Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Memories

This is an excerpt from my new book , a humorous memoir titled A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. One of these days I might even finish it and find a publisher for it.

Halloween is not like it used to be. With concerns over Politically Correct costumes, candy that has been tampered with, and "who is that stranger driving slowly down the street", Halloween has lost some of the charm of my childhood. But it is still an event of magic and excitement and an opportunity for pure unadulterated fun.

It is also one of the times I miss my kids the most.

We always took the holiday very seriously when the kids were young, spending weeks on costume preparations and decorating. "Carving The Pumpkin" was a family affair that took an entire evening and even dinner was suspended for preparations for Trick or Treating.

The year the twins were two, we thought it would be the perfect time for them to be totally swept up in the Halloween experience. The older kids were even willing to pare back their expectations of the most awesome costume so we could concentrate on the twins. We could all share vicariously in their excitement when we took to the streets.

Paul, being a generally easy-going kid, allowed us to dress him up in the cat costume that had originally been made for Anjanette ten years prior. Since it was yellow, he didn't seem to care that it had belonged to a girl first. He even sat quietly while we painted whiskers on his cheeks.

Danielle, however, had a hard time getting into the swing of things. She didn't want to put on her clown costume and balked at my attempts to put make-up on her face. She didn't want to go Trick or Treating and she didn't want to carry that brown paper bag. But after I forced her into the costume, smeared her face, and shoved her out the door with her bag she finally resigned herself to the indignity of it all.

After about a half- hour, Danielle had a complete change of heart. This was pretty cool, going up to a house and having someone toss a candy bar into her bag. And she didn't have to do anything except say "thank you."

Another hour later, Paul's energy level was so low it dragged on the sidewalk along with the tail from his costume. Since both kids had bags that weighed more than they did, I thought it was the perfect time to go home. The older kids agreed; they were eager to go off with their friends. Paul agreed because he agreed to most anything those days. The only dissenter was Danielle. How could she pass up this mother-lode of candy?

I finally got her home, after enduring stares from neighbors whose expressions asked what terrible thing was I doing to this poor hapless child, who was screaming louder than the ghost sound effects on the corner.

After a bath and a solemn ritual of exacting promises from the other kids that they wouldn't touch her bag of candy, Danielle was in bed. I collapsed on the couch for a five-minute break before tackling the clean-up in the bathroom.

Then I heard the soft shuffle of footsteps coming down the hall. I opened my eyes to see Danielle with an eager smile. "Can we do this again tomorrow?

What I wouldn't give to hear her say that again this year.


What special memories does Halloween bring for you?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Spiders? I'm not Afraid of Spiders

Today being Halloween Eve, if Halloween is important enough to have an Eve, I thought I would have some fun with spiders... er, I mean about spiders. I'm not nearly as terrified of them as I used to be, but still, there are limits.

I thought about doing this blog the other day when I took this picture. This spider has lived outside one of my kitchen windows -- outside being the operative word here -- since early spring. I have watched it since it was a tiny thing as it grew, caught bugs, repaired its web, and laid a jillion eggs.

I had no idea one spider could make so many little spider egg bags. I counted at least twenty on the eave above the web.

Since moving out to the country, I have had to become much more tolerant of insects and other creatures than I used to be, but it took a while before I could become comfortable letting a spider keep its home in my garden or around my house. I grew up with a father who was terrified of spiders and I learned his lesson well.

Once, when I first moved to Texas and knew I was going to die from having a huge tarantula bite me one day, I had to call my neighbor - a native Texan - to help me with this spider I saw on the room divider by my front entry. Mind you, I was a good 25 feet away in the entry to my kitchen, frozen in fear.

I kept trying to be brave enough to cross that line between my kitchen and my living room so I could face this monster alone, but my feet wouldn't move from tile to carpeting. So I had no recourse but to call my neighbor to save me. A few minutes later, she came in the back door and asked me where the spider was.

"Up there," I said pointing to the divider. "At the top of that post."

She walked over, looked around, then reached up. "You mean this?" she asked, pulling down a piece of tinsel left from Christmas decorations the month before.


I am proud to say that I am not nearly as phobic now, but I do draw the line on the spiders invading my house. As I write this, my husband is vacuuming two spiders out of the bathtub for me.

What about you? Are you afraid of spiders? Have any funny stories to share?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gift Book Suggestion

Here is another review of a book that would make a wonderful gift. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing this book when it first came out as a self-pubbed book through IUniverse. After it got rave reviews it was picked up by a major publisher and re-released this year. A wonderful read....

STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova

Alice Howland, a Harvard professor of linguistics has trouble remembering a few things. But she doesn’t worry that there is something seriously wrong with her. After all, her husband, John, keeps forgetting where he put his keys, but that assurance is shattered the day Alice forgets how to get home after her morning jog. She stands in the middle of Harvard Square and has no idea which street she needs to take to find her house.

That experience scares her enough that she goes to see a neurologist, who, after a series of tests, diagnoses Alice with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease

Because the story is fiction, and fiction often comes with a happy ending, I kept waiting for the miracle. The diagnosis would be a mistake, or the clinical trial would work and Alice would somehow recover. But the book is so laced with reality, the “happy ever after” ending just wouldn’t work. Alzheimer’s is a slow, emotionally wrenching, death of cognition that affects family and friends almost as severely as it affects the patient. Still Alice chronicles that demise accurately as it happens to the Howland family, and they all struggle toward acceptance. But this is not a sad or depressing read. It is positive and uplifting.

As the central character finds unique ways to maintain her dignity and her tenuous hold on reality, she makes a plea for all people with dementia to be treated with respect. “We, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are not yet utterly incompetent. We are not without language or opinions that matter or extended periods of lucidity. Yet, we are not competent enough to be trusted with many of the demands and responsibilities of our former lives.”

She ends that speech by asking doctors to step up research to find a cure for the disease, and asking the medical community and the general public not to run away from people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, but to work with them to maintain and celebrate who they are. “I am not what I say or what I do. I am fundamentally more than that.”

And that is the heart of Still Alice as she, and her family, try to hang on to the fundamental part of her that doesn’t change because she can no longer remember who they are.

Books published by iUniverse are often not very well written or edited, but this one could have easily come from a major publisher like Knopf. The depth of characterization and insight into human relationships reminded me of books by Anne Tyler, and the narrative was just as strong, with the facts about the disease seamlessly woven in.

Still Alice is endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association and a portion of the sale of each book is donated to research.

# Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Pocket; 1st Thus. edition (January 6, 2009)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 1439102813
# ISBN-13: 978-1439102817

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Write

I love to read interviews with authors, especially when each interview covers something new and different -- not just the latest promo for a book.

Perhaps this comes from all the years I spent doing feature articles and profiles of people. I like to go beyond the surface and find out interesting details about a person. Those little details often speak more eloquently about a person than the more obvious points.

I was really pleased when J.W. Coffey from contacted me for an interview, and she sent me some questions that do go beyond the basics. One of the things she asked is why I write, and I had to stop and think about that one for a bit.

Here is a LINK to the interview if you are interested in reading it.

J.W. has interviewed some other authors that you might find of interest while you are on the site.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kids Will Love This Book

Today, I am recommending a book for the children on your holiday shopping list. I met this author at a signing event and fell in love with her books. She has a whole series featuring a family of dogs, and this one is her latest.

The Mystery of the Spaniel Family’s Dog House

This delightful book by Sharon Ellsberry, has unique characters, great illustrations, and a story that maintains its interest to the end. Children love stories about animals, and lots of adults do, too, and these dogs are endearing characters.

In this latest story featuring The Spaniel Family, they have a new adventure when a ghost invades their home. They call in a ghost hunter, who soon discovers the ghost is really Moe, the mole. The “ghost” then tells a spooky story and leads the Spaniel family to a house where something mysterious is going on. In fact, something mysterious is going on all over town.

The Spaniel family, Maggie, Joe, and Daisy decide that they must solve this mystery, so they follow Moe to the abandoned house. Jaba the Mutt, the bulldog ghost-buster, goes along, but he prefers to ride in the wagon instead of walking all that way. Once there, he assumes the lead and uses his “ghost finding equipment” to determine what is in that dark cellar.

This is a well-written story with an engaging mystery and a surprising, yet pleasing resolution. A great deal of attention has been paid to making the prose lyrical and appealing to young readers – and older readers. Kids of all ages will absolutely love Jaba the Mutt, and the similarity with the Star Wars character is unmistakable. The pencil illustrations by Amy Fox are detailed and delightful, pulling the reader deeper into the story and bringing it to life.

The Spaniel Family books are noted for the engaging characters, delightful prose, as well as poems and songs that young readers can enjoy. They are geared toward readers age 5-10, but they are also the kind of books that parents and grandparents can enjoy reading to young people.

The Mystery of the Spaniel Family’s Dog House
By Sharon Ellsberry
Illustrated by Amy Fox
ISBN: ISBN:978-0-9790777-1-5

Website ---- Buy link

Friday, October 23, 2009

Books Make Wonderful Gifts

Off and on over the next month I will post reviews of books that I think would make good Holiday gifts. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but Dani Greer who founded The Blood Red Pencil blog came up with it first, and there will be recommendations there throughout the month of November, and maybe into December.

To start off, I am recommending Breathing Water by Timothy Hallinan I had never read his work, but asked for a copy of this one for my Birthday. I'm glad I did.

In this third book of a series featuring ex-pat writer Poke Rafferty, the reader is treated to a visit to Bangkok to witness the delicate intricacies of the social and political system of Thailand, not always a pretty sight.

The story begins when Rafferty wins a most unusual prize in a late-night poker game – the chance to write the biography of Khun Pan, one of the richest men in the country who has a criminal past and a deadly secret. Pan is vulgar and pretentious, spending millions on his “Garden of Eden” complete with a gold serpent, within his home compound.

Pan is loathed by many, especially those in power who are threatened y his political ambitions. But Pan is also loved by many others because he pulled himself out of poverty to become a very powerful man who has supported causes that help the poor. Rafferty’s wife, Rose, is a great admirer of Pan and believes that he could initiate great social change if he achieves a political position.

Soon after the poker game, Rafferty is contacted by opposing forces. One pays him thousands of baht to write the book, the other warns him off, threatening his wife and their adopted daughter, Miaow. Soon they are all caught up in a web of intrigue that includes street kids, stolen babies, corruption, and murder.

One of the thrills of reading a book set in another country is the opportunity to get a feel for the place and the people, and Hallinan gives us Bangkok in all its splendor and its squalor. He also introduces characters so real they could step out of the book and join us for coffee.

This is a book that can be enjoyed on many levels. The mystery, danger, and intrigue satisfy the lover of mystery and thriller, while the relationships give the story depth. Especially nice is the relationship between Rafferty and Arthit, one of the few honest cops in Bangkok. It is portrayed not in sweet sentimentality, but with enough emotion to make you pause a moment to readjust your heart.

Breathing Water
• Hardcover: 352 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (August 18, 2009)
• ISBN-10: 0061672238
• ISBN-13: 978-0061672231

Of course, I think my books would also make nice Holiday gifts. Check my Web site for excerpts and details about each book.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Our Right to Protest

The furor over the Tea Parties held across the country to protest health care reform and other issues of significant importance has died down just a bit recently, but there are still commentators who question whether the parties do any good.
Colleen McCain Nelson who is on the editorial board at The Dallas Morning News had this to say:
"I can't argue that free speech is bad for America -- even when I disagree with what folks are saying. But I'm not certain what the tea parties are accomplishing - beyond assembling an angry mob."

Another pundit wondered if the movement is helpful or harmful.

Personally, I like the idea of the tea parties. In fact, I was suggesting we do something like the Boston Tea Party long before the current craze, but instead of dumping tea in the Boston Harbor, I suggested dumping all the politicians into the water and getting new ones.

But I digress.

I think the current move to take more control over government is a good one, and we have to keep in mind that people are sometimes going to be emotional and strident about issues that touch them personally.

What about the mob that threw the tea in Boston Harbor in 1773? Do you think they were polite and orderly? There had to be a lot of shouting and name-calling going on there.

Yes, it would be nice if people could always behave civilly in these Tea Parties. Civility is something we are sorely lacking in public today, but we have to keep in mind that emotions often override reason, and people react before they have had a chance to stop and think.

I don't know if the Tea Parties have influenced any decisions coming out of Washington, but one good thing is that people are stepping forward and doing more than complaining about what is going on with government. Also, I think the movement has increased voter participation and that is a good thing.

What do you think? Are the meetings creating more harm than good?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If A French Woman can do it, why not I?

Here is some more fun from my friend Tracy Farr. Enjoy.......

I have finally come to a decision – I’ve decided to suck it up, bite the bullet and lose a bit of weight before some fisherman spots me and tries to harpoon me for Sunday brunch.

I may only lose an ounce or two in my quest for thinness (I tend to set my goals low when it comes to extra-curricular physical exertion), but by golly, I’m going to do it this time; not like last time when I got it in my mind to be healthy and thin, and then got it right out of my mind when I found a gallon of Cookies & Cream ice cream in the freezer. And you know there’s no way I can let a gallon of ice cream stay unopened for something as silly as wanting to look more like Jack LaLanne instead of Moby Dick.

What is it that has inspired me to change my ways and tonnage? The answer is French Women.

According to what I read in an article about the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure” by Mireille Guiliano, French women never set foot inside gyms or fitness centers and they are still skinny. No treadmills, no stationary bikes, no weights, and no puking up their guts after trying to run a mile like they could when they were younger but were horribly mistaken and will never do it again (not saying that happened to me, but just saying).

Did you hear me? French Women -- no gym, they eat what they want and they’re still skinny! And that’s coming from Mireille Guiliano, a French woman, and you’d think she’d know.

Of course French Women do other things to remain so slender, like walking a lot and eating in moderation, but I just skipped over that section of the article. The important detail is they DON’T work out at a gym.

Gyms are sad, smelly places where young people with a lot of energy go to sweat, because they look good while sweating; whereas old people just look like sad, sweaty old people trying to ward off the Grim Reaper for a couple more years without blowing a knee or a hip.

Of course, I have no idea if a gym is sad or smelly because I’ve never stepped inside of one; but if I did, the “behind my back” conversation would probably go something like this:

“Poor guy. Practically looks dead already. Hey, we better keep an eye on him while he’s walking that treadmill. I bet his heart is ready to go at any moment. And wouldn’t that ruin a good day of healthy sweating for the rest of us?”

The first person who thought of opening up a commercial fitness center was a genius; right up there with Einstein, Bill Gates, and Richard James, the inventor of the Slinky. All the exercise genius had to do was find a building, buy some equipment, invite people to come and pay money to sweat, and convince his wife he wasn’t crazy (the hardest part). And if that isn’t genius, I don’t know what is.

But back to French Women – French Women don’t sweat. Well, what I mean is they don’t sweat off the pounds by going to the gym, and since they don’t shave their legs and underarms either (just like me), I might as well give this “not going to the gym to lose weight” thing a try.

So here’s my plan: Starting Monday, I’m going to walk briskly to the couch, sit down, put my feet up and hold them there until I’ve finished the newspaper. Then I’ll stand up, walk briskly to the icebox, do five reps of scooping Cookies & Cream into a bowl (maybe seven reps if I feel energetic), walk briskly back to the couch, sit down, put my feet up again, and hold them there for as long as I can get away with it, then relax.

And then I’m going to write my own book. I think I will call it, “Fat Men Who Sit on the Couch and Idolize Skinny French Women for their Workout Regime; A Guide to Better Health and Eating Without Worrying That Your Arteries Are About to Explode.”

Me and French Women – we know how to feel the burn!

Tracy Farr is a teacher living in East Texas and drives a school bus for the fun of it. In his spare time he plays the banjo, but never on Thursdays. You can read more of his stories at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Wonderful Book

When I lived in Omaha, Nebraska for almost ten years, one of the highlights of my day was reading the Omaha World Herald. I missed the Dallas Morning News and the Herald did not measure up in lots of ways, but it did contain the work of Jeffrey Koterba, a terrific political cartoonist. He has a sharp wit, and sometimes a profound insight into a current event, and his cartoons always made me smile.

After I came back to Texas and was again reading the Dallas Morning News, I was delighted to sometimes see a Koterba cartoon on the editorial pages. When I saw this ONE after Mary Travers died Sept 17th, I wrote to Jeff to thank him for such a fitting cartoon. I wanted his permission to use it on the blog I wrote about Mary, but he was a little slow to respond. When he did, he apologized for not seeing the message sooner, and told me that one reason was he was busy with a book that is being released early in November.

We e-mailed back and forth a couple of times, and I offered to read the book and possibly review it.

Inklings, which is a memoir, arrived in my mailbox this past Friday, and I made the mistake of picking it up "just to check it out." I say, "mistake" because I had a terrible time putting it down and I had a really busy weekend that did not include time to read for more than a few minutes at a time.

This is a beautiful book, starting with the writing and continuing with production and cover art. Jeff is as adept with prose as he is with cartooning, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt always puts out beautiful books.

I will do a full review on when I finish the book, but I just had to write about it here, too.

