New Year’s Eve

Ah, once again I stand on the eve of a New Year. I’ll likely spend the evening in thought and celebration and reading Olen Steinhauer’s second novel entitled, The Confession. I am greatly enjoying it. The Washington Post Book World says of this novel, “A wonderfully taut tale that is part police procedural, part political thriller, part love story . . . Steinhauer has created a vivid world in a lost time. His Eastern Europe has the ring of truth.” This is quite an endorsement!

Book Signing News:

Today, I finished editing Jeffrey Webber’s fine book on technology and retirement. Last Saturday, my signing at the Sherman Books-A-Million went very well. Once again I was filmed and interviewed by Channel 12 News there. Here is a photo of Randi, a 6th grade student from Honey Grove, Texas. I had presented a program at her middle school earlier in the year and she and her mother remembered me. Her mother was gracious enough to take our photo. Randi said she enjoyed my book and that because of me she decided to learn to play guitar. I believe she received one for Christmas. She is a bright and talented young scholar.


The Last Detective by Robert Crais

I just returned from Oklahoma, from working and from visiting my parents. I have many notes on my trip that I want to post, but they’ll have to wait for another post. Today, while driving back from Oklahoma, I cut my phone off and listened to the last half of a wonderful novel by Robert Crais, entitled, The Last Detective.  It was a wonderful read and made the driving time pass so fast. The ONLY disappointing part of the novel related to the plot, which seemed very close to another favorite novel of mine, Man on Fire. However, as a writer, I realize the uncanny ability of writers to come up with similar plots and story ideas, so I know the similarity was only by coincidence. Ah, if only we writers understood how the Muses worked.  The best chapter to me was on the first CD (there were seven in the set) and dealt with Pike’s (one of the principal characters) hunt/encounter with the Alaskan Brown Bear. Absolutely horrifying. I’ve never had a fondness for grizzlies or other bears and after reading this resolved that I will never camp in country where the bears are big and mean enough to eat you!  With a height that reaches ten feet, weight of up to 2,500 pounds, claws over six inches long, running speed of up to 35 mph, this is not an animal that I wish to meet in the wild.

I was impressed with this novel and would recommend it. The writing is solid  and well-crafted. You will learn much about forensics, the military, Viet Nam, and many other topics. My kind of book. Anyway, you can learn more about Robert Crais and his fine writing here:

A Short Story: “Clean Nets”

Book News:

In just a few minutes, I’m leaving my motel in Grapevine to drive to my signing at the Books-A-Million in Sherman, Texas. Other than its name, Sherman is a really cool city. It’s growing too. I’ll spend the night with my parents in their cellphone-dead and Internet void zone and be home in Monroe sometime Sunday. This nomad writing life is giving me tons of ideas for stories. The driving time is giving me time to think, to plan, to listen to music or books on CD. For today’s post, since I’m near the Red River, I thought I’d post a short story I wrote. It’s still a work in progress.


Ever since Indian Territory days, my family has fished this Red River. Mama says there ain’t no call for us to be ashamed of it neither. She says the first apostles were fishermen, and that if fishermen are good enough for Jesus, then the rest of the world will just have to accept us too.

When they finished the Lake Texoma dam in 1944, the river changed, and our family had to change with it. Now, most of our fishing time is spent on the lake. We also started guiding some, helping those tourists with more money than sense to catch sandbass or stripers, or get them to some ducks and geese in hunting season. They’re surprised we ain’t got no fish sonar or duck radar or fancy gear like that. We just know where the fish are and where the ducks like to go. Ain’t much to it really if’n a man pays attention.

But even though I got to go out to the lake from time to time, I still love that damned old Red River. She’s toned down some since the dam was finished, but she’s still got a mind of her own. She don’t flood much no more, like she did when she devoured the town of Karma, north of Bonham where my grandma had a store. Grandma told me how she and my grandpa just watched the river warsh the whole town away. Weren’t nothin’ they could do bout it. And there ain’t nothin’ lives there now. She must not have liked that town much.

