Thursday, May 31, 2018


I reviewed The Texas Liberators: Veteran Narratives from World War II (Texas Tech University Press), edited by Aliza Wong, for Lone Star Literary Life. "The importance of witnessing, the necessity of not looking away, cannot be overstated."

Edited by Aliza S. Wong, with foreword by Ron Milam, and photography by Mark Umstot
The Texas Liberators: Veteran Narratives from World War II
Texas Tech University Press
Hardcover, 978-1-6828-3024-6, 160 pgs., $29.95
December 15, 2017

During a trip to Israel in May 2015, I wept my way through Yad Vashem: World Holocaust Center, Jerusalem. Yad Vashem (in Hebrew: “a monument and a name”) is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, a 44.5-acre complex consisting of the Holocaust History Museum, the Children’s Memorial, the Hall of Remembrance, the Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, the Valley of the Communities, a synagogue, a research institute with archives, a library, a publishing house, and the International School/Institute for Holocaust Studies. You enter the Children’s Memorial in pitch darkness, then emerge into a large room filled with pinpricks of light like stars in the night sky. Each star represents a dead child.

On December 11, 1941, Nazi Germany declared war against the United States. Before World War II finally ended on September 2, 1945, the U.S. would engage in “total war” against the Axis powers of Japan, Germany, and Italy, and almost sixty million people would die. Among those dead would be more than six million Jews, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, communists, political prisoners, and “common” criminals, murdered by the Third Reich in slave-labor and concentration camps.

More than ten million American men were inducted into the military. Of these veterans, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission’s Texas Liberator Project has identified, as of the date of publication of this book, more than three hundred men who were members of the five Texas military units that took part in the liberation of forty-three different death camps. Among the camps liberated by Americans, including my grandfather John Merritt, were Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Mauthausen, and Landsberg, one of eleven subcamps of Dachau.

The Texas Liberators: Veteran Narratives from World War II is edited by Dr. Aliza S. Wong, associate professor of history at Texas Tech University; Dr. Ron Milam, associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, penned the foreword; Lubbock photographer Mark Umstot took the veterans’ portraits. Together these three have created a somberly beautiful coffee-table volume which collects the eyewitness testimony of twenty-one Texas servicemen who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II.

The debate about how much the U.S. government knew about Germany’s plans to exterminate European Jews continues, though The New York Times reported on the Chelmno camp as early as July 1942. Most of the veterans interviewed for The Texas Liberators did not know what to expect, and some would break into tears these many decades later when recounting their memories.

Umstot’s portraits, some in extreme close-up, are profoundly touching and eerily personal. The black-and-white photographs on heavy, glossy stock, some accompanied by the veterans’ military portraits, document dignity in each wrinkle, and provoke wonder at the twinkle in eyes that have witnessed the worst we can do to each other— “bodies stacked like cordwood … laid out like a parking lot.”

The importance of witnessing, the necessity of not looking away, cannot be overstated. Thank you for your service.

To learn more please visit

Monday, May 28, 2018


Patriotism means loving your country enough to gaze at it with eyes wide open, to appreciate and celebrate the good, and to examine that which must be improved with honesty and introspection. Then you get to work to fix what is broken, especially in times like these. Most importantly, vote. Call your representatives, write to them, attend the local meetings of those who still have them, march, sit-in, protest. It's our responsibility to stand against those who run roughshod over the Constitution and dishonor our veterans daily by attempting to destroy what our veterans fought to save.

It is Memorial Day here in the United States of America. Today we remember our fallen and their families. We remember that our beloved country exists today thanks to the convictions and bravery of men and women willing to fight to the last for what should be universal truths.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed - Declaration of Independence
In keeping with the literary theme of this blog, I offer you an essay by Lt. General William James Lennox, Jr., MA and PhD in Literature from Princeton University and fifty-sixth Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, on teaching literature and poetry to soldiers.

Romance and Reality
By Lt. Gen. William James Lennox Jr. 
As I write this, American soldiers serve in harm's way in places such as Mosul, Fallujah, and Jalalabad. For young leaders in today's Army, the war on terror constitutes a difficult and sometimes tragic reality.

