Gwynne’s ‘Perfect Pass,’ Lowry’s yogurt shop tale due this fall



Two more Austin authors have new books coming out this fall that should be high on our radar.

The first is from S.C. Gwynne, the author of “Rebel Yell” and “Empire of the Summer Moon.” His latest, “The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football,” will be published Sept. 20 by Scribner ($27).
It tells how Hal Mumme and Mike Leach revolutionized football by inventing “a potent passing offensive strategy that would revolutionize the game.”

Mumme, a Texas native, started the changes at Iowa Wesleyan, where he was head coach and Leach was his assistant in the late 1980s.

The other notable book: Beverly Lowry’s “Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.”
Published by Knopf on Oct. 11, it will sell for $26.95. As many longtime residents know, four teenage girls were killed in a yogurt shop in Austin in 1991, and the investigation lasted eight years. Two men were convicted, but they were eventually released for lack of evidence.

Lowry takes us deep inside the story.

A Texas literary brouhaha over ‘All the Good That Remains’


A brouhaha is brewing in Austin over allegations that Central Texas author B. Mitchell Cator has plagiarized other authors with his latest novel, “All the Good That Remains.”

On June 1, I got a press release about the book, and I was feeling a bit guilty for not having read it or assigned it for review. Now I’m feeling less guilty.

The June 1 release came from the PRNewswire and said, “An extraordinary new writer of immense power and tenderness, B. Mitchell Cator has written an unforgettable novel about longing, belonging, and friendship in a rural community lodged in the barren hills of Texas, where acceptance and change are rarely welcome. His novel, titled ‘All the God That Remains,’ (Anchor Hudson, 2016) debuts today and is available from booksellers everywhere.

The release described the main character as Deke, a loner and drifter with a good heart.

The release added: “Early praise for the novel includes Mary Helen Specht, author of bestseller ‘Migratory Animals.’ Specht says the novel is “Sharply written, fantastically plotted… gripping and moving… I couldn’t put this book down.” Kirkus Reviews gave “All the Good That Remains” a starred review, which is awarded to books of exceptional merit, and said, “The author writes beautifully: The lights atop the grain elevators ‘blinked like beacons, warning some things off and beckoning other things to come.’ In a sense, that passage describes this impressive book’s plot in a nutshell.” Lone Star Literary Life said “…well-written, engrossing… there is no denying that solid storytelling has shaped this absorbing Texas novel.”

Since the plagiarism allegations, the Kirkus Reviews piece has been removed from the site, as has the piece at Lone Star Literary Life.

Texas Monthly has posted an item detailing the charges of plagiarism. If you want to read it, go here.

A guide to new and upcoming Texas-related books


The Texas literary scene is still raining books. The accompanying photo shows a few of the Texas-related tomes that are just out or on their way to bookstores soon. The list isn’t comprehensive but is based on copies I’ve received in the last few weeks. We’ll try to keep wrapping up new titles each month.

From left, the books are:

“The Eternal Party: Understanding My Dad, Larry Hagman, the TV Star America Loved to Hate,” by Kristina Hagman with Elizabeth Kaye. (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99.) Hagman’s daughter writes about her family, including her grandmother, the Broadway star Mary “Peter Pan” Martin, and how she came to better understand her father in his final days in Dallas in late 2012. Hagman, of course, played the notorious J.R. Hagman on the classic TV show “Dallas.” But he was also known for his pot-smoking, LSD-taking and happy-go-lucky attitude – something that vanished as he begged for forgiveness from his daughter on his deathbed at a Dallas hospital. It also reveals an exchange of letters between Larry Hagman and his mother, and a terrible fight they had when Martin was living in Brazil in semi-retirement. The handwritten correspondence brought comfort to Hagman’s daughter, and it sheds a new light on a man who wasn’t hateful at all. The book’s release date is June 7.

“Soraya,” by Anis Shivani. (Black Widows Press, $15.95). This collection of sonnets from Shivani, a Houston author and critic, is described as surrealist poetry. He’s a graduate of Harvard College, and his previous books include “Anatolia and Other Stories” (2009) and “The Fifth Lash and Other Stories” (2012), both of which were longlisted for the Frank O’Connor international short story award. “Soraya” is essentially a series of 100 sonnets about love. The book was published in April.