The river used to have a bunch of logjams, but they’re pretty much all gone now. Daddy said that in his day the logs were so thick you could walk across the river and never get your feet wet. The river’s still got quicksand, even though it ain’t as bad as it was. I don’t know where it went to, but only a few spots are bad to have it now. People who don’t know about quicksand or can’t spot it are in bad shape if they get caught in it alone. It must be horrible for someone to get drownded in mud, being sucked down to the river’s bottom. I only got in quicksand once. Daddy hauled me out and told me how the last person he pulled out of quicksand was a woman, and he had to reach down and pull her out by the hair. She was real dead, he said. And then he whipped my little ass with a willow switch real good so I’d remember not to do it again. I learnt right then what quicksand looked like and I ain’t stepped into it since.
When the water’s high enough, I load up the kids and take the johnboat or airboat down it, explaining to them all they need to know bout the river nowadays. When the water’s too low for a boat, I walk its banks on Sundays. That’s the only day our family’s ever took off from work. I find stuff–old bottles, lots of trash that I guess came down from the dam, cause I sure don’t see no people around to leave it there. Sometimes I think the river’s got a mind of her own and just puts things where she wants when she’s tired of playing with it.

Mama says the river used to be haunted. Gave some people some kind of fever that made them start killing folks. Ever time some good ole boy goes on a killin rampage, Mama says that the fever’s come back to the Red River Valley. “If’n you ever see someone who don’t belong down there, you be real careful,” she says. “Look at their eyes. The ones with the fever got the same look as a wild dog that ain’t afraid of humans no more.”

“How do people get well from this fever, Mama?” I asked.
“Ain’t but one cure,” she said. “They got to be put down, just like they’s a rabid dog.”
The life of a fisherman ain’t as simple as it used to be. Now I gotta fool with getting all kinds of permits. Daddy still cain’t read, so I have to read each year’s new rules to him. The state says we gotta count and measure fish, and throw back the game fish if they get tangled up in my nets or traps or get on my trotlines. Gotta throw them back even if they’re gonna die. Seems like a waste of good fish. Sometimes I keep them anyway and take them over to Hendrix and give them away to the colored people there. I guess that’s okay, long as I don’t sell them. Sometimes I wonder what these bureaucrats are thinking. If they’d just talk to a fisherman, they’d get lots of ideas. But I reckon they don’t care for talking to someone who knows how to do something they are passing laws for.

We make most of our money off the catfish we sell, but it’s getting harder to sell fish. People are getting attached to that pond-raised catfish, or lately, that catfish that comes frozen all the way from China. But they don’t taste the same as river fish. Anyone raised on river fish can tell you that.

But we got all kinds of good fish here, not just catfish. There’s brim, largemouth bass, crappie, gar, drum, buffalo, carp, black bass, sand bass, stripers, hybrids (I reckon that’s caused when a sand bass gets to know a striper real well), and spoonbill catfish that we snag down by the dam when the rabbit rangers ain’t around. We eat’em all too.

My family’s found several dead bodies on the river or in the lake through the years. Drownins mostly. Some of them could swim, but they underestimated the strength of the current and the temperamental nature of the river. Sometimes I think she just don’t care for people thrashing around in her and gets riled up and pulls them down. Some of the others I just don’t know how they got there cause they still got their shoes and fancy city clothes on. You can tell they didn’t fall off no boat.

My house ain’t far from the Carpenter’s Bluff Bridge. We see folks down there in summer swimming and diving off the bridge. They go there at night too and build fires and drink and all. I couldn’t sleep one night and I floated down river, sittin’ in the front of the boat just sculling along, and I saw a bunch of folks underneath the bridge. They was sitting in the light of a campfire and I heard them carrying on. Sounded like they were having a big time. When she’s a mind to, the river knows how to make folks real happy and feel like they belong there. Only difference between them and me about that is I belong there all the time.

