Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Meet Debra L. Winegarten

Please welcome Debra L. Winegarten as my Wednesday's Guest today. She has two new books out, a biography of Oveta Culp Hobby, which I reviewed on Sunday, and  Where Jewish Grandmothers Come From; a poetry collection.

Grab your beverage of choice and let's share some Challah bread, a bread traditionally served in Jewish homes on the Sabbath. 

Thank you for having me as a guest, Maryann. I'm a third-generation Texas Jew, originally from Dallas, now living in Austin. I write in two genres, non-fiction and poetry. I write biographies of Texas women for middle-school students to give young girls terrific role models. I write poetry because when I get an idea for a poem, it won’t leave me alone until I put it on the page.

Q.  How did you come to pick Oveta Culp Hobby as the subject for your book?

A.  I picked Oveta for several reasons. When I was in the fifth grade, I read the whole row of biographies in my school library to help me figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. In seventh grade Texas history, we had to dress up like a “Texas hero,” and the only ones the books talked about were the men: Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Davey Crockett.

So I decided to look at the seventh grade Texas social studies curriculum to see which women the students were required to know. At the time, ten years ago, there were three: Barbara Jordan, Cynthia Ann Parker, and Oveta Culp Hobby. The first two women had a lot of books about them, but no one had written a biography of Oveta. I did some research and discovered there were 1400 middle schools in Texas. So, the “marketing light” went off in my brain—“If there are 1400 Texas middle schools all teaching 7th grade Texas history, and they’re required to know about Oveta, and there’s no book on her…” And off to the races I went.

Q. Of Oveta's many accomplishments, is there one thing that you most admire her for?

A.  She designed and became for the first Director of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) for World War Two. This was in 1942. And she made sure that even though the white and black women troops were segregated, they both had the exact same training, and the black women had black officers. When she started the WAC, the Army identified 54 jobs women could do. When she retired two years later, there were 237 jobs for which women could qualify. Oveta was an unsung hero of the modern women’s movement because she opened doors for so many women.

Q.  How did you come to write in the genre you chose?

A.  I started writing biographies for young readers for two reasons: A. My mother, Ruthe Winegarten, of blessed memory, wrote 18 books on women in Texas history. She was a Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association and known as the “mother of Texas women’s history.” While many people talk about falling asleep at night to the sound of their mother’s sewing machine, I fell asleep to the sound of my mother’s IBM Selectric. B. I once read a research study that said by fifth grade, girls choose “books” or “boys.” As a strong feminist, I want them to choose books AND (fill in your preferred partner). The point is, I want them to have amazing books to choose.

Q. What is your family's favorite story to tell on you?

A. Probably the time at summer camp when I won the horseback riding trophy, at age 10, for “Most Improved Horseback” rider. They spelled my last name, “Winegarten,” perfectly correct, and that’s the hard one. But my first name, Debra, was engraved as “Desre.” My siblings called me Desre for years, and that has evolved to the present-day “Debster,” which my friends fondly use, and since I’ve started giving webinars, “Debinar.”

Q.  What is the most unusual or interesting research you have done for your books?

A.  This one’s easy. I wrote a book about Katherine Stinson, the fourth woman in the U.S. to earn her pilot’s license in 1912. Later in life, she settled in New Mexico and became an award-winning architect. Not only did I plow through her archives at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, but once the book came out, I started trading books for airplane rides in small planes. That book took me up to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where for one week out of the year, the airport is the busiest one in the world when pilots come to town for their annual conference.

Several years later, I got a phone call “out of the blue” from a woman who owned the compound of seven  houses where Katherine had her own house and several others, very close to what is the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe. The woman said they were selling the property and, in the process, they discovered in one of the garages, boxes and boxes of papers of Katherine’s. She asked what should she do with them? I said I should come in two weeks and look through them. I did; and there was a treasure trove of historical documents, not only of Katherine, but of her father-in-law, who was a former Governor of New Mexico. I arranged for the UNM to send an archivist and a van to come take the papers and donated them to the university. I felt like Sherlock Holmes!

Q.  What gives you the most pleasure in writing?

A.  There is a zone I reach when writing—it’s such a pleasurable feeling. When I’m immersed in writing, and it doesn’t matter what type, the outer world falls away as I’m plunged into the writing experience. I look up and am stunned by how much time has passed.

Q.   What is the hardest thing about writing?

A.  Writing for me is never hard. Writing for me is like breathing. The hardest thing is saying “NO!” to all the other distractions and things in our world that call and demand my attention. Working from home, people often assume you’re available to do “whatever” because you’re home, so you can’t really be working. Carving out precious writing time and setting boundaries is a constant dance.

Q.  What other creative things do you do?

A.  I play the flute.

Q.  What do you do for fun?

A.  I swim. I walk. I travel to far-away places. I hold huge dinner parties for family and friends. And I’m one of those, perhaps rare, writers who LOVE MARKETING! For me, a book is merely a “schmoozing delivery device,” and gives me a chance for social interaction. I love public speaking. I’m a total extrovert. I’m a decent writer; but I’m an extraordinary marketer. I’m also a religious conservative Jew, so I like to do things involving my shul and spirituality.

Q.  What is the most interesting job you ever had?

A.  Taxi driver.

Q.  What else would you like to say to the people who will read the blog post?

A.  I love mentoring other writers; particularly in the marketing process. I’ve been writing and selling books a long time and I understand a lot about what makes a successful entrepreneur. I appreciate the chance to share my life with you a bit today.

