An Ostrich Plume Hat
Although Gayle Brennan Spencer is tied up fulfilling contractual book obligations, An Ostrich Plume Hat does exist in the form of several hundred pages in her computer. Set in San Antonio between 1912 and 1916, the novel is based on the story of Hedda Burgemeister and brewer Otto Koehler.
After listening to a rather pessimistic story on NPR about the odds of ever getting a book published, she decided to make the draft of the first three chapters of the not-yet-complete book available online. Surely, the public will clamor for more, and publishers will begin calling her day and night. Maybe, readers will offer their own contributions to the story, revealing historical tidbits tucked away in their families' attics.
An Ostrich Plume Hat begins backwards, because, at least in San Antonio, everyone knows who shot Otto Koehler.
Click the hat on the right to sample Chapter One:
Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill
A few years back, Banks Smith invited Gayle to get to know Max and Minnie Voelcker. As they were no longer living on this earth, she started with Minnie's handbag. After wading through their files for a few months, Gayle was in love with the stubborn hold-outs against seductive bids from developers lusting after their farmland just north of Loop 410.
As it turned out, she spent a lot more time with them because the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund, of which Banks is a trustee, hired Gayle to tell their story. The lives of the former dairy farmers was made more compelling because the giant trees they preserved on their land now provide the shade for thousands of San Antonians enjoying the city's new Phil Hardberger Park.
Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voecker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park by Gayle Brennan Spencer was published in 2010.
The Coker Settlement
Last Farm introduced Gayle to a whole community of other hard-working dairy farmers who began settling on John Coker's land grant soon after Texas became a republic, most of them somehow related to the Voelckers. The history of the Coker Settlement was one almost buried by San Antonio development.
But the trustees of an historic cemetery located on the North Loop Road behind Coker Methodist Church are determined to preserve the stories of their ancestors. Unraveling all the family trees and discovering secrets from the past is taking her much longer than intended, but maybe that is good. After hearing about an unsolved murder she uncovered on the settlement, one of the trustees joked (she hopes) that they might just end up paying Gayle hush money and forbid her from completing the book.