“Hurt: The Inspiring, Untold Story of Trauma Care,” by Catherine Musemeche. (ForeEdge, $27.95). Musemeche, a pediatric surgeon and former professor of surgery at the University of Texas Medical School, looks at the advances in trauma care, based on her experiences in centers in Chicago and Houston. The publisher describes the book as “a riveting account of the multifaceted history of injury and the story of how trauma care evolved to become the sophisticated, effective system that it is today.” The book will be published in early September.

“News of the World,” by Paulette Jiles. (William Morrow, $22.99). The author, who lives on a ranch near San Antonio, will be touring extensively in Texas when this novel comes out in early October. It takes place just after the Civil War and deals with a former captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who performs readings of newspapers in North Texas to a paying audience that’s hungry for news of the world. But things begin to change when he accepts a new job: Deliver a young orphan in Wichita Falls to relatives in San Antonio – a dangerous trip through unsettled territory.

“T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit,” by Lloyd Sachs. (University of Texas Press, $26.95). Although born in Missouri, Burnett grew up in Fort Worth, so Texas still claims him, despite his current residence in Nashville. So it’s appropriate that the University of Texas Press is publishing the first critical appreciation of Burnett’s contributions to American music. Sachs tracks Burnett’s early days with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue; his collaboration with playwright Sam Shepard; his work with the Coen Brothers; his studio work with such artists as Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Los Lobos and Elvis Costello; and his musical compositions for such TV shows as “Nashville” and “True Detective.” This book should resonate with Austin readers and musicians, and it’s due in October.

“How to Be a Texan,” by Andrea Valdez. (University of Texas Press, $21.95). Valdez is a native Houstonian who has worked for Texas Monthly since 2006, where she edits She’s written a sly, lighthearted look at things you should do if you want to act and talk like a Texan. She offers tips on how to take a bluebonnet photo, how to learn the two-step and must-visit spots around the state. The book was published in May.

“Prepare to Defend Yourself… How to Age Gracefully & Escape With Your Dignity,” by Matthew Minson. (Texas A&M University Press, $28.) Minson, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, tells us how to have fun after 50, even though our bodies are undergoing dramatic changes. A&M says the book “takes on health, finances, sex, diet, exercise, death, the law and what you can do to protect what matters most as you age.” The book was published in May.

“Keeping Austin Weird,” by Red Wassenich, with illustrations by Penny Van Horn. (Schiffer Publishing, $24.99). Yep, Austin has a lot of weird stuff going on, and Wassenich offers his guide to such matters in this book that’s heavy on photos and illustrations. Chapters are devoted to weird places, weird people, weird art and other weird topics. In case you’re wondering, the weird people include Carl Hickerson, the perennial flower-seller and City Council candidate; Ginny Agnew and Nancy Toelle, who have sat on the shore of Lady Bird Lake off and on since 2010, holding a sign that offers free advice; Ben Sargent, the former American-Statesman cartoonist who operates a letterpress in a building next to his home; and American-Statesman columnist John Kelso, who specializes in weirdness, too. The book was published in April.

“The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire,” by Karl Jacoby. (W.W. Norton & Company, $27.95). Jacoby, a professor of history at Columbia University, tracks the life of William Ellis, who was born a slave on a Texas cotton plantation but eventually assumed a new identity as Mexican Guillermo Eliseo, who went on to own a luxury apartment building overlooking New York City’s Central Park. It’s a fascinating tell of who one man navigates racial codes and convinced many that he was Hispanic. The book will be available June 14.

“Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story – How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War,” by Nigel Cliff. (Harper, $28.99). Most people in Texas are familiar with the story of Van Cliburn and his legendary trip to Moscow to compete in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. The Soviets didn’t want Cliburn to win the competition, of course, but the Texan captivated the nation, going on to become an ambassador of hope between the two superpowers. Cliff is a London-based writer, and his book will be available in September.