Meanwhile, in the small classrooms of West Point, young cadets consider war through the eyes of Rudyard Kipling, Carl Sandburg, and John McCrae. During his or her plebe year, every West Point cadet takes a semester of English literature, reading and discussing poetry from Ovid to Owen, Spenser to Springsteen ("Thunder Road" provides a catalogue of poetic devices). Cadets must also recite poems from memory, a challenge that many graduates recall years later as one of their toughest hurdles.

Like warfare, poetry can result from the collision between romance and reality, as the ironic title of Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" memorably observes. So too, our new cadets arrive full of romantic idealism, then spend the next forty-seven months at the Academy learning the pragmatic realities of discipline, integrity, and leadership.

Why, in an age of increasingly technical and complex warfare, would America's future combat leaders spend sixteen weeks studying the likes of simile, irony, rhyme, and meter?

Those who can't communicate can't lead. Poetry, because it describes reality with force and concision, provides an essential tool for effective communication. Like most colleges, West Point emphasizes both verbal and written communication skills, and our faculty evaluates cadets on their substance, style, organization, and correctness. In studying poetry, cadets gain a unique appreciation for the power of language. From alliteration to onomatopoeia, the poet's tools allow words to transcend the limitations of syntax. We may hear that transcendence in Shakespeare's imagery and Whitman's passion, but it is there as well in the closing cadence of MacArthur's farewell: "when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps, and the corps." We do not hold our cadets to this standard of stentorian elegance; we do, however, teach them to appreciate what makes this language different.

Second, poetry confronts cadets with new ideas that challenge their worldview. The West Point curriculum includes poetry, history, philosophy, politics, and law, because these subjects provide a universe of new ideas, different perspectives, competing values and conflicting emotions. In combat, our graduates face similar challenges: whether to fire at a sniper hiding in a mosque, or how to negotiate agreements between competing tribal leaders. Schoolbook solutions to these problems do not exist; combat leaders must rely on their own morality, their own creativity, their own wits. In teaching cadets poetry, we teach them not what to think, but how to think.

Finally, poetry gives our cadets a new and vital way to see the world, a world that many of my generation could not have imagined. When I entered West Point in the summer of 1967, Academy graduates were waging a very Cold War in central Europe and a very hot war in the jungles of Southeast Asia. In the thirty-eight years since, countless changes, some magnificent and some tragic, have shaped a very different future for my grandson.

Often, these tectonic shifts in history and society resist clear exposition, particularly when these shifts involve armed conflict. Louis Simpson noted this elusiveness when he wrote:

To a foot soldier, war is almost entirely physical. That is why some men, when they think about war, fall silent. Language seems to falsify physical life and to betray those who have experienced it absolutely—the dead.
Since the Iliad, poetry has allowed its writers to capture wars chaos and horror with a power that other artists lacked. One can, for example, read a hundred accounts of the Crimean War, but none of them will convey its pointless barbarity like Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade." Those few stanzas convey the romance and reality of warfare more clearly than any other medium.

We may not produce a poet laureate at the United States Military Academy. If, however, we develop graduates who can communicate clearly, think critically, and appreciate the world through different perspectives, we will provide the Army and the nation with better leaders.
Originally Published: March 1, 2006, Poetry Magazine

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR May 28-June 3, 2018

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of May 28-June 3, 2018: 

Special Events:
Elena Gallego Rare Books Pop-up Shop, San Antonio, May 19-June 3

Ongoing Exhibits:
Routine Fables, Houston, May 25-July 29

Monday, May 28:
Central Presbyterian Church, MICHAEL POLLAN speaking and signing How to Change Your Mind, 7PM [ticketed event]

Spiderhouse Ballroom, Austin Poetry Slam featuring the Dallas Poetry Slam, 7PM

Interabang Books, Stephanie Tornatore & Adam Bannon present HEALTHY MEAL PREP, 7PM

El Paso
The Black Orchid Lounge, The Barbed Wire Open Mic Series, 8PM

North Richland Hills
The Mix, PuroSlam with DJ Donnie Dee, 9:30PM

Wednesday, May 30:
Dallas Museum of Art, Arts & Letters Live hosts French literature professor, fashion historian, and acclaimed author Dr. Caroline Weber discussing her newest book, Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin de Siecle Paris, 7:30PM

