Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: THE LAST SHERIFF IN TEXAS by James P. McCollom

I reviewed The Last Sheriff in Texas: A True Tale of Violence and the Vote (Counterpoint Press) by James P. McCollom for Lone Star Literary Life! McCollom's book is a valuable chapter of South Texas history, the patron system of vote fraud (think box thirteen and LBJ), and the nascent struggle for Mexican American civil rights. Bonus: it's consistently entertaining.

James P. McCollom
The Last Sheriff in Texas: A True Tale of Violence and the Vote
Hardcover, 978-1-6190-2996-5, (also available as an e-book), 272 pgs., $26.00
November 14, 2017

My dad, former deputy sheriff of Mitchell County, Texas, always said everything that happens in the big city happens in small towns, just not as often. The small towns in Bee County, Texas, were presided over by Sheriff Vail Ennis from 1945 until 1952. Ennis was a legend in his time, and his most dramatic exploit is also the beginning of this true story. Shot five times by an ex-con at a Magnolia station in Pettus, a wide spot in the road, on a cold November night in 1947, Ennis managed to empty his gun, reload, and kill both attackers before the ambulance arrived to speed him to a hospital.

The Last Sheriff in Texas: A True Tale of Violence and the Vote by Beeville native son James P. McCollom is told through the actions of two men, Sheriff Ennis and Beeville’s hometown-boy-made-good Johnny Barnhart. In the beginning it’s not clear what Barnhart’s part in the drama will be; we meet him as a yell leader and fraternity boy, then a law student, at the University of Texas at Austin. Barnhart returns to Beeville with his juris doctor, hangs out a shingle, and is promptly elected to the Texas lege, where his principles and idealism get him branded a subversive and smeared as a Commie during McCarthy’s Red Scare. Barnhart returns home to practice criminal-defense law, which is how he discovers Sheriff Ennis’s pervasive power. Ennis is arrester, jailer, bondsman, probation supervisor, judge, jury, and—this is where things get really hairy—executioner. Before Ennis leaves office, he will kill eight men.

Barnhart, reckoning the sheriff and the town complicit in the reign of a homicidal menace, wages a campaign against Ennis in 1952. “Sheriff Vail Ennis, the protector of our wives and mothers and sisters and daughters,” McCollom writes, ”was under attack by Johnny Barnhart, the Mexican lover, the communist, the protector of deviants.” Barnhart finds himself battling “peripheral codes, imprecise but understood, that gave Texas its character, that kept Texas free from Yankee squeamishness.” If Ennis is wrong, then Texas is wrong. Before the election is over, Barnhart will fear for his life.

With a cover that’s half sepia and half the black-and-blue of storm clouds and bruises, the design of The Last Sheriff in Texas echoes McCollom’s style, a hybrid of old-timers sitting on the front porch telling tales and true crime. The book is consistently entertaining and a valuable chapter of South Texas history, the patron system of vote fraud (think box thirteen and LBJ), and the nascent struggle for Mexican American civil rights.

McCollom’s tone occasionally drips with derision, usually with good cause. The narrative is sometimes repetitive, the sequence of events not always easy to follow, but it’s difficult to say whether this is the author’s fault or the result of byzantine South Texas politics. A couple of geography mistakes stand out.

However, McCollom skillfully conveys the personalities of his large cast of fascinating characters. He conjures a visceral sense of foreboding as the election approaches, and evokes the time and place with rich detail and personal experience. In the author’s note, McCollom claims the background of his book as memoir—he knew many of the people he writes about. His grandfather was Bee County sheriff prior to Ennis who “it was said never [fired] his gun.” McCollom has a dog in this hunt.

In the end, against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing and urbanizing Texas, Sheriff Vail Ennis failed to recognize his time had passed, becoming a walking anachronism. The Last Sheriff in Texas takes place in the middle of the last century and remains sadly relevant today.

