hope for more. I spent my second year in Toastmasters International, in a congenial and helpful club where I honed my speaking skills. As always, my church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, played a major role socially, in the choir and in other welcome duties.

Travel played a major role as well: twice to Atlanta, once to celebrate (Professor/Dr.) Ralph Freedman’s 93rd birthday on February 24, a sad trip to North Carolina in late April for the funeral of my cousin Mary Lou Garris’ husband, George. George had been a leader in wildlife conservation in major wildlife refuges in the southeast, the most important of them, Cape Romaine Wildlife Refuge. May saw much travel: a drive to Albuquerque for the Southwest Book Fiesta, so badly managed and poorly advertised that even major publishers sold almost nothing. Shortly thereafter, Ralph and I drove to Ann Arbor, MI, for the Bat Mitzvah of his granddaughter Miriam Freedman.

Our German trip—accompanied throughout by Ralph Freedman—deserves a paragraph all to itself. From October 13-November 13, it began with three days in Atlanta, then the flight to Frankfurt, visits to friends in Offenbach and in Hamburg, followed by a few days in our “home-base,” Unkel-am-Rhein, the home of Fr. Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J., 1725-1798, missionary and hero of four of my mystery novels. There, I prepared for and delivered a lecture in German on Pfefferkorn to a historically well-informed audience at the Historisches Museum in neighboring Siegburg, where Pfefferkorn is buried. Our good Unkeler friends, Maria and Rolf Vollmer and Heide Lorenz took turns in wining and dining us like royalty! We’ll forever be in their debt. We then drove to Marburg, for the Memorial Service for our close friend, Dr. Renate Scharffenberg, brilliant translator of my last Pfefferkorn book, Unrest in Eden. Renate is best known as a leading expert on Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet. Ralph gave one of two main eulogies; mine was one of four shorter ones. In her memory, I gave each of 50 attendees a copy of her translation of Unrest, entitled Unruhe im Paradies. The trip concluded with another lecture on Pfefferkorn to an audience of students at the Hermann Hesse Institut and their mentors in Horb, a town in the Black Forest.

Meanwhile, my latest novels, Anselm, a Metamorphosi, in the works for several months, was published on October 15. The book, a fantasy, has received much notice and excellent reviews, including a radio interview with Barry Eva (A Book and a Chat with Barry Eva), on November 2. I urge you to check the book out on Amazon, where the first two chapters are available as a preview (under my name as author: Florence Byham Weinberg).

On December 7, I hosted an Open House to celebrate 3 events: my birthday a few days earlier, the publication of Anselm, and 500,000+ miles on my 1984 Mercedes. I sold the car shortly afterwards and bought a “gently used,” much newer Mercedes to replace it. Christmas, spent in Albuquerque with cousins Martha, Russell and Nicole DeHaven, was a beautiful trip in the “new” car, and a warm, family time while there.

2013 was darkened for me by very sad losses. Besides George Garris and Dr. Renate Scharffenberg, I lost three more dear friends: Donna Merrill, a classmate of mine at Park College (now Park University) on May 21, a brilliant teacher and philanthropist; Jeannie Rogers on July 22, a woman of many talents and one who cared for and understood animals more fully than anyone I’ve met; and Rita Schonhoff Imbimbo, on August 22, a close friend who acted as my publicity agent for two years, a deep thinker who was preparing to be a grief counsellor.

Despite all that, here’s looking forward to a peaceful, creative, loving and happy 2014 for each of you!

 

Christmas Letter 2012

I trust your Christmas was joyful. The year was distinguished by much travel—details below. I’ll try to organize the chaos.

The year was kept to an orderly schedule by several regular activities:

1) Three days each week, I work out in the gym. I have a trainer, Bobbye Rader, who isolates and works each muscle group. No fooling around! J

2) On Sundays, I often serve as Lector and/or Eucharistic Minister for the 8:30 and the 11:00 Masses, and am always on duty in the choir at the 11:00 service—when I’m in San Antonio.

3) Every Friday since joining in January, 2012, I attend the meeting of the San Antonio Toastmasters Presidential Distinguished Club 9434, where I learn more effective speaking techniques and leadership skills.

Regular monthly meetings are:

4) the Third Monday Writers’ Group that meets in members’ homes with a potluck dinner provided by the guests.

5) The Trinity University Retired Faculty has a luncheon once each month in one of the local restaurants that enjoys a decent reputation;

6) the Daedalus Critique Group meets every first Wednesday: members presenting up to 25 pages of new writing every other meeting for examination and critique.

7) A new critique group started up in October, of which I am a member. The same rules apply: three members present 25 pages each; five members orally critique the pages, having previously read and annotated them. Critiques are constructive, and members of each group learn a great deal.

Trips included:

January 21-23 to NYC for a weekend memorial gathering in honor of Ralph (Freedman’s) brother Norbert, who died from a tragic fall down tiled stairs in November 2011. (His birthday is Jan. 18).

February 21-28: to Atlanta to celebrate Ralph’s 92nd birthday. I enjoyed the convivial gathering and had time to visit other good friends.

April 25-May 13: I accompanied Ralph to Szeged, Hungary, where the International Hermann Hesse Conference was held this year. Ralph was the first speaker, on Hesse’s novel, Demian. This was my first visit to Hungary, which I found fascinating for many reasons: the beauty of the country, the antiquity of its culture, the delicious food, the friendly and urbane people who, in addition to Hungarian, often speak English and/or German. The last few days we spent in Budapest, where we toured both cities, and took a delightful, sunny ride on the Danube.

July 18-27, I traveled to Ralph’s home in Decatur, GA, where I visited him and his many friends.

September 5-28 was spent on a complex trip, first to Atlanta for two days before flying to Frankfurt, then on to a resort in the Eifel Mountains, then to Unkel-on-the-Rhine, on to Konstanz to visit dear friends, Hans Rudolf and Monelle Picard, then to Bern, where Ralph gave the keynote address on “Rilke in Switzerland,” before the International Rilke Society, to enthusiastic applause.

