Monday, August 31, 2015

An Iconic Moment within an Iconic Performance

An excerpt from Danny Garrett's forthcoming Weird Yet Strange: Notes from an Austin Music Artist:
“At Antone’s something quite vital took shape—the passing parade of legendary greats, the talented locals, and the communion between the two. Over time, this trinity formed up an Austin Sound for the blues.
Almost immediately upon contact between the two groups, an interaction took place that elevated this union to something greater than the sum of its parts. And although every player in the local blues community would benefit tremendously from such cultural alchemy, none would be so transformed by the experience as Stevie. None would take it as deeply to heart.
He had picked up and used the stylings of all the great blues guitarists, focusing on Dallas heroes such as T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, and especially Johnny “Guitar” Watson. He absorbed their riffs and phrasing like a sponge, torqued them to his bent, and set them loose among the frets and strings—living ghosts within his guitar. But it was the stylings of Albert King that would haunt his playing more than any of the others. Upon meeting Albert, Stevie was seized by the notion to play with the literally larger-than-life bluesman. He petitioned Clifford Antone to help make it so. Albert was very private, possessed of a stern demeanor, and had never been an easy man to approach—a perception that his six-foot-four, 250-pound frame continuously reiterated. Nevertheless, Clifford persuaded Albert to let the skinny white kid sit in, assuring him that the young bluesman was something other than ordinary. For Stevie, Albert King was the guy with the bona fides and a bender of notes like no other.
The white kid mounted the stage, and in short order the two blues guitarists were trading licks. Albert opened and lit up the stage with tones soaring from his Flying V. After the band smoothed the field, Stevie held forth. The force and confidence of his passages took Albert aback; the great man dropped his hands and then his jaw. Photographs taken at the time show him leaning forward, taking in completely SRV’s intricate note structures and sinuous phrasing. Albert King deliberately reached across and pulled the curtain over his beloved “Lucy,” as if he didn’t want the guitar to witness Stevie’s unanticipated playing.
It was an iconic moment within an iconic performance. Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan standing on the Antone’s stage that night incarnated the musical alchemy that would signature the club’s first venue. For me it changed everything that doing music art in Austin was all about. It was one of those magic moments that this town was capable of producing—a short but intimate passage of time that welded one to the music. It was, in fact, at this point that I decided to undertake to ‘draw’ the music…”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Remembering Katrina Ten Years Later

My family and I lived in New Orleans for four years (1989-93) and made many friends there, so when the images of citywide flooding began to air and the world saw the extent of Katrina’s devastation, I tried to contact friends and colleagues and quickly discovered that the links were down and there was no access to phones or emails. Over the next few days and weeks, my friends’ personal stories slowly emerged. Most of them had evacuated and were living safely in other cities, including Austin. But in the ten years since, I have not located or communicated with four or five of them and wonder where they are. I assume – and hope – they are among the 100,000 New Orleans citizens who have not returned to the city and now live elsewhere.

Over the next three months, in the fall 2005, as I searched and worried and read every article and blog about New Orleans I could get my hands on and surfed the web for videos of what the city had endured, a story began to take shape in my head. It was the story of an older man from southwest Louisiana who trucks his fishing boat to the submerged city, only hours after Katrina makes landfall, to search for his children and grandchildren. That was the germ of Many Rivers to Cross, and the story eventually became a vivid obsession. 

It also evolved.  In the beginning, I imagined the boat’s pilot as a retired white minister who had adopted several children when he and his wife were young and active in their church. Once he reaches the city, he motors toward a household of his now-adult children – both African American and white – who are all stranded on a rooftop and desperate for help. 

It was an idealistic scenario and had its merits, but I soon took a hard look at the Katrina tragedy and came to the only conclusion an observant writer could arrive at: New Orleans was nearly 60 percent African American; far more than 60 percent of the dead and displaced were African American and poor; and if I wanted to capture the essence of that tragedy, I would have to write the story from an African American point of view.

I knew that wouldn’t be easy. It became my greatest challenge in the 30 years I’d been publishing fiction. So I stepped up to the plate and took a few practice swings.

I first had to inform myself about every detail of the natural part of the natural disaster – the rain and wind damage and the broken levees – and of course the terrible suffering and death. A friend gave me a water-depth chart that indicated how deep the water was in different neighborhoods at various hours of the first few days and longer. I scoured internet sources for incidents that had been reported in parts of the city – Lakeview, Gentilly, Mid City, the Lower Ninth Ward, downtown, St. Charles Avenue, the Garden District, the Irish Channel, the French Quarter, the Superdome, and Morial Convention Center.