“Before We Visit the Goddess,” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. (Simon & Schuster, $25). I’m currently working on a review of this novel by Houston author Divakaruni. She’s the McDavid professor of creative writing at the University of Houston, and she’s one of my favorite recent discoveries. “Before We Visit the Goddess” is full of different voices, going back and forth in time, with beautifully written chapters that could stand on their own as short stories but add layer upon layer of complication, wonder, humanity and empathy when joined together. The novel tracks the lives of three generations of Indian women, the oldest of whom, Sabitri, establishes a famous bakery back in India. Then there’s her daughter, the rebellious Bela, who runs away from home to marry a young man who’s living in California. And then there’s Bela’s daughter, Tara, a troubled soul who blames her mother for her parents’ divorce. Look for an expanded review in the American-Statesman this month.

“The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” by Lawrence Wright. (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95). I’ve mentioned this book, which is slated for August publication, before. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s easily one of the most enlightening analyses of the current rise of terrorism in the Middle East. Wright, the Austin-based Pulitzer winner, originally wrote much of this book as articles in The New Yorker, but he updates those pieces with new developments and offers a trenchant look at one of the biggest threats of our age. Look for a review of the book in August in the American-Statesman.

“Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe,” by James K. Galbraith. I’ve read most of this book, and it’s impressive in its understanding and revelations about the Greek fiscal crisis – and the problems with European unity. Galbraith holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas, and he has been a key adviser to former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Galbraith says the Greek situation is “economic policy as moral abomination.” The book will be available this month.

“Indeh: The Story of the Apache Wars,” by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth. (Grand Central Publishing, $25). Austin native and noted actor Hawke teams up with illustrator Ruth to tell the story of Geronimo in this graphic novel. It’s set in 1872, amid the devastation of the Apache nation, and the young Geronimo, who’s known as Goyahkla. The book will be published June 7.

“The Boys of Summer,” by Richard Cox. (Night Shade Books, $15.99). This novel from Oklahoma writer Cox is set in 1979, when a tornado devastates Wichita Falls and leaves scores dead. Among the survivors is 9-year-old Todd Willis. But for four years, he’s in a coma, and when he wakes, things are drastically changed. The novel then leaps 25 years into the future, when Willis is an adult and reflects on that life-changer summer. The book will be available in September.

“A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape,” by Matt Donovan. (Trinity University Press, $17.95). This book of essays from the co-chair of the creative writing and literature department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, was published by San Antonio’s Trinity University Press. It’s not Texas-focused, however. Instead, much of the book reflects on Donovan’s thoughts about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which buried Pompeii under 20 feet of ash. He then turns to other clouds – those that rose above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Trinity says that “the redemptive power of beauty permeates this spectacular work, reminding us that darkness and light make an inextricable pattern in our lives. The book was published in April.

“Terminated for Reasons of Taste,” by Chuck Eddy. (Duke University Press, $26.95). Eddy, an Austin-based music journalist, looks at the losers of rock ‘n’ roll, in part because he has issues with history being written by the winners. He includes much writing about winners, such as the Beastie Boys, Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen, but he also acknowledges his “appreciation of the lost, ignored and maligned,” and in doing so, he offers a multidimensional portrait of pop music. The book is scheduled to be published in September.

“The Red River Bridge War: A Texas-Oklahoma Border Battle,” by Rusty Williams. (Texas A&M University Press, $29.95.) Williams, a longtime Texas journalist, delves into the two-week war between Texas and Oklahoma in the summer of 1931, when the states rallied to arms over an old toll bridge across the Red River. As Williams describes it, the incident featured “National Guardsmen with field artillery, Texas Rangers with itchy trigger fingers, angry mobs, Model T blockade runners, and even a Native American peace delegation.” The book was published in May.

“The Turbulent Trail,” by Mike Thompson. (Five Star, $25.95). This novel from San Angelo writer Thompson focuses on a guy named Charlie Deegan, who was once an Army sharpshooter but has landed in Yuma Territorial Prison. He eventually escapes and becomes a cowboy in this historical western. The book was published in May.

“Birds in Trouble,”
by Lynn E. Barber. (Texas A&M University Press, $29.95.) This isn’t technically a Texas book, but since a state university published it – and since the issues raised span the nation – it seems appropriate to include. Barber, Alaska’s noted birder, decided to write this book after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, in an attempt to explain the plight of bird species that are declining each year. She focuses on habitats, and how changes to those natural areas have a huge impact on the survival of birds. The book includes lots of Barber illustrations of various species. “Birds in Trouble” was published in April.