My wife Sophie and I had us a bunch of kids, and all of them know how to fish. The littlest ones we teach to get bait. They seine crawfish out of ponds and ditches, dig worms, seine minners out of the creek and sell them too so they can have some spending money. But I only got one out of the bunch that’s taken to fishing enough that I know he’ll be a fisherman all his life. When he ain’t in school, he’s with me. Elvin’s a tough one–you can tell by his callused little hands. Doesn’t cry when he gets wet or cold. He don’t mind getting his face blistered by the wind or sun. He works right beside me until the fish are all cleaned and we get everything ready for the next day.

One day we was warshin and mending our nets and he says, “You must have the cleanest nets in the river, Daddy. Why you warsh them so much?”

“Dirty nets don’t catch no fish, boy.” Then I tell him what my daddy always told me. “When Jesus called them first apostles, They was warshing nets when he found them. So right away he called them to follow him, cause he knew they were good fishermen. They kept fishing too, only from then on they fished for men. A man’s got to keep his nets clean in life, boy, if’n he wants anything in them but trash.”

We was on the river one afternoon and my boy was walking the sandbars and stepped into some quicksand. I hauled him out of it and whipped his little butt with a willow switch. A good thrashing always helps the memory. And I explained to him how the river, she don’t cotton to a man bein careless. He got to pay attention all the time. I told him how the river’s different now, and how she’ll be different when he’s growed up too. Maybe then she won’t have no quicksand at all, but she does now, and he cain’t go messin’ around in it.

I don’t know why my family likes fishing so. I guess we were just meant to do it. But I know when I feel that tug on my line, and I feel that life there, it feels real good. And when I can sell a pickup load of iced down catfish to the grocers, and go back home with money, it makes me feel good to buy my family things they need. Good fishing goes in spells, so I don’t always catch as much as I want. Sometimes the river pushes the fish away from us just to see if we love her enough to stick with her. She ain’t run us off yet. Hell, we ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Friday in Texas

Book Signing News: 

I spent Thursday with my parents in Kemp, Oklahoma, a small town in Indian Territory  with a rich history that I touched on in my novel, Red River Fever. I spent the day reading, writing an article a publisher requested, and editing a fascinating novel by Shane Lester. Then I began editing a wonderful book by Jeffrey Webber on the topic of how technology can enrich the lives of the retired. This book is needed and seems to be practical and an easy guide to follow.

This morning I set up a signing at the Hastings bookstore in Sherman, Texas for Saturday, Feb. 9.  I met with the manager of the Books-A-Million in Sherman also and made preparations for my signing at his store, tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 29). I’m also scheduled to play my guitar for the kids that come to the store on Saturday morning. It should be a blast. I do know that I’ve sold out of my books every time I’ve done a signing there; consequently, it’s a store that will be on my permanent cycle of stores.  Then I drove to Grapevine and met with the Books-A-Million manager in Grapevine. His store is in the Grapevine Mills Mall. My signing there will be Sat. Feb. 2. I also met with the public librarians in Grapevine, Texas and scheduled two children’s events and one adult reading/signing this next year.  They have a fantastic facility.  I can tell that Grapevine is a VERY prosperous area, at least compared to my part of Louisiana. (Why do I keep saying statements like that?) In short,  I’ve had a very busy, but very productive day.

Twas the Day After Christmas . . .

Well, the pre-holiday frenzy of activity and preparation will now be replaced by the post-holiday frenzy of recovery from the holiday. My parents have enjoyed their trip with me, but are eager to return to their home in Kemp, Oklahoma. My 80-year-0ld father is coughing, and I hope he is not coming down with something. We will load up in just a few minutes and once again I’ll be traveling. I’ll spend a couple of days with them in Oklahoma, likely without Internet, so another blog post, though possible, is unlikely until Friday or Saturday.  That lock-down in the boonies could be a good thing, as I have MUCH writing-related work to do.

Book News:

Friday, I’ll be in the Grapevine, Texas area, making and meeting new contacts, and on Saturday I’ll have a book signing at the Sherman Texas Books-A-Million. There is a possibility I’ll be playing for some folks in Fort Worth on New Year’s Eve, but that’s not settled yet.

