Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: BLUE TEXAS by Max Krochmal

I reviewed Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (University of North Carolina Press) by Texas Christian University assistant professor of history Max Krochmal for Lone Star Literary Life. Krochmal tells a fascinating story that belongs in every classroom.

Max Krochmal
Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era
University of North Carolina Press
Hardcover, 978-1-4696-2675-8 (also available as an e-book), 552 pgs., $39.95
November 14, 2016
“This book is about the other Texas … the hidden Lone Star tradition of community organizing, civil rights, trade unionism, and liberal, multiracial coalition building.”
Does this Texas sound familiar to you? It doesn’t sound familiar to most of us, but it should.

In the 1930s, against the backdrop of the Great Depression, and inspired by the New Deal, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and mostly Anglo labor organizers and community activists in Texas began a decades-long journey toward each other. Each group began individually, in their several neighborhoods: the Mexican American pecan shellers striking in San Antonio; Anglo labor striking Ford in Dallas; Smith v. Allright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the white primary, was born in Houston. Eventually the separate groups reached tentatively across the color line and found they were stronger together. For most it wasn’t about ideology, but about living conditions. This journey culminated in a multiracial coalition able to elect liberal politicians in support of a broad civil rights program.

So, what happened?

Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era by Texas Christian University assistant professor of history Max Krochmal is the latest addition to the University of North Carolina Press’s “Justice, Power, and Politics” series. Employing extensive archival sources and original interviews, Krochmal tells a fascinating story. He is under no illusions about the forces arrayed against further progress, nevertheless his style is infectiously hopeful and inspiring.

Krochmal contends we can use history as a blueprint for moving forward, if only we knew the history. What did he learn? The coalition succeeded because it “both recognized and transcended racial difference … prioritized the needs of its most vulnerable partners. … its most privileged members … plunged headlong into the fight for black and brown civil rights. The whites backed up their words with action … The more liberal, the more explicitly integrationist, the more militant the tactics, the more effective the coalition became.”

The process was not smooth; the Cold War (Fun fact: San Antonio put red stamps on the “subversive volumes” in the public library) threw a wrench into the works and the assassination of JFK almost killed it off. The coalition fought corruption, political machines, bossism, big business, and a toxic white supremacist society which confused privileges and rights. Each step forward was met by the inevitable conservative backlash and breathtaking violence.

Krochmal’s report of “KKK” carved into the stomach of a protester is horrifying; his relation of the desegregation of Crystal City schools is thrilling. As an academic work, Krochmal’s tome is minutely detailed, dense with facts, figures, and acronyms. Blue Texas is not an easy read, but it is a fine accomplishment, and an important addition to our understanding of the struggle for the most basic Civil Rights in this state.

We are not taught this history in our elementary or secondary schools. There are names we never learned, but should revere: Moses and Erma LeRoy, Albert Peña, G.J. Sutton, Hank Brown, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, B. T. Bonner, George and Latane Lambert, and Emma Tenayuca, to name a mere few. That’s not just a shame, it’s education malpractice. A history to be proud of, this information belongs in every school curriculum. Blue Texas is a call to action.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 1/16-22!

Bookish events in Texas for the week of January 16-22, 2017: 

Special Events:
12th Annual MLK Symposium, Dallas, January 16

The Tom Bird Method Retreat: Write Your Book In A Weekend, Houston, January 19-21

Bookworm Festival, Houston, January 21

Ongoing Exhibits:
The Wild Detectives, David Eric Tomlinson reads and signs The Midnight Man, 7:30PM

World Champions Centre, Simone Biles signs COURAGE TO SOAR, 10AM & 5:30PM [TICKET REQUIRED]

Tuesday, January 17:
The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth Poetry Slam and Open Mic featuring four-time World Poetry Slam Champion Ed Mabrey, 8PM

The Last Word Bookstore, Melinda Massie discusses and signs From Hot Mess to Hot Damn!, 6PM