October 19-21 was spent in Albuquerque for the Women Writing the West Conference, always an opportunity to meet old friends, make new ones, and to see what are the latest publications in Western literature. We took advantage of a brief interval to visit with my cousins Martha and Russ DeHaven and granddaughter Nicole in Rio Rancho. Immediately following, October 22-25 , we flew to Detroit and then drove a rented car to Ann Arbor to honor Ralph’s eldest son, Jonathan Freedman, who was named Marvin Felheim Collegiate Professor of English, American Studies and Judaic Studies at The University of Michigan. To begin the ceremony, Jonathan gave a speech on Henry James, “Strether Through the Looking-Glass: Henry James, The Ambassadors and the Culture of Optical Illusion.”

On November 22, Ralph—acting as my research assistant and expert reader of old German handwriting—and I left for Germany, arriving in Unkel-on-the-Rhine on the 23rd.  On the 29th, I presented my latest mystery novel, Unrest in Eden, translated into German as Unruhe im Paradies by Dr. Renate Scharffenberg, a close friend and well-known Rilke scholar, who lives in Marburg. The event was sponsored by the Geschichtsverein Unkel (Historical Society of Unkel). I spoke in German for 15 minutes on the life of my protagonist, Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J., 1725-1798, on how and why I became interested in a relatively obscure 18th-century Jesuit missionary, and how my research and writing on him ultimately led me to the small city of Unkel, some 20 kilometers south of Bonn. I also read selections from the book and answered questions. The local press was there in force, and coverage afterwards was far above expectations. The restaurant’s main room—once the living room of the Berntges family (Isabella Berntges was Ignaz’ sister)—was packed, and all books sold out. A few days later, a festive dinner was hosted by descendants of Ignaz’ family, the Eschenbrenders, in Köln. Ralph and I held a press conference sponsored by the Historical Museum of Siegburg (the city where Ignaz died and was buried in 1798), and another reading in Unkel on the last Sunday (Dec. 9) for the Unkeler Wandergruppe (The Travel Group of Unkel). We flew home on December 12.

Ralph and I drove to Rio Rancho, New Mexico on December 23 to spend a lovely, relaxing Christmas with my cousin Martha DeHaven, her husband Russell, and granddaughter Nicole. We returned to San Antonio on December 27. The distance is 745 miles, so the round trip added 1,490 miles to the speedometer of my 1984 Mercedes-Benz for a total of 488,850 miles. The car will soon have traveled half a million.

Other noteworthy happenings:

In January, I completed the translation of Adelina Morantes Toscano’s fine, 276-page book on Our Lady of Guadalupe (Santa María de Guadalupe; verdadera conquistadora de México; Our Lady of Guadalupe, True Conqueror of Mexico). Tragically, Adelina died several weeks after a four-way by-pass operation before final arrangements could be made for publication of the English version. I still hope to publish her work and contribute all proceeds to her heirs or to her favorite charity.

Sometime around mid-year, I submitted the manuscript of a fantasy novel called Anselm, a Metamorphosis to the publisher, Twilight Times Books. It will be out in fall, 2013. I’m now embarked on a new historical novel about a courageous but controversial 16th-century publisher in Lyon, France: Etienne Dolet.

On November 5, during the visit of Maya Temperley, Director of Corporate (and other) Relations at Saint John Fisher College where I taught for 22 years until 1989, I fell on the River Walk here in San Antonio, and shattered the middle finger on my left hand. The first operation that took place on November 8, failed, and I was again operated on (in Germany) on November 27. The surgeon did a beautiful reconstruction job, but upon my return, it was determined (December 17) that the finger was dislocated again. I’m facing a third operation and bone transplant on January 3. Wish me luck this time!
The former Pastor for many years of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Father Martin Elsner, S.J.—active in organizations that help the poor Hispanics and Blacks in our city; advocate for Catholic education, especially for the early years, and much more—is being honored this year, Friday, February 8, 2013, by the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence at the 2013 Benitia Humanitarian Award Dinner. I will be Honorary Chairperson, and hope I’ll be equal to the task! Father Marty has been an inspiration to us all for many years, for many reasons, and in many capacities. Hats off to you, Father!

My love to all and my warmest wishes for a more peaceful, considerate, compassionate New Year 2013.

PS: The operation on the finger took place as scheduled on January 3 and was successful. It will take many weeks, however, before the hand is fully operational.

Events in 2012

On January 19, my translator, André Csihas, and I presented the three Spanish translations of the first three Pfefferkorn mysteries: El jesuita y el brujo; El jesuita y la tormenta; El jesuita y La Caridad. The program took place in the auditorium of UNAM (la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México en San Antonio). I spoke in Spanish and English on the historical background of the books and a bit on the research I did in order to reconstruct the life of Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J. André spoke about the trials and joys of translation. I then read the first, short chapter of The Storks of La Caridad, followed by the same reading in Spanish by André. Quite a number of books were sold that night, but soon it became evident that in the final stage of printing them, the program for English language printing was used, so the hyphenation at the end of lines was made according to English usage. This was most irritating to Spanish readers! The books are being reprinted using the proper Spanish program, and should be available shortly. They are already available as e-books and for Kindle and Nook, since those programs don’t use hyphenation at the end of lines.

The next important event was a trip to Hungary to accompany Professor Ralph Freedman, who read a learned paper in the university city of Szeged at the conference, “Hermann Hesse und die Moderne,” May 2-6. We were ‘wined and dined’ at a local gourmet restaurant for lunch and dinner; breakfast was served in Die Akademie, where we stayed. And, of course, we feasted on many fine intellectual offerings by the other speakers, who lectured on various aspects of Hermann Hesse’s life and works. After the conference was over, we returned to Budapest by train and were invited to enjoy the elegant guest quarters of the Sándor Petöfi Museum for the few days remaining in our stay. We shed our scholarly personae and became tourists, taking a bus tour of Pest and then of sister city Buda and, on another fine, sunny day, a boat tour on the Donau (the Danube). Budapest is a thrillingly beautiful city—”the Paris of Eastern Europe” I’m told.

