A Faded Photograph and a New Beginning

Julie and Jancy at the Sterling Mansion

I have been asked where I get an idea for a novel. Four years ago, while rummaging around in the basement, I found a faded photograph of two pretty young girls. It launched a new life for me. The young girls in the picture are my daughters, Julie and Jancy. The occasion was a 1974 photo shoot for a Foley Bros. Department Store print ad. The setting for the shoot was the Sterling Mansion on Morgan’s Point. Gazing at the picture of my daughters standing on the back portico of the mansion overlooking Galveston Bay engendered a father’s pride, but was also the inspiration for a story about a young lawyer living in this house. I’d like to say that in the next 60 days I completed Morgan’s Point, but in reality I was blessed to get it published in paperback on Amazon and ebook on Kindle in 2016.

I recently completed a novel entitled Anahuac that continues the journey with lawyer Jim Ward and his wife Cooper Faircloth. Anahuac is a sometimes funny story about serious topics as diverse as rural justice, radio religion, and the changing role of women in the 1970s. In 1968 Virginia Slims cigarettes created an ad campaign around the slogan, “You’ve come along way baby!” (Was that ad written by a man, baby?) If you’d like to see how far we’ve come from the 1970s, Anahuac is illuminating. The two young girls in the photograph certainly were blessed with more opportunities than the women in the workforce in those days.

The Sterling Mansion shoot was the first major modeling opportunity for my daughters. I had a Kodiak Brownie Hawkeye camera, but in the excitement of the day shot only the picture you see here during a break. I regret not taking more pictures because the mansion has been greatly refurbished in the last few years. Back then, there were no cell phones or digital cameras to snap fifty shots at will.

I had seen the mansion many times from the water while sailing on Galveston Bay. The bay side of the mansion is modeled after the back of the White House in D.C. It surprising to see such an architectural feature while gliding around the bay. There is a picture of the mansion in the Virtual Tour section of my webpage.

The builder of the mansion was Ross Sterling. Mr. Sterling was a founder of the Humble Oil Company and also served as governor of Texas. The mansion was not his family’s primary residence. The mansion was built as a summer home to escape the oppressive heat and humidity of Houston’s summers. Mr. Sterling’s “cottage” is over 20,000 square feet, similar to those located in Newport, R.I. Today the mansion is in private hands, but can be viewed from the road.

Muse comes in surprising packages. When I was blessed to find the long ago photograph of my daughters on their special day it rekindled my curiosity about life in the Sterling Mansion. That curiosity resulted in the inspiration for Morgan’s Point and now AnahuacAnahuac is the sequel to Morgan’s Point, but may be read without having read my first novel. Anahuac is scheduled for release this fall.

But what if I don’t want to row my boat?

We all know the little ditty about rowing our boat gently down the stream. If you are old enough you can remember singing it in harmony while watching the “bouncing ball” in an old movie house like the Woodlawn Theater. Maturity has caused me to reconsider whether the song is a command or a suggestion. The purpose here is not to go all Eastern Religion on you, although I am not discounting their concept that life is just a dream.

What I really want to do is to remind myself first, but also to suggest to to you that drinking one or the other party’s political cool-aide without thinking for yourself  is a mistake.  Ask Jim Jones’ Jonestown congregation how blindly following his commands worked out for them. All I’m suggesting is think before you leap.

Spending substantial time in D.C. over the past twenty years has limited my willingness to simply “row my boat, gently…”. Before you think I am advocating one political persuasion over another let me explain.  Trying to make rational decisions in this world of biased reporting, fake news, fake news lite and alternative facts is hard at best.  During this last election we all got hopped up on supporting “our side”. Most of us were fervent about our candidates to the extreme.  After the election those whose candidate won rejoiced that “at last we could get back to sanity.” Those on the other end of the election were just as convinced that there was no sanity left in the country.

Call me crazy, but I think we are somewhere in between being well oriented in all spheres. The message I hope you take from my venture into navigating these turbulent waters is don’t believe everything you hear and with Photoshop available even less of what you see. I believe you can take what I say as truth, but then again I’m not sure I always know what I’m talking about!  In the meantime, row if you like, gently or otherwise.

Springtime in DC: Protests, Cherry Blossoms and Opening Day at the Ball Park

The air, no longer crisp by East Coast standards, blows coolly through the windows of the Uber taking us to opening day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Shafts of sunlight dart in and out of the broken clouds swirling overhead with the urgency of early springtime.  The cherry blossoms shimmer in the mottled sunlight as we approach their show-stopping display at the Tidal Basin.

A last minute question of “why wouldn’t we go if we’re in D.C”. has left us racing to the ball park precipitously close to missing the first pitch. As we navigate the mid-day traffic near the White House we pass by a protest. It would be an easy assumption that a group of Democrats (or even some Republicans) are picketing President Trump in their manifest disappointment but this is Washington folks. President Trump is not the only game in town. The small gathering in front of the Organization of American States is protesting with signs that say “Venezuela didn’t elect a dictator!” The group is smiling and mugging for a Venezuelan camera crew filming the event for consumption by a South American audience. It’s just another day in our nation’s Capitol.

The traffic slows to a crawl as we sight the stadium and we bolt out of the Uber to surge with a crowd toward baseball. A formation of jet fighters roar overhead as we hear the last strains of the “Star Spangled Banner” drifting from the stadium. The Anthem was written by a neighbor of ours. Well, Francis Scott Key would have been a neighbor if we had lived in 1812. Now a freeway runs over the site of the Key Homestead, but that’s a song for another day.

Excitement reigns until we reach the park to find that courtesy of a world full of violent idiots we are going to be delayed by the crowd clearing security. Nevertheless our spirits soar as we pass through the portal and the field comes into view. A surge of nostalgia and joy brings a small tear that I quickly brush away as the sight of the green grass of a baseball diamond comes into to clear view. It has been at least sixty-five years since I was introduced to baseball at old Mission Stadium in San Antonio. My joy is no less on this day as I see the magic of springtime green grass and grown men playing a child’s game.

Yes, in today’s world, baseball is one of the few constants. It returns each spring with the passing of the gloom of winter and promises days and nights of hits, runs errors and that ever present “Take me out to the ballgame.” At least some things never change. Ah, spring, with all of its promise of warmer days and the fun to come is here. The Nationals win a thriller and the crowd goes home singing. Only 161 more games before the season is over. I am grateful for my team’s perfect record. It will be good at least until the next game. Spring with its promise of all things new, we salute you.

He’s Back!

My apologies to the readers who enjoyed my blog articles last year. Life has a funny way of interrupting your plans when you least expect it. I am committed to getting back to regular posts. That all starts with making the first effort and here it is.

Take time to appreciate your surroundings and those you love. They have a way of changing and disappearing. Some close friends and family have disappeared out of my life in recent times. For the most part I had an opportunity to say good bye to them. But, and it is a big BUT, when folks are gone they are just gone. Grab someone you love today and say “Thanks for being in my life”.

By way of an update, my latest book “Anahuac” is with an editor who is doing a wonderful job. By June I hope to have the book out in paperback and on Kindle. “Anahuac” will be a fun read (forgive my pride!) I am asked frequently, “What’s your book about?” Well, here it is. A troubled young lawyer struggles to cope with three strong women as he defends a popular 1970’s radio evangelist accused of murdering a wealthy spinster in an isolated Texas county brimming with oil, evangelicals and greed.

One of the things that becoming an author teaches you is patience. There is no way that you finish a book when you want, get it edited as fast as you want, or get it into print when you want. It is a one step at-a-time process. I am not a patient man by nature. God has funny ways of showing you things. I hear you God, I’m trying!  O.K., I’m back again. I love your comments about the blog. Keep them coming, please.

Morgan’s Point is in paperback

Morgan’s Point, my first novel is now in a paperback edition. It can be ordered on Amazon. The book is also available on Kindle as an ebook.  I am particularly excited about the book in paperback. Being old school I love to hold a book in my hand. It is gratifying that the hard work is over on this project and I can turn all of my attention to completing my second book,  AnahuacAnahuac is the sequel to Morgan’s Point.

Morgan’s Point is a story of a young man named Jim and his birthday wish for manhood. The wish  is granted, but at a price a young boy could have never foreseen. Manhood comes to Jim through an unspeakable tragedy. Jim believes he has exorcised the demons of his youth when he becomes an assistant district attorney and marries Cooper Faircloth, the hard working heiress to a newspaper fortune. Jim’s redemption begins to fall apart when Cooper’s obsessive drive to be accepted in a man’s world of newspaper publishing in the 1960’s leaves him lonely and resentful. Sparks fly with the sudden reappearance of Chinky Mason, Jim’s troubled and alcoholic college sweetheart. When Jim’s ambition allows a clever criminal to outwit a flawed justice system, Jim discovers that his redemption may be illusory. What does a man do when he realizes that his not the man he wants to be and what can he do if he is preordained to fail?

Anahuac  is a story of a troubled young lawyer who defends a popular 1970’s radio evangelist accused of murdering a wealthy spinster in an isolated Texas county brimming with oil, evangelicals and greed. You don’t have to have read Morgan’s Point to enjoy Anahuac, but it would probably make the second book more fun. Anahuac will be on Kindle and Amazon in paperback soon. Thanks to all of you who have sent complements. I hope you enjoy the books as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

There are other books called Morgan’s Point on the market. If you are interested to buying my book take care to order the one I wrote.

 

A Sad Day At UT

 

There was a ceremony today at The University of Texas to rededicate the Tower Garden created to honor those who were killed or wounded 50 years ago today in Austin.The garden is also dedicated to the police heroes who risked their lives to stop the rampage of a student gone mad. Perched high above the main mall the sniper randomly shot students, staff and a policeman with the military precision he’d learned in the Marines.

I attended the ceremony and it was moving. The University initially resisted calls for a fitting monument to those affected by the shootings. The old ways of just trying to forget bad things like war and tragedy only lead to more trauma.  Today the University acknowledged that truth and expanded the small memorial hidden away next to a biology pond behind the Tower.

I am an extremely lucky person. While attending UT Law School I worked in the basement of the Tower in a newspaper archive. I went to work each day at noon. I loved walking up the broad main mall looking up at the Tower on my way inside. I used the clock as my guide as to how fast I had to walk. If it was 11:45 I could take my time. If it was 11:55 I had to move. The UT clock is stopped this afternoon at 11:48 and will not begin telling time for 24 Hours to commemorate when the first student was shot. I say I’m lucky because I had quit my job when I graduated from law school 30 days before the first shot was fired. I stood on the mall today thankful for the life I was given and the last 50 years. I pray all of the lost souls have found peace. They are remembered. I weep for them all.

 

I Love You So Much!

My first book, Morgan’s Point, will soon be available in Paperback. I hope that those of you who mentioned to me that you prefer a book to an electronic version will now take this opportunity to read it. I continue to write the sequel entitled Anahuac and hope to have it out in paperback by September.

Austin, Texas has been my home most of my adult life. For the past year I have been away from Austin because of a delay in the completion of my new condo. The lack of any permanency in living arrangements has led to delays in a multitude of aspects of my life. One of them has been the inability to post anything on this blog. I am happy to report that I am moved in and back on task with the blog.

One of the most surprising aspects of a move to downtown Austin has been a rediscovery of the running trail around Lady Bird Johnson Lake and Barton Creek. These are some of the elements (against all odds) that have survived the onslaught of development in Austin. Some of the most beautiful natural spots in the world are in downtown Austin. Barton Springs Pool still flows at 68 degrees or so in the dead of a hot summer. I am going to be writing a series of post in the next few weeks highlighting this beautiful area. The iconic sign below located on South Congress Avenue sums up how I feel about Austin. I hope you will take a trip with me around Lady Bird Lake and Barton Creek so that you can see the beauty that is Austin.

 

 

CONTEST: Little Known Texas History

Last week I promised you a Texas history contest. There is even a prize to the person who provides the first right answer to my three part question below. So here goes:

Question Part 1: What town along the Texas Gulf Coast was the site of early conflicts between Anglo Texan settlers and the Mexican Authorities. (Hint: Its name starts with an A)

Question Part 2: What was the name and profession of a resident of this city who became the Commander of the Alamo?

Question Part 3: What County in Texas was named for a partner of the man who is the answer to Question Part 2?

I didn’t say it was an easy test. Think of it as a Texas history scavenger hunt.
The prize is an autographed copy of my novel, Morgan’s Point which will be issued in paper back next month. Have fun and get to work on the test. We are not grading on a curve!

“Can’t You Just Sit Still”

My beautiful Mother said, “Bill, can’t you just sit still.” I was probably no more than five years old. I had no recollection of ever voluntarily sitting still for long. Neither did I understand why it might be desirable. My Mother could have given me a lengthy list. She was weary from tending to my new born brother.

My Father sat at the breakfast table all tall, slender and dashing in his double breasted suit. He quickly finished his breakfast, retrieved his stylish Bogart hat and slicked the brim. “Gotta get to work!”, he said to no one in particular. Then he bent over and patted me on the head. With his head drawn near my face he whispered. “Bill, remember you can’t sit still if you want to get ahead in this world.” Then he was out the door. With no one to arbitrate this clear conflict in parental commands I probably just went back to shoving my eggs and bacon around my plate.

How did this come back to me all these years later? I was working at the ranch today trying to brush away the rust of the winter from the plants in the greenhouse. Shoving the heavy pots outside to meet the gentle spring sun taxed my muscles, but satisfied some deep-seated need to grow things. I had come to the ranch to vegetate. I have been juggling some real life stresses lately that have finally resolved themselves. With them behind me I only wanted to go to the hill country to rest, regenerate and revitalize. The simple life was my quest as I rocked on the front porch, but the siren song of “Gotta get to work” called out. In a few minutes I was knee deep in the greenhouse.

I worked for several hours hauling my plants to just the right place around the house. As I stood dripping with sweat (that gentle spring sun was not so gentle), the question “Bill, why can’t you just sit still?” came back as if it had just been asked. The question I was pondering was not the one that my Mother had asked. This was a hardball existential inquiry and one that stopped me in my tracks. The corollary question of “what’s wrong with taking it easy?” also came to visit. Clearly, nothing is wrong with taking it easy. But because of DNA, environment or some other reason I don’t understand, I’m wired this way. After having thought about it I realized that I neither have to apologize for it nor do I have to regret it. I love writing my novels, writing this blog, traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C. and shoving dirt around at the ranch. It’s not right for everyone, but it is what keeps me alive and healthy. I wish you would all share what keeps your motor running.

One more thing, next week there is going to be a pop quiz on Texas history. There was a famous Texas hero who started a dust up with the Mexican army well before he met his untimely demise at the Alamo. I can’t wait to see if you can answer my tough question. I came across it while I was researching my next book. That’s all the clues you get for the moment. The first right answer will win a prize.

Be Careful What You Wish For Santa Anna!

Today is San Jacinto Day in Texas. It is the day Mexico lost Texas. For those of you that aren’t familiar, this is the day that Sam Houston’s irregular militia of Texican’s defeated a strong Mexican Army in a bloody eighteen minute battle at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou near Galveston Bay. The Mexican Army was led by Generalissimo Santa Anna who was also the President of Mexico. The Texican’s were in full rebellion against the Government of Mexico. Now some might say they were ungrateful guests who came to dinner and stole the house. The Texican’s had legitimate grievances caused by a change of the Mexican Constitution, but I will leave you to your own to research to understand the complex situation  For our purposes understand that a wild frontier called Texas had been populated by the Government of Mexico with a large number of U.S. citizens used to rights they had left in the United States. A group of revolutionaries had met at Washington on the Brazos, formed a government and issued a Texas declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. That made Santa Anna mad.

Santa Anna had set off from Mexico before the Declaration was signed and marched the Mexican Army to Texas. In 1836 it was no hike in the forest. Once in Texas the armies were a nightmare for the Texicans. Santa Anna’s armies mopped up on small groups of revolutionaries at the Alamo and Goliad. After those victories Santa Anna set his sights on Sam Houston and his army now retreating across Texas toward the U.S. border. At least that is what it looked like to some Texican’s who wanted to go fight before they were ready. Santa Anna’s fondest wish was to find Sam Houston and finish off the last Texican army.

Find him he did on April 20, 1836 in the last place on earth that military person might pick. The two armies were separated by no more than than a few hundred yards. Each army had a body of water behind them with no way to escape. The Texican’s late afternoon charge into the Mexican camp on April 21st surprised the Mexican Army and they were routed. The end result was a treaty that at least for the moment made Texas independent. This is a long way around to say “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.”

Another question is whether the whole thing was predestined. Was it Texas’ destiny to be freed from Mexican rule or was Santa Anna’s Waterloo the result of a willful man exercising his free will and paying the consequences. The young Jim Ward in my novel “Morgan’s Point” only wished for manhood. The price was steeper than he could have imagined. Santa Anna’a wish changed the world, just not in the way he imagined.

San Jacinto Day was a big deal when I was growing up. I wonder if I took a poll on the streets of Austin this afternoon of random folks if most of them every heard of it. We as Texasans need to do a better job of explaining our history to new folks who are coming in town. Most think the city named Bowie street for the recently departed English singer. Oh, wait a minute I think the city council is considering that now! Come on native Texans get with the program! We love our State and our proud of it. If we work to preserve our heritage we will all be better off. I am proud of Texas and I think the new folks would be too if we educate them about the sacrifices that were made to make the Texas of today. Saturday the 23rd there is suppose to be a reenactment of the Battle. I plan to be there if the creeks quit rising. Hope to see you. Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!