Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: TEXAS BLOOD by Roger D. Hodge

I reviewed Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands (Alfred A. Knopf) by Roger D. Hodge for Lone Star Literary Life. The story of Hodge's family is a microcosm of the settlement of the American West, and his writing is frequently mesmerizing.

Roger D. Hodge
Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands
Alfred A. Knopf
Hardcover, 978-0-3079-6140-2 (also available as an e-book and an audiobook), 368 pgs., $28.95
October 10, 2017

Texas, with its expanses of still-wild vistas, lends itself to the mythical. Historical attempts to settle and tame the borderlands have often proved ephemeral. The evidence is found in pictographs and petroglyphs (“North America’s oldest surviving books”) throughout the Trans-Pecos. But Rodger D. Hodge’s family, arriving in the Devils River country in the second half of the nineteenth century, settled and stayed. Why? Why this land? What possessed them to choose such a forbidding landscape, which remains “fantastically inaccessible,” on which to stake their future, working Brangus cattle, Rambouillet sheep, and Angora goats?

When he was named editor of Harper’s Magazine in 2006, Hodge was surprised to be described as a “Texan” by a New York Times reporter. “I never expected to be a professional Texan,” he writes, “one of those writers who wear the lone star like a brand.” Who am I? How does the place you are from shape you? Why did Hodge’s ancestors come to Texas? He seems to be trying to make his peace with something, but we’re never quite sure what.

Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands, the latest nonfiction from The Intercept’s Hodge, is a combination of journalism and memoir, producing an expansive—almost panoramic—history of Texas viewed through the lens of Hodge family history. The story of his family is a microcosm of the settlement of the American West.

Needing more than “epic histories sweep[ing] high above the hard ground of lived experience,” through six states and fifteen Texas counties, Hodge drives in the footsteps of his predecessors, beginning in Missouri, following the Osage Trace to Texas. Having no primary source from his relatives, Hodge employs a Washington Irving (who met Sam Houston) account of his travels on the road to Texas, and Frederick Law Olmsted’s account of his travels through Texas, to illuminate the Hodge pioneer journey.

Enhanced by maps and photographs, especially an arresting cover photo of a cloud-to-ground lightning strike in the West Texas mountains lighting up a field of wooden crosses in the foreground, Texas Blood is often mesmerizing, intermittently overwrought, always evocative. Hodge is capable of the lyrical (“the stream turbulent, rapid, pink with mud and minerals, alkaline and briny, searching for the crossing”), though his is an unsentimental journey. Sometimes terse, sometimes voluble, Hodge can drip with derision (“Quakers and German liberals and utopian Frenchmen and Poles who sought to create a New Jerusalem but instead simply added to the entrepreneurial energies of Dallas”), as well as inspire, as in the title of the first chapter, “Southwest Toward Home,” with its nod to Willie Morris’s North Toward Home.

Though it can be frustrating and ends abruptly, feeling unfinished, Texas Blood is a remarkable synthesis of the general and the personal, the concrete and the metaphysical.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

New First-Fiction Prize for Texas!

El Paso author Sergio Troncoso has endowed a new award for Best Work of First Fiction ($1,000) for the Texas Institute of Letters!

The Sergio Troncoso Award will be given to a first novel or short-story collection by an author from Texas or writing about Texas. The publication date of the work must be in 2017. The deadline for submission is January 2, 2018.

Each year the Texas Institute of Letters awards more than $20,000 to recognize outstanding literary works in several categories. Eligibility for the awards requires that the author be born in Texas or have lived in Texas for at least two consecutive years at some time. A work whose subject matter substantially concerns Texas is also eligible.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 11/20-26

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of November 20-26, 2017: 

Ongoing Exhibits:
San Antonio
B&N - San Pedro, New York Times best-selling author Shea Serrano signing his latest book, Basketball (And Other Things), 7PM

The Twig Book Shop, Andrea Eames reads and signs The White Shadow and The Cry of the Go-Away Bird, 5PM

Wednesday, November 22:
No public events; go home and read a cookbook.