Beyond these major events, I have worked for my church, have worked out in the gym, translated a 276-page book by a friend, Adelina Morantes Toscano, Santa María de Guadalupe, verdadera conquistadora de México into English, and have written, written, written. I sent my publisher, Twilight Times Books, the completed manuscript of my first, unpublished book, Anselm, a Metamorphosis, last Friday, June 15. The book began as a short story in 1967, was abandoned in a desk drawer until 1989, when it was expanded into a novella. After an abortive attempt at publication, it landed again in the drawer until this year, when I rescued it, rewrote it, and perhaps will finally see it in print. For the moment, my memoir, Heart in the Desert, is awaiting its turn in my Documents file.

Events in 2011

January was an exceedingly busy month for talks and book sales. On January 8, I lectured on “Why San Antonio Has Five Historic Franciscan Missions” for AAUW’s group, Historic Southwest; on the 14th, I spoke to the Assistance League of San Antonio at the Bright Shawl; on the 18th, I gave a lecture in Spanish to El Ateneo in El Museo de la Alameda (San Antonio) on the fate of the Jesuits in the 18th century. On the 19th, I drove to El Paso, TX, and the following day spoke to the Board of Trustees of Park University. That evening I drove to Albuquerque, where I joined a “Library Event” where the winners of the New Mexico Book Award exhibited, sold and signed their books. I was selling all of mine, but featuring Sonora Wind.

On the 29th, I attended a banquet called “Khaki and Plaid,” a benefit for Catholic schools in San Antonio, and was able to present a check for $500, representing profits for the last few months from sales of Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross, to Father David García to benefit the Las Misiones Capital Campaign. (These are the five historic Franciscan Missions about which I spoke to the Historic Southwest group on the 8th.)

February-May: The main event in February was a week-long trip (21st-28th) to Decatur/Atlanta, GA to celebrate Ralph Freedman’s birthday on the 24th. Ralph, a friend since 1954, was my deceased husband’s best friend. Their birthdays fall on the same day, 6 years apart. I began editing Ralph’s first novel Divided, published in 1948 when it won the Lewis and Clark Northwest Literary Award. It will be re-published by Twilight Times Books (www.twilighttimes.com) in October or November. (Ralph’s website is www.ralphfreedman.net). I received editorial comments on Home, Fond Illusion, now titled Unrest in Eden, and returned the completed manuscript before the end of April. Publication date will probably be November 15.

At the end of March, I spent five days in Grand Coteau at the Jesuit Spirituality Center on silent retreat. There, I visited with my former pastor and spiritual advisor, Fr. James L. Lambert, and spent an inspiring week of meditation on Scriptural passages.

After I finished editing Divided, I re-edited The Storks of La Caridad in preparation for its re-issue in a larger format to match the other two Pfefferkorn books. Together with my translator, André Csihas, I also proofed the three Spanish translations of those same books. The Spanish titles are: El jesuita y el brujo, El jesuita y la tormenta, and El jesuita y La Caridad. They are to come out next November 15 from Twilight Times Books.

From May 6-9, I was in New York City and New Haven Connecticut for a memorial service for Lila Freedman, Ralph Freedman’s deceased wife. While in NYC, Ralph and I tried to see Warhorse, but the play is sold out for the entire summer and no return tickets were available. Instead, we saw an interesting off-Broadway play called Freud’s Last Session, in which Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis confront each other.

The German translation of Unrest in Eden by Dr. Renate Scharffenberg of Marburg, Germany, is now complete. German title: Unruhe im Paradies. I am actively seeking a German publisher at this time.

On June 12, I gave a talk, “The Impact of Early Mission Activity on South Texas History” to the meeting of the Castro Colonies Heritage Association and sold books. Between June 20-22, I participated in the Summer Institute 2011, “Theology & the Arts,” at the Oblate Renewal Center of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. I gave a talk, “Bringing the Word,” to highlight some of the enormous challenges faced by the early missionaries in the period 1570-1767. On June 25, I lectured to Park University Alumni at Alumni Weekend on “Ghosts in the Archives, Adventures in Historical Research,” in which I recounted some of my experiences doing archival research in this country.

From July 7-12, I traveled to and stayed in Tucson, AZ, hoping to work in the Archive of Ethno-History there, only to find it closed the entire time. Instead, I visited friends and toured the magnificent mountain landscape above the city. On July 28, the plate and 12 screws were removed from my wrist. They had held my shattered bones (broken November 18, 2010) together as they healed. In the process of removal, Dr. Nancy Otto discovered and severed the adhesions that had prevented me from completely closing my hand.

Between September 1-4, I hosted dear friends, Gail and Bob Batchelor, 1953-54 classmates of mine from Park University (back then Park College). They are now residents of Orange, Texas.  The Rilke Symposium of the Rilke Society (Rilke Gesellschaft) was held in Boston this year instead of somewhere in Germany. I attended the conference between September 21-25 with Professor Ralph Freedman, an honorary (and honored) member of the society for his brilliant biography of Rainer Maria Rilke and other Rilke studies. I participated in sessions and visited with old friends.

October 13-16: Professor Freedman and I attended the Women Writing the West conference in Seattle, Washington. During that meeting, a film director showed interest in a screenplay of mine, based on The Storks of La Caridad, and I introduced the WILLA banquet speaker, Ellen Waterston, winner of the prestigious WILLA Literary Award. The following day, October 17, Prof. Freedman and I flew over the North Pole to London and on to Frankfurt, Germany. Our purpose was to contact potential publishers of the German translation of Unrest in Eden (Unruhe im Paradies). So far, one small publisher has said yes, a larger one will consider the book. Otherwise, we visited friends and enjoyed the glorious fall weather and brilliant colors. We returned to the USA on November 8.

