Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More spooky Texas tales

Storytellers Tim Tingle and Doc Moore are back, just in time for Halloween, with More Spooky Texas Tales (Texas Tech University Press, $18.95 hardcover).

Tingle and Moore teamed up on two other books from Texas Tech Press – Spooky Texas Tales (also for young readers) and Texas Ghost Stories: Fifty Favorites for the Telling.In More Spooky Texas Tales they relate 10 stories, including:

“Skinwalker” – a man picks up a hitchhiker only to discover that his passenger is not human.

“The Chupacabra and Berto” – a bloodthirsty creature haunts the Valley, and a grandson wanders off the ranch.

“Screaming Banshee Cattle of the Night Swamp” involves fang-bearing cattle in the swamps near Orange, Texas.

“Mary Culhaine” – a girl has to give a graveyard creature a piggyback ride to town and is offered a bowl of bloody oatmeal to eat.

Tingle and Moore perform at schools and libraries, telling and collecting stories. Several of the stories in the book were first told to them by students.

HOME FRONT: Sylvia Dickey Smith’s novel, A War of Her Own (Crickhollow Books, $16.95 ), is set in the summer of 1943 in Orange.

The story features Bea Meade, a young mother whose no-good husband announces he is leaving her for another woman. To support her infant son, she takes a job as a riveter at the shipyards.

It truly is a war of her own for Bea, who has to come to grips with mysteries from her past while fighting prejudice against women in the workplace and other personal and social challenges.

AN AUTHOR’S YEAR: Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the popular China Bayles mysteries, which always have the name of an herb in the title, as well as numerous other books.

Now she tells about a year in the life of an author in An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days (University of Texas Press, $24.95 hardcover). The year was 2008, a year of financial crises and political change, and she includes various news developments and her reaction to them.

Basically, it is a daily diary by a very talented writer who is willing to share her private thoughts publicly.

She also includes in the margins a lot of food for thought from other writers and sources in quotations that she has collected.

Her days may have been ordinary, but certainly the year wasn’t, nor is her writing about it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Texas photo books on football, baseball, music

The University of Texas Press has released three new oversized photography books this fall paying tribute to Texas high school football stadiums, the best little semipro baseball team in Texas, and the popular TV music series, Austin City Limits.

The books are:

Homefield: Texas High School Football Stadiums from Alice to Zephyr by Jeff Wilson (foreword by Buzz Bissinger, text compiled by Bobby Hawthorne), $39.95.

The Amazing Tale of Mr. Herbert and His Famous Alpine Cowboys Baseball Club by DJ Stout, $34.95.

Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs by Scott Newton, $40.

FOOTBALL: Jeff Wilson presents more than 80 photographs of empty high school football fields, all taken from the 50 yard line facing the home side of the stadium. The fields range in size from tiny Veribest (pictured on the cover) and Penelope to huge stadiums like Alamo Stadium in San Antonio and Ratliff Stadium in Odessa.

“The promise of an empty football field,” Wilson writes, “is an irresistible force for those who understand and revere the game. It represents a blank canvas begging to be painted with the varied sights and sounds of youthful action and enthusiasm.”

Accompanying some of the photographs are brief comments by residents who coached, played, announced, or cheered for their team on Friday nights. The book grew out of a photo essay published in Texas Monthly in 2005.

BASEBALL: After World War II, minor league and semi-pro baseball reached new heights of popularity. And nowhere was a team more popular than the Alpine Cowboys.

Wealthy rancher Herbert Kokernot Jr. took ownership of the struggling Alpine team in 1946, changed the name to the Alpine Cowboys, built a dream ballpark called Kokernot Field, and outfitted his players in the most fashionable uniforms. The team won regional tournaments as well as the hearts of their fans and praise from around the country.

DJ Stout of Austin, whose father pitched for the Cowboys, has put together a coffee table book full of vintage black-and-white photos, comments by team members, and a year-by-year recounting of the 1946-1961 teams.

MUSIC: Fans of the Austin City Limits TV show will no doubt enjoy reliving the appearances of the great stars who have performed on stage in the show’s 35-year history.

Scott Newton, the show’s photographer for 31 years beginning in 1979, chronicles the appearances of 80 of the best-known performers and bands. Beginning and ending with Willie Nelson, the rest of the artists are presented in two-page spreads alphabetically rather than chronologically, since some have performed on Austin City Limits more than once.

To name just a few: Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones, B. B. King, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mike Cox named A.C. Greene Award winner

Austin author and journalist Mike Cox is the 2010 winner of the A. C. Greene Literary Award given each year to a distinguished Texas author. The award will be presented at the Boots & Books Luncheon on Saturday, Sept. 25, during the West Texas Book & Music Festival in Abilene.

Cox, who has had 17 books published including his signature two-volume history of the Texas Rangers and several collecions of historic Texas photos, headlines a list of 14 featured Texas authors who will speak during the 10th annual West Texas festival sponsored by Friends of the Abilene Public Library.

The festival runs all week, Sept. 20-25, culminating with a full day of activities on Saturday. For a full schedule, go to and click on the festival logo.

Founded as the West Texas Book & Author Festival in 2001, the event added music to its lineup in 2006. This year’s festival promises a lot of both.

Other visiting authors include Paulette Jiles and Scott Zesch, who have written books about children and families kidnapped by Comanches on the Texas frontier, and Fort Worth children’s authors Jan Peck and David Davis, who will visit Abilene and Wylie schools on Friday of festival week.

Three authors of books about Texas sports legends will speak at a Saturday morning session – Carlton Stowers, Mike Cochran and Al Pickett. Stowers has a new biography coming out on Roger Staubach, Cochran co-authored The Godfather of Poker with the godfather himself, Doyle Brunson, and Pickett co-authored Wishbone Wisdom with Emory Bellard, inventor of the wishbone offense in college football.

Steve Huddleston, senior horticulturist for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, will lead a session on Saturday based on his book, Easy Gardens for North Central Texas. Bobby D. Weaver, author of two books on the Texas oil patch, will join Cox at a Saturday session on Texas oil.

Novelist Jane Roberts Wood, the festival’s 2006 A. C. Greene Award winner, will debut her upcoming novel, Out Summerhill Road, at sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Abilene novelist Karen Witemeyer will talk about her first two novels, both published this year. Also featured are Abilene authors Wanda Middleton, a retired teacher who has written Best Foot Forward, a helpful guide on manners and etiquette for middle and high school students, and retired history professor Bennie Gallaway, author of The Ragged Rebel about one Texas soldier’s experiences in the Civil War.

Abilene authors who have had a book published in the past year will be recognized at a Local Author Reception on Tuesday evening at the library. Each author is given two minutes to tell about his or her book, and most of the authors display and sign their books in the Hall of Texas Authors on Saturday.

A preview party on Friday evening at Frontier Texas! will honor this year’s featured authors, two of whom – Paulette Jiles and Scott Zesch -- have written books related to the era covered by the Frontier Texas! exhibit.

Music activities include daily noontime concerts Monday through Friday in downtown Minter Park, showcasing a different local or area band every day. Bands and musicians will perform at the Abilene Civic Center throughout the day on Saturday. Added to the music lineup this year is a Gospel Music Concert at 3 p.m. Saturday at the civic center, preceding the fifth annual West Texas Gospel Hymnfest at 4 p.m. The hymnfest, led by Judge Lee Hamilton, is an hour of congregational singing of old-time gospel favorites like “When We All Get to Heaven.” Both the concert and the hymnfest, sponsored by several Abilene churches, are free.

In fact, most events during the festival are free. Other free events include the noon concerts, the author reception on Tuesday, brown bag programs at the downtown library Wednesday through Friday (light lunches are available for $4 but the programs are free), and the various author panels and sessions on Saturday morning. The Hall of Texas Authors, a roomful of writers displaying and signing their books, is free to enter, but you will probably spend some money on books before you leave. The hall will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Authors from all over Texas also are welcome to purchase table space to sell their books. Details are on the festival web site.

The free events are made possible by grants from the festival’s corporate sponsor, the Abilene Reporter-News, and local foundations and the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council.

Ticketed events include the Texas Cookbook Gala, a $150-a-plate fundraiser at the Abilene Country Club on Thursday night, and the Boots & Books Luncheon at the civic center on Saturday -- $30 a person or $300 for a table of ten. Funds from these events benefit the Abilene Public Library.

At the cookbook gala, outstanding Texas chefs and award-winning vintners provide the menu and wines for the evening. The Boots & Books Luncheon concludes with the presentation of the A. C. Greene Award.

For information about tickets and updated details on festival participants and activities, see the festival web site at or call the library, 325-676-6025.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10 American POWs fled Japanese prison camp

A new book about a daring escape from a brutal Japanese prison camp in the Philippines during World War II features a Texas war hero on the cover and throughout the narrative.

Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess, a native Texan for whom Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene is named, was one of the leaders of the group of 10 Americans and two Filipinos who escaped from the Davao prison camp (pronounced da-VOW). Three of them were Texans – Dyess, Jack Hawkins and Bob Spielman.

Escape from Davao by John Lukacs (Simon & Schuster, $27.99 hardcover) tells the story from the perspectives of all 10 Americans who were captured after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in the early months of the war and then pulled off the only successful group escape from a Japanese POW camp.

Lukacs (LU-kiss) relates in gripping detail the three-week-long Bataan Death March, which he calls “the most infamous war crime in the annals of American military history.” Nearly 700 Americans and as many as 10,000 Filipinos were executed or died from starvation during the 85-mile walk.

Dyess, then a captain and squadron leader, would not know freedom for nearly a year, somehow surviving the harsh conditions, disease and near starvation of three prison camps and a prisoner transport ship.

When he and the other escapees managed to pull off their unbelievable prison break, their main objective was to get back to the U.S. and tell about the conditions under which the men still imprisoned were suffering.

However, that turned out to be harder than they could have expected. After Dyess and two other escapees told their story to General Douglas MacArthur, the Pacific commander said it needed to be told to the American people and singled out Dyess as the person to tell it.

“But I am afraid, captain,” he added, “that the people back home will find it hard to believe you.” Wartime censorship proved to be the biggest hurdle in getting the story out.

Indeed, the inhumanity is hard to believe, even now, more than 67 years later. The author drives it home in gruesome detail. I read the book in two days but had to put it down every so often and catch my breath, the descriptions were so powerful.

Dyess’s story eventually was told in a 24-installment series of articles in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in early 1944 and helped galvanize public opinion about the war in the Pacific.

Dyess, however, didn’t live to see it in print. He died in a plane crash before the series was published. It was later reprinted in a book, Bataan Death March: A Survivor’s Account, which is still in print (Bison Books, $16.95 paperback).

Lukacs concludes the book with an epilogue that tells what became of the escapees and also what happened to the Japanese officers who brutalized them.