B&N - Stonebriar, Reign the Earth (The Elementae Series #1) book signing with A. C. Gaughen, and The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I book signing with Carolyn Mackler, 7PM

Parish Episcopal School- Midway Campus, the World Affairs Council of DFW hosts former national security director James Clapper discussing and signing Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, 7PM

Brazos Bookstore, Poetry: Robin Reagler and Martha Serpas, 7PM

Poison Girl Bar, Poison Pen Reading Series featuring Karyna McGlynn, Analicia Sotelo & Nancy Reddy, 8:30PM

The Hope Center, Critical Conversations Speaker Series: Michele Rigby Assad, author of Breaking Cover: My Secret Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me About What’s Worth Fighting For, 7PM

San Antonio
Carmens De La Calle Café, Jazz & Poetry w/Purpose, 7:30PM

The Twig Book Shop, poet David Eye reading and signing Seed, 5PM

Sugar Land
Friday, June 1:
Clarence Muse Cafe Theatre, Poets 'n Jazz #5 with ZEMILL and VERB KULTURE, 9PM

Brazos Bookstore, Poetry: Nancy Reddy reading from ACADIANA & Lauren Berry reading from THE LIFTING DRESS, 7PM

Inprint House, First Friday Poetry Reading Series presents Saba Husain, 8:30PM

Murder By the Book, Aaron Mahnke will sign and discuss The World of Lore: Wicked Mortals, 6:30PM

Saturday, June 2:
BookPeople, BILL KILDAY speaking & signing Never Lost Again (followed by a scavenger hunt), 2PM

BookPeople, JENNIFER DONALDSON speaking & signing Lies You Never Told Me, 6PM

Half Price Books - N. Lamar, local author Christy Decker will sell and sign her novel Final 42, 1PM

Burrowing Owl Bookstore, Kathie Campbell Greer signing Sliding for Home, 11AM

Clarence Muse Cafe Theatre, Poets 'n Jazz #5 with ZEMILL and VERB KULTURE, 9PM

Interabang Books, Clotilde Dusoulier discussing and signing TASTING PARIS, 7PM

El Paso
Half Price Books - North Oaks, Local Author Saturdays: Meet local Indie authors and pick up their latest release, while supplies last

San Antonio
Sunday, June 3:
BookPeople, LEWIS SMITH speaking & signing The Gnostic Library, 2PM

Deep Vellum Books, Trey Moody & Melissa Cundieff - Poetry Reading, 3PM

The Foundry Club, Writing Workshops Dallas seminar: "How to Find Your Plot: A Storytelling Seminar" with J.R. Forasteros, 3PM

Saturday, May 26, 2018


I reviewed A People's History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel (Mulholland Books) by San Antonio attorney Raymond A. Villareal for Lone Star Literary Life. I had high hopes for this one, y'all, but those hopes were dashed.

Raymond A. Villareal
A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel
Mulholland Books
Hardcover, 978-1-3165-6168-6 (also available as an e-book and audio book), 432 pgs., $27.00
June 5, 2018
“These pages are compiled for everyone: those who lived through this time, and those who did not survive. I hope … they give you meaningful perspective.” (signature redacted)
A body exhibiting the sort of intradermal contusions affiliated with hemophilia, but no other signs of trauma, is discovered outside Nogales, Arizona. When the state crime lab reports unidentifiable substances in a hair sample from the body, the town coroner, fearing something Ebola-like, reports the curious findings to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When Dr. Lauren Scott, a research physician with the CDC, arrives in Nogales, the first body is gone but another has been found with identical symptoms. Dr. Scott discovers two tiny puncture wounds in the neck of this second body.

What happened to the first body, you ask? It got up and walked out.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel, the first book from San Antonio attorney Raymond A. Villareal, is apocalyptic dystopia, a very popular genre. Unfortunately, it reads like a mashup of “The Walking Dead,” “True Blood,” and The Da Vinci Code.