To promote Unrest in Eden (published November 15), I held an Open House from 1:00-9:00 PM on December 3, with moderate success. 52 people attended and 58 books were sold. I drove to Rio Rancho, New Mexico, on December 23 to join my cousins there for Christmas, only to be held up in Carlsbad, NM, by a 12″ snow storm. US 285 was open but dangerous the next day, and I arrived on Christmas Eve in the afternoon after driving those last 250 or so miles in single file traffic, sometime slipping and yawing on ice and in blowing snow. Christmas itself was a cozy family affair, and I celebrated New Year’s at home in San Antonio, watching the ball fall in Times Square.

Events Past – 2010

January-March: During this period, I worked on my novel, Unrest in Eden, and also was intensely active in my church. That activity culminated in March with a TV program hosted by Marta Tijerina, entitled ”Diálogos de Fe.” Four representatives from four churches, including San Fernando Cathedral and my own church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, commented on and asked questions based on aspects of the archbishop’s pastoral letter. Archbishop José Gómez replied to our questions, and discussed our comments. Archbishop Gómez has now become archbishop of Los Angles. San Antonio is awaiting a new appointment from the Pope Benedict XVI.

From April 16-19, I attended the Bar Mitzvah celebration of Benjamin Freedman, my friend Ralph Freedman’s grandson. That took place at Congregation Beth Israel in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The services were beautiful, and I was asked to read a prayer in praise of our nation and its ideal of freedom. During the celebrations before and afterwards, I got better acquainted with and enjoyed Ben’s family and friends. His father, Dr. Jonathan Freedman and mother, Dr. Sara Blair, are both professors at the University of Michigan.

From April 23-May 9, I visited friends and attended The Hambidge Center for the Arts. Among the friends: Dr. Barbara Bowen and her husband Dr. Vincent Bowen, both retired professors, now living in Nashville, TN. Barbara is a specialist of the French Renaissance; Vince of the French 18th century. I then visited my editor Gerald Mills and his wife Lori of Pisgah Forest, NC. I checked into Hambidge, where I continued work on Unrest in Eden, bringing it within a chapter or two of the conclusion.

May 27-30, I took a trip down memory lane. It was the 60th anniversary of the graduation of the Viola High School class of 1950. I drove up to Viola, AK, where I joined in a general dinner and celebration for alumni, then spent the weekend with those classmates who are still with us. We exchanged news of our lives and had a fine time together.

Because of this, I missed the Indie Next Generation Book Awards celebration at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. The book I mentioned last time, Rue the Day, by Ralph Freedman, won the award for Historical Fiction; my Sonora Wind was one of three finalists for the same award.

From June 4-7, I attended the Book Fair at Chama, NM, where I greeted author friends from years past and made new friends. The star of the fair was David Morrell of Rambo fame, who lectured and gave advice on good writing. I had been looking forward to seeing Janet Brennan (jbstillwater@yahoo.com), whom I had met at an earlier book fair, but she was unable to attend due to her mother’s illness. I sold a few books, but mainly enjoyed the company of fellow writers.

June 14-July 5 was spent in Maine on Mt Desert Island in a lovely rented house in Hall Quarry. The weather was cool and sunny with only one day of rain: the Atlantic was calm, seafood indescribably delicious, right out of that frigid salt water, the hikes in Acadia National Park go from dramatic to quiet and peaceful. Trails follow the ragged cliff-sides with waves dashing below; they climb to mountain peaks above land-locked lakes, where one can also see the ocean dotted with islands that fade into hazy distance; they circle quiet, pine-bordered lakes where cyclists love to pedal and eat their picnic lunches. While there, I completed those final chapters of Unrest in Eden, in draft form. Ralph Freedman was with me, busy with translating the early chapters of the book into German. He read the entire manuscript to me as we drove back to San Antonio. We were so concentrated on editing the work that I forgot to watch the fuel gauge. We ran out of fuel right in the middle of Knoxville, TN, and were rescued by an angel from AAA named Paul Wells.

I just sent off the completed manuscript of Home, Fond Illusion (new title: Unrest in Eden) to my publisher Twilight Times Books, on August 11.

End of August-September: I returned to Germany accompanied by my good friend Professor Ralph Freedman, author of Hermann Hesse, Pilgrim of Crisis and Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke and of the Indie Book Award winning novel Rue the Day. I visited friends there in Unkel-am-Rhein and elsewhere. Dr. Renate Scharffenberg is translating the manuscript of Unrest in Eden into German, and I have a promise from Unkel that the book will be published when the translation is complete.

October 14-17: Cindy Leal Massey, president of the Daedalus Critique Group, Ralph Freedman and I drove her Honda from San Antonio to Wickenburg, AZ, in one go—some 1,200 miles—to attend the Women Writing the West Conference at the Los Caballeros Ranch. The environment was vintage Old West, the ranch elegant, and the conference rich. We were tired for days, though!

November 18-December 31: I broke—shattered—my wrist in a very bad fall on November 18. The accident happened when I was in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Book Awards Banquet to be celebrated the following night. I got out of the Orthopedics Unit of Presbyterian Hospital at 4:00 the afternoon of the 19th, changed clothes and attended the banquet from 6:00-9:30 or 10:00, full of pain-killers, of course. I already knew I had won a finalist award in Historical Fiction for Sonora Wind, the rewritten and heavily revised version of Sonora Wind, Ill Wind, published a decade earlier. Winners would only be announced at the dinner. I actually won the category, and so the trip was justified, although the “fee” was perhaps too high. The wrist was operated on in San Antonio the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the ulna shattered into 4 pieces, etc., etc. The cast was removed 12/29. I spent Christmas at the scene of the “crime” with my cousins in Albuquerque.


Other events

Speaking engagements include:

  • The Towers (at Fort Sam Houston) April 12
  • Blessed Sacrament Church on April 14
  • The Book Club at Lion’s Field, May 24
  • The Alamo Heights Rotary Club, July 13

Each of these was also book-selling opportunities, and nearly all were arranged by Rita Imbimbo, my able publicity agent.

  • I participated in a festival, Olives Olé, (Texas International Olive Festival at Elmendorf) on March 27, and sold books.