Holiday Lesson Plan for Gifted or Honors Students

As I reflected on what I did with students in years past during the holidays, I came up with this. It’s a little sketchy, but it will give you an idea of what I do, and I hope it helps you with your own classes for next year. Be sure and email me ( if you have any questions. I’ve enjoyed presenting my little Christmas programs to schools. It’s helped me personally to appreciate the holiday season better.


Holiday Lesson Plan for Gifted or Honors Students:

Lesson Objective: TLW experience the holiday season in a unique, thoughtful, and unforgettable way.

Texts and Topics:

“Gift of the Magi” by O’Henry.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns

Biblical References for Chanukah: II Maccabees (historical background), John 10 (Feast of Lights).

Winter Solstice (A survey of the Celtic holiday) Sources will vary.

Topics relating to Christmas: Chanukah, Santa Claus, mistletoe, gift-giving, Christmas and Church history, Christmas during the Civil War (includes discussion of the Christmas art of Thomas Nast) Christmas trees, Christmas in other countries, and other related topics. Sources will vary.

Christmas CD’s: There are SO many performers who have made CD’s to choose from. The music you use depends on your preferences and resources.

Christmas Movies: For a good list of Christmas movies, go to this site:


Students will create a quality holiday journal/portfolio. This portfolio will include photographs, (or drawings/paintings) and written materials of the following exercises.

1. TLW will decorate class Christmas tree with ornaments they make. Ornaments will be dated, have a quote relating to the holiday season, and a small photo of the student.
2. TLW will write and produce their own Christmas play or screenplay.
3. During class workdays, TLW will listen to Christmas carols from a variety of performers and in a variety of languages. TTW introduce the performer and student will record pertinent information in holiday journal.
4. TLW write his/her own Christmas or New Year’s poem or song.
5. TLW’s class will create an original “Night Before Christmas” poem.
6. TLW write a personal essay relating to the holiday season. Some possible topics:
“The Christmas I’ll Never Forget.”
“The Best/Worst Year of my Life.”
“Why We Need Christmas (or ___________).”
7. TLW view and write a movie review of a recent film relating to Christmas.

The Bridge of Sighs by Olen Steinhauer

I’ve long had a fascination with the Slavic peoples and nations. I have read everything that Alexander Solzhenitsyn has written. (This is a whole shelf of books. Remember the joke about the “short” Russian novel?) I remember my first read (it was in winter in Pennsylvania) of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, and the three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago. I was so traumatized that I could only eat soup and weak hot tea for weeks. After reading Solzhenitsyn, I concluded that most Americans have no idea of how much bad politics can cause people to suffer. In Volume I, he dedicates his book (which he memorized while in prison!):

“I dedicate this to all those who did not live to tell it. And may they please forgive me for not having seen it all nor remembered it all, for not having divined all of it.”

I was truly surprised and impressed by Olen’s Steinhauer’s The Bridge of Sighs (St. Martin’s Press) which I completed reading tonight. I’m sorry that I just now discovered Steinhauer, a writer who not only has a solid grip on the writing craft, but truly has insights into life that cut the heart or touch the soul. Recommended by my close friend Bonnie Barnes in Fort Worth, the title of the novel caught my attention first. I knew about the Bridge of Sighs from my research of Venice and from Lord Byron’s poem, Don Juan. Wickipedia adds this on the Bridge of Sighs:

“The bridge name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice out the window before being taken down to their cells. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built, and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals[1].
A local legend says that lovers will be assured eternal love if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge. This legend played a key part in the 1979 film A Little Romance.”

The Bridge of Sighs is a novel that effectively takes the reader into the mind, heart, and body of the protagonist detective, Emil Brod. The novel’s setting is post WWII Eastern Europe. With ruthless honesty, Steinhauer, an award winning author, paints the canvass of this world, and the depth of his research (and I believe personal interviews) are obvious. If you have read, thought, or wondered about Eastern Europe in the years after World War II, you are sure to enjoy this read. Here are a few (of the many I underlined) quotes from the novel that caught my eye:

Others make the rules, he had said. We only try to live by them (p. 221)

Yes, he would admit to anything in the end [after torture] in the end, because that’s how human beings were. (p. 239)

“In both these events he head been close enough to smell the dead, but too late to make a difference” (61).