For the benefit of the FTC, I was not compensated for this endorsement of the book. I will donate my review copy of the book to my local library when I am finished with it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Author Spotlight

A fellow author, Chris Redding, has graciously hosted me on her blog as the guest author. She did a wonderful interview and I am so grateful to her. One of the things she asked was about the first book I ever wrote and it was fun to go back and remember. Here is a LINK if you are interested in reading the interview.

This kind of opportunity is one of the neat things about the Internet and using it for promoting. And we can meet some of the nicest people along the way. I have known Chris from several author loops, and she is a generous supporter of her fellow authors.

Thanks, Chris.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Nonsense From My Latest Book

Back in June I started posting excerpts from my new book , which is a humorous memoir titled A Dead Tomato Plant and A Paycheck. This latest installment is from the chapter tentatively titled, The Silly Things We Do. A couple of weeks ago, I "told" on a friend, so this time I decided to "tell" on myself....

While I may not be the brightest intellectual around, I’ve always considered myself intelligent, educated, and capable. As a parent, I’ve handled situations that call for ingenuity, like explaining to a five-year-old what keeps the moon up in the sky -- l told her God glued it up there and figured her teacher could explain all that scientific stuff after she got to school -- and talking my way out of hosting a slumber party for15 young teenage girls.

The fact that I even survived raising the twins speaks for itself.

So, I wonder. Why is it that I can't open a simple "easy to open" package? I faced the most demanding jobs of motherhood from potty training to summer vacation, but I m reduced to being a 97-pound weakling at the sight of "press here and pull back along dotted line."

The last time I opened a box of detergent, I had to get a hammer and chisel, and I ended up with soap powder all over the floor and a smashed thumb. It was not a pretty sight, nor did pretty sounds come out of my mouth.

Considering the highly technological society we live in, along with truth in advertising, shouldn't an easy-open package be just that? We shouldn't have to wrestle our way through boxes of cereal and individually-wrapped cheese slices. We shouldn't have to gnaw our way through potato chip bags or get tennis elbow from opening jars of peanut butter. We shouldn't have to ask the same kid who gave us the blinding headache to open the bottle of aspirin so we can ease said headache. And we shouldn't have to visit the local blacksmith with our canned ham.

Once when I was particularly frustrated – and my husband has the nerve to ask when WASN’T I particularly frustrated – I wrote a polite letter to one manufacturing company explaining that I didn't find their "easy to open" package all that easy. Their response dearly indicated that they didn't care about consumer relations and the letter started out as a typical PR piece about their product. Then it went on to explain that the packaging had undergone extensive testing before being released on the market, and even a monkey could open it.

Now, I ask you. Was that an insult, or do they really expect me to make a trip to the zoo every time I want to open a bag of chips?

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Officially Old

The other day I mentioned to my husband that I hardly know any of the celebrities mentioned on entertainment shows or written about in the entertainment section of the newspaper. "I wonder if that is part of the official rite of passage for the Social Security set," I said.

He laughed and said he noticed the same thing. "I read the celebrity birthday announcements," he continued. "And I only recognize the names of people over 60."

I thought about sending a cartoon caption to "Plugger" -- the cartoon that is most recognized by "You know you're a Plugger if...." Sort of an old folks version of Jeff Foxworthy's "You know you're a Redneck if...."

Then I decided I would just use the topic for a blog post. Come up with some really funny lines about being old and wow everyone with my wit. But before I could do it, Steve Blow, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, beat me to it. I've been a faithful reader of his columns for years - even the ten years I lived in Nebraska - and he has done some good ones. But this was one of his best. Maybe because the subject resonated so strongly with me. Or maybe because he's a damn fine writer. Or maybe both.

Regardless, you might want to Click over and read his column in which he asks, "How are they celebrities if I haven't heard of them?" It is well worth the read.

Friday, October 09, 2009

More on Tucker Max

Last week I wrote about the column about Tucker Max in the Dallas Morning News by Jaclyn Friedman, a writer and activist. She criticized him for promoting a sexual philosophy where women are "insulted, tricked, coerced, traded, and then discarded."

There was a flurry of responses to her column, some supporting her stance and others taking her to task. And I guess that is one of the benefits of living in the United States. We are free to voice an opinion, even a dissenting one.

Of all the letters that have filtered in to the Op/Ed section of the paper this week, one really stood out. It was written by a 17-year-old boy.

He wrote that he knows that as a teenage boy he is supposed to see Max as "the coolest guy in the world. But get real. Max is a user."