 

Events Past

2009

October 2-10: The conference in Unkel-am-Rhein (“Unkel in the Baroque Period: the Influence of the Eschenbrender Family” ‘[“Unkel in der Barockzeit: Das Wirken der Familie Eschenbrender”]) took place on two successive weekends, with an exhibit throughout the week of publications and manuscripts, chalices and ciboria, vestments and oil portraits of the period, all to do with the accomplishments and influence of the Eschenbrender family. There were tours of the 13th-century churches in the immediate area, tours of Unkel, and four lectures, mine being the last one on October 10.

My lecture presented a biographical account of Pfefferkorn’s life (1725-1798) accompanied by a PowerPoint slide presentation showing documents found in archives (his first vows as a Jesuit novice, for example), showing Trier where he studied, Cádiz where he embarked for the new world and where he was later held prisoner for six of ten years, 18th-century maps of Mexico and Sonora, landscape scenes of Sonora and views of missionary churches in Sonora, including the ruins of those he served in. I also included views of La Caridad Monastery near Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain where Ignaz was held prisoner for the final 2 ½ years of 10 1/2, and the church, rectory and vicarage in Unkel where he served for a number of years (1785ff), ending with views of nearby Siegburg where he was buried.

Ignaz was descended from the Eschenbrenders on his mother’s side, and since he had two noble grandmothers, he was entitled to use the “von”—Ignaz von Pfefferkorn—which he never did while an active Jesuit missionary. Until this lecture, few Unkelers knew much if anything about Ignaz Pfefferkorn. Perhaps now there will be a street named for him… (See my home page and books page for my novels based on his life. Unfortunately, I wrote my lecture giving the known details of his life in German, and so far, there is no English version).

After the lecture, I read a selection from the novel I’m still writing: Home, Fond Illusion, in German translation by Ralph Freedman: Heimat, geliebte Illusion. Both the lecture and the reading were very warmly received, with a magnificent bouquet of roses and prolonged applause.

November 29-December 3: I flew to Guadalajara, MX, with my translator, André Csihas, who has translated the Pfefferkorn series of books into Spanish. We attended the mammoth Feria del Libro, where we marketed our skills—André his expertise in Spanish and English, I my novels. I interested two publishers, one of which withdrew for financial reasons, the other of which is still—officially at least—in the process of drawing up the contract for the first of the three books, Sonora Moonlight (Bajo la luna de Sonora).

On the third day of the Feria, December 1, I received a phone call from my cat-sitter back in San Antonio, telling me that my house had been broken into. She had called the police, and I could hear their sirens over the phone as we spoke. She was standing outside the front entrance, where the sidelight had been smashed, the dead bold opened, the door slightly ajar. She called again later to say that everything had been pulled out of closets, off shelves, out of cabinets and thrown on the floor. The back patio door was ajar as was the back garden gate. The cat had hidden from the thieves and was safe. I arrived home on my birthday, December 3, to chaos. Not only were all my belongings on the floor, all valuable jewelry, all family heirlooms and anything else of immediate worth was gone. I lost all physical connections with my dead husband, with my family, and with my work, since my computer and backup hard drive had been taken along with a new printer. I have spent some time since then recovering—more from the sentimental loss than from the material, although that was considerable. I’m missing correspondence, mailing lists, etc., etc., not to mention manuscripts and sketches for new novels.

During the past year, with the help of Rita Imbimbo, my publicity agent, I made myself available for lectures on several topics: “Founding the Franciscan Missions in San Antonio, 1718-1731,” “The Chamuscado/Rodriguez Expedition I 1581-1582,” “The Jesuit Missions in Sonora in the 18th Century,” and “Researching the Historical Novel.”

I lectured for St. Joseph’s Church in Dilley, TX, Saint Monica’s Guild of St. Pius X Church in San Antonio, TX, at Notre Dame Church in Kerrville, TX, for The Oakes Club in San Antonio, at the History and Culture Session at UTSA, San Antonio, TX, at St. Joseph’s Church in Devine, TX, for the Vaqueros, (the San Antonio chapter of the Westerners), for the Lions’ Club of San Antonio, and at Sacred Heart Church, San Antonio.

I also began professional editing, and have edited a novel, Ralph Freedman’s  Rue the Day, published by Twilight Times Books, 2009. Ralph is a retired professor from Princeton University, who also was a key advisor in the creation of the Comparative Literature Program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. I have also edited a number of articles.

(In reverse order) June-August saw me busy with church activities, with the Spanish translation of all the Pfefferkorn books, and with beginning the fourth and last volume of the Pfefferkorn series, Home, Fond Illusion. In that book, Fr. Ignaz returns to Unkel-am-Rhein, where his sister lives, after ten years in various phases of Spanish imprisonment. The pastor there is blamed for a murder, and Ignaz sets out to prove his innocence.

May 28-31, I again attended the Chama Book Festival, where I again met old friends and sold a few books. The area is beautiful and cool, due to its high elevation. There was still snow on the mountains that form the backdrop to the town.

May 4-13, I spent eight days in quiet contemplation and prayer during a silent retreat at The Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, LA. While there, I was able to visit with my friend and spiritual guide Fr. James L. Lambert, S.J., and Fr. Thomas Madden, S.J., and to work with Fr. Paul Patin, S.J., my spiritual director.

April 16-26, I was invited to upstate New York to give two lectures: the first to the college where I taught for twenty-two years: St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY, to deliver a lecture, “From the Archive to the Mystery Novel,” a talk on my experiences as a researcher in the US and abroad. Secondly, I delivered a scholarly lecture, “Rabelais and le vin divin,” at the State University of New York at Binghamton, NY, for a conference, In Vino Veritas, for the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. The conference was interdisciplinary and featured speakers who were historical economists, historians, classicists, vintners, art historians, and literary historians. It also featured a champagne tasting before the first banquet and a Finger Lakes wine tasting before the second! Congratulations to SUNY Binghamton!

I am amazed and considerably bemused to see myself included in Who‘s Who in America for 2009, included in the 2010 edition, in Who’s Who in American Womanand Who’s Who in American Education, and finally in the 2010 edition of Who’s Who in the World. This last is a just bit too much. I suspect a profit motive on the part of Marquis Publishers.