I had to plan a boat route for my African American father/grandfather. Fortunately, I had maps of the city dating back to the early 1960s, before Interstate 10 was completed. I sat down and charted the quickest possible path from the suburbs to his daughter and her two children in their flooding Gentilly home. And I began to imagine the myriad of obstacles, both human and waterborne, along the way.

In early 2006, five or six months after Katrina, I decided that I had to go to New Orleans in person, check on friends, and see the city for myself. My son, Danny, was a high school junior at the time, and he accompanied me as I drove through the mostly abandoned streets, following what would become Hodge’s route in his fishing boat. I still have the small notebook in which Danny kept notes as I navigated from Lakeview through City Park and into Gentilly, even circling the empty Orleans Parish Prison several times to understand how prisoners might have escaped drowning by climbing the fences. On our journey, I would point out details – water lines on buildings, downed trees and power lines, abandoned cars, wrecked homes, wandering dogs – and Danny would record those things and add observations of his own. 

There were long stretches of time when we didn’t see a soul on the street in large areas of town. At one point, the only person we encountered was a boy about seven years old, standing in the middle of the street, no adults in sight. He scowled at us and threw a rock at the car.  I understood his message:  “Don’t be vacationing in my misery.”

We met my old Stanford friend Don Paul in the Lower Ninth Ward. Don had come to New Orleans to help with disaster relief, and he would stay on. He lives there today, writing and performing poetry and fighting the good fight. He showed Danny and me the annihilation of the Lower Nine. Homes that had floated off their foundations, empty lots where homes had disappeared, homes that had been ruined by the destructive force of water, including one in which the refrigerator had floated into the living room and the walls were pulling away from the ceiling.

Ten years later, I haven’t forgotten what I saw. And neither has Danny. That visit would solidify in my mind the visceral, haunting details of Katrina’s wrath that reading an article or book could never have given me. 

I returned home and continued my research, pursuing every sentence and strip of film about Katrina and New Orleans after the flood. And then one day I realized I knew enough to begin. It was time to stop outlining and start writing. So I sat down at my keyboard, took a deep breath, and swung for the fence.

~Thomas Zigal, author of Many Rivers to Cross

Monday, June 29, 2015

Dear Readers

29 June 2015
Fort Worth, TX

Dear Readers,

I hope this letter finds you well. I write more for cathartic means than for any other purpose, and it is my hope that through your reading (and possibly through your writing) you too may find catharsis.

While working as a graduate intern at TCU Press, I was reawakened to a fault in modern correspondence: we have lost letters. Well, we haven’t lost them exactly . . . we no longer write them. (Note: an extended text message does not count as a letter.)

Kassia Waggoner and Adam Nemmers, two doctoral students at Texas Christian University, stumbled upon a collection of Civil War letters in the Mary Couts Burnett Library. The Love family composed these letters that not only grant insight into the lives of soldiers but also reveal intimate details of family life during the Civil War. As Waggoner and Nemmers explain in their book, Yours in Filial Regard: The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family, the Love brothers fighting in the war—Cyrus, Sam, James, John, and Robert—wrote most of the letters, revealing the importance of written correspondence to their psychological health.

After reading Yours in Filial Regards, I believe the Love brothers teach us four main sources of motivation for writing letters:

Calculated Thought

Words penned down are not hurriedly typed and then sent into a digital world. They are thought out, measured, decided upon, and then written. Those whom you love deserve your letters because they deserve your thoughts—your unhurried thoughts.

Absolute Love and Care

If composing a letter requires that you carefully think about the person to whom you are writing, then the act of letter writing proves how much you care about them. Your words testify that you have set aside all other aspects of your daily life to chronicle your deepest sympathies regarding this person.


You don’t write a letter to someone in whom you have not invested a significant amount of time and energy—plain and simple. (Even if you write a negative letter, you are still investing a significant amount of energy to pen down your negative emotions.)


This point may seem strange, but if you read through Waggoner and Nemmer’s collection, I’m certain you will find it more than appropriate. Throughout their letters, the Love brothers express concern for their family’s welfare. But underlying worry seems to permeate the letters—the brothers wonder why they have not received letters back from their family, no doubt questioning how much they are missed by their loved ones.