Buy Link for Oveta Culp Hobby
Buy Link for Where Jewish Grandmothers Come From

You can connect with Debra at her WEBSITE and her BLOG, on FACEBOOK and find her on TWITTER

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

Had she lived four more weeks, my mother would be 95 years old today, April 28. When she was in the hospital, the doctor joked that she was close enough that we could say she was 95, but of course that could not be her official age.

This is one of the ways I will always remember Mother. One of her favorite things to do was sketch the scenery when we were out at the lake near where she lived. My sister and I would join her in that endeavor, and we all had sketchbooks filled with pictures. My mother would also draw on letters she wrote. Sometimes a bunny for Easter, or a flower for spring, or a snowman for winter, or autumn leaves falling. I'm so glad I saved many of those letters and pictures.

Mother had a heart attack on March 24, my sister's birthday, and she died on March 28. I was able to get to Michigan the Wednesday prior, so I did have two days with her. On Thursday, she had that bloom that people often get before they are going to die. Mother was sitting up, looking good, enjoying the company, and for a little while we forgot that she was probably not going to survive the heart attack with the flu on top of that. It was a very blessed day. The kind of day that all families should have when they are about to lose someone so dear to them, especially if they make the most of it, and we did. We told stories, we sang songs, and all of the people who loved her dearly came by that day.

The following Wednesday, April 2, two of my kids, Mike and Dany, helped me sing Mother to heaven. That was a bit unusual, I know, but the church that she was connected to did not have their music ministers available. None of us thought the funeral would be right without music, so my niece borrowed two guitars from friends - one for me and one for Dany - and Mike shared his beautiful voice. We did hymns that Mother particularly liked, and it was a real bittersweet experience.

We planned the funeral service so all of the grandchildren would have a role of some kind, as that is so important in saying goodbye. Some were readers. Some were pall bearers. Some were Eucharistic Ministers. Some brought up the gifts at offertory, and one of my daughters, Anjanette, read a story she had written "Evelyn and the Blue Bunny". My mother, Evelyn, introduced me to the book Bunny Blue when I was a child, and the tattered copy of that children's book was one of the few I saved into adulthood. I then shared it with my kids, and then it was passed on to grandkids. It is such a wonderful story that we all have loved, and I'm sure my mother was smiling to hear it.
I didn't plan to share this today. Most of you know I tend to keep some things more private, but I saw the birthday card that I had planned to send her on my desk, and I couldn't stop thinking about her. It's hard to wrap your mind around anything else when it is filled with memories and your heart is a bit heavy.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review - Oveta Culp Hobby by Debra L. Winegarten

Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist
Debra L. Winegarten
Series: Louann Atkins Temple Women & Culture Series (Book 34)
Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: University of Texas Press (April 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0292722680
ISBN-13: 978-0292722682
Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches

This is a fascinating biography of an exceptional woman who was the epitome of what a strong, confident, capable woman can accomplish when challenged.

Oveta Culp Hobby was born in 1905 and died in 1995. She was raised in Killeen, Texas, now home to Fort Hood, and she had a distinguished career in the military. During World War II, she was put in charge of creating and establishing a women's army, eventually becoming the Director of the Women's Army Corps and earning the rank of colonel in the process.

Later, she was appointed as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Eisenhower administration, becoming only the second woman in history to hold such a position. Oveta split her time and her energies between Washington and Houston, where she worked with her husband, former Texas governor William P. Hobby, running their businesses that included the Houston Post newspaper and radio and TV stations.

Considering all her achievements, I found it surprising that this is the first biography to be written about her. It is written for middle school readers, but I found it fascinating and I'm sure a lot of adults would enjoy meeting this exceptional woman. As a woman in nontraditional roles, she faced a lot of challenges, but overcame them to achieve great success. What an inspiration that can be to young women today who might be seeing the limitations that are still prevalent in too many places. In reading the book and getting to know Oveta, I got the sense that she did not consider the limitations. She just marched into the job and did it. What a wonderful, forward-thinking approach to life.

The book is well written, and the historical facts are thoroughly researched. As a historical resource, the book would make a great addition to any school or public library.

Debra L. Winegarten is a writer who lives in Austin, Texas. Like many writers, she does have a day job, working for the Department of Astronomy at UT Austin, where she is the First Undersecretary of the American Astronomical Society. By night, she writes. Debra will be my guest this coming Wednesday, so I do hope you will come back to meet her.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

This is going to be a short post today as I have been busy the past few days and did not have time to read the news and find something to rant about, which may be a good thing for my blood pressure. Part of what has occupied my time is helping out with a production at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts. Rudy Ramos, an actor from Hollywood, is in town to do his one-man show, Geronimo, Life on the Reservation, and we are so thrilled to have an actor of his talent on our stage.


We have a busy day planned for today. First we are going to a television station where Rudy will be interviewed. I'm going along to make sure he gets to Tyler and back without getting lost. It's almost 60 miles one way, and he does not know his way around East Texas. His friend who is driving has a good GPS, but it doesn't hurt to have a local who knows the shortcuts and has a map come along.

For the production, I am stepping into the role of stage manager, which means I get to help with the set and costume changes. Set change is going to be easy. Between scene one and scene two I put a chair on stage. After scene two I take it off.  After that, there will be nothing else for me to do on stage, as the rest of the show is done with no set pieces or props.

That is quite a challenge for an actor. To make a story come to life with nothing but a bare stage and his or her ability to get into character. Not many can pull it off, and I was impressed with how well Rudy did this during a tech rehearsal on Thursday.

Here is just a sample of the magic Rudy creates on stage. This video was shot in Memphis to kick off the nationwide tour of this show.

We will have performances on Saturday and Sunday, with more rehearsal this afternoon, so you will understand it if I am a bit absent this weekend. No, I didn't say absent-minded. Just absent. So have a great weekend, and play nicely without me.

My joke from the comic strips today is from Heart of the City by Mark Tatulli

Heart is walking down the street with her side-kick, Dean. She says, "Someday when I'm rich and famous, I'll have somebody to do all my cleaning. I'll have somebody to do my shopping, pay my bills, wash my clothes, drive my car, AND feed my cat."

"So what will you do?"

"Apparently walking around L.A. with a water bottle and complaining about the paparazzi is THE job to have today."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Author Interview - S. Cameron Roach

Please welcome S. Cameron Roach - Scott - as today's Wednesday's guest. As I said on Sunday, when I posted the review of his book,  I met Scott at the art festival in Killeen, Texas a couple of months ago. We were table buddies, meaning our book tables were next to each other. I enjoyed visiting with Scott when we weren't talking with other folks, and he has a good sense of humor. I asked him for a bio for his appearance today, and this is what he sent: 
(short version) I was born, I have lived for 47 years, the when of my death is yet to be determined.
(not as short version) S. Cameron Roach was born a U.S. Navy brat in Virginia but was moved when he was three to San Diego whereupon he endeavored to grow up as best he could. After 18 years, he found himself married to a wonderful woman named Kelli to whom he is still married, and will in fact celebrate their 26 anniversary on this very blogging day, 23 April. Shortly after getting married, he joined the U.S. Army and retired in Texas as a CW3 after 24 years of service, while in that span begetting two sons, Brandon and Christian .  Now he questions why he opened his own franchise business, Safe Ship, instead of taking to the open road to pursue his craft of writing.
Scott admitted to me that he doesn't blog and is not all that familiar with blogging, but he has done quite well at this, his maiden voyage. I do hope he doesn't mind the navel reference being Army and all that, but he did grow up with the Navy. So grab a glass of tea - it is finally warm enough for tea here in Texas - and enjoy the visit with Scott, author of the YA fantasy The Scrolls of Udanadar.

Image Courtesy of Kitchen Talks

I think another story is brewing.
Q.  What is your fondest childhood memory?
A. When I was in a junior high school choir, my choir competed in the high school division in both the Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, Austria, and the Vancouver World Expo. We won first place in both. The fun part, of course, was experiencing Europe and Canada as a teen.

Q.   How did you come to write in the genre you chose?
A.  When I was growing up there was no YA genre, we read what the adults read, which was not always appropriate or completely understandable. Then when the YA genre was nascent, it seemed lacking in any substantive meaning or any intellectual challenge to the young reader. In essence, it was bubblegum for the brain. So, at a time when my children were being homeschooled and reading the classics, I decided I needed to write fun fantasy that would not talk down them but challenge them with deep themes.

Q.  What are your favorite movies?
A.  Serenity, Dragonslayer, John Carter on Mars, Fifth Element, Stargate, and Brave, but I am sure the list isn't complete, just what I can recall.  I can watch them over and over again and still be amused, enjoy, or marvel.

Q.  What is the hardest thing about writing?
A.  Time, peace of mind, environment.

Q.  Where do your stories begin? With character or plot?
A.  One feeds the other.  A plot makes people interested but character keeps them reading. You can have a mediocre plot and survive only if you have engaging characters anchoring your story.  People care about people, especially if they can relate to the plight or situation, and if the dialogue and emotions are authentic. (For a book, not a movie, mind you, at least in my opinion.)

Q.  Do you have a pet?
A.  Yaahh!  Three awesome boxer dogs, the dogs that are closest to being human—Anja (9 ½ yo and acquired in Germany), Kaiser the reluctant pack leader, and Phineas Fogg, a rescue boxer whose rescue name was supposed to be named after the hero in "Around the World in 80 Days," which is actually Phileas Fogg, but we liked Phineas better, so we kept it.

Q.  What is the most interesting job you ever had?
A. The career is the U.S. Army, but what was most interesting about the job was being part of an office hunting down Afghani terrorists who were planting improvised explosive devices to kill U.S. Military personnel. I actually helped to uncover an Iranian intel network stealing US equipment.


In The Scrolls of Udanadar, young Bartholomew Fix, who finds life mundane and meaningless, becomes infected with the spirit of adventure by the bite of the Wandering Bug. He is compelled to seek out an agent of the universe who transports him to another planet to seek his off-world energy and awakens in the home of a great urKa'uun.

There is no magic, only Ka'uun—the energy of creation—and the urKa'uun are its users. Bartholomew becomes an apprentice and learns quickly how to use the energy. He is then sent out on an important mission with the urKa'uun's other ward, a skilled girl born of the wild-wise Duvar, for the Thousand-Year King is dying too soon. The two must bring back the Scrolls of Udanadar used in his creation as they may hold the answers; failure would bring all-out war between kingdoms of the Realm and with the Urilok, an ancient and fierce enemy.

A simple mission is never so simple so the two find themselves traveling the realm on an exciting quest where they discover danger, a budding romance and humor in the most unlikely places. Once a naïve, self-absorbed boy, Bartholomew grows into a brave hero by learning what it is to sacrifice in order to achieve a higher goal.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Say "no" to the TransCanada XL Pipeline

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know that I am against the TransCanada XL Pipeline that is scheduled to open soon. Many of us in Texas fought to keep the pipeline from coming through, but alas, the pipes are already in, just waiting for the green light from Washington to open them up. A decision on the rest of the pipeline is expected soon, and I don't know if it is too late to stop it - just like it was too late to stop the pipe being laid here - but I hate the fact that Big Oil has the power to make this happen and is so indifferent to the danger the pipeline poses.

In Texas, where the pipeline would end, toxic pollution in the air and water is already dangerous. But introducing tar sands oil to an area already saturated with oil refineries and chemical plants would make a bad situation much, much worse.

Tar sands oil and Keystone XL would increase emissions of benzene, heavy metals, and other carcinogens into the air that residents near the pipeline breathe every day. Not to mention what will happen to the groundwater when there is a leak and all those toxins are released.

Something else I did not know is that the tar-sands mining in Canada also threatens habitats for wildlife, especially wolves in the Boreal Forest. In some areas where mining is already happening, wolves are being killed by people riding in helicopters and hunting the wolves down.

In my heart of hearts, I think President Obama doesn't want to approve the last leg of the pipeline that is supposed to go through the heartland of the U.S., but he is pressured by the power that Big Oil has in Washington. I pray that Obama can do the right thing.

I have also been a long-time fan of Kristen Lamb, a writer who lives in the Dallas area who shares advice and tips and inspiration for writers on Kristen Lamb's Blog. Here is just a bit from her latest offering about the rise and fall of social media and the influence of coffee. One of the things I like most about her blog posts is that they are written with a fine edge of humor, and I have such a good time reading them. Here is just a sampling from her latest offering:
Many of you are old enough to remember the boom (then bust) of the 1990s. The Internet was growing in popularity. More people were owning PCs and commerce was shifting on-line. The Old Guard yelled “WITCHCRAFT!”, threw holy water and shorted out their keyboards. The New Guard dived in with the enthusiasm of a kid at Chuck E. Cheese hopped up on sugar.
Creativity abounded. What products or services could be offered on-line? How could we improve the on-line experience? How could we make purchasing faster, safer, more appealing?
Early Adopters jumped all over this because that’s what Early Adopters do. Hey, someone had to be the first to eat an oyster, right?
How Coffee Transformed the Publishing Paradigm
Coffee not only fueled the Industrial Revolution, but apparently staying up all night unable to sleep led to the invention of the “computer,” “the Internet,” and later “iTunes.” The shift from “going to a physical store” commerce to more “e-commerce” set the stage for a number of unanticipated revolutions in the arts. If we think about it, when did the mega-bookstore enjoy its Golden Years?
Hint: Right about the time of the movie You’ve Got Mail, clearly marking the brief historical epoch when we actually enjoyed getting e-mails.
I think I'll grab a cup of coffee and go check my mail. Don't forget to grab a copy of Doubletake while it is still free. I am so thrilled that one reader has already taken the time to do a short review. She called the story "Spellbinding." This is the last day for the free offering to celebrate the book's release, so take advantage while you can.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review - The Scrolls of Udanadar by S. Cameron Roach

I'm trying something different today at It's Not All Gravy. Instead of me writing a review, or having a guest who is a professional writer, today the review is by a reader and a fan of fantasy stories - Dany Russell, who is also my daughter and a wonderful cover designer. We both met the author of this book, Scott Roach, otherwise known as S. Cameron Roach, at the Take 190 West Art Festival in Killeen, Texas, and Dany bought his book. She wanted to try her hand at writing a review, and I came up with the idea of letting Scott ask her a couple of questions. Reviews don't normally have that kind of exchange between author and reader, at least not the professional reviews that are a step above some of what you see on Amazon, but I thought this could be fun and interesting. I'll let you weigh in on that after you read the review.

The Scrolls of Udanadar
S. Cameron Roach
Print Length: 575 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1466954639
Publisher: Trafford (September 20, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

This book portrays what could happen to a boy living in a suburban town who is so bored out of his gourd that adventure finds him. The Wandering Bug takes Bartholomew Fix to another world with kings, knights, wizards, and wayward wandering.  He has no manual and while he has a host, in the beginning he has no guide.

I found this book an enjoyable read. After the first chapter or so, the story really picked up and took me for a ride. There are two other books I have read with “Game” in the title and they were slow starters for me as well, even though they have become immensely popular.

While reading this book, I became deeply involved with Bart’s life and travails. As he learned lessons in basic combat, teamwork, philosophy, or the Ka’uun, Bart steadily, and sometimes unsteadily, matured. The lives of the other characters and their skills intrigued me. How would Bart’s next lesson in the local magic called Ka’uun take place? How would Yuari, the teacher’s ward, respond to the diverted attention and uncharacteristic requests? Would Yuari’s people accept Bart?
Now I will answer the questions from the author:

SCR:  Was the relationship development between the boy and girl paced well and authentic?

A:  I found the interaction between Bart and Yuari to be believable and sometimes amusing. As with any relationship, trust takes time to become a bond. Sharing that time with them was a pleasure.

SCR:  What about the author's writing style needs improvement or further development?

A:  Frequently interchanging proper names like first “Bartholomew” then “Fix” was uncomfortable to read. Thus when you used “the boy” so close in another paragraph, I winced at the awkward word usage.

