Pacific Northwest

The ending to any vacation is always bittersweet; the desire for one more day conflicts with the yearning to return home. For the past ten days my wife and I have been travelling in and around the state of Oregon visiting the vibrant city of Portland, the rugged coastal shoreline around Newport, and the spectacular views along the Columbia River Gorge in Hood River. We’re heading back to Texas today but I wanted to get this post published before falling even further behind in my goal of reaching out to readers at least weekly.

Literature and history always play a major part in anything that I do, and this trip was no exception. In Portland I visited Powell’s City of Books, one of the world’s largest independent bookstores. Four stories high, taking up an entire city block, the building houses over one million books. I normally avoid large bookstores in favor of smaller more customer friendly venues, but Powell’s was a must stop and I wasn’t disappointed. A book enthusiast could meander the site forever browsing the latest publications as well as the oldest classics. I was happy to be directed to a specific aisle, on a specific floor, in a specific room to find a specific stack that held the book I was interested in obtaining. As soon as I finish reading the historical novel Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird I’ll post my review.

A visit to Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport (also known as the Cape Foulweather Lighthouse) offered views of tide pools teeming with wildlife as well as information on the search for the Northwest Passage. As a boy I had read and re-read the novel Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts which was in part the detailed account of Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian Wars, but also follows Robert Rogers’ later life and exploits as he attempts to mount an expedition to find the route that had long eluded other European explorers.

This quest to find a route linking North America and East Asia has captured the imagination of explorers since the 15th century. At Yaquina there are informational panels on Captain James Cook’s expeditions to the Pacific Ocean; his third (1776-1780) aboard the ships Resolution and Discovery searched for a sea route around Canada and Alaska. No such passage was found at the time and Cook’s scientific explorations ended with this voyage when he was killed by Polynesians on a beach at Kealakekua.

Treacherous ocean conditions and sea ice made the route impossible for decades. Ships’ hulls could be crushed by submerged icebergs or vessels could find themselves trapped for months at a time by surface ice resulting in death from extreme cold, starvation, and disease.

Only recently has climate change opened the passage to maritime shipping. While the first successful navigation occurred in 1906, in the summer of 2007 the route was  entirely free of ice for the first time in recorded history, and in 2016 the Crystal Serenity became the first cruise ship to navigate the passage.

Of course, I’ve only managed to crack the surface of all that awaits in the Pacific Northwest. There is so much more of Oregon yet to be discovered, as well as the U.S. states of Idaho and Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. But, there’s a flight to catch and those discoveries will have to wait for another day.


A Cherished Tradition

Silver TapsA recent post on Twitter announcing the first Silver Taps ceremony of the semester at Texas A&M University brought back vivid memories of my first exposure to this cherished tradition. It was fifty years ago and I can still recall every detail of that night.

I was a freshman in the Corps of Cadets at the time just learning what it means to be an Aggie. I was frankly overwhelmed by the solemnity of fellow students gathering in silence to honor and remember other Aggies who had passed away the previous month. It impressed upon me that I was a part of something enduring, a spirit of fellowship and family that would last a lifetime.

A&M alumni reading this will understand exactly what I’m talking about. Others, those of you who read my posts but have no reference to go by, may appreciate a brief summary of the event.

On the morning of the ceremony the names of the dead are posted at the base of the flagpole outside the Academic building. The flag is then flown at half-mast throughout the day, and at 10:15 PM the lights on campus are extinguished. It is eerily dark and quiet. The firing squad from an elite unit known as the Ross Volunteers marches into position. They fire a 21-gun salute at 10:30 PM – the discharge of the guns is accompanied by the collective intake of breath throughout the student body as the sound of the guns pierces the silence. Six buglers atop the dome of the Academic building sound the mournful notes of a special orchestration of taps that has been passed down from bugler to bugler since 1898. These are the only sounds you hear. Taps is played three times; once to the North, once to the South, and once to the West. It is never played toward the East… the sun will never rise again on the departed. When the last note has been played no words are spoken. The students disperse returning to their dorms, apartments or homes to remember, to reflect, and to pray. – Excerpt from my memoir, Silver Taps.