Originally published by Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Texan Author, HBO Actor Turk Pipkin Embarks on Ambitious Literary Feat

Veteran author and actor Turk Pipkin launched The Book of the Every-Other Month Club on Indiegogo in November. Pipkin's Book Club is an ambitious effort to publish and release six original books over the course of one year. Subscribers to the Book Club will receive the first book before Christmas, with five more new books to follow every two months in 2018.

20 percent of every subscription will fund school libraries built by Pipkin and The Nobelity Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Education for All. In addition to the physical libraries, proceeds will provide books and educational support to promote literacy at three Kenyan schools, Mwangaza, Mweiga and Wiyoni Primary. The following is a Q&A with Pipkin as we look ahead to the arrival of the first book, The Moleskin Mystery:

Q. What is Turk Pipkin's Book of the Every Other Month Club?

A: It's a subscription series to six new books—all written by me (over a number of hard-working years) and designed by six fantastic book designers. So each is a work from the heart, and each is a work of art.

Q. What’s your favorite of the books?

A. My favorite is always the one I’m currently working on. The past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing the copy edit and design for The Moleskin Mystery, which is a New Orleans love story about a guy who finds a partially written journal and takes over the writing to solve a mystery and shed a little light in his own life.

The day The Moleskin Mystery delivers from the printer, my favorite will likely be Requiem for a Screenplay, which I describe as my magnificent failures—three original screenplays that went up and down the Hollywood development process without getting green-lit. From my work as an actor, I’ve learned that making the movie doesn’t necessarily improve the original written word, and I think these scripts stand up to the test of the time in black and white.

Next November when the sixth book, A Christmas Song, is shipping to subscribers, it will be my favorite. There area a lot of fans waiting for this follow-up to my Algonquin Christmas novel, When Angels Sing, and the movie "Angels Sing," which starred Willie Nelson, Connie Britton, Harry Connick, Jr., and Kris Kristofferson.

Q. Why is the Book Club funding three new libraries at schools in Kenya?

A. The Nobelity Project's films and our other fundraising have been dedicated to the principle of Education for All. Much of that work has been in Austin, but the largest initiative has been partnering with 35 rural schools in Kenya to build classrooms, preschools, science and computer labs, kitchens and more. Reading is fundamental everywhere, so we've accelerated our efforts to build libraries and provide increased literacy and a love books to kids who basically have none. In the U.S., we often take books for granted, but access to books for the thousands of kids we work with in Kenya and creates a love of books, greater literacy and higher scores. A new library can be life-changing as it enables kids to achieve their true potential.

Q. How does someone buy the books in your Book Club?

A. It's a 6-book series for every book lover. There are also higher subscription levels that include canvas prints of my best Kenya wildlife photos. There are links at to subscribe and get The Moleskin Mystery before Christmas. I'll be shipping the other books throughout 2018.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 12/11-17

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of December 11-17, 2017: 

Special Events:
Kwanzaa Fort Worth Poetry & Storytelling, December 16

Half Price Books Kids & YA Book Giveaway (#HarveyRelief), Houston, December 16

Ongoing Exhibits:

River Oaks Bookstore, William Cannady discusses and signs Four Houses: Design for Change, 5PM

Midland County Library - Downtown, Holiday Open House, 4PM

San Antonio

Thursday, December 14:
World Affairs Council Office, Mark Updegrove will discuss and sign The Last Republicans: Inside the Extraordinary Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, 6PM

Houston Marriott South, Houston Military Affairs Committee presents Peaceful Bones book signing and presentation by Dr. Samuel Axelrad, M.D., 11:30AM

James E. Taylor High School Performing Arts Center, Dan Rather presents his new book, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, 7PM

George W. Bush Childhood Home, Laura Bush Literacy Program Reading Event, 4:30PM

Midland County Library - Centennial, Holiday Open House, 4PM

Sugar Land
Deep Vellum Books, Texas launch party celebrating Micheline Aharonian Marcom's new novel THE BRICK HOUSE: The reading will be followed by a conversation with Micheline and visual artist Fowzia Karimi, whose illustrations accompany the work, moderated by Awst's Editor, Tatiana Ryckman, 7PM