 

Events Past

2008

On January 11, 2008, I completed and submitted my entirely rewritten and re-thought mystery novel Sonora Wind. It will be the second book in the Pfefferkorn S.J. trilogy, The Storks of La Caridad the third.

On February 17-21, 2008, I accompanied the Uhagón family (José Enrique Uhagón Foxá,
his wife Angélica and their son Ricardo Uhagón Vives) on a tour of the old Jesuit missions in Sonora, Mexico. This is the family that has owned La Caridad Monastery (see The Storks of La Caridad and “Sleuthing for Ignaz“) for over a century and a half. Ricardo Uhagón is interested in making a film not only of Storks, but also of novels (forthcoming) about Father Ignaz’ service in the Sonora missions. We visited the central area of missions, including two formerly served by Father Ignaz (Ygnacio) and many that he must have known-most of which are now serving as parish churches. The missions visited included Guevavi, Cucurpe, Ures, Baviácora, Aconchi, San Felipe, Huépac, Banámichi and Arizpe (For photos, see “Tour of 18th-Century Jesuit Missions” under Events Past, below). We also drove across rugged mountains to Moctezuma to see the impressive church of Oposura, returning northward through the copper-mining town of Cananea, crossing the border at Naco, where there was NO traffic and we were cleared in minutes. We made a stop in Tombstone, AZ, where the Uhagóns were particularly delighted with souvenirs of the OK Corral. Europeans are true-blue fans of old Hollywood Westerns, it would seem! Special thanks go to René Córdova, our chauffeur and guide, who supplied us with all sorts of information: historical, botanical, political, and religious. René has an encyclopedic mind and vast culture.

I attended the High Desert Book Fair in Sierra Vista on March 15, with time before and after to visit friends there and in Tucson, and to work in the Archive of Ethnohistory at the University of Tucson Library. There, I discovered still more unpublished letters between 18th-century Jesuit missionaries in Sonora, a lively correspondence that abruptly ceased with the Expulsion in 1767.

From April 3-6 I attended the conference of the Renaissance Society of America in Chicago, to deliver a paper on 16th and early 17th-century Jesuit scholastic theater as foundation for the great French Classical theater of the 17th century.

Seven Cities of Mud was officially published on April 15, 2008. Since the book was supposed to have come out in the fall of 2007, I was able to hold a pre-publication book signing on December 6, 2007, using advance promotional copies.

I spent ten days (April 14-23) on silent retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Center at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, LA. The Center is beautifully situated, with two-hundred-year-old live oaks, some at least six feet in diameter. The grounds are beautiful, planted with azaleas, camellias, and crepe myrtle. Walkways and benches afford opportunities for silent contemplation.

May 29-June 1 saw me in El Paso, Texas, lecturing and signing books (Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross, The Storks of La Caridad, and Seven Cities of Mud) at four branch libraries and the central library. Audiences were receptive and sales were brisk. I was also able to visit good friends while there-James and Bobbi Major and Fr. Louis Lambert, S.J., of Sacred Heart Church.

The Chama Book Festival took place June 6-8 in Chama, NM, near the Colorado border, with honored guest John Nichols (of The Milagro Beanfield War and much more). John is a delightful person, an excellent speaker with a wealth of information about the publishing and film industries. Again, I met many new friends, visited with old ones, and sold quite a few books.

Four days after my return from Chama, I drove to Atlanta, picked up my friend Ralph Freedman, and we spent four weeks traveling (June 12-July7) spending two of them in Maine on Mt Desert Island, hiking among mountains and lakes in Acadia National Park and along the cliff-bound sea-coast. We also indulged shamelessly in seafood, caught the same day.

Park University named me Alumna of the Year. I flew to Kansas City and was taken from there to Parkville, MO, to spend Alumni Weekend and to receive the award at a banquet on June 21. I most warmly thank those who nominated me and Park University for a memorable occasion. I am truly honored.

September: On the 3rd, I spoke to the Mission Trace Book Club about Ignaz Pfefferkorn’s life and activities. On the 20th, I drove to Dilley, TX, and lectured at St. Joseph’s Church on the foundation of the Franciscan missions in San Antonio. On the 27th, fellow writer Linda L. Shuler and I attended a meeting of the Texas branch of the Historical Novel Society in the Georgetown Public Library, Georgetown, TX.

In late October, the Fall 2008 issue of the New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 83, no. 4, appeared including an article, “‘Divine Providence Has Plainly Blessed Our Efforts,’ Two Letters From Bishop Lamy,” 475-494, by Fr. Thomas J. Steele, S.J. and Florence Byham Weinberg. Father Steele’s French language is less competent than his Spanish and Latin, so I was able to help interpret Bishop Lamy’s handwriting, vocabulary, and nuances of meaning. The letters are interesting documents on the early development of New Mexico Territory, its lack of commodities we now take for granted, and the difficulties and dangers of travel before the railroad came through.

On the 24th-26th of October, the annual Women Writing the West Conference was held in San Antonio. Besides an exciting program featuring panels on getting published, pitching your work, journaling, screenwriting, children’s/young adult books, mystery writing and creative non-fiction, the conference featured a tour of old San Antonio led by Linda Shuler and me. Timothy Draves, an expert in San Antonio history, enlivened the tour with a lecture on Mary Menger, foundress of the landmark Menger Hotel.

From the 27th to November 22, I once again traveled to Germany to wrap up research on the life of Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J. While there, I accumulated documents from archives in Siegburg and Unkel-am-Rhein that provide detailed information on day-to-day living in the area that Ignaz called home. After 1789, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the region, raping women, killing their husbands, slaughtering their cows, pig and chickens for food, trampling the vineyards and cutting the forests for campfires. They of course consumed all the wine they came across, and levied enormous taxes on the already destitute population. Ignaz lived through much of that, although he died in 1798.