The Big Inch: My Review

The Big Inch Book CoverAuthor Kimberly Fish has written an engaging novel set in Longview, Texas in 1942. The Allied offensive in Europe, dependent on the supply of fuel for its tanks, trucks, and planes, is threatened by German U-boat attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. In response, the largest pipeline construction project in the history of the United States is launched.

Longview is at the center of the joint government-private industry undertaking that becomes known as “The Big Inch.” Conceived to overcome the U-boat threat and provide uninterrupted flow of gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and kerosene from Texas to the Midwest and East Coast, both the project and the small East Texas town become the focus of domestic and international intrigue. Is there a real threat? The Office of Strategic Services, a wartime intelligence agency and precursor to today’s CIA, intends to find out.

Enter Lane Mercer, an agent trying to overcome grief and guilt associated with her husband’s death and a botched undercover assignment in France. Is she up to the job? Posing as the executive secretary to the pipeline project manager, she must overcome her own doubts and insecurities while ensuring that the project isn’t sabotaged.

Well drawn characters (many of whom aren’t who they profess to be,) excellent descriptions of landmarks in and around Longview that evoke time and place, multiple subplots involving small town attitudes, racial injustice, love interests, and finding inner peace are the hallmarks of this first book in a planned series by Kimberly Fish on “Misfits and Millionaires.”

The only detractors in Book 1 are the grammatical errors that should have been corrected prior to the book’s publication. Hopefully,  these won’t be repeated  in the sequel, “Harmon General,”  because I very much look forward to reading the continuing story.



The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch: Lone Star Book Blog Tours Promo & Review

foreword by Bill Hobby
Genre: Memoir / Texana / Politics / Eastern European History
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
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Date of Publication: April 16, 2018
Number of Pages: 336 pages w/50 B&W photos
As a boy in Houston, Bill Sarpalius, his brothers, and their mother lived an itinerant life. Bill dug food out of trashcans, and he and his brothers moved from one school to the next. They squatted in a vacant home while their mother, affectionately called “Honey,” battled alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. In an act of desperation, she handed her three sons over to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch north of Amarillo.

At the time, Bill was thirteen years old and could not read. Life at Boys Ranch had its own set of harrowing challenges, however. He found himself living in fear of some staff and older boys. He became involved in Future Farmers of America and discovered a talent for public speaking. When he graduated, he had a hundred dollars and no place to go. He worked hard, earned a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and obtained a college degree. After a brief career as a teacher and in agribusiness, he won a seat in the Texas Senate. Driven by the memory of his suffering mother, he launched the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in an effort to help people struggling with addiction.

Sarpalius later served in the United States Congress. As a Lithuanian American, he took a special interest in that nation’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union. For his efforts, Sarpalius received the highest honor possible to a non-Lithuanian citizen and was named a “Grand Duke.”The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir—the story of a life full of unlikely paths that is at once heartbreaking and inspirational.


“The autobiography of Bill Sarpalius reads like a 20 -century version of the American dream – equal parts heartbreak and inspiration, culminating in an unlikely political career capped by three terms in the U.S. Congress.” — University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs
“The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is an inspiring tale of perseverance and personal courage.” — Si Dunn, Lone Star Literary Life



Texas A&M University Press


Former Congressman Bill Sarpalius’ memoir, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch, chronicles a remarkable life that progresses from an illiterate child whose father abandoned him and whose mother battled depression, alcoholism, and suicidal tendencies, to Future Farmers of America President, to a brief career in agribusiness and teaching, to a position in the Texas Legislature, and ultimately to the U.S. Congress. It is at once compelling and inspirational, and should appeal to readers looking to overcome obstacles and accomplish their own dreams.

Each of the aforementioned touchstone events in Bill Sarpalius’ book is presented in one of five parts that correspond to the turning points in his life. Of these, the one that put him on the road to public service and convinced him that “God had a plan for him to help people” is Part I: Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.

