Thursday, August 30, 2018


I reviewed Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen (St. Martin's Press) for Lone Star Literary Life. " Bird ... imagin[es] a singular voice, life, and love for a historical figure about which little is known. I fervently hope most of it could be true."

Sarah Bird
Daughter of a Daughter of a QueenSt. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, 978-1-2501-9316-2 (also available as an e-book and an audiobook), 416 pgs., $27.99
September 4, 2018
“Girls want marvelous adventures just as much as boys do.” —L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz
“Here’s the first thing you should know about Miss Cathy Williams,” Sarah Bird writes. “I am the daughter of the daughter of a queen and my mama never let me forget it.”

Williams was born a captive prisoner of war — never a slave — on a Missouri tobacco farm. Her mother raised an intelligent, resilient, fierce warrior-woman, nurturing Williams with tales of an African grandmother who was a warrior-wife of the Leopard King.

In the waning days of the Civil War, Williams is plucked from the farm by Maj. Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan to be a helper for his cook. Traveling with and feeding the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps engenders a sense of purpose in Williams, and she sees joining the Buffalo Corps at the end of the Civil War as the only option for a life of independence and honor. Although the trials and tribulations of hiding her gender are many, myriad, and dangerous, Williams is lifted and transported by “that feeling of being part of something fine and strong and a whole lot bigger and more important than [she].”

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen is new fiction from Austin’s Sarah Bird. She is the author of ten previous bestselling, critically acclaimed, and award-winning books: nine novels and one book of autobiographical essays titled A Love Letter to Texas Women. Bird has written for NY Times Sunday Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Salon, Texas Observer, and Texas Monthly, among other outlets.

She was also a screenwriter for ten years, working for Paramount, CBS, Warner Bros, National Geographic, ABC, TNT, and independent producers. In 2015 she was selected for the Meryl Streep/Oprah Winfrey Screenwriters’ Lab. In addition, Bird has the splendid distinction of having been disinvited to speak to the Texas Lege.

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, described as a “tribute in fiction,” is a creative and immersive imagining of the life of Cathy Williams, the first woman to enlist in the peacetime U.S. Army, and the only woman to serve, from 1866 to 1868, with the Buffalo Soldiers. Written in first-person narration, Williams is determined to set the record of her life straight after a reporter insinuates that her claim of having served with the Buffalo Soldiers was quite the fib.

The pace is quick and steady, with plot twists aplenty packed into cleverly constructed architecture. The amount of research required for an epic of rich historical detail is daunting and Bird has performed rigorously. A multifaceted talent, she had me variously chuckling, gasping aloud, rubbing the chill bumps on my arms, and holding my breath.

Bird’s characters come alive on the page, especially Williams, who has a sharp eye for the absurd and a righteous sense of injustice, and is unafraid to call a thing by its name. Referencing her little sister who, Williams tells us, “if she had a scrap of cloth and a walnut, would turn it into a baby doll and glue moss to if for hair. Me? I’d blow my nose on the scrap of cloth, crack the walnut open and eat it.”

Williams’ mother told her she was “meant for better than to be a brood sow for some short-weight plowboy.” Bird obliges, imagining a singular voice, life, and love for a historical figure about which little is known. I fervently hope most of it could be true.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Interview & Giveaway: Kristin Billerbeck, author of THE THEORY OF HAPPILY EVER AFTER


  Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: May 1, 2018
Number of Pages: 288

Scroll down for Giveaway!

According to Dr. Maggie Maguire, happiness is serious—serious science, that is. But science can’t always account for life’s anomalies, like why her fiancé dumped her for a silk-scarf acrobat and how the breakup sent Maggie spiraling into an extended ice cream–fueled chick flick binge.

Concerned that she might never pull herself out of this nosedive, Maggie’s friends book her as a speaker on a “New Year, New You” cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. Maggie wonders if she’s qualified to teach others about happiness when she can’t muster up any for herself. But when a handsome stranger on board insists that smart women can’t ever be happy, Maggie sets out to prove him wrong. Along the way she may discover that happiness has far less to do with the head than with the heart.

Filled with unforgettable characters, snappy dialogue, and touching romance, The Theory of Happily Ever After shows that the search for happiness may be futile—because sometimes happiness is already out there searching for you.