“The life of a refugee was not photogenic” (253).

“One man only has so much loyalty. Figure out where yours lies” (17).

No Country for Old Men

My favorite American author is Cormac McCarthy.  I’ve read everything he’s published (eight previous novels) at least twice.  In July of 2006, I read No Country for Old Men. I finally was able to see the movie. I think it showed here in the Monroe area for only about a week.

Both the novel and the movie impressed me. If there’s a story that will cause you to hate, to react negatively against the world and people of illegal drugs, this is it.  McCarthy reveals there’s not much glamor in the drug world, and he captures the greed, pain, suffering, violence (with its carnage and mayhem), and complexity drugs create.

As I contemplated going to the movie version of the novel here, I read some local movie reviews, most of which were not favorable. However, I found the movie to be true in spirit and tone to the novel.  The cast was well-chosen and the film well-made. I had no real criticisms. I wish the others I read, who had trashed the film because they didn’t “get” certain parts of the film, had read the novel first. Then I’m confident they would have understood and “felt” the power of the movie.  Anyway, there’s an old saying I heard somewhere: “Never judge a book by its movie.”  I own the book, and I intend to own the movie someday.  I felt the same way about McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.

The inside jacket of my hardback edition has a good description of the story. The novel is “A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies.”  The characters search for the answer to this question: “[H]ow does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?”

It is indeed a movie of our age.

Return from Alexandria, Louisiana

Yesterday, my signing at the Waldenbooks at the mall in Alexandria went very well. I sold many copies of my three books–Red River Fever, Stories of the Confederate South, and Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. I also set up programs with at least three schools. Alexandria seems like a prosperous area–at least in comparison with Monroe, Louisiana, where I live. Banks and his Yankee invaders had ravaged and burned Alexandria when they came through there during the Civil War, but the area seems to have regained its prosperity. Pam and the other managers of Waldenbooks are super people. Today, I’m off to the Sam’s Club in Monroe for a signing there, and then driving to Oklahoma to pick up my parents for the Christmas holidays. Here is a photo of myself with two of the Waldenbooks workers. Nicole is on my right and Mallory on my left.


The Wild Iris by Louise Glück

Yesterday, I visited several East Texas libraries on my return to Monroe, Louisiana from the Fort Worth area, making sales and planning future programs. Last night, I read The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. It was a fabulous read. On the back cover, Helen Vendler, with the New Republic, says:

“Louise Glück is a poet of strong and haunting presence . . . What a strange book the Wild Iris is, appearing in this fin-de-siecle, written in the language of flowers. It is a lieder cycle, with all the mournful cadences of that form. It wagers everything on the poetric energy remaining in the old troubadour image of the spring, the Biblical lilies of the field, natural resurrection.”

My own response was similar to Robert Peake’s blog entry: First Read of Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris. He has some good thoughts and here’s the link to that: archives/ 194-First-Read-Of-Louise-Gluecks-The-Wild-Iris.html

Here are some lines from the Wild Iris (listed by page numbers) I underlined that I thought might be good starter ideas for titles or stories:

“Forgive me if I say I love you: the powerful/are always lied to since the weak are always/ driven by panic” (12)

“human beings leave signs of feeling/everywhere” (18)

“the moon is still that much of a living thing” (19).

“It was not meant/ to last forever in the real world” (23)

“What is my heart to you/ that you must break it over and over” (26).


In just a few minutes, I’m leaving for Waldenbooks in the mall at Alexandria, Louisiana, so of necessity, this is a short post. With schools being let out today, it should be a very busy shopping day at that mall. Hopefully, I’ll meet many teachers and can set up some programs. Tomorrow, I hope to have a posting relating a meeting with a Viet Nam helicopter pilot. A fascinating and touching story.