“It was at Boys Ranch where I learned how to dream and make those dreams come true.”

As a resident of Texas, I was certainly aware of the facility in West Texas. Each year about Christmas time I receive a mailing soliciting funding to support the ranch’s operational needs. However, I was unaware of the magnitude of its mission; one of the largest child care homes in the state, it has raised and educated thousands of boys who either had no family or whose families couldn’t provide for them, or who had committed violent crimes. I was also unfamiliar with the man responsible, Cal Farley, whose faith and compassion wouldn’t allow him to ever say “no to a boy in trouble.”

Of course, when Bill Sarpalius’ mother dropped him and his two brothers off at the Boys Ranch in 1960 in an act of desperation, it was at a time when childcare facilities in Texas were unregulated, licensed, or inspected (the Texas Child Care and Licensing Act wasn’t passed until 1975.) The volatile mix of boys and staff sometimes resulted in abuse, and Mr. Sarpalius candidly discusses corporal punishment, sexual assault, and the initial struggle to survive.

It is a testament to his character and determination that when he finally emerges from Boys Ranch he leaves with an education, self-confidence, profound faith, a work ethic, and lasting friendships. In fact he will attribute his time there as the reason for his later success.

“Everything I had ever accomplished, I owe to Cal Farley and his Boys Ranch.”

 The remaining four parts to the book were less compelling for me. The memories of his rise to political prominence and his accomplishments in office just didn’t resonate with me for reasons that I think had more to do with writing style than story. In many instances his stream of consciousness results in random thoughts and reflections that don’t seem to fit into the context or chronology of the situations being described. And, because the focus of any memoir is the author, all events, reactions, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and outcomes are filtered through that one viewpoint. There is always the danger that they may come across as less than objective, which is especially true in today’s political climate. The “I/me” perspective employed by Mr. Sarpalius definitely invites reader intimacy, but it also runs the risk of appearing self-aggrandizing.

Though not for everyone, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir that many readers will enjoy.

I received a free copy of the book from Texas A&M University Press & the Texas Book Consortium in exchange for my honest opinion.

BILL SARPALIUS represented the Texas 13th Congressional District from 1989 to 1995, and from 1981 to 1989 he served in the Texas State Senate. He currently is a motivational speaker and serves as CEO of Advantage Associates International. He divides his time between Maryland and Houston, Texas.
2:00 PM
2415 Soncy Road
Amarillo, TX 79124


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The Process

Page Publishing LogoIt’s begun! Last week I announced that I had once again signed with Page Publishing, Inc. of New York to publish my newest book, Tarnished Brass. This past Wednesday I was contacted by my Publishing Coordinator about the necessary steps to actually get the book printed and distributed. I’m aware of the process, but for those of you who wonder what is involved in getting a book from completion to a retail outlet, I thought I’d use this forum to comment on the road ahead.

The first step is a thorough review of content by an editor to identify and correct typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors. “SPAGs,” as these common mistakes are referred to in the industry, diminish the reading experience. I go over my draft multiple times to ensure there are none but, no matter how many times I look over my own material, a professional edit invariably catches deficiencies that I’ve somehow missed. Often an author reads what he intended to write, not what is actually put on paper.

Once the edit is completed and approved, the book moves into the interior layout and cover design phase. A Page Designer looks at the visual appearance of the written word to include font choice and size, page margins, and sentence and paragraph structure to ensure readability prior to hard copy printing. Similarly a Cover Artist designs the book jacket with a visual representation of the subject matter, a written synopsis, and a brief blurb about the author usually accompanied by a photo. Both steps require approval and modification to ensure that the finished book meets the author’s intent and, while there are no guarantees regarding sales, that it also attracts notice in a market already saturated by new releases.

Depending on author preference, finished books are released in any number of formats; hard-copy, paperback, eBook, and audio. Once published, the focus shifts to creating “buzz” about the book through press releases, reviews, and marketing strategies.

There’s a lot of work yet to be accomplished, but Tarnished Brass should be available by year’s end or early 2019. I’ll post future updates to keep you abreast of progress and the actual release date. Thanks for the support!