“. . .the sweet will-they-or-won’t-they of Sam and Maggie’s courtship will please readers. . .”
                        --Publishers Weekly

“Billerbeck returns with a light Christian chick-lit novel just in time for the summer beach-read season, taking on stereotypes of femininity, intellect, and worth within an exciting cruise-ship setting with plenty of sunshine and gelato.”

“Billerbeck’s latest is full of memorable characters and witty dialogue. . . .The overall story reminds the reader that sometimes happiness will find you, no matter what you may do to avoid it.”
--RT Book Reviews  Four Star Review


Where did your love of storytelling come from?
Growing up, I had a brother who was very ill. He was in and out of the hospital, and I spent a lot of time waiting and by myself. I made up stories to make the time pass quicker.  Stanford Children’s Council used to have a grove of Eucalyptus trees behind it. While my brother was in therapy, I would be breathing in the deep scent and imagining I was somewhere else. 

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader until my freshman year in high school when I discovered Jane Austen. I devoured everything she’d written, and my love of reading was born. That year, the BBC had a “Masterpiece Theatre” of “Pride and Prejudice.” Long before Colin Firth, I first fell for David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy. In truth, I loved him so much that I didn’t watch the Colin version for years. Now it’s my favorite version.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I had two children. I now have four and they’re all adults. How frightening is that? My first book was published in 1997.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
I would have to say humor. I really believe that laughter is the best medicine, and I always try to keep a smile on my face no matter how tough life gets. I also feel things too deeply, so I can’t take too much blood/violence. I want to believe in upright people and that good will always triumph. I try to reflect that underlying message in my books. There’s enough unfairness in the world.

What is your favorite quote?
Not surprisingly, it’s a Bible quote. In my lifetime, I’ve really been hurt and betrayed by Christians and people in the church. This verse reminds me that God sees all and just because someone says they’re Christian, it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. This verse reminds me that God knows the heart, so even if someone is doing a fabulous ministry for the wrong motives, God takes note. It reminds me to have the right motives. 
“All a person's ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Proverbs 16:2 NIV 
What did you find most useful in learning to write for publication? What was least useful and most destructive?
Listen. Be humble. Published authors and publishers know something about what sells books. If you’ve heard a piece of advice, take it to heart. That being said, I’d also remind you to listen to your gut. Sometimes, advice is bad, but if you’re getting it from more than one place? It’s probably worth listening to. 

The worst piece of advice I got was that I had to write a certain way. Everyone’s process is his or her own. If someone tells you that only this method will work for publication, that’s not the truth. I’m an intuitive writer. I sit down and let the characters speak to me. Figure out what kind of writer you are, and get those pages written.

What was the hardest part of writing, The Theory of Happily Ever After?
My character is smarter than me. So I had to do a lot of research and talk with people who are, indeed, smarter than me. I think my next heroine might have a more basic vocation than happiness researcher.

What do you like to read in your free time?
I am all about character studies, so I love a good memoir or biography. Finding out what makes people tick is the reason I write.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I’d be invisible, so I could get the whole story every time.

Kristin Billerbeck is the author of more than thirty novels, including What a Girl Wants and the Ashley Stockingdale and Spa Girls series. She is a fourth-generation Californian who loves her state and the writing fodder it provides.


GRAND PRIZE: Copy of The Theory of Happily Ever After + Bookish Beach Towel, Tumbler, & Book Sleeve
2ND PRIZE: Copy of The Theory of Happily Ever After
+ $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
3RD PRIZE: Copy of The Theory of Happily Ever After
+ $10 Starbucks Gift Card
August 22-31, 2018

Excerpt, Part 1
Excerpt, Part 2
Scrapbook Page
Author Interview

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday Roundup: Texas Literary Calendar for August 27-September 2, 2018

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of August 27-September 2, 2018: 

Special Events:
Explore Other Worlds with Smith County Libraries, Tyler, September 1

Lone Star Zine Fest, Austin, September 2

Ongoing Exhibits:
Oliver Jeffers: 15 Years of Picturing Books, Abilene, June 7-September 30

Monday, August 27:
Spiderhouse Ballroom, Austin Poetry Slam IWPS finals, 7:15PM

B&N - Lincoln Park, Magic Triumphs book signing with Ilona Andrews, 7PM
The Black Labrador, Houston Writers House meeting: Jennifer Pallanich will talk about collaborative writing, 6:30PM

Murder By the Book, Steve Hamilton will sign and discuss Dead Man Running, 6:30PM

San Antonio
The Mix, PuroSlam Anything Goes Slam, 9:30PM

The Twig Book Shop, Daniel Bjork reading and signing Deadly Crossroads, 5PM

Wednesday, August 29:

BookWoman, P.A. Barrick reading and signing Mtaitw, 7PM

Spiderhouse Ballroom, Storytelling: Testify presents "Chemistry," 7:30PM

SEAD Gallery & Bookshop, Author Talk with Bob Pankey, 6:30PM

Burrowing Owl Books, High Plains Poetry Circle, 7PM

Wild Salsa, The Writer's Garret hosts "Dine Out. Do Good. Back-to-School Fundraising Dinner," 5PM

El Paso
B-17 Bombers Oyster Pub, Barbed Wire Open Mic Series, 7PM


Murder By the Book, J.T. Ellison will sign and discuss Tear Me Apart, 6:30PM

Sugar Land

B&N - Sunland Park, Félix Valenzuela signing The Salsa Culture Invades America, 2PM


Sunday, August 26, 2018


foreword by Bill Hobby

  Genre: Memoir / Texana / Politics / Eastern European History
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
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Date of Publication: April 16, 2018
Number of Pages: 336 pages w/50 B&W photos

As a boy in Houston, Bill Sarpalius, his brothers, and their mother lived an itinerant life. Bill dug food out of trashcans, and he and his brothers moved from one school to the next. They squatted in a vacant home while their mother, affectionately called “Honey,” battled alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. In an act of desperation, she handed her three sons over to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch north of Amarillo.

At the time, Bill was thirteen years old and could not read. Life at Boys Ranch had its own set of harrowing challenges, however. He found himself living in fear of some staff and older boys. He became involved in Future Farmers of America and discovered a talent for public speaking. When he graduated, he had a hundred dollars and no place to go. He worked hard, earned a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and obtained a college degree. After a brief career as a teacher and in agribusiness, he won a seat in the Texas Senate. Driven by the memory of his suffering mother, he launched the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in an effort to help people struggling with addiction.

Sarpalius later served in the United States Congress. As a Lithuanian American, he took a special interest in that nation’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union. For his efforts, Sarpalius received the highest honor possible to a non-Lithuanian citizen and was named a “Grand Duke.”

The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir—the story of a life full of unlikely paths that is at once heartbreaking and inspirational.


“The autobiography of Bill Sarpalius reads like a 20 -century version of the American dream – equal parts heartbreak and inspiration, culminating in an unlikely political career capped by three terms in the U.S. Congress.” -- University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs

The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is an inspiring tale of perseverance and personal courage.” -- Si Dunn, Lone Star Literary Life


(used with permission)

In the first chapter of his memoir, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch, former U.S. representative Bill Sarpalius describes the first few days after he arrived at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. 

