Fall 2019

FALL 2019

Hooray! Five-Star Goodreads review for So Far from Paradise!

“Alter’s characters will pull you into the story and hold you there, and her attention to period detail will enrich your understanding of times and places that live now only in our memories of the past.”

Thank you, Susan Wittig Albert!

As some of you may remember, I’ve been buried in writing about the second battle of the Alamo and then a new project about a North Texas cattle ranch. So it’s been some time since I’ve issued a new book. But, hooray! I have a new book this fall. It’s an old book given second life. There’s a story behind that.

In 1986 a kind of fervor swept Texas as the state prepared to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The governor appointed a Texas Sesquicentennial Commission, cities hired special coordinators to oversee events, and everyone practiced pronouncing “sesquicentennial.” Larry Swindell, then-book editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, called me to say he was looking for a novelist to do a commissioned work for the newspaper. I immediately suggested Elmer Kelton. Larry countered with, “I like the idea of Judy Alter.” At that point, I had only published two young-adult novels. Me, take on a long adult novel? I hemmed and hawed and suggested other people, but Larry was persistent. Suddenly it dawned on me I was looking opportunity in the eye and about to blink. I agreed to write a novel that would be serialized in the paper. Shades of Charles Dickens.

As some of you may remember, I’ve been buried in writing about the second battle of the Alamo and then a new project about a North Texas cattle ranch. So it’s been some time since I’ve issued a new book. But, hooray! I have a new book this fall. It’s an old book given second life. There’s a story behind that.

Larry was liaison for the project, and I remember him emphatically declaring, “We are not going to write a novel by committee.” He was available and generous with his advice, but he never dictated. I was on my own, a greenhorn at fiction, but I produced 75,000 words which were published in twice-weekly installments. The newspaper provided striking illustrations. The novel was titled So Far from Paradise.

Ranching is a man’s story, but in So Far from Paradise, Cassie Belden recalls the story from a woman’s point of view—life on the plains of North Texas, the Comanche and Kiowa raids, the cattle drives, the building of an empire, and finally the move to Fort Worth, where the city shaped her family’s life, even as the cattle barons shaped the city of cowboys and culture.

Reaction to the novel was a surprise to me. One woman called to say that her great-grandfather lived in Paradise; (it actually is a small town in Texas), and I responded with a polite, “Really?” She was a bit exasperated when she replied, “Don’t you see? They would have known each other.” A man wrote to say he’d gotten a degree from TCU and did any of the Beldens go to TCU? My fiction had become my readers’ reality—a high compliment, I think. I admit I got used to answering the phone to hear praise, so it was a shock one day when I cheerily said, “This is Judy Alter” and the voice on the other end informed me it was the IRS calling and my ex- and I owed them a bunch of money.

The year came and went, and Sesquicentennial faded as folks moved on to other things. I began writing historical fiction in earnest, put So Far from Paradise behind me, and sailed on to a career that involved historical fiction, cozy mysteries, cookbooks, a book column or two, essays, book reviews, even blogging. Lately though, my research has turned back toward Texas and its rich history, and suddenly So Far from Paradise seemed relevant again. Thanks to Steve Coffman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram editor, and McClatchy newspapers for giving me permission to give the novel new life as an eBook.

Fort Worth historian Carol Roark, who edited this go-around for me, said the novel reads like a cozy only it’s a western, not a mystery. Maybe I’ve unconsciously combined the two genres that have always held my attention.

So Far from Paradise, as an eBook, is available for $3.99 on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books*, Tolino*, and several subscription services.

* = via app and/or ebook reader device

The Alamo Book

People frequently ask me about what I refer to as my Alamo book. The true title is The Second Battle of the Alamo, and all I can tell you is that it is out of my hands. I’ve read page proofs and signed off, and the manuscript has disappeared into the machinery of Globe Pequot Publishing.

It will reappear again in March 2020 when it launches at a meeting of the Alamo Society, March 7, at the historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio. For those who need a reminder, the Alamo is across the street from the Menger. Another reminder, the Alamo fell on February 23, 1836, so the March date is almost an anniversary. Here’s the blurb about the book:

In 1903, the threat of demolition hung over Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, site of the massacre by Mexican soldiers under Santa Anna of heroes of the 1836 Texas Revolution–Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William B. Travis, along with over two hundred men. In the early twentieth century, two women combined their efforts to preserve the historic site which had been so neglected there was talk of demolition. Adina De Zavala had the passion for historical accuracy; Clara Driscoll had the money. Neither could have saved the Alamo alone, but together they bought the long barracks, where the Battle of the Alamo was actually fought, from private owners and turned it over to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to manage. Theirs was a natural union but hard headedness—sometimes a Texas trait—turned what was once a friendship into bitter rivalry that reached a zenith when Adina barricaded herself in the long barracks for three days. The ladies’ fight to save the mission and their own fight has come to be known as the second battle of the Alamo.

The Alamo has withstood many battles since it’s eighteenth-century founding and today stands as a symbol of heroism and loyalty and has inspired everything from movies to jigsaw puzzles. The cry of “Remember the Alamo” is known throughout the world. But few people know that without these two women, the Alamo might well be just another shabby shrine. Or a parking lot.