El Paso
El Paso Public Library - Memorial Park, Tumblewords Project Workshop: "Writing for the Dark Times" with Donny Snyder, 12:45PM

Galveston Bookshop, World heritage photographer Pino Shah signs Galveston Architecture: A Visual Journey, 2PM


San Antonio
Dead Tree Books, Bárbara Renaud González signs La Nalgas de JLo, 2PM

The Twig Book Shop, Dusti Sheldon signs Izzy Mae Moves Away, 11AM

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: Don Clifford discusses and signs More Zoo Nonsense: The Quest for Kuybera 1PM

Sugar Land
Half Price Books, local author Shane Lassetter will sell and sign his YA book Outlast: Geeks Will Gather, 1PM

Morrison's Gifts, sportswriter Byron Riddle signing Above the Net: 50 Years of the Best Volleyball in Texas, 11AM

B&N - Baybrook, Meet the Author: J.P. McFarland, 1PM

Sunday, December 17:

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Trails and Memories
of the Big Bend

Ben H. English
  Genre: Memoir / Travel / Texas
Publisher: TCU Press
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Date of Publication: November 17, 2017
Number of Pages: 221

It was a time before Terlingua Ranch, chili cook-offs, and when you could drive a hundred miles without seeing another vehicle or another person. The year was 1961, and the tides of humanity that ebbed and flowed into the lower reaches of the Big Bend were at their historical nadir.

It was a vast, empty land spotted by isolated ranch headquarters, a national park with few visitors, and the many ruins of a past shrouded in legend, lore, and improbable truths. Six generations of Ben H. English’s family have called this enigmatic region home. With his family headquartered at the old Lajitas Trading Post, he worked and lived on ranches and in places now little more than forgotten dots on yellowing maps. He attended the one-room schoolhouse at Terlingua, prowled the banks of the Rio Grande, and crisscrossed the surrounding areas time and again on horseback and on foot.

Some fifty years later he writes about those years, revealing along the way the history and legends of the singular land he knows so well, separating fact from fiction, and bringing the reader into a world that few have experienced. He also explores the lower Big Bend as it is found now, and the extraordinary vistas one can still discover just over the next rise.

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Excerpt from Yonderings: Trails and Memories of the Big Bend
By Ben H. English

There are certain places in this world that seize the soul of those who journey into their environs. They tantalize our senses, both physical and otherwise, with a thousand varieties of awe, wonderment, mystery, and exultation. Even though we may only visit them but once, the mental snapshots we develop during the event never seem to fade or go away, remaining firmly entrenched within our psyches from that moment forward until death’s bed or beyond. Someone once said that life is not a series of years, but a recollection of special moments. The same can be said about those special places exemplified by the Big Bend of Texas.

These same moments and places call for a more introspective look at ourselves and where we fit into the larger scheme of things, which often enough leads us to questions about those who came before. Did they truly see and appreciate what was here, or were they so involved in their existential struggles as to not take much notice of the rare natural beauty surrounding them? What did they learn from this unique land, what enigmas did they unravel here? For many, we will never know, as their stories have been irretrievably lost, trapped in a void of forgotten memories or anonymity. They were too busy living history to have the opportunity or inclination to leave written documents of it. Their implacable enemy was time, or to be more accurate, the lack thereof.

As I have grown older the true value of time has become more apparent to me, and far more precious. It is the one thing we cannot change, call back, speed up, or slow down. With all of our advanced technological marvels and attending vanities, time pays no more attention to our needs and schemes than we of a tiny fleck of dust laying upon parched, barren soil. Time remains the unchanging constant in our mortal continuance, unconcerned with nothing else but its unrelenting march forward.

Yet this does not mean we mere mortals don’t entertain fanciful wishes of being able to bend it to our petty wills. As the decades have passed by, I have found myself wishing that I had just one hour to talk with Aunt Mag about the Hot Springs, “Sis” Hay concerning early Marfa, or Grandfather Cash regarding his days as an underaged infantryman in Lajitas. Much more so, I wish I had just one more hour to sit with my father and Papa English and hear their voices again. The two of them prowled a big part of this region of the Big Bend, spurred on by a consuming passion for this land and what there was to be learned from it.