B&N - Stonebriar, National Book Award-winner Neal Shusterman signs Scythe, 7PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, James Riley will discuss and sign his STORY THIEVES series for kids, 5PM

Brazos Bookstore, Chris Tusa reads and signs IN THE CITY OF FALLING STARS, 7PM

Books-A-Million, Simone Biles signs COURAGE TO SOAR, 7PM [TICKET REQUIRED]

San Antonio
The Korova, PuroSlam with DJ Donnie Dee, 10PM

The Twig Book Shop, Jason Hill reads and signs Social Hill, 5PM

Wednesday, January 18:

Avant Garden, Write About Now Poetry Slam, 7:30PM

B&N - NE Mall, National Book Award-winner Neal Shusterman signs Scythe, 7PM

San Antonio
One Drop Reggae Shop & Juice Bar, Poetry: Crazyless Kinyo Live "What Is Mental Health," 8:30PM

Thursday, January 19:
BookPeople, WRITERS' LEAGUE OF TEXAS presents "BECOME A MORE-INVOLVED LITERARY CITIZEN: How to Create Literary Discussions and Support Journals and Literary Events" with Nora Comstock, Owen Egerton, Rebecca Markovits, and Richard Santos, 7PM

Mr. Catfish & More, NeoSoul Poetry ATX, 8PM

Wordspace Dallas, celebrate the release of Greg Brownderville’s third poetry collection, A Horse with Holes in It (hosted by Sanderia Faye), [private residence, RSVP for location]

Stonebriar Country Club, David Smick discusses and signs The Great Equalizier: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone (a DFW World Affairs Council event), 7:30AM

Brazos Bookstore, Chanelle Benz reads and signs THE MAN WHO SHOT MY EYE OUT IS DEAD, 7PM

Murder By the Book, Gregg Hurwitz will sign and discuss The Nowhere Man, 6:30PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Kathryn Haueisen reads and signs Asunder, 4PM


Saturday, January 21:
B&N - Golden Triangle Mall, local author Jeff Miller signs The Game Changers: Abner Haynes, Leon King, and the Fall of Major College Football's Color Barrier in Texas, 2PM

El Paso
B&N - Sunland Park, Man With the Black Box book signing with Colin P. Cahoon, 2PM

Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: Rex Waide presents Streaming Consciousness: Expressionism vs Realist Writing , 12:45PM


The Pilot on Navigation, Space City Poetry Slam Series Kickoff, 7PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Darrell Lee reads and signs The Gravitational Leap, 3PM

Rudyard's Pub, Public Poetry presents The PM Show, 8PM

Mother Neff State Park, Arts in the Parks: Haiku Hike, 2PM

Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: Alfonso Ramirez discusses and signs Ranch Life in Hidalgo County After 1850, 1PM

B&N - Creekwalk Village, Lonna Enox signs Striking Blind: A Sorrel Janes Mystery, 2PM

B&N - Preston/Park, Lauren Freeman signs The New Boss, 2PM

San Antonio
B&N - Bandera Pointe, Beverly Shaw signing God's Glory Revealed, 1PM

The Twig Book Shop, Martha Miller discusses and signs Times New Roman: How We Quit Our Jobs, Gave Away Our Stuff & Moved to Italy, 11AM

The Twig Book Shop, Nancy West reads and signs River City Dead: An Aggie Mundeen Mystery, 2PM

The Storybook Garden, Rebecca Luna reads and signs BORN TO BE FAST!, 11AM

The Woodlands
B&N - Woodlands Mall, Kim Parker signs East Meets West: Parenting from the Best of Both Worlds, 2PM

Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day

Horchow Auditorium, Dallas Museum of Art's Arts & Letters Live presents Levison Wood, author of Walking the Nile and Walking the Himalayas, 4PM

Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: Leslie G. Mironuck discusses and signs Irreconcilable Differences, 1PM

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: STRONG COLD DEAD by Jon Land

I reviewed Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong Novel (Forge Books) by Jon Land for Lone Star Literary Life. This is the eighth installment in this series, an audaciously spirited mystery/suspense, with a little horror, and a little science fiction, for good measure.