Villareal begins with a decent concept. The vamps in Villareal’s world are called “Gloamings,” presumably because twilight is the time of day when it’s safe for them to emerge. They are carriers of what the government calls the Nogales organic blood illness (NOBI). The Gloamings possess all of the classic vampire traits—speed, strength, hypnotic abilities. The author does an admirable job of relating current societal ills to the vampires: fake news, social media, polarized politics, and conspiracy theories. Law enforcement is accused of unnecessary force. Lobbyists appear. An equal-rights bill is passed. Certain religious denominations excommunicate members who become Gloamings, but the Buddhists are cool with it.

Consider: Should vampires, with their enhanced physical attributes, be allowed into the Olympics? Would their lifespans make them the ultimate astronauts? Do they qualify as a protected class under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the American with Disabilities Act? Naturally, celebrities (Taylor Swift!), tech billionaires, and hedge fund managers “re-create” intentionally. Pursuits take place in Texas locales like Marfa and Houston, though with little local detail to reward the reader’s interest.

Though wildly imaginative, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is enamored of its own cleverness, including footnotes and appendices, an affectation for which I blame David Foster Wallace. Clumsy execution hampers Villareal’s creativity. The dialogue is mundane and odd word choices and nonsensical similes are distracting. Vampire Patient Zero “moves like a cat” while “lurching” toward Dr. Scott. The handcuffs snap off “like wet paper.”

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising failed to hold my attention. The story is related in a compilation of various newspaper reports, magazine articles, blog posts, congressional testimony, interrogation transcripts, and interviews of eyewitnesses. Because the story is told in bits and pieces, the narrative arc is nonexistent. On the other hand, the obstructed narrative flow does mimic the process by which information is disseminated, and images created, in the twenty-first century. The staccato style also precludes any emotional investment in Villareal’s characters. I was briefly cheered when Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) appeared but, fierce and entertaining as she is, she can’t rescue the story alone.

If you like horror, and vampires in particular, I recommend In the Valley of the Sun (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017) by Andy Davidson. The anonymous compiler of this history, whose note began this review, hopes in vain.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Giveaway & Guest Post: Eliza Maxwell, author of THE WIDOW'S WATCHER

Genre: Literary Fiction/Gothic 
Publisher: Lake Union Press
Date of Publication: March 29, 2018
Number of Pages: 286

Scroll down for the giveaway!

From Eliza Maxwell, the bestselling author of The Unremembered Girl, comes a gripping novel about the mysteries that haunt us and the twists of fate that can unravel them…

Living in the shadow of a decades-old crime that stole his children from him, reclusive Lars Jorgensen is an unlikely savior. But when a stranger walks onto the ice of a frozen Minnesota lake, her intentions are brutally clear, and the old man isn’t about to let her follow through.

Jenna Shaw didn’t ask for Lars’s help, nor does she want it. After he pulls her from the brink, however, Jenna finds her desire to give up challenged by their unlikely friendship. In Jenna, Lars recognizes his last chance for redemption. And in her quest to solve the mysteries of Lars’s past and bring him closure, Jenna may find the way out of her own darkness.

But the truth that waits threatens to shatter it all. When secrets are surrendered and lies are laid bare, Jenna and Lars may find that accepting the past isn’t their greatest challenge. Can they afford the heartbreaking price of forgiveness?

"There was a moment I had to tell myself that this is just a book..." 

-- Goodreads reviewer

"A well-paced story of healing, forgiveness and tragedy, with enough unexpected twists to keep readers guessing.”
-- Amber Cowie, author of Rapid Falls



Guest Post by Eliza Maxwell

At some unknown point last year, the stereo in my car gave up and died.
In the midst of the chaos my children inherently trail in their wake, it nearly went unnoticed. Like many parents, I spend my days navigating a fluid list of things that need attention. They range from, “Buy groceries or it’ll be broken tortilla chips from the bottom of the bag and gum for dinner again,” to the really important things like, “Purge kids’ rooms of junk while they’re not home and can’t spear me on the twin javelins of betrayal and their unholy attachment to all things plastic.”
Getting the car radio fixed couldn’t compete and fell into the abyss of all things “low priority”, along with other stuff I’m never going to do and won’t admit. Things like organizing the sock drawer based on what gives me joy—each pair matched, gently rolled, and tucked into designated cubicles, serial killer style.
To my amazement, and without intention, that broken radio opened the door for something magical to happen.
At least during the hours the kids were in school, silence reigned supreme.
The noise was pushed back and in the space left behind my mind wandered wherever the hell it felt like wandering. And in the middle of that new-found peace, one scene bloomed, whole and complete.
Just one, but it was the one. The one I couldn’t let go of. The one that demanded a frantic search for the rest of the story to frame it. The one that brought me to ugly tears in the middle of traffic. The one that, after umpteen drafts and edits and proofreads, still brings me to tears.

Those tears, of joy and grief and regret and hopefulness, all mixed up and swirling together, became the touchstone of a new novel.
The Widow’s Watcher releases on May 29, 2018, and I cannot wait! I have zero hesitation admitting it’s my favorite of the books I’ve written so far.

I’m not going to tell you which scene came first, but if you read the book, I trust you’ll have a pretty good guess.

Eliza Maxwell lives in Texas with her ever-patient husband and two kids. She's an artist and writer, an introvert and a British cop drama addict. She loves nothing more than to hear from readers.



Three Winners! 1ST PRIZE: Signed Copy + $25 Amazon Gift Card
2ND PRIZE: Signed Copy + $10 Amazon Gift Card
3RD PRIZE: Signed Copy
MAY 22-31, 2018
(U.S. Only)


Book Trailer
Guest Post
Notable Quotable
Author Interview
Notable Quotable
Deleted Scene
Top Five List
BONUS Review

   blog tour services provided by


Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday Roundup: TEXAS LITERARY CALENDAR May 21-27, 2018

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of May 21-27, 2018: 

Special Events:
New Ideas 2: A Festival of New Plays, Dallas, May 18-26

Elena Gallego Rare Books Pop-up Shop, San Antonio, May 19-June 3

Boldface Conference, Houston, May 21-25

Comicpalooza, Houston, May 25-27

Ongoing Exhibits:

Dallas Museum of Art, Arts & Letters Live presents award-winning author Michael Ondaatje discussing his new novel, Warlight, with author Bret Anthony Johnston, director of the Michener Center for Writers, 7:30PM

Half Price Books - The Mothership, Katherine Center reading and signing How to Walk Away, 7PM [numbered-pass event]

The Mix, PuroSlam, 9:30PM

The Twig Book Shop, Barbara Ras and Kathy Fagan Poetry Reading, 6PM

Deep Vellum Books, Nonfiction Authors Association DFW Monthly Meetup, 7PM

Interabang Books, Amy Poeppel reading and signing LIMELIGHT, 7PM

The Wild Detectives, Ijeoma Oluo discussing and signing So You Want to Talk about Race, 7:30PM

Fort Worth
The Fort Worth Club, The World Affairs Council of DFW hosts Bret Baier discussing and signing Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, 11:30AM

B&N - Vanderbilt Square, In My Hands: Compelling Stories from a Surgeon and His Patients Fighting Cancer book signing with Steven A. Curley, 12PM

Brazos Bookstore, Dickson Lam reading and signing PAPER SONS, 7PM

Katy Budget Books, Summer Slam for teens and kids, 6PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Michael Eason discussing and signing Wildflowers of Texas, 5PM

San Antonio

Friday, May 25:

Kaboom Books, Poetry of the Imagination: A Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Reading, 7PM

Library Coffee and Wine House, Xone Poetry presents Rhythmz II: Spring 'n da Groove, 7PM

Saturday, May 26:
River Oaks Bookstore, poetry and art with Mong-Lan, 3PM

B&N - San Pedro, Ned Wolf signing Nandia's Children, 4PM

Imagine Books & Records, Dali's Mustache: Poetry and Music, 8PM

The Twig Book Shop, Kevin Greenblat signing Plant Life of Western Texas, 11AM

B&N, The Truck That Could Not Move book signing with Rosemarie Swadley Davis, 2PM

Sunday, May 27: