A Short Review of The Bright Mason: An American Mystery by Robert Berry

Here is a summary of this book from the back cover:

This well-written book traces the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan in 1826 in western New York when he proposed to publish the secret rituals of the freemasons. His disappearance led to a firestorm of antimasonry from the public and from political parties. The controversy culminates in the emergence of the first third party to nominate a U.S. Presidential candidate.

I knew little of Freemasonry before I read this book. Berry is an award-winning journalist, and it shows in his writing. I’ve had many friends and acquaintances through the years who have been Masons, but other than seeing the distinctive ring, I don’t recall learning a thing about them. I suppose a member of any “secret society” must be guarded in ways, but what I’ve seen in my friends is a subdued, subtle secrecy. After reading this book, I wonder if modern members know of the volatile times in the early 1800’s, very important times in their history. As I am still ignorant of Masonry, because Berry’s book is the extent of my study so far, I’m also not sure if Masons today would view Berry’s book as an expose or an effort to objectively analyze the people and events related to Morgan’s disappearance.

You can read a great summary of the novel and Berry’s biographical information here:

Berry’s epigraphs for the fifteen chapters are well-chosen, the citations numerous, and the conclusions Berry draws are convincing. The story is unsettling in some ways, effectively making me realize how much the history books and politicians have left out of America’s story. I remember the same feeling when I read a book about Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, entitled, No Man Knows My History. The Bright Mason is a book that should be in the library of anyone who has interest in studying this period of America’s history. Berry has no hidden agenda–he merely wants to tell readers this forgotten story.

I hope you obtain this book so he can tell the story to you. It’s a story and a look into our past that will enrich and intrigue you.

A Skinful of Scotch by Clifford Hanley: A Short Review

I’ve found as I work hard in my frequent trips promoting my writing, storytelling, and music that serendipity often comes my way. That was certainly true for the book I just finished reading, which I paid a dime for at the Montgomery, Alabama Public Library. The title is A Skinful of Scotch (Houghton-Mifflin) and it’s written by journalist Clifford Hanley. The subtitle is “The guidebook that guides you to nothing–except what the Scot is really like.” Now admittedly, I have a rather odd sense of humor, but I found Hanley’s writing to be quite amusing with some of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, but I also found the book to be informative. He throws in so much “by the way” type of information (almost like you were talking to a Scotsman) that I now have a long list of items (people, places, terms, etc.) to research. So, if you want to know about “Auld Reekie” or a multitude of quirky Scottish facts, this is a book to read.

Hanley is well-published, a known and respected journalist and humorist, but he also has an autobiography and three novels. The MOST interesting bit of information was that he was the man who wrote the words for “Scotland the Brave”, which is an unofficial anthem of Scotland (along with “Flower of Scotland”) and I’ve included those lyrics in this post. The book’s jacket claimed that he was the author of Scotland the Brave and I thought the claim was a joke, but it turns out that he really did write the lyrics around 1950, though the tune had been in existence since 1900. As a Civil War reenactor, I find the tune a good one to march to.

Scotland the Brave

Hark! When the night is falling
Hark! Hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling, down through the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever, Scotland the brave.

High in the misty Highlands,
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens’ eyes.


Far off in sunlit places,
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss of sweet Scottish rain.
Where tropic skies are beaming,
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the homeland again.

Though there were too many to list them all, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

“The vanishing Highlander was helped to vanish by a fiscal exercise known as the Highland Clearances.” (17)

Gaelic was, “as every Scotsman knows, the tongue they spoke in the Garden of Eden” (18).

“Inverness is a pretty place . . . simply a lunatic asylum from which no traveller [sic.] returned” (21)

“[T]he tartan was taken to be a very big juju, heap strong totem, like Sioux war-bonnets, and the Government realised it could shear the Scotsman of his courage by abolishing the stuff altogether. A law as passed in 1746 forbidding the wearing of multi-coloured cloths in the Highlands. Penalty for the first offence, six months in jail; for a second offence, seven years’ transportation to the Colonies” (33)

Santos Benavides: The Forgotten Hispanic Confederate

As is true with the many black Southerners who fought with and for the South,  (Yes, folks, the South had black soldiers before the North thought of using them. It’s just a shame they didn’t use more!  Evidently Patrick Cleburne and others advocated this idea rather early in the war) I’m convinced that the role of Hispanic Confederates in the War Between the States has been gravely neglected.  I already knew that Juan Seguin and other Tejanos during the Texas Revolution had slipped from  prominence in the history books, and that is why writing and talking so much about them. I think I’m also going to have to add  Col. Santos Benavides (1823-1891) to my list of men to write about and include in my  Texas  History Program that I do in  schools. Here are some highlights of this forgotten  Hispanic Confederate leader and warrior:

1. He was the highest ranking Hispanic to serve in the Confederacy. He was captain of the 33rd Texas until promoted to colonel in 1863. According the Handbook of Texas Online, “His greatest military triumph was his defense of Laredo on March 19, 1864, with forty-two troops against 200 soldiers of the Union First Texas Cavalry, commanded by Col. Edmund J. Davis, who had, ironically, offered Benavides a Union generalship earlier. Perhaps Benavides’s most significant contribution to the South came when he arranged for safe passage of Texas cotton along the Rio Grande to Matamoros during the Union occupation of Brownsville in 1864.”

2. Before serving with the Confederacy, he had a reputation as an Indian fighter.  Below is a photo of Benavides and one of his gravestone.  I sense there’s a real story waiting for me about this man.

Return to Monroe . . .

I just entered my quarterly contest for Booklocker. Boy, am I tired. I’ll print the story I entered at a later time when the contest has been judged.

After my signing today at the Frisco Barnes & Noble, I left around 5:30 and arrived in Monroe, Louisiana about 11:00 p.m. Weather was great, and during the drive I finished listening to an audio CD of The Pale Criminal by Phillip Kerr, a pre-WWII noir novel. I found it quite enjoyable. Before I began my signing (around 1:00 pm) I met with the Frisco Public Library and with Lochran’s Irish Pub in Frisco and it looks like I could be booked at both places this next year. Great people. My signing went well, lots of sales, and I met so many wonderful people. Below are photographs of two of the B&N children’s area workers. The first is of me and Dani and the second of me and Jen. I could tell these bright and beautiful workers loved their work!

jen b&n 08 frisco

jen 08 b&n frisco

Friday in Wichita Falls

Today, I’m presenting programs at Region 9 Educational Service Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. I’ve already presented my Scots-Irish and Civil War programs, and after lunch, I’m going to present my Texas History program. That program is a new one, and I hope to add other new programs including the World War I Poets and another for Chinese Poetry. I am a Native Texan, and I love the state of my birth. The Texas Program (like my others) has more than I can present in one session, but here are the highlights I’m prepared to address:

I. The TEKS it addresses:


02. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues prior to the Texas Revolution shaped the history of Texas.
03. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues related to the Texas Revolution shaped the history of Texas.
04. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues shaped the history of the Republic of Texas and early Texas statehood.
05. The student understands how events and issues shaped the history of Texas during the Civil War and Reconstruction.


19B – Culture
The student understands the concept of diversity within unity in Texas. The student is expected to describe how people from selected racial, ethnic, and religious groups attempt to maintain their cultural heritage while adapting to the larger Texas culture.

Social Studies 42D
The student will identify the accomplishments of significant empresarios including Moses Austin, Stephen F. Austin, and Martín de León and explain their impact on the settlement of Texas

II. The Empresarios (especially the Irish empresarios)

III. The Tejanos (influence, culture, importance)

1. Juan Seguin, Santo Benavides and other significant leaders

2. Comancheros, Ciboleros and other unique groups

IV. The Comanche and Kiowa Cultures and Wars, stories of captives such as Cynthia Parker, famous war chiefs such as Quanah Parker and Nokona (Comanche) Lone Wolf and Satanta (Kiowa).

V. The Civil War in Texas

VI. The Texas Rangers

VII. Books about Texas/lecture and writing exercises on Not Between Brothers by David Marien Wilkinson and Larry McMurtry’s series: Dead Man’s Walk, Comanche Moon, and Lonesome Dove.

VIII. The History of Texas in Song (featuring historical songs, but also some songs by friend and songwriter, Jed Marum)

Math of the Civil War

To prepare students for state tests, I’ve sometimes been asked to work some math work  into my Civil War presentation. Here is the sheet I used at a school I visited last year. Feel free to copy, print, and use it as long as you give me and this site credit.


1. This site (Create for Mississippi) is rich with handouts and ideas related to math and math exercises for the Civil War.  The site has word problems, models, and ideas.
2. From Education World Students prepare foods, including hardtack, that were among the staples of a Civil War soldier’s diet. Objectives Students follow recipes to create foods that were common foods of the Civil War era. http://www.education-world.com/a_lesson/00-2/lp2001.shtml
3. Civil War Math (Symmetry)  Homepage (Gettysburg, Pa)
Topics of exercises and activities include timelines, Morse code, percent of change and symmetry.  Addresses standards such as:
4. Georgia State Parks:  There are some mathematics activities listed on this site: http://www.gastateparks.org/net/content/item.aspx?mode=p&s=121480.0.1.5
5. Civil War Artillery Projectiles http://civilwarartillery.com/
All kinds of charts and technical information related to the physic of artillery. For a list of other projectile oriented sites and physics see also: http://www.bigado.com/mn1website/search.php?Search=SEARCH!&q=projectiles
6. Civil War Signal  & Telegraph Corps http://www.civilwarsignal.org/

Egg-shell Thin by Karen Harmon: A Short Review

Egg-shell Thin by Karen Harmon: A Short Review

A good detective novel is more difficult to write than one might think, especially when it’s a first novel. I’ve read the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke and enjoyed them, but until I read Egg-shell Thin by Karen Harmon (Publish America), there were few other detective novels I memorably enjoyed.  Designed to be the first in a series, the cover of Egg-shell thin indicates it is “A Fairplay Novel Featuring Private Investigator Adrienne Hargrove.”

Karen Harmon is the liberal arts coordinator and English professor at Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe, Louisiana.  Monroe is also where she sets her novel, but instead of slavishly mapping out the town, she has created and added (or at least changed the names of) geographical details in Northeast Louisiana. It is obvious she has intensely studied the terrain of her setting and her writing reflects the nuances of life for several types of people.  Harmon’s writing is descriptive and rich in detail and reflects extensive research.

This is a psychological novel that forces you to think about, to define, and to fear the “pathological” condition. It is also genuinely a detective novel, describing the personal life, the work, and the inner and outer conflicts in the life of a female private detective.  The novel has a good pace with adequate complications and conflict to make it a great read, and the insights into “black market babies” are thought provoking.  The language of the novel feels “true,” and caused me to realize that no matter how normal things appear on the whitewashed surface, underneath even North Monroe society sadness, corruption, and pathology can fester.

The title is more significant than one might think at first glance, and as the reader moves through the P.I.’s world, the richness of the title develops each time the phrase “egg-shell thin” is used.  The back cover says, “Adrienne Hargrove has always been aware that humans are fragile creatures walking an egg-shell thin line between innocence and deviance.”  I think the novel also reveals the egg-shell thin lines in relationships (love and hate), hope and sanity (p. 186), and conscience.

Here are a few of my favorite lines/phrases from the novel:

“The terrifying coldness of the empty crib” (29)
There is a great quote by Thoreau: “I shall not looking back on my life discover that I never really lived at all” ( 86)
“Seconds away from missing each other again, she thought. It’s like a special hand is holding onto us, not letting us lose each other in the shadows” (101)
“Sometimes life’s too sad to cry” (151)

The novel begins with a beautifully worded poem written by Jaime R. Wood and entitled “eggshell thin” that serves as an epigraph. You can read more of Wood’s poetry here:

Here is the poem that begins the novel:

“eggshell thin”

the motions between
a parade and a massacre
and my mind’s ability to
tell the difference

the reality of your life
and mine, separated by
three small degrees
making us neighbors
with billions of people
we’ll never know

my marriage day
so close to death that
I stopped breathing
when I said I do
–the immense change
between closing my eyes
and enjoying my self-created darkness

our lives so full of illusions
some by choice are kept
cradled, some swept
away in search of the reality
we remember hearing about
in fairytales

it’s all so eggshell thin.

This is a novel that deserves to be considered as a movie. I understand that discussion for that to happen is actually under way.  Harmon’s second novel featuring Private Investigator Adrienne Hargrove will be published in the near future. I am sure I will enjoy that novel equally as much as Egg-shell Thin.  I think she has a good start for a good series. You can order Egg-shell Thin here:

Saturday, Sherman, Texas, BAM Signing

Yesterday, I had a fantastic day at Honey Grove, TX  Jr. High.  That evening, I helped my mother till her fall garden. I love working with the soil (animals, I’m not too good with). Today, I had a signing at the Sherman Texas Books-A-Million.  I wore my kilt and reception to my new Scottish book was very good and it was another sell-out. Here is a photo of myself and the two Rachels who work at the store. Both are creative writers so we had much to talk about.


To make this post and check emails, after my signing, I’m once again at Paneras (with the fine food and coffee) so I can have a wireless connection.

A New Review of The Scottish Alphabet: A Children’s Picture Book

Today, I’m posting a review of my new children’s book that was printed in the September/October issue of Ceili, a Publication of the Southwest Celtic Music Association.

Scottish Alphabet
Written by Rickey E. Pittman
Illustrated by Connie McLennan

A Book Review by Dawn Sparacio

How does one write a book review for an ABC book?  There’s no plot, no action, no redeeming moral.  And yet, how does one get the word out about such a book unless there is a review?  This is a dilemma I’m happy to attempt, and only hope my words and screenshots taken from some of the book pages will peak your interest – especially if you are a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle to a young child.