Jon Land
Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong NovelForge Books
Hardcover, 978-0-7653-3513-5 (also available as an e-book), 352 pgs., $26.99
October 4, 2016

“Nature takes care of its own, Ranger, and we are its own.” —White Eagle, Comanche shaman

Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong is on desk duty after a dustup involving Mexican cartel apprentices in San Antonio, when trouble between a drilling company and Native American protesters sends her into the Texas Hill Country to investigate a mutilated body discovered just off the reservation. History is preparing to repeat itself as Caitlin returns to where the Strong family legend was birthed. The case has strong echoes of similar circumstances investigated in 1874 by Caitlin’s ancestor, the first Ranger Strong.

Strong Cold Dead: A Caitlin Strong Novel is the eighth installment in Jon Land’s mystery-suspense series starring the fifth-generation Texas Ranger. It can be read as a standalone, but I recommend beginning at the beginning. The backstories of the recurring characters, and history of their relationships to each other, will make understanding the underlying currents easier.

A hallmark of this series is Land’s use of Texas Ranger history, skillfully woven into the present-day tale. Land names the prolific Texas historian and author Mike Cox in the acknowledgments, and quotes T. R. Fehrenbach and the Bullock Texas State History Museum’s “The Story of Texas” in epigraphs introducing each part of the narrative.

The action in Strong Cold Dead centers around a fictional Comanche reservation, but ranges near and far, from Houston and Dallas to the Middle East and an Inuit village in Canada. The international cast is vivid and similarly varied. There’s a psychic bingo caller, formerly a member of the Venezuelan secret police; a decorated veteran turned enforcer for the New Orleans mob (now retired), who has philosophical conversations with a root beer–swilling ghost; Homeland Security honchos; Native American shamans; ISIS operatives; denizens of the Deep Web; a Royal Canadian Mountie; and a descendant of Peta Nocona. This is a partial list.

The conflicts are ripped from the headlines: police killings of bystanders, protests turned riots, fracking, leaking coal-ash storage ponds, Standing Rock, WMD, terrorism.

Despite a few odd word choices (“swirling” tunnels) and instances of purple prose (“those who sought their demise”), Land can turn a phrase. When a bad guy disparages the threat Caitlin poses, he’s admonished, “Pistols don’t come in genders.” Of a persistently annoying character, Caitlin muses that he “just like a bottle top, kept sticking to her boot and scratching everything it touched.” Land is also funny. “You find shit to step in, no matter how well the pile is hidden,” Caitlin’s supervisor tells her. A young man attempting to stash a pistol in his waistband ruefully remembers his father’s advice: “I warned you about those skinny jeans, son, didn’t I?”

The third-person narrative is fast paced and steady, the plot featuring multiple subplots, lots of moving parts, and plenty of twists. I detect strains of Lee Child’s antihero Jack Reacher, Taylor Stevens’s heroine Michael Munroe (with a little of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon), and the antics of James Lee Burke’s Clete Purcel. 

However, Land’s concoction is original.

Strong Cold Dead is a creative hybrid, blending mystery and suspense with elements of horror and science fiction. You’ll have to suspend disbelief, but you’ll be rewarded and appreciate Land’s inventive, audacious spirit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: CORRESPONDENCE IN D MINOR by James R. Dennis

James R. Dennis
Correspondence in D Minor
Paperback, 978-1-62288-168-0, 72 pgs., $24.00
August 2016

“Correspondence,” according to Merriam-Webster:

late Middle English: via Old French from medieval Latin correspondentia

     1. a close similarity, connection, or equivalence.
     2. communication by exchanging letters with 

D minor is a minor scale based on D, consisting of the pitches D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. Its key signature has one flat.

Bach wrote fugues in D minor; Mozart wrote requiems. Music in minor keys is frequently described as sad, and there is a melancholy in this collection, and a kind of rueful mirth.