“Morgue: A Life in Death,” by Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell. (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99). Di Maio is the former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, and Franscell is a longtime reporter. And the two team up for this behind-the-scenes look at how evidence and pathology play a role on the witness stand. The book was published in May.

Greg Abbott sets May 25 signing of new book, ‘Broken but Unbowed’


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has a new memoir coming out May 17, and it’s titled “Broken but Unbowed.”
For one hour only, he’ll be signing copies of the book at 11:30 a.m. May 25 at the Round Rock Barnes & Noble, in La Frontera Village, at I-35 and SH-45.

Abbott lost his ability to walk when an oak tree crashed down on his back, fracturing vertebrae into his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. At 26, he felt that the future he had dreamed of was gone.

As promotional materials point out, Abbott soon realized that our lives are not defined by our challenges, but by how we respond to them. He went on to overcome his paralytic limitations to become the longest-serving attorney general in Texas history and now governor, all while in a wheelchair.

The book also discusses Abbott’s legal challenges against the federal government, his defense of the Second Amendment and other matters. And he reportedly compares his own physical troubles to those of the nation, saying that our country has been broken, and that it’s up to us to restore America to its place in the world.

The book is being published by Threshold Editions and sells for $28.

Although advance reader copies have not made it to the American-Statesman, he’s a brief excerpt about the day of his injuries from online sources:

“The first shock was the sound—a loud explosion that sounded like a bomb had exploded about ten feet away. Reflexively, I turned my head to the right, where the sound originated. It was a tree. A big oak, well over fifty feet tall, with a trunk two or three feet wide—and an enormous crack at the base.

“And the tree was falling exactly where I was running.

“Think of the sense of panic you feel when you perceive imminent danger. That sudden sinking feeling in your stomach when your heart abruptly stops, then races rapidly. That moment of fright that makes your hair stand on end. Then multiply it times a hundred. That’s what I felt.

“In a nanosecond, thoughts raced through my head.

“If I stop or keep going straight, I’m gonna get clobbered, and I can’t go left because cars are parked there. Go right!

“The next thing I knew, I was down. Flat on my back. The entire catastrophe—from the time I heard the sound until I hit the ground—lasted no more than a second.

“The good news was that I was still conscious. The bad news was that I had not lost consciousness. The pain was immediate, excruciating, and unrelenting. I had broken bones in the past and had a concussion playing football. But this was altogether different.

“The pain was magnified by my inability to breathe. I’d had the wind knocked out of me before but this was beyond comparison. Trying to take in air ripped me with stabbing pains. Any attempt to exhale was sheer torture. All I could muster were short, shallow gasps.

“I didn’t know what had happened, but I could tell it was bad.”
To read more about the book, go here.

Chatting with Austin author Dominic Smith

Dominic Smith
Dominic Smith

My interview with Austin novelist Dominic Smith, whose latest is “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos,” is scheduled to run Sunday, but as usual, I had to leave out parts of the interview to keep the story to a manageable length.

So I’m including some of that here. It has to do with literary inferiority complexes, and whether Smith’s native Australia is similar to Texas in that respect.

Smith says that for most of the 20th century, Australia indeed had an inferiority complex, but that things changed in 1973, with Australia’s Patrick White won the 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.

“That gave a new generation of Australian writers the confidence that they could write Australian stories and have them be taken seriously as literature,” Smith says.

Still, he says, Australia went through what’s called the “tall poppy syndrome — that if someone shoots up and become great in one thing, there’s a historical impulse to cut them down. The idea is basically that Australia has a history of cutting down their tall poppies, and a lot of them.”

He adds: “There were a lot of writers and painters who left Australia and went to Europe or America to get known. I think that’s really changed, though. Despite cuts in recent years, there’s been a massive investment in the last 30 years in Australian arts, with quite an amount of funding for literature and art. I don’t know about Texas historically, but I think it’s true — that there’s a desire to prove one’s worth as an artist outside the confines of what is perceived as provincialism.”

And while Texas has no Nobel Prize winners in literature, Smith quickly points to the Texas tales of Cormac McCarthy and others, saying that he thinks regional Texas literature can also be universal.

“It’s interesting that with both Australia and Texas, there are these enduring stereotypes,” he says. “Both places are urban, but people culturally cling to the cowboy or the West Texas ranch or the Australian Outback. Most Australians have never been to the Outback.”

Smith’s new novel focuses on a female painter during the 17th century Dutch Golden Age, then switches to 1950s New York, where a lawyer named Marty de Groot has a painting of hers in his apartment on the Upper East Side. At the same time, a young art history student decides to forge that painting, only to be haunted by her youthful indiscretion when she finds out that her forgery is on its way to a museum in Australia where she works in 2000.

The painting at the center of the book is titled “At the Edge of a Wood.” It shows a young girl overlooking a scene of skaters on the frozen river below.

Smith says that the idea for the painting was inspired by the Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp. “He painted all those winter scenes where you see skaters out, a whole village. Avercamp was a generation before Judith Leyster (another inspiration for the novel), and he painted these winter scenes in the early 1600s. He lived in this very remote place, and he was deaf and also mute, and his winter scenes are to me spectacular because what they show is a cross section of society. … A peasant taking a leak, then you have this aristocratic-looking couple being pulled on an ice sled. At the very end (of the novel), the self-portrait of Sara de Vos is somewhat based on Judith Leyster’s self-portrait. It was probably her masterwork that she submitted to get into the Guild. She has the incredibly vital and alive expression, and she’s turned to the viewer and her lips are slightly parted as if she might speak to you. And I just love that painting. It was a nod to her as well.”

If you want to see the Leyster painting and learn more about Smith’s research for the novel, go here and read what Smith wrote recently for the Paris Review. And if you want to meet Smith in person, he’s appearing at the Blanton Museum of Art at 6:30 p.m. on April 21. For details on that event, go here.

Texas literary scene is hopping. Here’s to happy reading.

The Texas literary scene is still hopping, as previously reported. And it seems like a dozen or so Texas-related books arrive each month.

Here’s what’s coming up.

On Sunday, April 3, former American-Statesman staff Michael MacCambridge will be reviewing the new book from another former Statesman staff, Kevin Robbins. It’s a biography of Austin golf legend Harvey Penick, with the subtitle: “The Man Who Wrote the Book on Golf.” Robbins will be at BookPeople on April 13.

Next Sunday, April 10, I’ll be reviewing the terrific, fast-paced look at Austin in the 1880s by Skip Hollandsworth, executive editor of Texas Monthly. It focuses on a series of killings of black servant women and the panic it caused. And with his customary wit, Hollandsworth points out that the city really became alarmed when the same serial killer attacked and mutilated two white women. He suggests that the famous Austin moontowers might have been installed to help people feel safer on the streets. And he further notes that many newspapers around the country, at least at one point, thought that the Austin killer had moved on to London, where he became Jack the Ripper. It’s really quite a tale, and it’s the Statesman Selects title, in conjunction with BookPeople, for April.

Also coming in April: A review of Austin author Dominic Smith’s “The Last painting of Sara de Vos.” It’s historical fiction, dealing with the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to Amsterdam’s Guild of St. Luke in 1631. The book goes back and forth in time, from the 1600s to the 1950s and 2000. And it deals with an art historian who, in her earlier days, made a forgery of a de Vos painting, only to have it haunt her later in life when she’s a bigwig at an art museum. Smith will be the subject our series called Literary Austin.

There’s plenty more coming this spring and summer. One of the biggest surprises to me was the recent arrival of Lawrence Wright’s “The Terror Years.” It’s due in bookstores in August and its subtitle, “From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” indicates it’s a sequel of sorts to Wright’s Pulitzer-winning “The Looming Tower.” It consists of 10 pieces published in The New Yorker about the path to today’s ISIS terrorists.

Meanwhile, Austin’s Noah Hawley, who’s best known for TV work on “My Generation,” “The Unusuals,” “Bones” and “Fargo,” has a new novel titled “Before the Fall.” It’s due in late May and focuses on a group of people who board an ill-fated private plane from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. There are only two survivors – a down-on-his-luck painter named Scott Burroughs and a 4-year-old boy who’s the son of a media mogul. The book goes back in forth in time, with the backstories of the passengers, and more than a suggestion of possible foul play. Sounds great. But I haven’t started it yet, because I’m trying to finish “The Adventurist,” by Houston’s J. Bradford Hipps.