No measure can be taken of any land without speaking of those who make use of it. What they hold to be true and inviolate sets the tone for what will happen to that ground in the future. In this respect there are basically two competing groups and philosophies, championed by those who think upon themselves as land owners versus those who consider themselves more as people of the land. The latter have a deep emotional attachment to what they stand upon and desire to keep it as naturally pristine as possible. The former faction sees whatever land within their grasp mostly in terms of how much wealth can be extracted from it; the long-term results are of secondary importance.

Though some may find this perspective to be overly simplistic or demeaning to one group or the other, it nevertheless cuts straight to the heart of the matter. The Big Bend country of Texas has had ample quantities of both breeds, as well as ample evidence of where strict adherence to each of the two philosophies can lead. In reality our nation needs both groups to successfully meet the unending challenges we face as a society, but there should be certain locales set aside that deserve the respect and the support of both parties for the mutual benefit of all.

The Big Bend has been repeatedly lauded by many of our fellows who profoundly care about this land and intuitively comprehend just how special it really is. They understand that God did not give us such splendor to have it defiled and abused, as so many other areas in our part of Texas have been. We as a people should never take this priceless gift lightly and need to pay proper homage to those with the forbearance to see what was being lost, and the personal courage to go forth and do what needed done to halt the ensuing blight.

       For myself I will enjoy the Big Bend as long as possible in the most intimate way one can, on my own two feet--sometimes going where no trail has ever been known to run. Early on I made a promise to myself not only to go and see, but to write about what I learned and experienced. This book contains only a few of the hundreds of stories I could tell about this country, and before I die I hope for many more to come. 

An eighth-generation Texan, Ben H. English was raised mostly in the Lajitas-Terlingua area. An honors graduate of Angelo State University, he served in the United States Marine Corps for seven years, was a high school teacher, and retired after twenty-two years in the Texas Highway Patrol.

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Friday, December 8, 2017


I reviewed Durations: A Memoir and Personal Essays  (Wings Press) by Carolyn Osborn for Lone Star Literary Life. This is a valuable account of growing up against the backdrop of WWII by a Texas literary treasure.

Carolyn Osborn
Durations: A Memoir and Personal Essays
Wings Press
Paperback, 978-1-6094-0544-1, (also available as an e-book), 200 pgs., $16.95
September 1, 2017

Carolyn Osborn is a grande dame of Texas letters. She has won awards from PEN and The Antioch Review, and the Lon Tinkle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Several of her short stories have been anthologized, including in The O. Henry Awards (Doubleday, 1990) and Lone Star Literature (Norton, 2003); she is the author of four short story collections and two novels.

Durations: A Memoir and Personal Essays is Osborn’s newest book. “Durations” is a recounting of her childhood in the United States during World War II, and the volume includes seven recent essays; several of these works have been previously published in various forms in such journals as the University of North Texas’s American Literary Review and Southern Methodist University’s Southwest Review.

Osborn was five years old when the United States officially entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Rather than continue frequent relocations according to her husband’s Army orders, Osborn’s mother chose to return to her Tennessee home “for the duration,” a phrase Osborn understood as “nobody knows how long.”

Osborn’s mother suffered, unbeknownst to Osborn, from schizophrenia and was hospitalized while Osborn’s father was away training troops. Osborn and her brother were taken in by the aunts of their extended Southern family, but lived in different households until the end of the war when their father remarried, and the family regrouped and decamped for Texas. I was lucky to hear Osborn speak passionately about mental illness at the Texas Book Festival this year, about the necessity of talking about it openly and without shame, banishing stigma. Osborn didn’t talk to her mother or see her again until she was a grown woman with children of her own, a heartbreaking and unnecessary tragedy.