Decades in the making, Correspondence in D Minor is James R. Dennis’s debut poetry collection, though a handful of these poems were previously published in journals such as Analecta and Reflections. The subject matter ranges far and wide, including philosophy, history, science, religion, friendship, family, and romantic love. This ranging can be a meditation on witches inspired by a suburban Halloween night (which includes epigraphs quoting William Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, and Darth Vader), or conjuring Theodore Roosevelt in the Amazon. Many of Dennis’s poems are letters, mostly to historical figures (Gandhi, Cervantes), and his poems incorporate a variety of forms: a villanelle, an elegy (for Elmer Fudd, who has taken a regrettable turn), an ode to an old red coffee can standing vigil.

Currently gracing San Antonio, Dennis is the Renaissance man from Odessa, Texas. He is a retired attorney, a poet, a novelist, co-author of the Miles Arceneaux Gulf Coast noir mystery series, and a Dominican friar. Dennis is sympathetic to the human condition, while simultaneously demanding accountability.

He is grappling with regret and longing, as well as amusing us and himself, frequently with irreverent humor. Dennis’s work accommodates both “skedaddle” and “imprimatur” in the same poem. The cleverness evident in these poems belies a humility, just a guy trying to do no harm, and maybe figure out how to escape the cycles of history along the way. Dennis is skillful and inspired, both the artist and the technician.

Some major themes of Correspondence in D Minor are duality, paradox, and the slippery slope of certitude. Still, Dennis would like to reconcile irreconcilable differences. In “Letter to Trotsky,” the poet feels a certain kinship with the younger revolutionary, before all the blood:

                        “You don’t know me, but we have a good deal in common,
although I never knew Lenin.
Like you, I would never have trusted Stalin.
You and I were both educated in Odessa, and while I was never in prison there,
I did kind of make a mess of


In “The Least Obvious Evil Possible,” Dennis takes a run directly at the amoral nature of science:

“How then do we measure the value of a man;
how do we weigh the balance of a life?
Do we look at the good left behind
or the pain that was caused?
Do we examine the average, the mean,
or is this where all judgment withdraws?
One cannot remove hubris
with a surgical knife.”

A few of these poems are strikingly beautiful, and frequently kind. From “Homage”:

“We will make room, we will make room:
a space for hello and goodbye, and how do you do.
Room enough to work and a place to sit idle,
room enough for sinner and saint,
room enough for god and idol.
Room for yours and room for mine
and for a thousand small-time portrayals
and for a thousand lesser angels and betrayals
before the cheese and before the wine.”

And this from “Letter to a Russian Jew”:

We could sail to Crete or hike in the Alps,
watch the horses in Kentucky or examine the temples in Kathmandu.
I leave this to your discretion. I do not care where we go;
I do not care what we do.

Lest you think Dennis all somber and profound, Galileo’s refrain in “Eppur Si Muove” is “and yet, it moves.” His computer and printer have had a falling-out in “Technology.” A paraphrased line from Sweet Baby James’s “Mexico” shows up in the missive to Trotsky. This makes me smile.

This slim volume is a sumptuous letter-pressed, limited first edition, the font an atmospheric Cloister Light, which traces its lineage to a twelfth-century European typeface, Gutenberg’s choice for the first printed Bibles. A tactile pleasure, it feels good in my hands. Correspondence in D Minor is, in a word, elegant. In closing this review, I will quote from the last page: “Amor enim, sine qua nihil est.”


Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR January 9-15

Bookish events in Texas for the week of January 9-15, 2017: 

Special Events:
Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend, Nacogdoches, January 12-15

Austin Book, Paper and Photo Show, January 13-14

North Richland Hills Library Local Author Fair, January 14

Ongoing Exhibits:

The Korova, PuroSlam with DJ Donnie Dee, 10PM

San Antonio Public Library - Central, Launch of the Mayor's Book Club: Jan Jarboe Russells discusses The Train to Crystal City, 10:30AM

Wednesday, January 11:
Austin Books & Comics, Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw signing God Country, 12PM

Austin Public Library - North Village, Kelvin Chin discusses and signs Overcoming the Fear of Death, 7PM

BookPeople, Author and Television Host CLINTON KELLY speaking & signing I Hate Everyone, Except You (In Conversation With BARBARA CHISOLM), 7PM

Half Price Books Mother Ship, Dallas Poets Community's First Friday Reading featuring fifteen area poets reading their work from the Cattlemen & Cadillacs anthology, 7PM

Denton South Branch Library, Professor's Corner: A Literary Discussion Group: Poems by Texas Poet Laureate James Hoggard, 7PM


BookWoman, Second Thursday poetry open mic featuring Kimberly Lambright, 7:15PM

Central Presbyterian Church, Bestselling Author ZADIE SMITH speaking & signing Swing Time (with the Texas Book Festival), 7PM [TICKET REQUIRED]

Malvern Books, Novel Night: Martin Barkley reads and signs The Lovesong of Smith Oliver Smith, and John Pipkin reads and signs The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter, 7PM

Mr. Catfish & More, NeoSoul Poetry ATX, 8PM

Herman Brown Library, Coffee Talks: Gayle Stewart, author of 100 Horses in History, 1:30PM

B&N - Preston/Royal, Bruce Davidson signs 101 Conservative Limericks: Righter-than-left Rhymes for the Times, 7PM

SMU McCord Auditorium, Presidential Forum Lecture Series: Meg Jacobs discusses and signs Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s, 5:30PM

The Wild Detectives, Wordspace Dallas First Hearings series presents Jonathan Woods reading and signing Kiss the Devil Goodnight, 7:30PM

Jackson County Memorial Library, Writers' League of Texas presents a Texas Writes workshop with Christie Craig and Varian Johnson, 1PM

Fort Worth
Fort Worth Public Library, Books That Cook: Laura Meyn discusses Meatless in Cowtown: A Vegetarian Guide to Food and Wine, Texas-Style with June Naylor, 6PM

Brazos Bookstore, Victoria Surliuga discusses and signs EZIO GRIBAUDO: THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF MODERNISM, 7PM

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, CAMH / AIGA Lecture: Flow: Lettering in the Age of Hip Hop with Erik Marinovich, co-founder of Friends of Type, and co-author of Let's Go Letter Hunting: A Field Guide for Typographic Expeditions, 6:30PM

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, Scythe book signing with Neal Shusterman, 7PM

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, bestselling author Zadie Smith reads and signs Swing Time (in conversation with Mat Johnson), 7PM [TICKET REQUIRED]

Saturday, January 14:
B&N - Golden Triangle Mall, Local Author Edward Denny signs Hornet 33, 2PM

El Paso
Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: "The Artist's World" with Hal Marcus, 12:45PM

Harker Heights
B&N, R.L. Pool signs Catlorian: Savon'el, 1PM

BookPeople, Austin #WritersResist A Counter-Inauguration: readings with Sarah Bird, Elizabeth McCracken, Cyrus Cassells, Sasha West, Tammy Gomez, Chaitali Sen and many more including surprise guests, 6PM

Malvern Books, National Poets Protest Against Trump – Austin (organized by Justin Booth in association with the Chicon Street Poets), 2PM
Bishop Arts Theatre Center, DFW #WritersResist readings, 7PM

Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day

El Paso
El Paso Public Library - Main, El Paso #WritersResist readings, 2PM

Holocaust Museum Houston, Tintero Projects' "We Too Sing America" #WritersResist readings with 70+ Houston poets and writers, 5PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Mallary McKinzie LVT discusses and signs How to Train a Husband: A Vet Tech’s Guide to Love and Marriage, 2PM

Rothko Chapel, Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The Fierce Urgency of Now," a lecture by Leonard Pitts, Jr., author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, joined by Jackson Neal, 2016 Meta-four Houston Youth Poetry Slam team member, and Fareena Arefeen, City of Houston’s second Youth Poet Laureate, 5PM

San Antonio

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: COURAGE TO SOAR by Simone Biles

I reviewed Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance (Zondervan) by Simone Biles (with a foreword by Mary Lou Retton) for Lone Star Literary Life. I enjoyed this one. We get a tangible sense of who Biles is. She's young, but her biography is inspiring and her resume is exceptional.

Simone Biles (with Michelle Burford); foreword by Mary Lou Retton
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance
Hardcover, 978-0-3107-5966-9 (also available as an e-book, an audio book, and on Audible), 256 pgs., $24.99
November 15, 2016

This is the story of a little girl who fell in love with flying.

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance is the autobiography of gymnast Simone Biles (with an assist from Michelle Burford, journalist and founding editor of O, The Oprah Magazine), with a foreword by 1984 Olympic gold-medal winner Mary Lou Retton. Despite her tender age, Biles has an exceptional biography and an impressive resume to share, overcoming challenging family circumstances, injuries, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder to become the most decorated American female gymnast in history, culminating in triumph at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The usual sports-biography fare of innate talent, dedication, physical and mental discipline, and inspiring epigraphs, is well balanced with the more personal, even intimate. We are treated to a tangible sense of who Biles is. She’s an animated storyteller whose personality jumps off the pages in simply evocative prose. When she must, Biles reluctantly, but gracefully and succinctly, addresses the issue of race. In paragraphs liberally spiked with “OMG” and “BFF,” we read of belly rings and her crush on Zac Efron, reminding us of how very young she still is.

Courage to Soar is fast-paced and engaging, highly recommended for middle grade and young adult readers, but older adults will enjoy it as well. Biles writes of her early years in foster care, her first trip to a tumbling gym during a field trip, adolescent body consciousness, truly frightening mishaps on the uneven bars (her “nemesis”), her first trip to the Karolyi training ranch outside Huntsville, Texas, and how her Catholic upbringing and faith in God helped guide her through.

The writing is by turns funny, suspenseful, moving, and inspirational, and always feels honest. Addressing her “bratty period,” Biles writes “I was so full of fourteen-year-old drama, you’d have thought I was auditioning for my own reality show.” Faced with competing against her childhood idols whose approval and friendship are important to her, Biles finally concludes, “Competing my hardest in all my events was the highest form of respect I could show to them and to myself.” About the mixed blessing of fame, Biles found the perfect simile: “I needed to learn how to carry those expectations lightly—like a turtle carries its shell.”

Lovely candid and posed photographs, in action during competitions and with family, enhance the story. As an inspired bonus, the interior side of the dust jacket folds out into an autographed poster of Biles hurtling through air over the vault.
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
—Muhammad Ali
Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 1/2-1/8

Bookish events in Texas for the week of January 2-8, 2017: 

Ongoing Exhibits:
No public events

Tuesday, January 3:
The North Door, Owen Egerton's One Page Salon, 7:30PM

Spider House BallroomAustin Poetry Slam, 8PM

Fort Worth
The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth Poetry Slam and Open Mic, 8PM

San Antonio
Saturday, January 7:

B&N - Golden Triangle Mall, multiple author signing: Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, 2PM

El Paso
Memorial Park Public Library, Tumblewords Project workshop: "Milagrito Limbs" with Karla Nabil, 12:45PM

Fort Worth
La Mancha Business Center, Fort Worth Writer's Boot Camp workshop: So You Want to Publish a Book? with Rachel Pilcher, 10AM

Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, all day


San Antonio

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy new year, y'all! Wishing everyone health, happiness, success, meaning, and lots of great books in 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Review: PRETTY PAPER by Willie Nelson

I reviewed Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale (Blue Rider Press) by Willie Nelson for Lone Star Literary Life. Check out the seasonal serendipity from Zen Willie.