I have to say that I’m really enjoying the Hipps novel, in part because of the satirical, riotously funny tone about the modern corporate world. The main character is Henry Hurt, a software engineer in the South who tries to navigate a financially perilous situation at work while nursing a bit of lovesickness on the side. And on top of that, he’s haunted by the death of his mother, the possibility that his father is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and the persistent questioning of his career choice by a do-good, liberal sister who works for a nonprofit. I haven’t quite made up my mind what I think about poor Henry. But he makes me laugh, so I guess I’m simultaneously appalled and amused. It’s set for release in April.

With all of this coming up, I’m not sure how quickly I’ll get to the following titles, but I’ll try. They include:

“Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe,” by James K. Galbraith, who holds the Lloyd Bentsen Chair in Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas. He argues that the Greek financial situation is a potential international disaster. Galbraith sees the policies used toward Greece as a “moral abomination.” It’s from Yale University Press and is due in June.

“Waylon: Tales of My Outlaw Dad,” by Terry Jennings and David Thomas. Terry Jennings, Waylon’s son, was born when his dad was only 19, and he grew up in a wild period of touring, drugs and chasing women, along with multiple divorces and other troubles. It’s being billed as an honest warts-and-all biography. Terry is the founder of Korban Music Group and lives near Waco. He teamed up with Thomas, whose books including “Wrestling for My Life” and “Foxcatcher,” the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated film. He lives near Fort Worth. It’s due in April from Hachette.

“Terminated for Reasons of Taste,” by Chuck Eddy. Austin-based journalist Eddy shares his views on rock ‘n’ roll and how he thinks that most histories focus on winners rather than losers. He thinks the losers help make rock interesting. It’s due in September from Duke University Press.

“Before We Visit the Goddess,” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The author, who was born in India, is the McDavid professor of creative writing at the University of Houston. And her new novel focuses on the daughter of a poor sweet-maker in Bengal, India, who longs for an education. The girl eventually gets a benefactor, but the relationship sours. And years later, her estranged daughter flees India for America, only to have her dreams upended as well. The book jackets says that the novel “captures the gorgeous complexity of these multi-generational and transcontinental bonds, sweeping across the twentieth century from the countryside of Bengal … to the streets of Houston.” It’s due in April from Simon & Schuster.

“Another Year Finds Me in Texas: The Civil War Diary of Lucy Piers Stevens,” by Vicki Adams Tongate. It deals with a young Ohio woman who is visiting Bellville, Texas, when the Civil War breaks out and makes her return home impossible. The diary is one of the few from women during Civil War-era Texas and details her perspective on just about everything, from the weather to chores to slaves. Tongate explores the diary and provides commentary along the way. It’s from the University of Texas Press and is already in bookstores.

“Kent Finlay, Dreamer: The Musical Legacy Behind Cheatham Street Warehouse,” by Brian T. Atkinson and Jenni Finlay. Texas journalist Atkinson teams up with Finlay’s daughter, Jenni, to talk about the late Kent Finlay’s efforts to help aspiring artists while working at Cheatham Street Warehouse. Those he helped while working at the legendary San Marcos honky-tonk include George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Randy Rogers, James McMurtry and Eric Johnson. It’s already in bookstores and is from the Texas A&M University Press.

“Indeh: The Story of the Apache Wars,” by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth. Austin native Hawke teams up with illustrator Ruth to bring us a graphic novel about the Apache nation in 1872. It’s due from Grand Central Publishing in June.

Also of note: One of Austin’s favorite writers, Sarah Bird, has a small UT Press book titled “A Love Letter to Texas Women.” It’ll make a great Mother’s Day gift, if you’re wondering. We’ll have more on this title soon.

There are many more Texas-related books coming up, of course. I’ve just mentioned a few. And I’ll try to keep you informed about the latest. But this summer is going to be a good season for reading.

New Fiction Confab set for April 23

Virginia Reeves
Virginia Reeves
Karan Mahajan
Karan Mahajan

The seventh annual New Fiction Confab will be held on Saturday, April 23 at the John Henry Faul Central Library at 800 Guadalupe St.

This year’s event will feature Kirk Lynn (“Rules for Werewolves”), Karan Mahajan (“The Association of Small Bombs”), Karen Olsson (“All the Houses”), Virginia Reeves (“Work Like Any Other”), Alexander Chee (“The Queen of the Night”), Kaitlyn Greenidge (“We Love You, Charlie Freeman”), Samantha Hunt (“Mr. Splitfoot”) and Sunil Yapa (“The Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist”).

As you can probably tell, this will be quite a literary conclave, featuring some of Austin’s finest authors, plus such visiting authors as Chee, Greenidge, Hunt and Yapa.

The event is one of the biggest literary programs of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. All events are free and open to the public. For details on the various sessions, go here.

A chat with Harrigan



I sat down recently to talk with Austin author Stephen Harrigan about his upcoming book, “A Friend of Mr. Lincoln,” and the story about his new book is scheduled to be published Jan. 31.

But as usual, everything he said won’t make the article, which focuses mainly on Harrigan’s research of the young Abraham Lincoln as a circuit rider and politician in Springfield in his early days.

So here’s a tidbit from Harrigan on weaving Mary Todd, Lincoln’s wife, into his historical fiction:

“She was really fun to write,” Harrigan said. “You know, certain characters are a struggle for you, but certain characters, when you’re writing, you think, ‘Oh, I know that person.’ And Mary fell into that category where I felt she was someone I’d met and known. And she’s really interesting to put on the page.

As many people know, history hasn’t been particularly kind to Lincoln’s wife and partner. And Harrigan acknowledges that “she was a difficult person.”

“But she was also vivacious and fiercely intelligent. Had she lived in a different time, she’d be accepted. … She’s a woman who is frustrated by history. The only way into a political life for her is to marry some aspiring politician. She was every bit as ambitious as Lincoln was, and much more polished.”


AMC approves drama series ‘The Son’

A new TV series on AMC will be based on Austin author Philipp Meyer’s “The Son,” a sprawling epic with multiple viewpoints about the Texas oil industry.

The adaptation for TV was written by Meyer, Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, all graduates of the Michener Center at the University of Texas.

AMC announced that it had approved the series at the recent Television Critics Association tour in California.

The series is being produced by Sonar Entertainment, with Kevin Murray as showrunner and executive producer. The series is expected to have 10 episodes, but it’s still unclear when it will make its TV debut.

I’ve written quite a bit about “The Son,” and if you’d like to see an earlier story, click here.

Lots of great Texas-related books coming up


Despite high-profile arguments to the contrary, I’ve contended for the past few years that Texas literary culture is no longer the backwater that it once was, with numerous young and old writers doing great work.

And a big part of that is happening in Austin, in part because of the University of Texas, where scholars and recent graduates alike are writing intriguing books.

Here are just a few of such titles coming up in the next few months, and some of them sound great. (And please note, this is not a comprehensive list. It’s just based on galleys that I have received in the past couple of months. I’ve tried to order them by date of release.)

  1. “The City at Three P.M.,” a collection of essays by Peter LaSalle. Most of the essays here deal with LaSalle’s travels to places like Buenos Aires, Cameroon, Tunisia, Carthage and Paris. And most have a distinct literary bent, as he retraces the steps of Borges and others. He’s a member of the creative writing faculty in Austin and spends some of his time in his native Rhode Island. Publication: In December, $15.95 trade paperback, Dzanc Books.
  2. “A Friend of Mr. Lincoln,” a novel by Austin’s Stephen Harrigan. It opens with a one-armed man visiting Springfield, Ill., to pay respects to Lincoln’s body on the eve of his burial. But as it turns out, the man is far from a mere onlooker. He was a longtime friend of Lincoln in his early days, with Harrigan exploring, speculatively, his the president’s early days. Publication: February, $27.59, Alfred A. Knopf. (This will be one of 2016’s early highlights, for sure.)
  3. Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century,” by Daniel Oppenheimer, the director of strategic communications at UT. The author focuses on six major political figures who helped reshape American politics – Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens. Publication: February, $28, Simon & Schuster.
  4. “Work Like Any Other,” by Virginia Reeves. Reeves is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at UT, and her first novel focuses on 1920s Alabama, where a young man realizes the future of electricity, only to face a tragedy that threatens to destroy his family. Kevin Powers, author of “The Yellow Birds” and a former Michener fellow, says it’s an “exceptional novel told in clear, direct, and starkly beautiful language.” And Philipp Meyer, another Michener fellow and author of “The Son,” calls it a “striking debut about love and redemption.” Can’t wait to read it. Publication: March, $25, Scribner.
  5. “The Tombstone Race,” by Jose Skinner. A collection of short stories by an Austin writer who graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and who’s the former director of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Texas – Pan American. Publication: March, University of New Mexico Pres, $19.95. (It’s his second story collection, following “Flight and Other Stories.”)
  6. “The Association of Small Bombs,” a novel by Karan Mahajan. Mahajan grew up in India, but moved to the States and is a graduate of both Stanford University and the Michener Center for Writers. He lives in Austin, and his first novel, “Family Planning,” was a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize. The new novel deals with a timely topic – terrorism, and its longstanding effects on family and friends. Publication: March, $25.95, Viking. The book has endorsements from Adam Johson (“Orphan Master’s Son”) and Elizabeth McCracken (“Thunderstruck and Other Stories”). That’s good enough for me.
  7. “The Midnight Assassin,” by Skip Hollandsworth. The Texas Monthly writer and Dallas resident turns his attention to Austin in 1885, when a series of brutal murders rocked the city at a time when the term “serial killer” wasn’t even known. But that’s what Austin experienced, as a killer known as the Midnight Assassin stalked the city. The killings made national headlines, with a dozen men arrested in connection with the murders and an ensuing scandal. But three years later, detectives in London wondered whether the real Midnight Assassin had come to England and become Jack the Ripper. Hollandsworth has been working on this investigation for more than decade, and it sounds fantastic. Publication: April, $30, Henry Holt.
  8. “Sunset City,” by Melissa Ginsburg. A Houston native, Ginsburg is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and teaches creative writing at the University of Mississippi. Her new novel is described as an “erotically charged literary noir set in Houston, about a woman caught up in her friend’s shocking murder and the dark truth she uncovers.” Publication: April, $25.99, Ecco.
  9. “The Regional Office Is Under Attack!” by Manuel Gonzales, the former director of the Bat Cave in Austin and now a writing teacher at the University of Kentucky. His “Miniature Wife” was winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Publication: April, $27.95, Riverhead.
  10. “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos,” by Dominic Smith. Smith is one of Austin’s best writers, and that’s saying a lot, because we have a lot of great writers. I first came across him when I reviewed his first book, “The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre,” while working at the Dallas Morning News. His other books haven’t disappointed. They’re “Bright and Distant Shores” and “The Beautiful Miscellaneous.” In an author’s note, Smith has this to say: “During the seventeenth century, the Guild of St. Luke in Holland controlled all aspects of professional artistic life, including who could sign and date paintings. Its members included the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jan van Goyen. The historical record suggests that as many as twenty-five women were members of the guild… But only a small handful of those artists produced work that has survived or been correctly attributed. … One gap in the historical record concerns Sarah van Baalbergen, the first woman to be admitted to the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke. …. None of van Baalbergen’s work has survived.” This historic fiction tale tries to get to the bottom of that mystery – and others. Publication: May, $26, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  11. As I was putting this list together, two other titles came to my attention: “No Baggage,” by Clara Bensen and “Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso,” by Kali Nicole Gross. “No Baggage” is a memoir about Bensen and a university professor who decide on a risky adventure: take off on a trip with no plans, no reservations and no baggage while traveling to eight countries. Publication: January, $25, Running Press Book Publishers. “Hannah Mary Tabbs,” meanwhile, is a study of a crime in post-Reconstruction Philadelphia, with racial themes. It’s from an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at UT. Publication: February, $24.95, Oxford University Press.
  12. And there will be many more books popping up in the next few weeks. I’m sure I’ve left off some good ones that I should have included but got lost in the piles and piles at my desk. If you know of one, please feel free to email me.