Tarnished Brass

Page Publishing LogoI’m pleased to announce that I have again signed with Page Publishing, Inc. of New York to publish and distribute my latest book, Tarnished Brass. A release date has yet to be determined, but I’m hoping everything will be completed either by the end of this year or the beginning of 2019. There is much yet to be done. In the days ahead I’ll be working closely with a Publication Coordinator regarding editing, page formatting, and cover design.

Tarnished Brass looks at America’s involvement in El Salvador’s ten-year civil war (1980-1992) and its consequences for both countries. Today, twenty-six years later, socio-economic conditions remain unchanged for the vast majority of Salvadoran citizens while gang violence has replaced and, in many ways, surpassed the brutality of both the Salvadoran military and the guerrilla factions during their prolonged conflict. Though a work of fiction, the book also speaks to the current divisions in our own country over immigration policy and the rise of gang violence (notably MS-13.) Tarnished Brass will definitely resonate with readers looking to understand current events in the context of history.

I want to thank Page Publishing for its continued support of me as an author. Writing is a craft that requires many things, not the least of which is someone willing to represent your efforts to potential readers. Name recognition greatly aids such consideration, and many books found at book stores, retail outlets and online are by writers or public figures whose fame ensures sales. But for the aspiring author, it is the willingness of those within the industry to take a chance on your book and go through the publication and marketing process with you.


The Smoke at Dawn: My Review

The Smoke at Dawn Book Cover“The Smoke at Dawn” is the third novel by Jeff Shaara focusing on the campaigns fought in the Western Theater of operations during America’s Civil War. It picks up in the summer of 1863. The fall of Vicksburg, the Gibraltar of the South, has given the Union Army complete control of the Mississippi River, setting the stage for the Army of the Cumberland under the leadership of William Rosecrans to capture the crucial railroad hub in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Temporarily victorious, Rosecrans over extends the Federal forces under his command and suffers a disastrous defeat at Chickamauga Creek. He is relieved by President Lincoln and replaced by Ulysses Simpson Grant who must now come to the relief of Rosecrans’ forces besieged at Chattanooga by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Much of Shaara’s book focuses on the battles at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the commanders and common soldiers who fought there. In addition to generals Grant and Sherman, George Thomas emerges as the primary force behind the eventual Union victory. Self-effacing, deliberate in his preparations and actions, he will be criticized by his more famous contemporaries for his attention to detail that, while successful, doesn’t allow for a rapid advance against the enemy.

The dynamics of strategies, tactics, and leadership are also central to understanding the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga. Braxton Bragg sees no failing in himself, yet his subordinate commanders have little respect for their leader and even less loyalty. They petition Jefferson Davis for his removal. Bragg, of course, sees everything through the lens of a conspiracy against him and places blame for every failure on someone else, notably General James Longstreet who he believes is responsible for the criticisms against him. He will order Longstreet to Knoxville, removing a thorn in his side but significantly weakening his own army.

In contrast to the disastrous lack of leadership by Bragg, Patrick Cleburne will be recognized for his extraordinary defense against Sherman’s troops. He will be blindsided by Bragg’s capitulation and by his orders to abandon the ground that his soldiers have so tenaciously defended. Instructed to cover the Confederates’ withdrawal, his men will act as the army’s rear guard tasked with holding off any pursuit by the victorious Yankees.

“The Smoke at Dawn” was meant to be the cornerstone of a three part series by Jeff Shaara. But like the war, another chapter was yet to be written in Atlanta, Georgia. That story is told in his companion book, “The Fateful Lightening.”

I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Jeff Shaara’s work; he is my favorite Civil War author. If this four-star review reflects a somewhat less glowing critique, it is probably because I’ve tried to accomplish a re-reading of this tetralogy in too short a time frame. Just as the war would extend over four bloody years, Shaara released each of his four books a year apart. That spacing allows the reader a fuller understanding of the momentous historical events that transpired as well as a better appreciation of the detailed research that went into each installment.