Willie Nelson (with David Ritz)
Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale
Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)
Hardcover, 978-0-7352-1154-4 (also available as an e-book, an audio book, and on Audible), 304 pgs., $23.00
October 25, 2016

“It was a rough Christmas in a rough town,” December in the early 1960s, and Willie is headed into Leonards department store in downtown Fort Worth to do some holiday gift shopping when he spies a man down on his luck, both legs amputated above the knee, balancing on a rolling board, hawking wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows on the sidewalk. Willie buys his Christmas gifts and goes back outside to look for the man with the pretty paper, but he’s gone.

Willie, intrigued by the quality of the man’s voice when he was singing out about his ribbon for sale — and suspecting he might be a musician — returns to look for him several times. The man on the board is Vernon Clay. He does have a story, one he doesn’t want to tell, but Willie is compelled to discover what brought a man with that voice so low. When Willie sets out to make things right, the situation quickly becomes complicated.

Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale is “autobiographical fiction” from Willie Nelson (with the help of longtime collaborator David Ritz), based on his hit song of the same title. Pretty Paper seems simple, but as with Willie’s songs, you soon find yourself in the deep end of the pool, tackling big questions like the nature of God, betrayal in business and love, and why bad things happen to good people. Inexplicably drawn to the enigma of Vernon Clay, Willie makes a human connection with a stranger, and does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

Pretty Paper is peopled with colorful characters. There’s “Nutsy” Perkins, a local enforcer and bookie with an affinity for white fedoras with purple feathers in the brim, a drummer called Brother Paul (“who understood [Willie’s] personal sense of rhythm. Not everyone does.”) given to wide-brimmed hats and black capes, and Ranger Roy Finkelstein, who owns a record store in Garland (“Garland is where the action is. There’s more to Garland than meets the eye.”) where Willie tracks down clues to Vernon Clay.

Willie’s good-natured, dry wit is here. A British music promoter wearing a monocle and tweeds wants to take Willie to England. Brit: “Let’s proceed to the dining room for tea and crumpets.” Willie: “Or bourbon and barbecue. This is Memphis.” When Willie tries to talk a nightclub owner into letting Vernon Clay sing with his band, the owner responds with, “Seeing some guy in a wheelchair don’t make nobody wanna dance.”

A feel-good, quickly paced holiday tale, Pretty Paper is sometimes too sweet, with a couple clichés too many, but these flaws are infrequent. More often, we are treated to Zen Willie: “cosmic conspiracy” at work and advice to “love the mystery,” extolling writing and music as therapy, release, and exorcism, reminding me in turn of O. Henry and Jimmy Buffett.

It’s a slim, handsomely designed volume; the dust jacket features an iconic drawing of Willie in saturated color, complete with a red bandana anchoring his braids, and a green scarf warming his neck. The interior is similarly thoughtful, with simple charcoal drawings scattered throughout and the edges of the pages changing color by section, striped like a candy cane. This first-person narrative of seasonal serendipity reads as if you’re hanging on the tour bus with the man himself, telling tales. The final touching twist left me smiling, as any good Christmas tale should.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Excerpt & Giveaway: OF BULLETINS AND BOOZE by Bob Horton

Bob Horton

Genre: Journalism / Memoir
Date of Publication: March, 2017
Number of Pages: 284

Scroll down for Giveaway!

Bob Horton began his journalism career as a reporter for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Innate skill and good fortune took him from a modest Texas farm upbringing to Washington, DC, where he was thrown into the high-pressure world of the wire service, first as a correspondent for the Associated Press, and later for Reuters news agency. The stress was intense, but he found the rush to be intoxicating.

From his early days covering the Dallas murder trial of Jack Ruby, through three colorful decades as a newsman, Horton often found himself witnessing history in the making. He covered the Pentagon during the early days of the Vietnam War, was on board a Navy ship in the Mediterranean awaiting Israel’s expected attack on Egypt, was witness to the Watergate burglary trial, and attended a Beverly Hills church service with then-President-elect Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.

The success Horton enjoyed as a journalist mostly hid the dark side of his career: a gradual descent into alcoholism. Of Bulletins and Booze candidly recounts the unforgettable moments of Horton’s career, as well as more than a few moments he would just as soon forget.