SCR:  Was the growth of the boy realistic and was he easy to identify with?

A:  For the most part he was very realistic. However, there are a couple of spots toward the end where Bart expresses knowledge or comprehension I thought was well beyond his teachings and growth.

SCR:  Do you think a sequel is in order?

A:  Absolutely!

I hope you enjoyed this "different" review. Perhaps I might try this again sometime. Please do try to come back on Wednesday to meet Scott as Wednesday's Guest this week.

And finally, for all who celebrate Easter:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

States such as Michigan and New Jersey and New York are going to extremes to collect state income taxes. For instance some trucks hauling goods have actually been stopped in those states and held until the corporation pays income taxes on what is being carried through the state. Local revenue agents have seized out-of-state trucks that are simply passing through and sometimes refuse to release them until the businesses that sent the trucks pay corporate income taxes. In some states, finance departments have sent out-of-state businesses bills for thousands of dollars in corporate taxes just because one worker may have visited the state sometime during that year, perhaps for a convention.

Normally, state income taxes are not levied against a company from another state unless they have branch offices in the other state, so this seems to be quite a stretch to grab some more money.

I read recently where the 2016 GOP national convention is going to be held in Las Vegas. It could've been held in Dallas but I guess the Republicans really wanted to party big.

Anybody but me think this is a colossal waste of money?

Freelance writer Jonathan Look Junior wrote an op/ed piece for the Dallas Morning News about the constitutional phrase "the pursuit of happiness" and made it clear that the Constitution does not guarantee happiness for everyone but it does give everyone the right to pursue happiness. He found a quote that was popular in that 1800s that says, "The U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it your self." For Jonathan Look that means that "happiness is not something the government can ensure; rather, government can help create a habitat for happiness and fertilize the ground in which it grows."

Amen to that.

I had to agree with the writer of a recent letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News about the Academy of country music awards last Sunday. The letter writer, Ronnie Smith, said he's not normally a country music fan but decided to watch the show anyway, and he thought that it was a good show, "It moved quickly, the humor was funny, and it was done without any profanity in the music and the performances were enjoyable." But what he really noticed was that the ladies were all able to sing very well - and with all their clothes on. He wished other award shows would take notice of how to produce a family friendly show.

Can I hear another, "Amen?"

 And now some fun from the comic strip B.C. by John Hart. In the first frame we see B.C. painting a very large Easter egg. Peter walks up and asks, "What in the world is that?"

B.C. says, "Easter's almost here. I'm decorating and egg."

"That's an egg?!"

B.C. answers, "Yepper."

Peter says, "Where on earth did you find it?"

"Would you believe the world's biggest bunny? Just kidding. It was in the woods over there."

Suddenly Peter's eyes get real big, and B.C. says, "What?"

In the last frame, Peter says, "Don't look. Just run!" Behind B.C. we see at dinosaur - a very angry dinosaur.

Finally, just a quick note of advertising. My police procedural mystery, Doubletake, is free for the next four days for Kindle and Kindle apps. Grab a copy if you are so inclined, and, as always, I would be ever so grateful for a review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Christian Bale - An Inside Story

Today I am so pleased to have Harrison Cheung as Wednesday's Guest. Harrison has spent a number of years working in Hollywood as a talent manager, publicist, and personal assistant, and one of his clients was Christian Bale, the amazing actor who showed us another side of the legendary Batman. Harrison wrote a book based on the years he worked with Bale. Christian Bale; The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, published by BenBella Books. The biography, co-authored with Nicola Pittam, chronicles Bale's years as a former child actor, to Internet sensation, to the star of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy.

According to an article at WikiNut, Batman does not drink alcohol. His alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, fools people by drinking ginger ale and pretending it is champagne. So let's all grab a glass of ale and pretend it is ginger and welcome Harrison to the blog.

Photo courtesty of MSN Food
Photo Courtesy of MSN Food
Or we could just have tea courtesy of Harrison who is sometimes referred to as Alfred
Q. Is there any anecdote from your years of working with Christian Bale that is not in the book that you would like to share?

A. Nothing printable! :-)  But aside from Hollywood orgies and other benefits of hanging out with an up and coming actor in L.A., I do remember how remarkably naïve Christian could be. He had never been to a hair salon when he was growing up in England, and after a week of me bugging him to get his hair cut, he went to a salon in Manhattan Beach, California.  When the stylist took him to the back room to shampoo his hair, he thought she was hitting on him so he unzipped his pants! As I recall, he was told by other British actors that he could look forward to being a novelty in America.

Q. Did you have a close relationship with him, or was it purely a job?

A. It was a very close relationship.  At times, I felt he was like an odd kid brother, especially as he was such a stranger in a strange land, having just relocated from England to Los Angeles.  He is the youngest in his family, and the only son, so he never really connected with his sisters.

Q.  If you could go back in time, what one thing would you change about yourself?

A. If I could go back in time, I would go back to my teen years and encourage my younger self to be more confident. I spent the early part of my career promoting other people’s careers rather than developing my own talents. I was always worried that my ethnicity would bar me from pursuing my love of film and writing. When I was in high school, the guidance counselor really damaged my self-confidence when she told me not to pursue writing because – and I’ll forever remember her quote “No one will ever hire a Chinese person to write English.”

Q.  If you could go through a wormhole, would you go into the future, the past, or stay right here? Why?

A.  I think I’d go to the future with the hope that ethnicity and race will matter less. It was always an issue growing up. It occasionally resurfaces as an issue even today. I recently read that Asian-Americans continue to be the most bullied minority in the U.S., and that makes me very sad. 