And a new project

I’m delighted to report that I am again under contract to Globe Pequot and am nearly through the first pass at a manuscript on the history of the Waggoner Ranch in North Texas and its importance in Texas history. The Waggoner is the largest ranch under one fence in our country, and for 165 years it was in the hands of Waggoner descendants, some of whom were dedicated, and others who spent money and filed for divorce with astonishing alacrity. It’s not only the story of a ranch, it’s also the story of a family, and it’s a story of women and ranching. A bit of Fort Worth history, always a favorite with me, creeps in. No, my book will not be salacious details about divorces and wild living. It will be an attempt to understand this family and other similar families who owned the great ranches of Texas.

We haven’t talked about title yet, but I’m liking The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoners of Texas.

About me

Left: Our lovely cabin
Right: Men and boys (and a doggy) ready and raring to go fishing!

My summer get-away was a brief but great trip with Jordan and her boys (husband Christian and son Jacob) to visit good friends Subie and Phil Green at their cabin in the Pecos River Valley. The boys fished, the girls—Jordan, Subie, and I—explored, spent one afternoon in Santa Fe (a place that always holds part of my heart) and another in Las Vegas (NM). We ate fresh-caught fish and good Mexican food. We sat on the porch and admired the view. We toured the mountains with Subie pointing out landmarks including what once was the dude ranch Phil’s father operated. The cabin is at something like 8300 feet, so I had to learn not to look over the edge as Subie expertly steered us down mountain roads. A great vacation.

My family has been busy with soccer tournaments and now Friday night football games (we have a marching band high schooler), broken legs and new construction, trips to hear John Mayer (my daughters will go almost anywhere), and work travel. Result is we haven’t gotten together as a family all summer, and I’m looking forward already to Christmas. Meantime, I’ve had lots of good visits with treasured friends over lunches and dinners. And I’ve read some good books.

One accomplishment this summer: I fought City Hall and won! It was over No Parking signs that they put in front of our house (we live across from an elementary school). I dealt with the Director of Traffic, who was charming and gracious and agreed with me that the signs were misplaced—we are not that near to a corner or a stop sign.

Something not so good: I took one of those falls that are so dangerous for people my age—middle of the night, in the bathroom. I am lucky that the damage, while disfiguring, was neither serious nor permanent. And here are my words of wisdom based on experience: get grab bars in your bathroom, and always have your phone with you or some other means of calling for help—a monitor hooked to an alarm system, and so on.

Reading suggestions

A few books I’ve enjoyed over the summer:

  • The Library Book, by Susan Orlean—the 1986 fire that nearly destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library is the starting point for this thorough investigation and lively account of all things related to libraries and their centrality to our lives. Reads like a novel!
  • The Chillbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan – another fictional account of the stoicism and strength of English villagers during the WWII Luftwaffe, with a heavy feminist thread and a good deal of poking fun at high society propriety, which the war severely tested. Death and destruction aside, this one has a warm and mostly satisfying ending. It reminded me of The Guernsey Potato Peel and Literary Society, and I consider that high praise.
  • Midnight at the Blackbird Café; by Heather Webber– drawn back to her mother’s hometown to settle a family estate, Anna Kate vows a short stay, but she finds herself captivated by the town, the southern charm and idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants, and the magical blackbirds who visit her café. A soft, gentle read.
  • Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton—not just another chef’s account of her apprentice life, this is a straightforward, honest, and sometimes funny account of many kitchens—from her mother’s rural kitchen to international kitchens and finally to the kitchen in Hamilton’s New York restaurant, Prune. A standout among chef-like memoirs.

Fall is coming—here’s a recipe for chilly nights

Hearty cheeseburger soup

This serves a crowd, if you pack them into your tiny space. You could probably halve it, because it’s hearty and filling, but so good.

  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 large baking potatoes, cooked and diced
  • 5 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 lb. hamburger meat
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 lb. Velveeta cheese
  • 1/4 c. sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste.

(Picture: Okay, not really, but you get the idea!)

Brown the meat, drain and set aside. Dice the potatoes, grate the carrots, and chop the celery and onion. Melt 1/4 c. butter in a large pot; sauté the onions and celery until clear. Add carrots, hamburger, potatoes and chicken broth.

Melt remaining 1/4 c. butter and stir in flour. Add to soup to thicken. Stir, then add the cheese in chunks and the milk. Stir until cheese is melted. Simmer in crockpot the rest of the day. Just before serving take it off the heat, add sour cream, stir and serve immediately.

Note: a lot of cooks, me included, object to Velveeta. It is not cheese but a synthetic cheese food, and I would discourage anyone from eating it very often. But there are times its melting quality makes it the best choice. Feel free to use a sharp cheddar, but you’re liable to get a soup full of cheese strings. Or you can look online for directions for making home-made Velveeta—deceptively easy.

A gentle reminder

It’s time to turn attention to Christmas and shopping for gifts. Remember that books make the absolutely best gifts for all ages!

—Judy – 

P.S.: You’re invited to visit my cooking blog, Gourmet on a Hot Plate if you haven’t done so yet! It contains fun recipes and delicious stories.

My sites:

JudyAlter.com / Blog / Facebook.com / Facebook Author Page / Twitter