Sonora Moonlight, the revised, enlarged and rewritten first volume in the Pfefferkorn mystery series, officially came out on November 15. It is available through Twilight Times Books (www.twilighttimesbooks.com) and major bookstores.

2007

After the tour of the 18th-century Jesuit missions in Sonora last January, my next book-related trip was to Sierra Vista, AZ, for the second annual High Desert Crimes Book Fair, on March 24. The trip lasted from the 22nd-27th, since I also visited friends I had met on previous book tours in El Paso, Bobi and Jim Majors, and friends met on my first Sonora Mission tour in October, 2005. I also took the opportunity to work in the Archive of Ethnohistory at the University Library at the U. of Arizona, Tucson, and found many unpublished letters between 18th-century Jesuit missionaries in the field and their superior, Francisco Zevallos (Ceballos), in Mexico City. These I have used in rewriting Sonora Wind.

April 27-May13 was spent as a Resident at The Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences in the northerm Georgia mountains (part of the Smoky Mountains, really), finishing my re-edited and rewritten version of the mystery novel, I’ll Come To Thee By Moonlight, now titled Sonora Moonlight. The book went to my publisher, Twilight Times Books at the end of the residency. It will be the foundation of the new Pfefferkorn, S.J. trilogy, forthcoming sometime late in 2008.

From June 26-July 25, my friend and assistant Ralph Freedman and I traveled and worked in Germany, collecting more information on Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn, S.J., for the projected fourth mystery novel. More about this at the end of the “Sleuthing for Ignaz” piece.

I spent the week of August 26-September 1 in Monterrey, Mexico, where I gave a lecture on “Los Jesuitas en Sonora” to the Centro de Estudios Guadalupanos. The talk was well received, and I have been accepted as honorary member of the Center.

The annual conference of the writer’s group Women Writing the West took place again on October 18-21 in Colorado Springs. Once again, I enjoyed the beauty of the setting and the wealth of information from sessions and panels, and the fruitful and pleasant networking.

November 8 saw me in Albuquerque at the New Mexico Book Awards Banquet, where I was awarded Finalist status in two categories: Best Historical Novel and Best Book on the Southwest. The book: Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross. I stayed in Albuquerque, since I was scheduled to lecture on my background research for Seven Cities of Mud and discoveries along the way, for a joint meeting of The Friends of the Coronado State Monument and the Sandoval County Historical Society in Bernalillo, NM, on November 18. Question-and-answer session was extremely lively, since those folks certainly know their local history.

On my return to San Antonio, I gave a similar lecture on November 20 to Los Vaqueros, the local chapter of The Westerners, a group dedicated to study of the history of the Southwest. On Friday November 27, I gave that lecture to the San Antonio Historical Association.

In early December, I finished editing a friend’s 300-page novel.

2006

chama21
One of my (non-literary) activities at Chama

On March 22, 2006, I flew to San Francisco for the Renaissance Society of America Conference, where I chaired a session on “obscure” sixteenth-century French poets.

The following Friday (March 24), I flew to Tucson for the High Desert Crimes Book Festival.

On Monday (March 27), I worked in the Archive of Ethnohistory at the Arizona State Museum (UAZ) and found documents written by Ignaz Pfefferkorn’s contemporaries, between 1756 and 1767. The documentation will be extremely helpful when I start revising Sonora Wind, Ill Wind and I’ll Come To Thee. I now have my rights back for those two novels, and will soon be working on second editions that will include information I have learned since I wrote the books back in 2001 and 2002. I’ll be revisiting that archive soon, since holdings are rich!

The Historical Society of New Mexico met from April 21-23, and on that Friday, I presented a learned paper, “History or Mostly Myth? Caveat lector! Discrepancies In Scholarly Accounts of the Chamuscado Expedition, 1581-1582.” You can read the paper here. It is a side product of my forthcoming historical novel, The Seven Cities of Mud, about the second expedition up the Rio Grande, forty years after Coronado’s. Only nine men, three Franciscan
friars and nine soldiers undertook the entrada; the three friars were killed, and the captain died of disease. The remaining soldiers made their report to the Viceroy, the Conde de Coruña, and the scribe, Hernán Gallegos, one of the soldiers, petitioned the king, Felipe II,
to be made viceroy of the newly explored territory of New Mexico. He was nominated, but did not live to assume his title.

After a successful and fun weekend in Chama, NM (5.11-14.06) and after the Women’s Global Connection Conference in San Antonio (5.18-21), I drove to Georgia, where, in the seclusion and beauty of The Hambidge Center For the Arts and Sciences, I completed The Seven Cities
of Mud
on June 11. I took the future novel to my editor, Gerald W. Mills, then drove with friend Ralph Freedman to Mt. Desert Island, Maine, for a three-week break. During that time, I worked on revising my first Pfefferkorn mystery, Sonora Wind, Ill Wind.

In July (7.14-16.2006), I attended the ConMisterio Conference for mystery writers in Austin, TX, and participated in two panel discussions. There, I met Katie Hamilton, a fellow mystery writer and fine novelist who also runs the Metheglin Press out of Phoenix, AZ (http://metheglinPress.com). She does reprints of titles like “Snails, Sex and Sermons in 1744, Testaceo Theología [by] Friedrich Christian Lesser, Leipzig, 1744″ and “Spells and Incantations of Yesteryear, attributed to Cagliostro.” Katie is a native of Cologne, Germany, Ignaz’ stamping grounds, and so was extremely helpful in suggesting things to do and see, places to visit, and antiquities Ignaz would have known, etc.

In August, I was informed that my book Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross, had won a literary award. Women Writing the West recognized it as a WILLA [Cather] Literary Finalist. I received the award at the WWW Conference in Colorado Springs in late October.

I spent all of September in Germany, continuing my search for details of the life of Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J., the hero of my mystery novel series. I’m planning a fourth mystery set in Germany this time. (See below)

During a mini-book tour from November 6-11, I spoke at the Historical Society in Carlsbad, NM (11.6.06), at three branch libraries (11.8.06 and two talks on 11.11.06) in El Paso, I also spoke about and read from Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross at the Inn at Los Patios in San Antonio on 11.17.06.

