A Grateful Heart

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The Thanksgiving holidays and the recent Lone Star Book Blog Tour of Gratitude: The Art of Being Thankful by Vickie Phelps has me reflecting on the many blessings in my life and how I or anyone expresses one’s sincere gratitude.

It is not enough to say “thank you.” That expression is used daily, often without thought, as a polite response to something said or done on our behalf. It reflects civility and manners but no deep introspection. Sincere gratitude on the other hand requires effort. It is a conscious choice to acknowledge that every event, every person is a gift.

I sometimes struggle with my feelings over the loss of family and friends and the holidays only accentuate those emotions. It never gets easier to accept that there are empty chairs at the table. The premature loss of my two boys and my godson will always weigh heavily on my heart. Neither it is easy to reflect on dear friends and family members who succumbed to cancer while five years after my own diagnosis with the disease I am cancer free, nor to reconcile the combat loss of fellow brothers-in-arms while I somehow remained unscathed.

It would be easy to allow grief and acrimony to outweigh other considerations. However, while I’ve no doubt that in quieter moments I will shed a tear or two and ponder why everything occurred as it did, I thank God for every moment that I shared with each and every one of them. We can’t alter the past but we can choose to remember how blessed we are that our lives were forever impacted not only by events but by every person with whom they were shared.

Tomorrow is the appointed calendar date for public acknowledgement and celebration of divine goodness. Yet, because we live in an increasingly secular world where the presence of God in our lives is diminished, questioned, ridiculed, or rejected outright, the holiday observance too often consists of little more than watching parades and sports on television and consuming the Thanksgiving meal without a moment of silence or prayer wherein we acknowledge the many blessings given to each of us.

As you gather with friends and family consider your own circumstance and pause long enough in your celebrations to sincerely express your gratitude with a thankful heart.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Veterans Day

Military LogosDuty, Honor, Country is not a mere slogan to the men and women who wear the uniform. It is the creed by which they live.

The oath of enlistment or oath of office for commissioned officers states “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” These are not mere words either, but a promise to serve and protect the country and its citizens in peacetime and war.

Sunday, November 11th is Veterans Day; the national holiday will be observed on Monday. It will be a day in which the President of the United States places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, usually followed by speeches from various dignitaries honoring the men and women (past and present) from all branches of the military. All around the country schools and organizations will celebrate by flying the American flag, singing the National Anthem and renewing the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. And in just about every American city people will observe of the holiday with parades, barbeques and Veterans Day sales.

In quieter moments those that truly understand the commitment and sacrifice required of military families and service members will reflect on loved ones currently deployed in hot spots around the world and those who have died fighting for their country. In many instances the thoughts of aging veterans like me will be of brothers and sisters in arms with whom we had the privilege to serve. These were individuals we trusted to always have our backs and whom we stood beside in good times and bad. Because time erases memories the names and faces of everyone we knew may have faded, but we remember time and place and circumstance and long to rekindle those bonds. I served twenty-four years in the US Army (1973-1997) in assignments that spanned the globe. In each of those postings I was thankful for the men and women, enlisted and officer, who served alongside me. Some became lifelong friends, many I lost track of, while others  succumbed to the passage of time or never made it home.

To each and everyone of you… a heartfelt Thank You. 

 

The Guns of August: My Review

Guns of August Book CoverAuthor Barbara W. Tuchman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1963 for The Guns of August. Fifty-five years later her book remains one of the best sources for understanding the prelude and first thirty days of what would become known as the Great War.

We are all familiar with the horrors of World War I – trench warfare, the ebb and flow of Allied and German advances across no man’s land using outdated tactics in the face of barbed wire, withering fire from machine guns and heavy artillery, and the inhuman use of mustard gas. Combat related casualty figures were a staggering 8.5 million killed and 21 million wounded. Civilian casualties exceeded six million from food shortages, malnutrition, and disease. The ensuing influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 even exceeded these figures with an estimated fifty million deaths worldwide.

How this conflagration began is the subject of Tuchman’s book. It suspends what the reader already knows about the war to focus on its genesis. Historians point to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as the event that lead to four years of slaughter, but this was but the excuse to launch the German Army (700,000 men) through neutral Belgium toward Paris. The Germans had put together a timetable for victory known as the Shclieffen plan that they began executing August 4, 1914. The two front battle plan had been developed and proposed by the chief of the German general staff as far back as 1905.

The French also had developed a plan to counter the German attack which was known as Plan XVII. Rather than rely on defense it envisioned a bold strike into the heart of Germany to recapture the territories of Alsace and Lorraine that had been lost in the Franco-Prussian War. It relied heavily on French courage rather than sound tactics. Mounted cavalry attacks and bayonet charges failed to take into account how warfare had changed.

The first twelve days of the war came to be known as the Battle of the Frontier. During this period it was all but certain that Germany would prevail. The next eighteen days would become known as the Miracle on the Marne with retreating allied forces regrouping and turning the tide. However, German forces had penetrated so deeply toward Paris that the war would drag on for four more years.

Tuchman recounts the momentous decisions that lead to the stalemate and the military commanders behind them. It is a testament to her ability to fully humanize these historical persons that we find ourselves fully immersed in the times and events, and learn what really happened as well as what it felt like for the people involved.

This is a great read for any historian or reader who seeks to understand history!

 

 

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 Edge of Over There: Author Interview

 

THE EDGE
OF OVER THERE

The Day the Angels Fell, Book 2
by
SHAWN SMUCKER
  Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Number of Pages: 384
 
Scroll down for Giveaway!
The captivating sequel to the award-winning The Day the Angels Fell
 
Abra Miller carries a secret and a responsibility she never expected. 
 
Before the Tree of Life, everything in Abra Miller’s life had been predictable. Safe. Normal. But after the Tree, everything has felt fragile . . . like holding a soap bubble in the palm of her hand. After years of fruitless searching for the next Tree, she begins to wonder if it was nothing more than a vivid dream.
 
Now sixteen, Abra finds a clue to the whereabouts of the next Tree of Life when an ominous woman—who looks exactly like a ghost from her past—compels her to travel to New Orleans where she’ll find one of seven gateways between this world and Over There. But she’s not the only one interested in finding the gateway. There’s also a young man searching for his father and sister, who escaped through it years before. As Abra enters the Edge of Over There and begins her pursuit of the Tree once more, she doesn’t know whom to fear or whom to trust.
She’s also starting to think that some doorways should never be opened.
CLICK TO PURCHASE
Praise for The Edge of Over There:
“Blending Biblical elements and urban myths, Smucker creates an enthralling story of supernatural battles between the forces of good and evil.” — Publishers Weekly


“The Edge of Over There is a mesmerizing, menacing fantasy. Shawn Smucker fuses New Orleans lore, Christian themes, and dystopian landscapes in a thorough exploration of love and its unintended results.” — Foreword Reviews (Starred Review) 

AuthorInterview

INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN SMUCKER

Why did you choose to write in your particular sub-genre?

I love how imaginative kids and young people can be. It’s inspiring to me, and I think someone with a well-developed imagination is better at critical thinking. We are all hardwired with these amazing imaginations, but in most people, they go untapped and eventually fade. So, writing mystical realism feels to me like partnering with other people who also have imaginations they haven’t forgotten about.

 Which character from The Edge of Over There is least like you?

Abra is definitely least like me – she is adventurous, spontaneous, sometimes reckless, and she doesn’t let her fear become a barricade. I am the opposite of most of those things.

Did you first experience rejections when submitting this manuscript for publication?

For the first book in the series, yeah, there were a lot of rejections. I couldn’t get an agent for years, and then when I did, and we submitted The Day the Angels Fell, we got 15 – 20 rejections, mostly from acquisitions editors who loved it but didn’t know where to place it. Is it religious? Is it secular? Is it for adults? Is it for kids? It’s hard when you write a book that doesn’t check all the boxes. But eventually we got there.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

I’m a full-time writer. Most of my income is derived from co-writing books for other people. I’ve been doing that for about ten years and have found it very rewarding. But it does sometimes wear down my writing muscle. I find I only have a certain number of words per day, so when I’m busy with co-writing, I have to find other times (evenings, weekends) to work on my own things.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  Have any of them impacted your writing?

Well, the writing doesn’t always pay the bills. I’ve painted houses, worked at farmers’ markets, sold baked goods, worked at fairs, and most recently driven for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. You can read more about those adventures by searching the #RideshareConfessional hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. But I think it’s good to be involved in other things. Writing can be a lonely endeavor.

 

Shawn Smucker is the author of The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him on his website, where you can also sign up for his newsletter in order to find out when and where the Tree of Life will turn up next.

WEBSITE   FACEBOOK

 ————————————— 
GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!
GRAND PRIZE: Both Books in the The Day the Angels Fell series + Color Changing Tree Mug + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
2ND PRIZE: Both Books + Tree of Life Journal
3RD PRIZE: Both Books + $10 Starbucks Gift Card
(US ONLY)
  July 17-26, 2018
CHECK OUT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:
7/17/18
Author Interview
7/17/18
Book Trailer
7/18/18
Excerpt
7/19/18
Review
7/20/18
Review
7/21/18
Top 10 List
7/22/18
Notable Quotable
7/23/18
Author Interview
7/24/18
Review
7/25/18
Guest Post
7/26/18
Review
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God Save Texas: My Review

God Save Texas Book CoverPulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright has written what can best be described as a meditation on what it is is about Texas that makes it so unique and influential. His thoughts are presented with a great deal of wit and humor, and contain insightful information on everything from history to culture to politics.

Politically, Texas has always influenced national discourse and policy. Three of its favorite sons –  Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and George H. W. Bush were elected to the presidency of the United States. And today, its leaders in Austin have made it one of the most conservative states in the Union, not only aligning Texas with the nationalistic policies of the Trump administration but leading the fight against illegal immigration and the establishment of sanctuary cities.

Wright voices his misgivings about the direction of this leadership both in Washington and Austin, but does so in an introspective contemplation on why he loves Texas so much. Obviously, when you’re searching for the “soul” of what makes Texas… Texas, you have to look beyond political differences to examine everything that sets it apart from every other state.

Oil magnates, cattle barons, musicians and writers have all shaped our conception of the Lone Star State, and Wright covers them all. He journeys from Austin to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso (and all places in between from the Rio Grande Valley to the plains of West Texas.) He discusses the oil boom from its beginning at Spindletop to today’s fracking in the Permian Basin and the role oil, cattle and cowboys have played in forging the image of Texans to the rest of the world. He looks at NASA and our place in space exploration, the influence of Texas musicians from Buddy Holly to Willie Nelson, and the contributions of authors like Larry McMurtry with his ode to the great cattle drives (Lonesome Dove) and his description of life in an isolated and dying Texas town (The Last Picture Show.)

Wright also describes the beauty and diversity of the land from the pine forests of East Texas to the deserts of the Trans-Pecos. He finds serenity in Big Bend National Park, and relishes the quirkiness of places like Marfa, Texas that attracts artisans and tourists with its emergence as a cultural center smack in the middle of nowhere, its linkage to one of the most influential films ever made about the state (the 1956 movie “Giant” starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean) and, of course, the eerie phenomenon of the Marfa Lights that fuels speculation about extraterrestrial visitations.

There’s really no way to encapsulate all the ground covered by Wright in this book, nor his ability to truly entertain readers as he does so. I’ve lived in Texas almost fifty years, but wouldn’t know where to even begin to attempt to articulate why Texas is so extraordinary. My hat is off to Lawrence Wright who manages to educate, intellectually stimulate, and delight readers with a thoroughly engaging portrait of a state that I also happen to love.

The Which Way Tree: My Review

The Which Way Tree Book CoverI wasn’t sure how I felt about the book as I read it. The style is unique. It evokes the humor of Mark Twain in both “Tom Sawyer” and the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” while also recalling the work of Charles Portis and his novel “True Grit.”
The story unfolds in a series of letters written by seventeen year old Benjamin Shreve in which he gives testimony to a circuit judge about a chance encounter with a hanging and its perpetrators. It’s the letters and manner in which they’re written that are reminiscent of Twain.
To give his testimony Benjamin also tells the story of his younger half-sister Samantha and her relentless pursuit of a panther that mauled her face and killed her mother. It is her dogged determination for revenge that is at the core of the story and which reminded me so much of the character Mattie Ross and her need to avenge her father’s murder in Portis’ novel.
It wasn’t until the final few chapters that I truly appreciated all the colorful characters that take part in this adventure, the dialogue and locales that capture the Texas Hill Country of the late 1800’s, and a tale that might well have been handed down as legend in Comal County.
Frankly, I’m still mulling over my reaction to the book, which is exactly why “The Which Way Tree” is worth reading!
___________________________
COMMENT: Let me know whether you’d like to see “STAR” ratings attached to these reviews. I’ve avoided doing so to date because of their subjectivity and different interpretations dependent upon the social media platform in which they appear. I prefer to simply post my written review and let the reader decide.