Q.  Have you always wanted to be a writer, or have you come to writing after another career? What was that career?

A.  I think I’ve always wanted to be a film director, but those opportunities didn’t present themselves when I was growing up. I came from a very pragmatic Chinese family that had survived WW2 and my parents really wanted me to have a career where I could prosper, so the concept of the “starving artist” was alien to them! In a way, a writer is a director because we storyboard the tale in our minds.

After university, marketing in the high tech industry was my bread and butter until I moved to Los Angeles. Marketing in the film industry was very unstable, so today, my day job is still marketing in the high tech industry, but my writing is very important to me. It is cathartic. It is therapeutic. And it’s taken me years to do what I had always wanted to do.

Q.  What are your favorite movies?

A.  I’ve had an uncanny ability to catch independent films and pick out up and coming actors. So I think I have a pretty good eye for talent. I’ve worked with Bale, of course, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling. I love some of their earlier work. Unknown actors take bigger chances and risks.  Once they’re famous, they all have to worry about public image and box office.

I thought Christian’s first major film, Empire of the Sun was wonderful. Ryan Gosling was in a searingly unforgettable movie about Neo-Nazis called The Beliver.  I did the Internet marketing for a cult favorite that starred a then unknown Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko. A couple years ago, I saw a brilliant film called We Need to Talk About Kevin  that stars a wonderful new American actor, Ezra Miller. And a few years back, I caught this very touching film called Wah-Wah that starred Nicholas Hoult, an actor who is on the brink of breaking out. 

Q.  If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A.  I’ve always enjoyed ancient history, and would love to go to China and Egypt some day to look at Xi An – where the terracotta warriors were found, and to see the Great Pyramids. I read Marco Polo as a child and would love to retrace the Silk Road. I’ve traveled across Canada and the U.S. and am disappointed with the “mall-ification” of North America. We have the same chain restaurants and stores in every city. I have a romantic notion that the Old World still has many places that don’t have a McDonald’s; where a restaurant serves a 1000 year old recipe that they refuse to sell to Olive Garden.

Q. What gives you the most pleasure in writing?

A.  I’m currently working on a novel. I completed the initial draft for the November Novel Writing competition where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The initial reaction from my agent, my editor and my writing coach have been overwhelming positive. Though I’ve been very lucky that my Christian Bale biography has been successful, I prefer to be a novelist because I think I have some interesting stories to tell.  By comparison, writing a non-fiction biography with lawyers fact-checking like crazy was very dry.

And therein lies the pleasure. The characters in my novel come alive, and I feel as if I’m watching a movie in my head. Sometimes, dialogue just occurs to me. Sometimes, plotting is like solving a mathematical problem, and I’d be so pleased with myself that I’ve figured out a solution to tell the tale.

Q.  What do you do for fun?

A.  I consider myself a gourmand and can be devastatingly picky with my Yelp reviews! I hate eating the same thing in a row, so I love to explore new eateries of every cuisine on every level – whether it be a fancy five-star restaurant or a fast food for lunch bite. So when I combine this for my love of travel, I really want to eat my way around the world!

The Christian Bale biography was an Amazon 100 Best Seller and has garnered stellar reviews and won the Indie Book Award, Indie Excellence Award, and the Texas Association of Authors Award for Best Biography. The book remains popular with Baleheads and Hollywood watchers, with over 75,000 Facebook fans. Harrison and the book have been featured on Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, and Chelsea Lately.  Harrison will next be seen on Thursday, April 17 on E! Network's Secret Societies of Hollywood. He will be appearing on three segments of the hit series.

The Christian Bale book is available in stores and online across Canada and the U.S.

The Christian Bale Biography Facebook page to see posts about Bale and movie-related news.

The Christian Bale Biography on Twitter

The Christian Bale Biography Youtube Channel

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

A recent headline in the op/ed section of The Dallas Morning News caught my eye: Does porn harm kids? (By the way, I really don't like the new trend in headline writing that no longer capitalizes all the words. But maybe that's because I am now considered a dinosaur among journalists.)

Anyway, I found the article most interesting. In it David Segal, a business reporter for The New York Times, wrote about the results of scientific research that cannot difinitively prove there is a correlation between teen watching porn and then engaging in risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex or sex at a young age.

A report, produced by the Children's Commissioner in England studied 276 research papers on teens and pornography, showed that there could be a link between porn and risky behavior, but exactly what that link is could not be defined. Segal wrote, "Given the ease with which teenagers can find Internet pornography, it's no surprise that those engaging in risky behavior have viewed pornography online. Just about every teenager has. So blaming X-rated images for risky behavior may be like concluding that cars are a leading cause of arson because so many arsonists drive."

Luckily, Segal did not end the article there. I might have lost all my respect for him at that point. He included the results of a debate conducted by the Children's Commission that asked a group of teens, aged 16 to 18, to debate whether viewing porn had an impact on them. Half of the group, which was comprised of boys and girls, were to take the con arguments, the other the pro arguments. According to Miranda Horvarth, a professor of psychology at Middlesex University in London, the group arguing the pro side had very strong opinions. "They said it had an impact on their body image, on what young people thinks sex should be like, what they could expect from sex. They talked about how if you see things in pornography, you might think it's something you should be doing and go and do it."