TOUR OF 18TH-CENTURY JESUIT MISSIONS IN
CENTRAL AND EASTERN SONORA STATE, MEXICO

Our tour began on January 3, 2007, from Tucson, Arizona. We met La Ruta de Sonora’s tour organizer, Monica Durand, early that afternoon, and treated her and the tour guide, Rene Cordova, to dinner at the Arizona Inn that night. Rene is a graduate student at the U. of AZ right now, but already has a degree in botany from U. of Sonora, and is well versed in history as well. We got underway early the next morning, leaving the Mercedes with friends whom we’d met on the previous Sonora Jesuit Mission tour, a year ago last October. Rene did all the driving, since he was using a company van that was high enough to ford Sonora’s rivers.

San
Ignacio Mission
Cucurpe
Ruins

We entered Sonora through Nogales and saw the return lanes jammed with cars and trucks backed up for a couple of miles. There must have been hundreds of vehicles, whose wait could have been up to four hours. Right then, we decided NOT to return through that port. We saw San Ignacio Mission, had lunch in Magdalena de Kino, and then branched off east to see Cucurpe Mission, the last one served by Ignaz Pfefferkorn before he was arrested and expelled in 1767. Landscape on the way was beautiful, sometimes breathtakingly grandiose. The San Miguel River Valley, where Cucurpe is located, is fertile and peaceful, and I can see how Ignaz would feel more at home there. The ruin with its imposing brick arches is Franciscan, however. Ignaz’ church was a ‘hall church’ built of sun-dried adobe, probably with a mesquite beam ceiling, probably the ruin we see behind the arches. It was closed so we couldn’t see inside. A Franciscan describes it as well preserved and well appointed in 1772 when he visited there. After snapping photos of the ruins and the landscape, we backtracked and went down to Hermosillo, where we spent the night.

Cucurpe
Ures
Mission

Next day, we toured in Hermosillo and met Dr. Franz Wicker, a German prof. at La Universidad de Sonora, who is an expert in 18th-century Jesuits. We had a rapid, lively conversation in English, Spanish, and German, and I learned a number of things, but I already knew much that he was telling me. He did provide the name of the Procurator of Jesuit Missions in Nuremberg, Father Biedenmann, who he thought might help find Ignaz’ third volume (the one recounting his personal experiences that was never published and since lost). We got away from Hermosillo at 3:00 pm, arrived at Ures Mission before sundown, and spent a good deal of time inspecting and touring it. It has been totally rebuilt by the Franciscans and is comparable to San Xavier del Bac near Tucson, but leaves little of the original structure. We then proceeded through the precipitous Sonora River Gorge and on upriver to Banámichi, where we were greeted with a gourmet dinner and delightful conversation with the host and hostess of the Posada del Rio Sonora.

Arroyo
Arispe
Arispe
Arispe
Interior

The most impressive of the Jesuit mission churches came next day, farther upriver at Arispe, where Carlos Rojas, S.J. served for 14 years and built a magnificent stone church. His name is incised on the facade along with various symbols, including sun and moon, and pillars where saints’ statues were once attached. Inside, the lofty ceiling is beamed with carved mesquite (I still can’t quite imagine mesquite trees that big), and the retablos in the transepts are both originals, ca. 1720’s. I found Rojas’ church especially moving. We proceeded from there downriver again, visiting missions on the way, and I heard Vigil Mass in the church in Aconchi, where a larger-than-life crucifix adorns the main retablo, the Corpus carved in obsidian–a coal black Christ. Impressive. We spent Saturday night back at the posada in Banámichi.

Aconchi
Black Christ
Ospura

We set out eastward next day to cross the next range of mountains to Oposura (now Moctezuma) that was the R&R mission for exhausted and sick Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century. Ignaz spent some time there between his failed stint in Guevavi (now in Tumacacori National Park in Arizona) and his move to Cucurpe. That, too, was a stunning and very large church, with a black, peaked beam ceiling supported by great black wooden arches. Little of the original furnishings are left, however, except for a gorgeous baroque retablo in the west transept.

Ospura
Exterior
Ospura
Interior

The final jewel was Cuquiárachi, a small mission on the outer fringe of the Jesuit settlement. Our guide, who up to then knew literally EVERYTHING about the missions, native plants and animals, and native arts and crafts, knew nothing about this mission and had never seen it. We went through Fronteras, now a town and once the presidio protecting Cuquiárachi, and got directions on how to reach the mission. The dirt road seemed to go on forever, when we ‘just happened’ to find a likely-looking ranch where we stopped to inquire where the mission might be. Two teen-age girls met us and we showed them a picture of the mission as it had appeared in 1948 or so. They immediately ran to call their mother, a handsome youngish woman who was amazed by the picture. “I’ll be glad to guide you the rest of the way,” she said, “since I’m the ‘encargada de las llaves’–the keeper of the keys. “We loaded her and the two girls in the van and drove to the mission, now a tiny town. That church is almost unaltered since Jesuit times, although it has been re-floored, re-roofed, and re-painted white outside and in. The adobe walls are three feet or more thick. I was most moved by the simplicity of that little church, re-living the sacrifices and hardships it had witnessed. Outside, two of the houses immediately in front and to the left side of the church, also with three-foot-thick walls and buttresses, were part of the original defensive plaza around the mission precinct–probably, originally, the priest’s house and rectory.

Cuquiárachi
Exterior
Cuquiárachi
Interior

Cuquiárachi Explorers

After we took the ‘encargada’ and her daughters back to their ranch, we returned to Fronteras and, after another hour’s drive, crossed the border at Agua Prieta/Douglas with no delay and drove on to Tucson.

Father Tom Steele, S.J., said his tour of the western missions was “the most moving experience of his life.” I suspect that was an exaggeration, but I felt much the same way in many of those churches. The very air vibrates with the hopes, fears, joys, terrors and consolations of those long-ago times when those Jesuit missionaries gave everything they had for the greater glory of God.

Read:
Sleuthing for Ignaz