Mr. Peggram checked his watch and said it was almost time for dinner and that he’d give us a ride to the dining hall. The dining hall was one large room with about fifty round tables, eight chairs to each table. Hundreds of coat hooks lined the walls. At the center of the front wall was a stage. The kitchen was on one side of the stage, and the dishwashing room was on the other. Mr. Peggram showed us the cafeteria line, where we filled our plates with food, then we followed him to a table where four boys were already seated. They also lived in Jim Hill dorm. Of all thirty-six boys in Jim Hill, these four were the only ones who hadn’t gone home for Christmas. As we ate, the four boys introduced themselves and answered the many questions we asked.
As we walked back toward the dorm after dinner, Mr. Peggram pulled up in the same station wagon we rode to Boys Ranch in and asked if we wanted to go bowling or see a movie in Amarillo. All seven of us scrambled in, and Mr. Peggram drove us the thirty-six miles to the bowling alley in Amarillo. We bowled for hours and then slept in the station wagon on the way back. We had a great first day, and I thought this was the beginning of something very special in our lives. As I dozed off to sleep, I could see myself riding a horse with a new pair of boots and a cowboy hat.
The next morning after breakfast, Mr. Peggram took us to a country store to get our new clothes. All I could think about was a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. The country store was a small white building behind the dining hall. Our “new clothes” were khaki army fatigues that had been donated from the air base in Amarillo. They were too big and didn’t fit well, but they were free. Each of us was given two pairs of pants and two shirts. We also got one pair of dress slacks, a dress shirt, and dress shoes to wear only to church or trips to Amarillo. Then we were fitted with army brogans: brown high-top shoes with leather laces. We were each issued four pairs of socks and underwear and two T-shirts.
When I asked Mr. Peggram when we’d get a cowboy hat and a pair of cowboy boots, he chuckled and answered, “When you have the money to buy them.”
He labeled all our clothes in red ink with our own laundry numbers, explaining that this was to identify our clothes from the other 350 boys at the ranch when the clothes came back from the laundry. My number was JH83. Bobby and Karl each had their own numbers.
I asked Mr. Peggram when I would get to ride a horse. He laughed and said that later that afternoon, I could go to the horse barn and wait in line to ride a horse. That was all I could think about the entire day. I wanted to ride that horse and pretend I was a cowboy. At 1:00 p.m., I hurried down a dirt road flanked by cottonwood trees to a cinder-block building. There were horse stalls on one side and dairy cow pens on the other side. Standing in line behind several boys, I waited for my turn to pick a horse to ride. A clipboard had a list of the horses’ names with a blank line next to each one. I had to select a horse and sign my name on the line. Turning to the boy behind me, I asked which horse to pick. He said to choose the horse named Sleepy because he was slow. Sleepy was the horse they used to teach boys to ride. Another boy helped me pick out a bridle and saddle, showing me how to strap it on the horse. I mounted Sleepy, rode for more than an hour, and fell in love.
I returned to my dorm that afternoon, fell into my bunk bed, and thought about how wonderful it was to be at Boys Ranch. I had a bed, new clothes, and fresh fruit by the door. We went bowling, and I got to ride a horse for the first time. Life could not be any better. Although I missed my mother, Boys Ranch was perfect for my brothers and me. I fell to sleep wondering if my mother was OK. I was twelve years old and had gone to sleep many times worrying about my mother. I had seen her drinking get worse each night for years. She had become very depressed and had tried several times to take her own life. She was my mother, and to me she was the best mother in the world. I knew deep inside she was struggling and that her sons were her life—it must have been so painful knowing she had to give us up and that she could not provide for us. That must have made her feel like a complete failure.
Two days later our lives at Boys Ranch changed when more than two hundred boys returned to the ranch. The dorm parents searched everyone’s luggage and clothes, looking for cigarettes, cash, and other contraband.
Before dinner, some boys started walking throughout the dorm yelling, “Muster!” I reported immediately to the living room. Mr. Peggram stood in the center of the big room as all the boys hurried to grab a seat on the couches along the walls.
As Mr. Peggram read the names of each boy in the dorm in alphabetical order, each boy responded, “Here, sir!” After he read all the names, he asked Bobby and me to stand. He introduced us to the group, and the boys clapped to make us feel welcome. We were referred to as the “new boys,” a nickname for boys who were new to the ranch.
After muster we walked to the dining hall, where we were assigned permanent seats at a table. Bobby’s table was next to mine, and we searched for Karl. He had just moved into the dorm for younger boys and knew no one. At least Bobby and I had each other. When I spotted my little brother, I hurried to his table to ask how he was doing. A man yelled at me, ordering me back to my seat. Karl began to cry. That man told Karl to shut up and sit down. As I walked back to my chair, I began to realize we were now living in a different Boys Ranch.

Karl, Bill, and Bobby Sarpalius, first week at Boys Ranch

BILL SARPALIUS represented the Texas 13th Congressional District from 1989 to 1995, and from 1981 to 1989 he served in the Texas State Senate. He currently is a motivational speaker and serves as CEO of Advantage Associates International. He divides his time between Maryland and Houston, Texas.

2:00 PM
2415 Soncy Road
Amarillo, TX 79124

Notable Quotable
Video Interview, Part 1
Scrapbook Page
Video Interview, Part 2

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