A series of vignettes firmly grounded in the alien atmosphere of a country at war (“a vast and terrible confusion that had already hospitalized my mother, divided my brother and me, and threated to kill my father and uncle”), Osborn’s account of her early life playing out against the backdrop of world history is moving and important. These are valuable memories of a generation that will be lost to us in the not-too-distant future. Osborn has an understated style that speaks volumes.

Her teenage years take place against the backdrop of Texas’s transition from a rural to an urban state. Cultural adjustments were necessary, leaving a genteel Southern existence for the West, where “the sun wouldn’t quit shining and drugstore cowboys decorated the streets,” and football pep rallies where the team sat “like visiting royalty watching the antics of the common people.”

Osborn’s frequently funny (“I learned I was morally lacking in many ways but I tended to forget which ones”); astute (“She was personally as antiseptic as her always clean white uniform”); and observant (an aunt’s suitor had a “beseeching face, making him look as if you knew the answer to something he needed to know”).

The essays following “Durations” address the everyday mundane and everyday extraordinary in a wide range of subjects, from guns to Hill Country ranching to ambivalent travel essays, evidencing a naturalist bent. These are a gentle read, musing and insightful.

Osborn learned the art of storytelling from her aunts. We can thank those steel magnolias, “curiosity, that great provoker,” and “whim, that small action that changes everything,” for the gift of Carolyn Osborn.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Excerpt: UP NEAR DALLAS by Gina Hooten Popp

Winds of Change -- Book III
  Genre:  Texas Historical Fiction / Romance
Date of Publication: November 12, 2017
Number of Pages: 307

Scroll down for the giveaway!

The year is 1934. Economic turbulence rocks the country. And record drought dries up crops, along with the spirits of every farmer south of the Mason-Dixon. Yet for sixteen-year-old Mick McLaren, life is good as he takes to the open road to chase his dream of being a musician. Riding boxcars, hitchhiking, walking and driving his way across Depression Era Texas, he finds not only himself, but the love of a girl from Dallas named Margaret. Along the way, they befriend Cowboy Larson, a Delta Blues guitarist. Together the three teens, from three very different worlds, come-of-age as their life-changing journey carries them through killer dust storms, extreme poverty, and the unprecedented gangster activity of the Dirty Thirties.

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Excerpt from Up Near Dallas
Winds of Change, III
By Gina Hooten Popp

The camp was down by the water’s edge in a grove of trees. We would’ve driven right past it if Woody hadn’t known how to find it. It certainly wasn’t visible from the road. But after we parked our auto in a clearing, we walked down a winding trail that had tents and more autos parked strategically throughout the heavily treed area. Mirrors, pots and pans and other necessities needed for cooking or grooming dangled from the tree limbs giving the woods an overall magical fairy-like feel. As we walked along, we saw small shacks tacked together with wood and metal scraps the owners had gathered to make their own unique shelter. I had to admit they did look sturdier than the ragtag tents some of the homeless had.

Nonchalantly, I tagged behind Woody’s solid footsteps. And I have to say, even though I didn’t see anyone, I felt eyes on us as we picked our way down to the water’s edge where the concert was going to be held. Lifting my head, I could smell rain in the air, but I knew from experience it didn’t always come. However, the gusts blowing off the water, and the animals rustling in the woods around us, told me it might just happen tonight. Hopefully, after we played our music.

Woody stopped on the trail. And I took a moment to really listen. And I have to tell you, there’s no other sound in the world like the sound of the wind blowing through oak trees before a thunderstorm. It was exhilarating. The others around us must have been listening too because there was very little noise except the sounds of Mother Nature.

A native Texan, Gina Hooten Popp was born in Greenville and now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. Along with writing novels, Gina has enjoyed a long career as a professional writer in advertising. Her debut novel THE STORM AFTER was a finalist in the 2014 RONE Awards, and her just-released book CHICO BOY: A NOVEL was a 2016 Medalist Winner in the New Apple Annual Book Awards. Recently, her novel LUCKY'S WAY, about a young fighter pilot from Houston, was endorsed by the United States World War One Centennial Commission. 

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December 5-December 13, 2017
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