When we are away from those we love, it’s natural to worry whether they think of us as often as we think of them. Cyrus Love, the eldest Love brother, is no exception, so he writes letters to his family. But then one day, August 20, 1863, he writes his last letter. I doubt he knew that it would be his last, but his words ring ironically into the present day:

My life has again been protected by Providence. . . It has been the Will of the Deity that I should not be killed so far and I hope He will protect my life through the war so that I may be able to return to you. . . The sum of my wishes for some time past is that I may live to get back to you. . . (Letter 74)

Cyrus died in battle on October 7, 1863. He never returned to his family. His last penned words read:

Tell Tenny. Alice. Mary. Lizzy. And John K to be good children and study hard.
Yours in filial regard &c
      C.W. Love

Cyrus may have worried whether his family was thinking about him or whether they knew how much he cared for them. But history has proved that Cyrus need not have worried—his love and care lives on today through his letter.

Letters. They need not go by the wayside. They, perhaps more than any other medium, show how much we love and care for those around us. Cyrus’ final words cause me to wonder: if I had one last letter to write, to whom would I write it and what would it say?

I propose that you ask yourself the same questions and respond below. I realize that I am praising hand-written correspondence through a digital medium, and maybe that’s how you should “write” your letter if you so wish. But I’m going to start this challenge off with a handwritten letter and post the image below. Feel free to do the same.

I, like Cyrus Love, would send my last letter to my parents. Who would you send yours to? What would your letter say?

Happy writing,

Megan Poole is a graduate student and teaching assistant in the TCU Department of English.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Witness to an Execution

by investigative reporter Kathy Cruz

On the December night that I witnessed the execution of Bobby Wayne Woods, I asked that I be allowed to be in the witness room designated for his family members, rather than in the room reserved for the family of the young girl he had sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. I had been with a couple of other reporters in the office of the prison system's public information officer when the phone rang with word that last minute appeals had been denied, and the execution would be carried out immediately. As we followed briskly behind the PIO to the building that houses the execution chamber, I felt as if I might hyperventilate from the gravity of watching a man being put to death. Though I felt he had earned his fate, I felt sad for the choices he had made, and compassion for his family. It was that compassion that made me want to report on how they were affected by the execution of a man many considered a monster because of what he had done. The other reporters chose the other witness room.

Watching Woods die was a surreal experience, but what happened next was perhaps stranger. To my surprise, I felt fine. In fact, I felt hungry. I wrote a story about the execution on my laptop computer over a patty melt at the Huntsville Denny's. After filing the story and speaking by phone to my editor, I slept fine.

Go figure.

But after Darlie Routier popped into my head one Sunday afternoon in April 2012, I did not sleep well. For whatever reason, the case grabbed me by the throat and only let me go when, two Aprils later, I turned over a rough draft of a book manuscript to TCU Press. While the manuscript was under review, I continued working, adding several more chapters. The following April - three years after my initial random thought about Darlie Routier - the paperback edition of Dateline:Purgatory was in my hands and tears were in my eyes.

Dateline: Purgatory is not a book about the evils of the death penalty, but rather the dark side of our justice system. I am able to sleep just fine when someone who is guilty is held accountable. It's when their guilt is not so clear that I toss and turn.

Praise for Dateline: Purgatory

"Everybody knows the Texas criminal justice system doesn’t work, but few know why and how. Kathy Cruz does, and Dateline: Purgatory proves it. This richly detailed and well-narrated book affords a view of the Texas system rarely seen by the outside world. It shows how ambitious prosecutors, compliant judges, and naïve jurors can make for a lethal combination. It also shows the terrible human cost involved when justice becomes what it is in Texas: a team sport in a rigged game. Anyone who wants to understand the true nature of Texas injustice should read this book. Ms. Cruz has done the world a favor by writing it."
~Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief counsel, 
Innocence Project of Texas

"Dateline: Purgatory will make you feel. Then, it will make you think. And hopefully, after that, you will want to act. I did, because once an execution is carried out, there’s no correcting it."
~Michael Morton, author of Getting Life: 
An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What's on Your Bookshelf?

Despite having books to read for classes, our interns still like to enjoy a book or two on their own. So we asked one intern, Molly Spain, what she has on her recreational reading list while at school.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Ever since the movie was released, all of my friends and family members have talked nonstop about this book. I finally caved to see what the hype was all about and am now about half way through the book. I’m enjoying it so far because I always like a good mystery every once in a while.  Flynn has created such complex, yet realistic characters that capture the inner thoughts and feelings that a lot of us have but are afraid to voice.