Thursday, November 23:
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Friday, November 24:
Cherrywood Coffeehouse, METAPHORICALLY CHALLENGED 3: Thanksgiving Special Hosted by TPB + open mic, 7PM

Saturday, November 25:
BookPeople, Special guest story time with Seth Fishman, author of A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, 11:30AM

The Twig Book Shop, Lewis Fisher signs Maverick: The American Name That Became a Legend, 11AM

South Padre Island
Paragraphs on Padre, Meet the Author Series: children's author Paige Grant will read and sign Kitten Caboodle, 1PM

Sunday, November 26:
Half Price Books Mothership, Local Author Sundays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, while supplies last

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, Joel Salcido signing The Spirit of Tequila, 2PM

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: THE GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN WEST by James Ward Lee

I reviewed The Girls of the Golden West (TCU Press) by James Ward Lee for Lone Star Literary Life. This is sweetly satisfying debut fiction from the eighty-five-year-old founding director of the University of North Texas Press, and member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

James Ward Lee
The Girls of the Golden West: A Novel
Texas Christian University Press
Paperback, 978-0-8756-5677-9 (also available as an e-book and in hardcover), 224 pgs., $22.95
September 11, 2017

Ninety-five-year-old John Quincy Adams the Second (no relation) is contentedly living his “platinum years” in fictional Bodark Springs, Texas. Wealthy due to inheritance, and rich due to a long career teaching English and history, John Q. opens his door one evening in 1971 to doctoral student Annie Baxter on his doorstep. Armed with a grant from the Texas State Historical Association and the Texas Folklore Society, Baxter wants to interview John Q. for an oral history of Northeast Texas. John Q., startled by Annie’s resemblance to Elizabeth Denney, his lost love of forty years ago, reluctantly agrees to participate in the project, with one proviso: Baxter must content herself with John Q.’s tales of others; his personal history is off limits.

Edward, a lawyer and John Q.’s oldest son, knows his father has secrets. John Q. did spend two years in California soon after the murder of his father and uncle. But Edward doesn’t know the facts and, suspicious of Baxter’s sudden appearance (“secret agent or a blackmailer or maybe a hit woman”), is concerned his elderly father, reminded of the love of his life, will introduce the skeletons in his closets to the fetching Annie. When anonymous notes and phone calls arrive, obliquely referencing his secrets, John Q. worries he may be called to account for a blood feud that may not be over.

Preeminent Texas folklorist James Ward Lee, founding director of the University of North Texas Press and Center for Texas Studies at UNT, member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, is the author of more than one hundred articles and the author or editor of eleven books. Now, at age eighty-five, Lee has published his debut novel, The Girls of the Golden West.

Lee’s characters are well developed and intriguing. The population of Bodark Springs is portrayed sympathetically and appreciatively. John Q.’s charming first-person narration is funny and wise and vulnerable. He often quotes song lyrics, prose, and poetry, indulging in clever wordplay and inventing a new collective noun: a “disturbance of women.” You know, like a pod of whales or a pride of lions.

The Girls of the Golden West moves at a steady, genteel pace. I was sometimes impatient with the pacing and the preoccupation with wardrobe and dinner menus, but Lee’s plot twists held my attention. Lee scatters clues, skillfully foreshadowing the mystery of John Q.’s missing years. The dialects he employs beg to be read aloud, and his dialogue is smart and funny. John Q. complains to one of his sons that he only wants them “to let me alone to rust unburnished.” A housekeeper confuses her words, resulting in this hilarity: “Do you reckon there was some fortification going on? I always thought that old man was too old to fortify.”

Using the oral-history project premise, Lee deploys an entertaining technique for liberally seeding The Girls of the Golden West with rich details of weddings, funerals, entertainments, religion, remedies, art, and politics from his encyclopedic knowledge gathered during a storied career as a folklorist. The resolution of John Q.’s story is sweetly satisfying.

Originally published by Lone Star Literary Life.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Promo: LAMAR'S FOLLY by Jeffrey Stuart Kerr

Jeffrey Stuart Kerr
  Genre: Texas Historical Fiction
on Twitter ┃ on Facebook
Date of Publication: November 15, 2017
Number of Pages: 320

Mirabeau Lamar seeks nothing less than a Texas empire that will dominate the North American continent. Brave exploits at the Battle of San Jacinto bring him rank, power, and prestige, which by 1838 propel him to the presidency of the young Republic of Texas and put him in position to achieve his dream. Edward Fontaine, who works for and idolizes Lamar, vows to help his hero overcome all obstacles, including the substantial power of Sam Houston. Houston and Lamar are not only political, but personal enemies, and each man regards the other with contempt.

Edward's slave Jacob likes and admires his master, but cannot share his hatred of Sam Houston. The loyalties of both Jacob and Edward are tested by President Lamar's belief that a righteous cause justifies any means necessary to sustain it. Lamar becomes infatuated with a married woman who resembles his deceased wife. He sends the woman's husband on the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition, the failure of which humiliates Lamar and provokes a crisis in his relationship with Edward, who in turn jeopardizes the trust that Jacob has placed in him. Edward laments the waste of Lamar's genius, while Jacob marvels at the hypocrisy of both men.

Jeffrey Stuart Kerr is the author of several titles, including Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas, winner of the Summerfield G. Roberts Award and a True West Best Western Book.

Author Interview
Author Interview

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR 11/13-19

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of November 13-19, 2017: 

Special Events:
Odessa Shakespeare Festival, November 17-18

2017 Wizard World Comic Con Austin, November 17-19

Ongoing Exhibits:

El Paso
The Black Orchid Lounge, The Barbed Wire Open Mic Series featuring A.N.T., 8PM
River Oaks Bookstore, Laura Bohn discusses and signs Laura Bohn: Ways of Seeing, 5PM

Wilchester Elementary School, Jeff Kinney will sign the newest book, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE GETAWAY, 4:30PM [sold out]

North Richland Hills
North Richland Hills Library, Writing Camp: The Business of Writing with local author Trakena Prevost, 6PM

San Antonio

UNT - Willis Library, Visiting Writers Series: Padma Viswanathan Q&A, 4PM

UNT - Sage Hall, Padma Viswanathan reads from her bestselling debut novel, The Toss of a Lemon, 8PM

B&N - Stonebriar, Jonathan Stokes signs Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan, 9AM

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

Murder By the Book, Michelle Hodkin will sign and discuss The Becoming of Noah Shaw, and C.C. Hunter will sign and discuss The Mortician's Daughter: One Foot in the Grave, 6:30PM

UH - MD Anderson Library, Poetry & Prose presents readings from Martha Serpas’s Eco Poetics Course, 5:30PM

Vidor Public Library, Alene Veatch Dunn will sign her new book Memories Of The Way It Was, 10AM

Thursday, November 16:
First United Methodist Church of Dallas, Arts & Letters Live presents Dan Rather discussing What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism with Krys Boyd of KERA's "Think," 7:30PM

SMU - Fondren Library, Friends of the SMU LIbraries presents David D. Kruger discussing and signing J. C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture, 6PM

The Wild Detectives, Anthony Chaney reads and signs Runaway: Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness, 7:30PM


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

The Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, an evening with Eric Metaxas, author of Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 7PM
San Angelo

Private residence, Dana Glossbrenner presents "One Writer's Trip: The Lark", 3:30PM
San Antonio
B&N - First Colony, Story time with local author Maria Ashworth, 10AM

University of Houston-Victoria, American Book Review Reading Series hosts Frederick Luis Aldama, 12PM

Friday, November 17:
B&N - Champions, Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling book signing with Jim Ross, 7PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, included poets read from and sign the Texas Poetry Calendar 2018, 5PM

Brazos Bookstore, James P. McCollom discusses and signs THE LAST SHERIFF IN TEXAS, 7PM

Rudyard's Pub, Gulf Coast Reading Series featuring Beth Ann Fennelly, Molly McCully Brown, Theodora Bishop, and Justin Jannise, 7PM

Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, award-winning poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi reads from and signs her new collection, Rocket Fantastic: Poems, 7:30PM

San Antonio

Interabang Books, James Haley reads and signs A DARKER SEA, 3PM

PDNB Gallery, Peter Brown and Joe Holley will speak about and read from their new book, Hometown Texas, 6PM

The Writer's Garret, Workshop: "Modes in Poems" with Natasha Sajé, Ph.D, 1PM

El Paso

El Paso Public Library - Memorial Park, Tumblewords Project Workshop: "Ripping the Veil: Images, Incantations, and the Creative Writer" with Daniel Chacón, 12:45PM

Galveston Bookshop, Bartee Haile signs Unforgettable Texans, 2PM

B&N - River Oaks, Joan Murray signs her devotional, I MUST Pray, 2PM

Half Price Books - Clear Lake, Local Author Saturdays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, while supplies last

Murder By the Book, Brandon Sanderson will sign and discuss Oathbringer, 2PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Johnnie Bernhard reads and signs A Good Girl, 3PM

Writespace, Workshop: Technical Writing with Andreana Binder, 1PM

B&N - NE Mall, Meet & Greet and book signing with Alan Elliott, author of Willie the Texas Longhorn, and Meet & Greet and book signing with Neil A. White, author of Closure: A Novel, 1PM

Port Neches
Fleur Fine Books, Meet & Greet with author Jake "Buddy" Saunders, and Meet & Greet and book signing with author Will Murray, 3PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Pam Canington signs I Went, I Saw, I Shared, 11AM

Sugar Land
Half Price Books, local author Elizabeth Dettling Moreno will sell and sign her children's book, Sancho the Silly Billy Goat, 1PM [plus story time at 3PM]

Sunday, November 19:
Brazos Bookstore, David Biespiel discusses and signs EDUCATION OF A YOUNG POET, 5PM

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, San Antonio Romance Authors signing with Priscilla Oliveras, J. Kenner, Holly Castillo, and LM Gonzalez, 2PM

Friday, November 10, 2017

Excerpt & Giveaway: CHICANO SOUL by Ruben Molina

Recordings and History of an American Culture
(Anniversary Edition)
Ruben Molina
  Genre: Music / Chicano History
on Twitter ┃ on Facebook
Date of Publication: September 15, 2017
Number of Pages: 160

In 2007, Ruben Molina published the first-ever history of Mexican-American soul and R&B music in his book, Chicano Soul: Recordings and History of an American Culture. Ten years later, Chicano Soul remains an important and oft-referenced study of this vital but often overlooked chapter of the greater American musical experience. Chicano soul music of the 1950s and 1960s still reverberates today, both within Chicano communities and throughout many musical genres. Molina tells the story of the roots of Chicano soul, its evolution, and its enduring cultural influence.

"Brown-eyed soul" music draws on 1950s era jazz, blues, jump blues, rock `n' roll, Latin jazz, and traditional Mexican music such as ranchera, norteño, and conjunto music. With its rare and gorgeous photos, record scans, concert bills, and impressive discography (to say nothing of its rich oral histories/interviews), it is one of those rare works that speaks to both general and academic audiences.

As a teen in the 1960s, Ruben Molina used to take a bus to Hollywood to shop for records, and his passion for vinyl never waned. As a dedicated community historian, Molina interviewed dozens of the artists whose music he loves. Much of Chicano soul music's recent recognition and renaissance can be traced directly to Molina. He has deejayed with the Southern Soul Spinners crew since 2010.

“[Chicano Soul} is nada if not revelatory… Molina seeks acknowledgement of this under-the-radar genre. With this book, he’ll get it. By linking the trail of Chicano soul bands to the route of the Mexican-American migrant workers across the United States as well as the migration of south-of-the-border families into Texas after the Mexican Revolution, the author presents a compelling account of rock and roll heroes literally unsung. Molina makes a case for teenagers who took their parents’ musical traditions, the trappings of black R&B bands with pop sensibilities, and channeled them into a vibrant sound that helped define the culture it sprang from.” —Austin Chronicle


EXCERPT from the Foreword by Alex La Rotta, in Chicano Soul

Oldies are forever. It’s a mantra. A credo. A maxim for diehard sweet soul enthusiasts from Los Angeles to London, Toronto to Tokyo, and beyond. Ruben Molina’s The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music (2002) and Chicano Soul: Recordings & History of an American Culture (2007) — its sacred texts. Not since Paul Oliver’s The Story of the Blues (1969) has a Book and author so distinctively revived a vintage and marginal American music culture from obscurity to widespread and cult-like revelry. What was once a niche collector’s category in the aughts and prior is a recognized subgenre in the twenty-tens: Chicano Soul. In the decade since its publication, Chicano Soul — like the long-lost recordings it so lovingly documents and historicizes — has itself become a collector’s item. Original copies highly-prized and sought after by record collectors, music aficionados, DJs, musicians, fans, and others. And, too, like much of the music in question: finally receiving its due reissuance. (Only this: a legitimate, not bootleg, reissuance.)
Its long-awaited return is timely. A brief review of the past ten years in popular music culture must surely include the massive reemergence of the vinyl music format (and its swift cooptation by the music industry); roots and vintage pop music revival (film/television soundtracks, documentaries, compilations, cultural histories, etc.); and the (ongoing) digital music revolution. Most notably, as it concerns the latter, one might also note the ascension of streaming media and video-sharing websites in democratizing and disseminating “rare groove” music of the analog past for broader audiences of the digital present. Further still, YouTube- and social media based soulero (sweet soul) DJs and record collector cliques build notoriety as prized possessors of rare Chicano Soul records to wide acclaim — much of which builds on Molina’s foundation. While the diffusion of music and cultural history in the past decade has broadened, the appreciation of this specific brand of soul music has expanded in tandem. You know it as the West Side Sound, the East Side Sound, Brown-Eyed Soul, Latin Soul, Lowrider Oldies, even rock en español — all components of the vast domain of mid-century Chicano Soul music culture principally documented in Molina’s work. And a book that remains today the only single monograph devoted to the subject.
            More importantly, Chicano Soul challenges the assumptions and stereotypes of what “Latin music” could or should be in both popular culture and preceding musical-historical analyses: tropical, exotic, and almost always, distinctly foreign. Unequivocally, this music is none. It is, as the subtitle denotes, an American culture. Molina’s meticulous documentation of over 400 Mexican-American musicians/rock-and-roll combos spanning the American Southwest (née Aztlán) — and their collective thousands of independent recordings — deserves recognition if just for its impressive magnitude. But it’s the paradigm shift that Chicano Soul, and other recent works from such scholars as Deborah Vargas, Roberto Avant-Mier, Anthony Macias, Josh Kun, and Deborah Pacini Hernández, among others, provides for the current discourse on racial identity, hybridity, and the origins of American popular music that warrant as much praise. In part, a response to the tired narrative surrounding America’s supposed black/white racial binary and the forging of a national culture. Yes: Chicanos made soul music. Lots of it. And it’s damn good, too.

As a teen in the 1960s, Ruben Molina used to take a bus to Hollywood to shop for records, and his passion for vinyl never waned. As a dedicated community historian, Molina interviewed dozens of the artists whose music he loved. Much of Chicano soul music’s recent recognition and renaissance can be traced directly to Molina. He has deejayed with the Southern Soul Spinners crew since 2010.



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