Scottish Alphabet by Rickey E. Pittman is so much more than your run-of-the-mill ABC primer.  History, culture, and mythology are all included in this simple work.  Illustrations by Connie McLennan made the book an interesting read, even for this old bird!

It is not enough to say this book teaches the ABCs to beginning readers.  Mr. Pittman has included Scottish culture and history in the “sing-song” verses that accompany each letter.  Ms. McLennan’s graphic yet simple illustration style includes not only pictures for Mr. Pittman’s words, but adds traditional art elements (such as Celtic knotwork and woven patterns) and native Scottish animal life to each picture.  While you may not recognize some of the animals (I didn’t!), you at least have a visual idea of some of the native life in Scotland.

The little rhymes Mr. Pittman uses to describe each letter also include words highlighted in bold text.  They may not begin with the letter on the page, but they are often times words that a child exposed to Celtic culture will hear or see.  These highlighted terms are included in a short glossary at the end of the book, with Scottish Gallic words including pronunciation guides.

Very young children will enjoy looking at the pictures as they are learning their ABCs.  Slightly older children will begin to learn a little history and culture as they read the verses.  And those of us who refuse to grow up will delight in the simplicity of a time when all the world was new and everything we saw taught a lesson.

Rickey Pittman’s book Scottish Alphabet, along with other books he has written, can be purchased online at his website:  http://www.rickeypittman.com/books.html.

How I Created My First Novel

You won’t understand the good-ole-Boys of the South if you only listen to Jeff Foxworthy and other comedians of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. While their writing and jokes are funny and often true, there can be much more to the Bubbas of the South. I grew up observing the good-ole-boys who lived along the Red River in North Texas and I learned some things from them. There are many synonyms for these renegades and outlaws who made the Texoma region their vacation land– good-ole-boys, rednecks, desperadoes. They are the subject matter of songs we love, songs written by men who have a bit of the outlaw in them–men like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. I like those songs so much I’ve suggested to my good musician friend, Johnny O’Neal that he create a CD of the many outlaw songs he does. Having played bass guitar with him for over a year, I noticed how the crowds LOVE those songs. The good-ole-boys of the South with their dark, wild, violent and quirky characteristics have inspired many movies. Newspaper articles about them shock us as we read of their bizarre and sometimes brutal escapades. Of course, women in the Red River Valley can also demonstrate the same characteristics.

One day I was listening to my mother, Jessie Faye Pittman (Don’t you just love Southern names?) tell me story after story of the crazy antics of the rednecks who lived along the Red River. I was writing down every one of the tales in total amazement. My mother stopped suddenly and said: “I don’t know what gets into people who live along this Red River. It’s like they’re sick or something.” At that moment the title of my novel popped into my brain: Red River Fever. I got to work, and a year later, I had a novel.

At signings and readings in North Texas, I will often have someone say to me: “You wrote about my uncle, didn’t you? He said he was the one that done that . . .” I assure them that the novel is a work of fiction and that I did not have their uncle in mind. (Do novelists ever change the names and other details to protect the guilty?) These boys along the Red River could get so out of control that I chose this quotation by Thomas Moore as an opening epigraph:

“This wretched brain gave way, and I became a wreck at random driven, without one glimpse of reason or of heaven.”—Thomas Moore.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from my novel, Red River Fever. If you want to know more about rednecks and why they fascinate the American public, I hope you’ll take a look at it. This quotation introduces another strange Valley character, a religious man who called himself Enud the Prophet. He and his congregation are contemplating the spread of the mythical Red River Fever that sweeps through the Valley every few years:

“At a dilapidated farmhouse outside Durant, members of the Good Hope Pentecostal Church gathered for prayer and meditation. The foundation of the house had been skewed by shifting soil, and the right corner of the wood-shingled roof slanted toward heaven. Inside, a dirt dauber buzzed in the corner and crawled up the cabbage rose wallpaper into its earthen sarcophagus, and a brown recluse spider scurried across the sloping floor toward the group sitting around a battered oak table.
A large redheaded man stretched out his leg, squashed the spider with his boot and whispered, “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” He licked his finger and flipped through a ragged bible. His finger rested on verses underlined in red ink, marked so long ago that the ink had bled through the pages. “ The good Lord has spoke to me and I have a verse to share, my brothers and sisters,” he said. “It’s time. Soon the earth shall disclose its blood. Jeremiah 48:8 says, ‘And the spoiler shall come upon every city, and no city shall escape: the valley also shall perish . . .’ ”
“Is it the fever?” a woman asked.
Enud stared at his Bible. “I’m afraid so, Sister Ethel. I’m afraid so.”
The supplicants knelt together. As the sun set, the shrill monosyllabic sounds of unknown tongues broke the quiet of the valley’s encroaching darkness—a darkness they could feel.”