Alive and Well in Pakistan by Ethan Casey
I was given this book for free during my business journalism class. Ethan Casey spoke to our class about his experiences as a journalist, and his passion drove me to read his nonfiction book about his travels. The book offers an insight into a world that most of us do not know much about other than what we read and hear in the news. Casey writes about the generous, kind and caring people of Pakistan, clearing any bad reputation of that country that might have been instilled in Americans by media.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I never go anywhere without a copy of Austen’s classic on my bookshelf. I keep a copy at my parents’ house and in my apartment because who knows when I’ll want to reread this one for the thousandth time? This may be a cliché favorite book to have, but I learn something new each time I read it. If you have not yet read this much talked about, romanticized novel, I would suggest giving it a try. It’s not just a “chick flick,” it is a novel of impeccable writing and fascinating characters with a complex plot. 

H.L. Mencken’s Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken
I received this book as a gift, and while it is dense and not normally my favorite genre to read, Mencken’s nonfiction essays provide some interesting commentary on a variety of topics. I have only managed to get through a quarter of the collection thus far, but it is one project I intend to see through the end, even if it takes me years. I will finish it eventually.

Isn’t it Pretty to Think So? by Nick Miller
This is Nick Miller’s debut novel. I heard about his book via Miller’s Tumblr blog where he would post selective writings from his novel. His writing style grasped me from the get-go. He has a concise, yet poetic way of writing with internal focalization. Though I have virtually nothing in common with Miller’s male main character, Miller’s writing makes the reader feel as if you really are the main character and are embarking on the same journey. I finished the book in two days, and have read it once more since then. I keep it on my shelf just in case.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Netflix of Books

Online streaming services for movies and TV shows have become a cultural phenomenon. How many people do you know with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or HBO Go accounts? I use my family’s Netflix account, pay for Amazon Prime, and occasionally borrow my friend’s HBO Go login. Instant streaming has become the number one tool for procrastination, or better yet, laziness.

When I watch an episode of Friends or Breaking Bad on Netflix, I go through a series of emotions. First, it’s the relief: Now I can finally relax. Then, it’s the doubt: Should I really be watching TV right now? Finally, the guilt: I really should be doing homework, or finishing that project, or reading, or exercising.  Five episodes later, it’s too late. I’m hooked. There’s no going back.

But not all streaming has to be a guilty idle activity.

This is where Oyster Books comes in. For $9.95 a month (roughly the same cost of Netflix), Oyster allows unlimited streaming of its digital book collection anytime, anywhere. As if that’s not enough, Oyster just added the complete Harry Potter series to its collection.

I’m not championing digital e-book reading over print by any means. I actually do not own a Kindle, Tablet, Nook, or any other e-book device. I’m one of those people who has hundreds of books because I have to have the print copy. I still buy and read tangible, print copies of books. I prefer it. However, Oyster gives me the chance to decide if the print copy is worth it. I reread good books all the time, so Oyster gives me the opportunity to save a little money on the books I don’t like.

I don’t believe Oyster is the downfall of print books. I think Oyster can drive book sales. Opponents believe that $10 is too much for unlimited books every month because who can read that much to make up for that cost? My record is eight books in one month. My average is about two, and when I spend time watching Netflix, I finish about one book each month.

Since Oyster, my average number of books per month has increased. My guilt has decreased. And my intelligence has skyrocketed. Now, when I log onto my computer, I type Oyster into my web address bar instead of Netflix for the same sense of relaxation, minus the guilt of laziness.

Don’t hesitate or wait to get on board with Oyster.  Avoid the guilt of Netflix. As the Oyster website claims, it’s “beautifully digital reading for everyone.”

~Molly Spain, intern

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Interview with Marcia Hatfield Daudistel

As the editor of Grace & Gumption: The Women of El Paso, did you learn anything new while working on this project? Is there any one story that especially stuck with you?
MHD: As the editor of Grace and Gumption, I was inspired by the adaptability and courage of the women on both sides of the border in creating the city of El Paso. The women living in Mexico suddenly found themselves citizens of another country when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo changed their lives forever. The women who came West and South to the raw, frontier town of El Paso were faced with a very different, frequently harsh climate in a town known for legendary gunfighters and lawmen. These groups of women set about to address the issues of establishing more schools, creating cultural programs and increasing medical care in this fledgling city in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas. Their efforts were to transform El Paso into a city that would allow their families to thrive. Their legacy is an enduring one. 
Is there any woman (or group of women) from history who has particularly inspired you?
MHD: I learned many new things while working on Grace and Gumption, but perhaps the most surprising realization I had was that the nuns in the early history of El Paso were actually the first feminists. Acting as communities  of women without the supervision of men, except infrequently by the Bishop, they set about to establish hospitals, schools, and orphanages. The several orders of nurses, social workers, and teachers were also administrators with their direct supervisors being the Mothers Superior of their orders. The orphanage they established in El Paso was the only one that took in Mexican children, many orphaned by the Mexican Revolution. Their hospital, Hotel Dieu, continually operated in El Paso until the late 1980s. They had a level of autonomy that married women did not have and were frequently more highly educated than the majority of the women of their time.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Come Spring...