He went on to write, "The only thing sadder than his view on life is the women he exploits."

It did my heart good to read this young man's letter and know that there are teens out there who are not buying into the philosophy that Max is promoting. I'm glad that there are teens who realize that casual sex just for the thrill of it doesn't measure up to real love.

I just wish there were more of them and less of the ones who are following Max from venue to venue degrading themselves.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Opening Night

I got bitten by the acting bug rather late in life. Or maybe I should clarify and say I acted on the bug bite rather late in life.

I've written a couple of plays and several screenplays and directed lots of stage plays. Also worked in production on some film projects, but I never had the nerve to step on stage as an actress. And I hesitated to tell anybody that I always had a secret desire to be on stage until a friend, Mia, weaseled it out of me.

Mia is a wonderful actress and I had the pleasure of directing her in several productions in a community theatre here in East Texas, and when she was putting together a revue to direct she talked me into taking a small part. What she said was, "I really need an old lady. And there are only a few lines. You can do it."

I didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted, but she quickly covered, "I don't mean you are "old" old. I just mean you are older than the teenagers who will be in the show."

That was the beginning.

A year or so later, Mia talked me into auditioning at another community theatre for "Squabbles", a comedy by Marshall Karp. I was floored when I got the major part of Mildred, but that unleashed the monster in me. I love performing, even though the rehearsal schedule is enough to wear a person out. But making the character and the story come alive is a great thrill. And working with a talented group of players is magic.

So, now I am in another show. We are doing "Daddy's Dyin' Whose got the Will" at the Main Street Theatre in Sulphur Springs, Texas. We open tonight and run this Thurs, Fri, Sat and next Thurs, Fri, Sat. If you care to see some pictures of the cast visit The Front Porch News (My friend, Mia, is the one on the right in the first picture.)

One thing I have noticed since I have been acting is how much that has helped in terms of writing scenes in my books. I have a better sense of the choreography of how characters would move in a scene instead of being stagnant. When I am stuck on how a scene should go, I actually get up and walk myself through it.

My cat, who thinks I got up to feed him, watches for a minute, then I swear he shakes his head as if to say, "What on earth is she doing now?"

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I Was Given the Book And I'm Keeping It

On one of the writers' lists I belong to there was a discussion today about the Federal Trade Commission's announcement that its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials would be revised in relation to bloggers. Specifically it states that bloggers will have to specify whether they receive compensation for their reviews.

When I first read these guidelines I thought the disclosure would only apply to bloggers who review high priced items such as electronics or software and are allowed to keep the items. But it appears they apply to book reviewers as well.

These guidelines will be effective December first of this year, and as best as I can decipher the legalese, it means that when I, or any other blogger who does book reviews, receive a book to read and review, I have to state that I was given the book. That way people can decide if my review is objective or I was "paid" to endorse the book.

Interestingly enough, these guidelines do not apply to reviewers who get paid by the publication in which the review appears. So I am okay when it comes to the reviews I do for ForeWord Magazine, but not the ones I do here on my blog or on other online sites.

Edward Champion did an interview with Richard Cleland of the Federal Trade Commission that is well worth a read. It covered the topic pretty well, although the point was not made that most of the review copies sent out are ARCs - at least most of what I receive are - so they could hardly be considered compensation since reviewers can't sell them.

Also, Cleland does not specify how the disclosure is to be made. Does it have to be in the body of the review? Does it have to be on every review? Will the FTC come after me with a warrant if I forget to include the disclosure?

Just to be safe, I may add a line at the bottom of all my review: Nobody bought my opinion.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Root Beer - The All American Drink

Here is another offering from my funny friend, Tracy Farr. He's not funny weird, although some may debate that, he just has a way with humor....

I’m flabbergasted! Totally, unequivocally flabbergasted. And if there be a word in the English language with a stronger meaning, then I’m that, too.

I went to an eating establishment recently, right here in East Texas, that did not have Root Beer on their menu. Let me repeat – They Had No Root Beer. Well, in my mind that’s absolutely unpatriotic; it’s downright subversive; it’s pert near communistic; and it’s on the verge of being positively draconian – but since I have no idea what that means, we’ll skip it for now.

Root Beer is one of those drinks that make this country a great place in which to live. Does Canada have Root Beer? Absolutely not. Does Great Britain? Heaven forbid. How about Iran? Are you kidding? They probably kill their people over there for drinking Root Beer, or at least pull out their tongues.

No, Root Beer is a God Bless American phenomenon that every man, woman and child in this great country should be thankful for having. It’s a western blessing, a true-blue American symbol of all things Yankee Doodle, and it should be revered just as much as baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and that car company that used to build pretty good cars, but then the economy tanked and who knows what they’re building now.

Root Beer, in some form or fashion, has been around for ages, but it was Charles Elmer Hires, a pharmacist from Philadelphia, who invented the very first commercial Root Beer in 1866 – Hires Root Beer.

“Hey, honey, come taste what I just came up with. Made it from roots, out in the garage. I was just fiddling around with some stuff, hoping to come up with a better paint cleaner, and out of the blue, I had Root Beer. You want to be my guinea pig and give it a taste? Oh, c’mon honey, I’m sure you’ll be okay.”

There are hundreds of varieties of Root Beer, but there are no standardized recipes. Artificial sassafras flavoring is the main ingredient, but after that, anything goes. Vanilla. Wintergreen. Licorice root. Nutmeg. Molasses. Even cherry tree bark. If it can be peeled off, dug up, squeezed, or melted down, it’s probably in your favorite brand of Root Beer. And in 1893, Frank J. Wisner found something even better to put in it.

Wisner, the owner of a soda company, was drinking a bottle of Myers Avenue Red Root Beer at his home in Cripple Creek, Colorado, when he looked up at Cow Mountain and saw the snow being lit by a full moon. In that instant, he had a great idea – let’s try floating a scoop of ice cream on top of a glass full of Root Beer.

And thus was born “The Black Cow.” Of course, you and I know it as a Root Beer Float.

I DARE YOU: The next time you’re at Sonic, I dare you, I triple-dog dare you, to push the little button and order a Black Cow. When the person responds that they don’t have a Black Cow, you be insistent and tell them you’re not going to leave without one. Of course, the person will once again deny even hearing of a Black Cow, and you respond, “Okay, just give me a Root Beer Float instead.” Yes, it’s a bit sophomoric, but do it anyway – in honor of that great inventor, Frank J. Wisner.

The thing I like most about Root Beer is that you can make it at home. Do you think you could make Coke or Pepsi in your own kitchen? Of course not. They’re too interested in keeping their formulas secret. That’s why the “Cola Wars” will never be won. There’s no such thing as a Root Beer war. Root Beer is Root Beer, and that’s what makes it great!

I would like to conclude with three of my favorite Root Beer quotes from three of my favorite historical figures:

It was Patrick Henry who said, “Give me Root Beer, or give me death” – or something like that.

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Root Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – if he didn’t say it, he meant to.

And it was Neil Armstrong who said, “That’s one small step for man; one giant Root Beer for me because I just love the stuff” – okay, I’m not so sure about that one.

Root Beer. It’s an American drink. So stand tall, stand proud, slurp it down with gusto, and don’t forget the frosted mug!


Tracy Farr is a musician and humorist, and in his spare time he drives a school bus. You can find more fun stuff at Stinky Creek , Texas

Friday, October 02, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Safire

It's never too late to honor someone of the stature of William Safire, the columnist who died last Sunday. If I hadn't been absolutely buried in work, I would have done this sooner, but later is better than never, as the old cliche goes.

I have always enjoyed Safire's columns for their ability to make us laugh, while he prodded us to consider other points of view, and one that I particularly enjoyed was published in 2005. Perhaps that one resonated with me because I, too, worked for print publications as a columnist, and he came up with rules for reading a political column.

Here are just a couple of those rules:

9. Cherchez la source. Ingest no column (or opinionated reporting labeled "analysis") without asking: Cui bono? And whenever you see the word "respected" in front of a name, narrow your eyes. You have never read "According to the disrespected (whomever)."

10. Resist swaydo-intellectual writing. Only the hifalutin trap themselves into "whomever" and only the tort bar uses the Latin for "who benefits?" Columnists who show off should surely shove off. (And avoid all asinine alliteration.)

11. Do not be suckered by the unexpected. Pundits sometimes slip a knuckleball into their series of curveballs: for variety's sake, they turn on comrades in ideological arms, inducing apostasy-admirers to gush "Ooh, that's so unpredictable." Such pushmi-pullyu advocacy is permissible for Clintonian liberals or libertarian conservatives but is too often the mark of the too-cute contrarian.

12. Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking 'em when they're up.

If you are sufficiently intrigued, you can read all the rules HERE