Of Bulletins and Booze

By Bob Horton


In 2015 Texas Tech’s College of Media and Communications enrolled fifteen hundred students, some perhaps attracted by promises described on the college’s website: “Change the face of advertising. Reach millions from the nightly news. Uncover the real story. Capture the world in photos. Mold public perception. Communications is all about passion.” All are valid possibilities that can give a person access to icons of influence or wealth—connections tending to generate exaggerated ideas of self-importance. When I was growing up in West Texas I often heard what is probably a time-tested admonition about the danger of “getting too big for your britches.” The hunger for success can lead one to swallow more ambitious notions than he is capable of digesting. Or, as a West Texas friend of mine once put it rather crudely: “Don’t let an alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass.”

I was a news correspondent in Washington, DC, for almost a quarter of a century. During that time I was assigned to places most any eager journalist might wish to cover—Congress, the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House at times—all but, odd as it might seem in view of my rural upbringing in Texas, the Department of Agriculture. I met men of prominence, including five who were or would become president, a half-dozen who were in charge of the Pentagon or the State Department, leaders in Congress, and others who wielded levers of power in the federal government. I was no familiar face on television, but my byline appeared atop stories carried in hundreds of newspapers throughout the United States and around the world. Early in my career I received a national award for a reporting performance related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Later, an Associated Press cohort and I were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for our coverage of the Pentagon. Those were heady, intoxicating times, and I drank to celebrate my successes. I also drank to ease deep-seated fears that I was not only unqualified but also incapable of sustaining the charade for long. I drank my way into alcoholism.

The more I thought I achieved, the less secure I felt. I became obsessed with the idea that I had to outperform any other journalist reporting the story of the moment. I was my own worst competitor. I competed with a relentless notion that I always had to outrun the pack. Alcohol fueled the race.

Drinking became a routine occupying long lunches, resuming after work, and often continuing late into the night, when I might wind up gambling recklessly at poker in a game room at the National Press Club. I lost more than I won. I lost a devoted wife. I lost a sense of direction. I lost enthusiasm for a profession I believed was my true calling. I had arrived in Washington in January 1965 with a strong sense of being where I was meant to be. By 1989, however, I had changed jobs not once or twice but five times. I had lost that sense of being where I belonged. Something was wrong with the picture.

I eventually decided to remove myself from that place of monuments and monumental ambitions. Leaving Washington and all the promise it once held for me was painful, but Texas would welcome me home. I returned to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, this time not the rookie reporter I had been while a student at Texas Tech but as an editorial writer and columnist. Times were good. Times were bad. Most of the decade of the1990s was a repetitive cycle of drinking, sobering up, drinking again. By 1998 I had become so dispirited and incapable of dealing with an alcoholic behavior that I left the Avalanche-Journal. After drying out at a rehab facility I began living with my mother, who was nearing eighty in failing health. So began several years of sobriety benefiting both mother and son. She needed a caregiver. I needed daily meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous to abstain from liquor. I enrolled at Texas Tech and in 2003, at age sixty-four, I received a master’s degree in mass communications.

Armed with the new degree I could have chosen to teach a younger generation what I knew about the news business. I was reluctant to pursue that path. I suspected—wrongly, no doubt—that I might be required to follow some paint-by-the-numbers lesson plan in a textbook written by an academic who had never been a reporter. If I were to lead a class of young people envisioning a sparkling career in communications or in any other field I would have my own firmly held thoughts to share. I might have little to say about alcoholism per se, but I certainly could emphasize that striving for success can be as intoxicating as the highest-proof booze and equally susceptible to an addiction.


Bob Horton has been in the news business for more than fifty years. In 1966 he received the Top Reporting Performance Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors organization, and in 1968 he and an AP cohort were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for general coverage of the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Today he is a radio news anchor with shows in Lubbock and Victoria, Texas. He lives in Lubbock.

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