Many years ago I was part of a Western Writers of America project to compile an anthology of profiles of women of the American West. My subject was Dr. Georgia Arbuckle Fix who practiced medicine on the western frontier of Nebraska in the late nineteenth century. I had a medical background of sorts and wondered why a woman would choose life in a dugout alone and drive her carriage miles and miles across the prairie to see patients. The story fascinated me and set a pattern for my writing for many years to come.
Dr. Georgia Arbuckle Fix

When I first turned my hand to fiction, I wrote a novel based on Dr. Fix’s life, only to learn later that the great Mari Sandoz had already done that and done a better job than I did. Still, my version, Mattie, won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America, an award that angered some male members who thought it should go to a men’s adventure tale.

I went on to write about more women of the American West—a young girl in East Texas (not really the West but….), a young orphan living on the streets of Fort Worth and crossing paths with Long Haired Jim Courtright and Luke Short. These short novels were sold through the Doubleday Double D Western Book Club, mostly to prison libraries.

I grew ambitious and wanted to do a long novel that would sell in bookstores. I proposed a fictional biography of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife and widow of General George Armstrong Custer who died at Little Bighorn. Bantam/Doubleday put major publicity behind it, and it probably sold better than any book I’ve ever written. I followed it with fictional biographies of Jessie Benton Frémont, Wild West Show cowgirl Lucille Mulhall, and Etta Place, the Sundance Kid’s girlfriend. And then there was a young-adult book called Extraordinary Women of the American West, a collection of short biographies of sixty-eight women, from pioneers to contemporary.

I admired these women and loved investigating their lives, finding out why, in many cases, they’d left family and comfort behind to strike out for adventure. Many came with husbands, but some did not. All came with a sense of breaking bonds and leaving constrictions behind. They had a curiously optimistic outlook—a favorite saying was, “Come spring…” Come spring, the crops would make, the cattle would produce, life would be better. Always looking toward spring, they minimalized the hardships of life in a dugout or on the cattle trail or an isolated ranch.

“Come spring” is a great motto for all of us.

~Judy Alter, author of Extraordinary Texas Women, contributor to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, and many more

Friday, March 13, 2015

Girl with a Pearl Earring in Nineteenth-Century San Antonio

She became my Girl With a Pearl Earring. I knew that she lived but nothing else about her. I called her Lupe Pérez and wove her into a story of late nineteenth century San Antonio. To this day, I wonder what she might think if she could read Chili Queen: Mi historia.

Writing Lupe’s story gave me an opportunity to gently introduce some ideas for readers to mull. Lupe’s romance with Peter unravels perhaps more because of his family’s objection to a working class Mexican American girl than to their interest in making a match for him. Matters of race and socio-economic status were as real in late nineteenth century San Antonio as they are today, although not talked about openly. The Pérez family accepts their lower status in American society. They do not contest it. Mamá offers that as a reason for Peter’s decision. No one raises objection. Younger brother José is the only one who speaks up about his rights.

In late nineteenth-century San Antonio, women did not enjoy many opportunities for personal advancement. They were second-class citizens, and Mexican American working class women had perhaps even fewer rights. Lupe is unique in her striving for entrepreneurial success. Despite a lack of formal education, Lupe is intelligent, and she tries many different ways to improve business at her family’s chili stand. She takes risks with money she does not have and ultimately makes a bold move when she decides to open a fonda instead of moving the chili stand to another plaza.

During Women’s History Month it is helpful for every reader to reflect on the constraints within which working class women had to function, how far women have come since Lupe’s day, and how much remains to be done to achieve equality of opportunity for all women, especially women of color with limited resources, inadequate education, but a strong desire to surmount difficulties. Lupe Pérez, a smart and mature seventeen year old, is willing to lose to gain.

My Girl With a Pearl Earring looks back at us from the photograph taken by Frank Hardesty on Military Plaza in 1886. What was she thinking then? What would she think if by some magic, her rebozo could transport her to twenty-first century San Antonio, where she might understand the importance of her legacy for enterprising business women in our city? What would she say about the story I have spun around her? I hope she would be pleased.

~Marian Martinello, author of Chili Queen: Mi historia, The Search for a Chili Queen, The Search for Pedro's Story, and The Search for Emma's Story