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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