The bottom line from researchers, and from David Segal, comes down to parental involvement and guidance. Parent-child conversations about sexuality separate from pornography is vital, as are controls of what very young children are exposed to. Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles offered this thought to Segal, "Putting a computer in a kids room without any limits on what can be viewed is a bit like tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying: 'Go learn how to drive. Have fun.'"

What do you think? Do you think porn and violent video games have a negative impact on kids?

On a much brighter note, I do hope you will try to come back on Wednesday to meet my special guest that day; Harrison Cheung, who worked for Christian Bale as publicist, marketer, and personal assistant for almost a decade. His book, Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, has received high praise and offers a balanced and diplomatic look at the life of the most lauded Batman. I'll admit I am a fan and can't wait to read the book. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review - Matriarch: A Journey Through Tradition by Suzann M. Brucato

Suzann M. Brucato
ISBN: 978-0-615-47832-6

This lovely photo journal is a wonderful tribute to the family to which Suzann Brucato belongs, tracing her heritage back several generations. The pictures and the poetry speak to the importance of family and traditions and special rituals that all families seem to have. I'm sure her large extended family is thrilled to have the history and the poetry that honors them all.

No matter where we go in life our ties to family are never broken, and the stronger those ties are the more secure we feel, and it is that sense of security that I saw in this journal. The book is divided into sections starting with Matriarch where the poems focus on motherhood. Next is The Journey, with a mix of poems about family, friends, travel and dreams. Tradition focuses on the things that families find important, such as special meals and places that have significant meaning. I especially liked the piece called Answering Machine.The next section is Home, which has a mix of poems about women, affection, sea shells and more.

Rounding out the book are two great recipes; one for Paticinni and the other for a dessert cookie called Fresine. I had never heard of Fresine, but I am going to try the recipe. It just seems like a real, feel-good dessert.

Susan sent me a copy of the book in the hopes that I would review it, and the production quality is so high, I am happy to do so. The only little quibble I have with the presentation is the few typos or misspellings. Everything about the rest of the production was so well-done, those little mistakes really stood out for me, but then, I'm at editor and maybe they bothered me because of that.

The rest of the book; the images, the design, the vintage look of it all, as well as most of the writing is just terrific. It is the kind of book that can help readers remember the special times and people of their lives.


Susan lives in New Jersery and is especially proud of her rich Italian heritage. The vintage design elements in the book are used with permission by  - Judy at a Touch of Class: An Art Nouveau Heritage Scrapkit

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

Regarding the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down caps on aggregate giving to federal candidates, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had this to say in an interview in the Washington Post, "If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades - despite the profound offense such spectacles cause - it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition."

So, even though more and more Americans would like to see campaign reform that focuses on taking the power of politics away from big business, they've just been given more power? I realize the high court has to uphold the letter of the law, but does the right to free speech really mean the right to buy favors?

 Kris Gentz, a former staff member at the Plano Independent School District, recently pleaded guilty to the charge of embezzlement. Apparently, he and two other staff member embezzled several million dollars by using fraudulent invoices for goods and services. Another staff member noted an unusual invoice and reported it. In his statement to the court, Gentz reportedly said, "...he intends to rectify the unfortunate dilemma."

'Unfortunate dilemma?' It was a crime, not a dilemma.

Now for a little fun. I really related to this from the comic strip, Drabble. Ralph, the dad,  and the kids are at a park and Ralph says, "This is aperfect day for kite flying."

Patrick, the youngest son says, "I don't get it, Dad. Why do you alays want us to learn to fly a kite."

"Kids today don't realize the importance of kite flying," Ralph says as he starts to launch the kite. "It teaches you important things like aerodynamics and perseverance. When you get that kite in the air and then reel it safely back in, there's a sense of accomplishment."

He finishes with, "Every kid ought to know how to fly a kite."

The final panel shows Norman, the older brother with his iPod, and Patrick points to it saying to Ralph, "And every adult should know how to download songs to their iPods."

To which Ralph replies, "What for? I have you guys to do that for me."

Rock on Ralph.

I also loved this one from Bizzaro. A spaceship has landed in a park and an alien that looks like a mutation of an octopus comes down the ramp toward the people gathered to see this phenomenon. The Alien says, "People of Earth - we have captrued all of your most powerful politicians.

"Do EXACTLY as we say or we shall RELEASE them."

Oh, no. Keep them. PLEASE!

Have you flown a kite recently? That was one of my favorite pastimes as a kid. I'm thinking I need to go buy a kite.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

To Drill or Not to Drill

Please help me welcome Slim Randles with another bit of humor to brighten our Wednesday. I'm not sure I agree with the last statement in his post, but you can decide for yourself. Since poor Herb has such a bad tooth, maybe he should have a milkshake and we could all join him.

Herb walked into O’Dontal Dental the other day, holding his hand against a swollen face. He hadn’t even made an appointment to see Perry first, and it became obvious why he hadn’t.

“Good morning, Herb,” said Andrea, the receptionist. “What can we do for you today?”

“Mmfft Crullit!”

“Certainly. Have a seat and I’ll let Perry know you’re here.”

In less than a minute, Dr. O’Dontal had Herb seated, numbed, and ready for work. Herb’s labored breathing had returned to normal, even if his speech patterns hadn’t.

“At what o’ the clock did the infliction attack, good sirrah?”

“Lfft’ent mmst,” said Herb.

“You should’ve used the phone to let me know, Herb. Oh, that’s right. What was I thinking? Well, you’re here now, let’s see what we can do.”

“Wonk oo.”

“You’re welcome. Open wide. Little more. Cast open the gates, Leander! Let us gaze upon the source of woe!”

Perry worked his way through dental school as a Shakespearean actor, and didn’t make it out of there unfazed.

“Aha, brothers of mine on this field of battle today, I glimpse with fearful eye the seat of our alarm. It’s a tooth, by Cuspid!”

Perry dove into the fray with drill and pick. Snicker-snick! GRRRR and fill. Rinse and spit.

“And so, Leander, take these, the pills that weave up the raveled sleeve of pain. Do so in remembrance of this day, this meeting, this sceptered isle of dental chair. Those who weren’t here with us this day will forever cast envious eyes upon us, for they will say this was our finest hour, the culmination of drill and yawn … the grinding and filling of fang for fun and profit. Arise, sweet prince, and fulfill your destiny!”

It’s almost worth getting a toothache.
Brought to you by Home Country (the book). 

My son-in law sent me a link to this video the other day, and it made me smile. I thought I would share it here so you could smile. If a dentist can quote Shakespeare, why not a typewriter in an orchestra? Enjoy

Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

 An interesting essay in The Dallas Morning News by Brigid Schulte a Washington Post columnist, was all about how busy people are, and she recommends that people stop thinking that having a full schedule is a virtue.

Since that flies in the face of the old adage my grandmother told me, "Idle hands are the devil's workplace," I was intrigued and had to read the rest of the article.

Recently, Schulte went to Fargo, N.D. to meet with a focus group that had been organized by Ann Burnett, a communications professor  at North Dakota State University, and thought that a rural area would be more relaxed and laid back. Schulte discovered just the opposite. Apparently this busyness of life was affecting people there, too.

According to research Schulte did for her book,  Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, being incredibly busy has become some kind of badge of honor and life is way too busy for too many people. In her recent article Schulte wrote, "People now tell pollsters that they’re too busy to register to vote, too busy to date, to make friends outside the office, to take a vacation, to sleep, to have sex. Another found that the compulsion to multitask was making us as stupid as if we were stoned."

For her research on this phenomenon of busyness, Burnett studied holiday letters she’s collected from the 1960s to the present and noted certain words and phrases that surfaced starting in the 1970s and 1980s — “hectic,” “whirlwind,” “consumed,” “crazy,” “constantly on the run” and “way too fast.”  The frequency of those words in holiday letters continues to increase.

Schulte wrote, "People compete over being busy; it’s about showing status." And she quoted Burnett, “If you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life,” Keeping up with the Joneses used to be about money, cars and homes. Now, she explains, “if you’re not as busy as the Joneses, you’d better get cracking.”

One of the things I found most interesting in the article is that all the busyness can actually be counterproductive, especially for those of us who work in creative fields. Schulte wrote, "Even as neuroscience is beginning to show that at our most idle, our brains are most open to inspiration and creativity — and history proves that great works of art, philosophy and invention were created during leisure time — we resist taking time off. Psychologists treat burned-out clients who can’t shake the notion that the busier you are, the faster you work, and the more you multitask, the more you are considered competent, smart, successful. It’s the Protestant work ethic in overdrive."

In  a companion piece by Hanna Rosin, she wrote that one simple antidote to feeling so overwhelmed with busyness is to simply stop telling people how busy we are. She cited a study by John Robinson, a sociologist who is known as Father Time because of his studies of how people use time. "Robinson doesn't ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you're oppressively busy."

So, what do you think about all this busyness? I know that the pressure to be a marketer and promoter as well as a writer has stressed me out at times. Schulte recommends that we make time for quiet and leisure and the devil be damned. I agree. So I will go have lunch with a friend today.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

It's Spring Somewhere

But not in Michigan where I spent the last ten days. Drifts and piles of plowed snow were 15 to 20 feet high in places along the highways, and I can't remember when I have seen drifts that high. It is nice to be back in Texas, where it is a bit chilly, but warmer and green instead of white.

Since I have not had anything new up for so long, I thought I would treat you to another guest post from Slim Randles. He does make us smile, and I need to smile today. How about you?

Doc smiled and felt really good inside when he heard the familiar bird song.

“Hey there, Wheezer,” he said, “happy spring!”

For some reason, this mourning dove with the speech impediment comes around to Doc’s back yard every spring, and Doc thinks that’s just all right. If ol’ Wheez didn’t have that distinctive voice, Doc would never know if this bird favored his yard or was just another bird looking for a home. Let’s face it, Wheezer looks just like every other dove in town.

But he was back and flirting with a good-looking lady dove up on the branches of the locust tree. Doc always wondered whether doves mate for life, and this was the same Mrs. Wheez he sees every year, or if Wheezer had to court a new lassie each spring.

“I’ll have to look it up,” Doc said, knowing that he wouldn’t.

But he did go over to the concrete block wall and clean out the crud from the hollow in the top block by the gate. Doc had put dirt in it years ago, and each spring, the Wheezer family hauled in twigs and grass and made a place to raise their family.

And each spring, as Mrs. W. sat on her eggs, it would take a few days before she would tolerate Doc coming and going through the gate. This was the dove family he was close to. They let him get right up to maybe a foot from the ugly little baby birds each spring, and he was careful never to move quickly or make a noise. That was his contribution, you see, to the putting together of the “Doves in the Concrete Block” family.

Wonder how long doves live? Doc thought. Wonder how long old Wheezer will last?  I’ll have to look it up.

No he won’t.
Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing.