McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meet Theodore James McBride

Here is the first portrait photo of my new four-hour-old new grandson, Theodore James McBride.

Handsome little rascal, ain’t he? Except he's got my extra chin and except for the fact he’s sideways, maybe still not sure if out of his mama’s nice safe womb is where he wants to live after nine months at a different address. Granted it can be a rough place out here, but before long he’ll be glad he’s in the glorious light of the world.

Of course, that's Teddy’s beautiful mama Maggie adoring him. 

His dad is our son Todd, and trust me, Maggie’s much more photogenic. But there’s something I can't pass up about a great big man holding his own tiny newborn child. Lots of unspoken promises being transmitted from father to son.

Teddy doesn’t know it yet, but his granddaddy will soon be making a trip to the Menger, the grand old hotel next door to the Alamo. Robert E Lee stayed there for a night or two in 1861, and the Menger is where in 1898 another Theodore, last name Roosevelt, parked himself in the hotel bar and recruited a bunch of Texas cowboys into his army cavalry outfit, which he called the Rough Riders.

They are still serving cold brews in the dark wood paneled bar, and I may just buy one for everybody in the place to celebrate the arrival of little Teddy McBride, my newest grandson. Back in the mid-1800’s, Mr. Menger brewed his own beer to serve in his hotel bar, but that recipe is long gone. So, in honor of Teddy’s April birth—the same month Texas won its hard-fought independence from Mexico, I’ll bypass my favorite brew—Negro Modelo—and make it a round of Lone Star.

Teddy is the fifth grandchild for Nita and me. We are sort of surprised by the count, since neither of our sons indicated they might actually marry some pretty girl until they were into their 30’s. To our delight, once they sweet-talked those two lovely ladies to the altar, they didn’t hesitate in regards to making us grandparents. Now I’m glad I was always too embarrassed to have ‘that’ talk with either of them. They appear to have figured things out just fine. And we have Eva, Violet, Jackson, Rory, and now Teddy to pamper and spoil.

Mind you, we don’t want to be the parents of any of them. Two decades of those high-energy, chaotic days were ample. We remember too often hearing those magic words from a young voice as we were either putting the boys to bed or going out the door to school—“Oh, by the way…”  If you don’t connect with that, you are not yet a parent, or you have had a brain fart about your own years of parenting.

Teddy’s older brother Jackson is at our house today while Maggie and Todd smother their new one with love and happy tears. Jackson may be a stinker after dark around bedtime when he sorts out that his world also changed in a big way at 5:52 this morning. But that’s OK. We’ll get him through this first night of brotherhood.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunflowers, Enchanted Rock, and High School Latin

Look at the size of those sunflowers.

Higher than my sweet wife’s head. Bigger around than a serving platter. Trouble is, the dazzling yellow field of giant flowers were growing in Germany, not Texas. But we have them, too. I’ve seen other dazzling fields of blooming sunflowers in the Rio Grande valley, within a few miles of the Mexican-US border. They are a cash crop for their oil, and the seeds are sold in little plastic sacks at gas station stores for nibbling.

Sunflowers apparently were ‘discovered’ in the 1500’s by early European explorers as crops grown by Native Americans living in the southwest. Archeologists date Native American use of sunflower seeds to 3,000 B.C. Folks, that’s Babylonian and Egyptian kingdom era, when Europe was still a howling wilderness.

The explorers ‘exported’ seeds and plants back to Europe where they became an agricultural success, but were ignored by the colonists in North America. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that seeds from Europe were brought back to the New World and joined the agricultural economy of European-Americans.

So what do huge sunflowers have to do with my novels?  Just this: My Texas horny-toad-dragon character needs an alternate food source if she is going to co-exist with the settlers of Central Texas in the 1840’s. She can’t just eat every settler’s cows and horses, and she hasn’t got the knack for noodling big catfish out of the rivers. I can’t say I’ll turn the dear dragon into a Vegan, oh no. But there’s a dragon-related place in this story for mammoth sunflowers. You’ll see.

I just wrote a segment in A Different Dragon Entirely  that takes place on and near Enchanted Rock in the Texas Hill Country. Here’s a photo of that remarkable huge hunk of stone  that is now a popular state park. For a sense of scale, those are full-grown oak trees around the base of the knob, not little shrubs. Crabapple Creek flows hidden under the trees. In real frontier history, a solitary Texas Ranger named Jack Hays held off an all-day Comanche attack from his hidey-hole on top of Enchanted Rock. He survived by virtue of having two Colt revolvers and lots of lead and powder.

Finally, I’m proud to show you my ‘bonafides’ for using Latin as the language telepathically linking the two main characters A Different Dragon Entirely—the dragon Leine and the teenager Mally Gunn. You see, I took two years of Latin in high school. I fared poor to middlin’ since I didn’t study much, but I got by, and I’m still glad I endured the gray-haired Mrs. Montgomery’s class for two years. But I was not a Latin scholar for sure.

In spite of my academic laziness as a high school Latin student, here’s photos of my just rediscovered third place medal won for a project at the Texas High School Student Junior Classical League convention in Waco, Texas in1966. I earned my way to the convention, not through scholarship, but by virtue of a homemade broomstick Roman Legion standard topped with a plaster-of-paris-filled rubber glove hand and a square red guidon with a big gold V sewn on it.

Anyway, those Latin root words I learned in high school Latin class still keep popping up all the time and remain helpful to me as a reader and a writer. As does the Google Translate software on the internet, I confess. After all, fifty years after my last Latin class, how else could I have translated, “Quod suus 'non cibum! Quod Marmor est meus equus!"  In English--“That’s not meat, that’s Marble, my horse!” which are Mally’s first words in Latin to the flying horny-toad dragon. Regardless of her protest, it wasn’t a good morning for Mally’s pretty appaloosa mare.

Thanks for tuning in today.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Wildflowers and Rebellion

March and April are the two months when Texans remember our war for independence from Mexico, 182 years ago. It is also the time of year when wildflowers bust out across Central Texas. So this blog post is a meshing of wildflowers and rebellion.
     The pretty color photo is of the monument built in 1936 (oddly, paid for with Federal dollars, not state or private funds) to commemorate the massacre of over 300 captive Texas militiamen at Goliad on Palm Sunday in 1836. The granite monument sits atop the charred bones of the Texas patriots in a mass grave.

The next image is also from 1936, the year of the Centennial celebration of Texas’s victory over Santa Anna’s army, which established Texas as an independent nation.  This photo is of course the Alamo in San Antonio during a renovation project, putting a new roof on the chapel.

This final photo is once more from 1936 Centennial and is the frame of the giant three-dimensional ‘Lone Star’ that sits atop the tall monument at San Jacinto, the site of Santa Anna’s unlikely defeat.

I like this one because my grandfather—Jackson Robert McBride, Jr.—worked for the pattern shop that designed the star and made it. When all the star skeleton’s fasteners on top of the completed tower did not fit exactly, Granddaddy McBride was the guy who climbed out on the scaffolding and the skeleton on top of the tower and fixed the fasteners. The San Jacinto Monument tower is as tall as the Washington Monument in DC. The star hasn’t fallen off after 82 years, surviving who knows how many hurricane-force winds, so I guess Granddaddy did a good job of it.
     All this relates to my new manuscript, A Different Dragon Entirely, by virtue of the 1840 setting for this Texas adventure with a fantasy twist, and that three of the main characters fought with General Sam Houston at San Jacinto—in my imagined world.

To everyone—Happy Easter. Christ Has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed! Rejoice!

Friday, February 23, 2018

My Stake in the Ground About Assault Rifles

To get right to the point:  It’s time for assault rifles to come off the shelves of America’s sporting goods store and gun shops. It’s time for America to leave military  style weapons to the military, and for the rest of us to get along with rifles developed for hunting four-legged mammals, not rifles specifically designed for waging war against other humans. If I haven’t yet lost you, here’s why I’m putting my personal stake in the ground on this issue.

Point 1: I support the 2nd Amendment that protects my right to own firearms. And I do own several of them: a deer rifle, two shotguns, a 22 caliber plinker rifle, and several black powder weapons. Only the 22 is semi-automatic and I own two 8-round clips for it.  I got guns.

Point 2: I served as the principal of small town public high school for nine years. I was an assistant principal in a large urban public high school for five years. I was one of those for whom the mass murders at Columbine High School in 1999 was a deeply troubling event that we feared foretold a horrifying new aspect of school management—Dealing with a shooter loose in the building who is intent on murdering our children.
To be clear: When I am the principal of a school, all the students there are MY children, no less so than my sons and my precious grandchildren. In loco parentis—in the place of parents.

Point 3: If, God forbid, a crazed person is roaming the halls of MY school trying to run up a body count of MY students—my children, the very last weapon I want the murdering sonofabitch to use is a military-style automatic or semi-automatic rifle with high-velocity ammunition and large fast-change clips.
Why? Because the AR-AK styles are easy to aim, quick to reload after spewing out a 30-round clip in just seconds. The murdering school terrorists want to fire the most lead possible in the shortest amount of time to reach the highest possible body count.

To be sure, AR’s and AK’s are beautiful firearms, well designed to do their job of inflicting the most possible enemy casualties in the shortest amount of time. That's why they are the last weapon I want a mass-murderer to use.

Point 5: I want the school shooter to carry a 5-foot-tall muzzle-loading Civil War musket. Too long to aim quickly, and very slow to reload after just one shot. But that’s not likely, is it? No, the murdering sonofabitch is going to have a high-velocity, semi-auto or full-auto military-style rifle, like the last three back-to-back mass-murderers have used in the past six months, causing the deaths of over 100 innocents.

Point 6: No serious deer hunter in America uses those weapons. Hunters are marksmen who want a heavy stock and barrel, a steadying sling, and a good scope to fire a single well-placed bullet to take down their prey. Bird hunters do nicely with three shells before the prey flies out of range.

Point 7: Those serious about self-protection at home do not depend on  AR or AK style rifles. A shotgun or pistol is a better choice. The high-velocity rifle bullets zip through wall after wall, maybe even reaching into the house next door. In a car or truck, a rifle is too long to manipulate quickly for defense. 

I know the arguments for open access to AR and AK style rifles. My head is not in the sand on this deal. Still and all, after considering all the arguments for anyone legally owning an AR/AK style rifle, I simply do not see a credible reason for that ownership. There are better hunting alternatives, there are better self-defense alternatives, there are better target shooting alternatives.
Point 8: The AR/AK is not the firearm of choice for any civilian purpose except mass murders. Unless maybe you choose to live in a mountain-top bunker and expect to repel a large number of home invaders launching a banzai charge.

Point 9: We cannot prevent mass murderers from committing their violent acts of terrorism. But we can and should take away their most preferred murder tool, a weapon which serves no valid civilian purpose other than committing mass murders. If we cannot prevent the mass murders, we can at least lower the body count. It ain’t rocket science to figure that one out.

Point 10: Sporting goods stores do not sell machine guns or rocket propelled grenade launchers. It’s time to add assault rifles to that list.



Monday, February 5, 2018

Vikings & Rangers & A Writer Named Nelson

Is there somebody who you have read about, or even personally met, who makes you mutter to yourself, “I want to be him or her.” Not just because that person may be rich and beautiful/handsome. Maybe he/she is attractive, but more important, he is smart, plus creative, maybe athletic, and is engaged in a career built on his gifts, and must be having a great time every day. Granted, nobody is all that. But every now and then, someone checks a lot more of those boxes than I do, and I sort of yearn to be him or her. The back half of this blog is about a writer who seems to fill that bill for me.

In my life I’ve been a compulsive serial consumer of a progression of pop fiction authors. In junior high school, young adult novelist Jim Kjelgaard was my man. He wrote young adult books like Big Red about an Irish setter and other doggie and outdoor tales.

Then in high school it was Ian Fleming’s James Bond spy books, and John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. And of course, Robert Heinlein’s treasure trove of science fiction drew me like a moth to a light bulb.

As an adult, I have overdosed on questionable fictional heroes like Nero Wolf--the obese private eye of the 1930’s in NYC, Horatio Hornblower--the British navy officer of the Napoleonic Wars, Richard Sharpe--the green-coated British rifleman, George Smiley—the modern day English spy, and a bunch of  others.

My newest go-to historical fiction writer is American, not British. His name is James L. Nelson. He lives in Maine with his wife and four kids, and writes a delightful series of novels about Viking raiders in Ireland in the dark ages—the 800’s.

I’m a fan of the series for the normal reasons like pacing and likable characters. Beyond that, I admire Nelson’s Viking saga for an odd reason: The Vikings raided Ireland, murdering, raping, and plundering pretty much just because they could. At least our Native American Indians were doing the same thing to slow the inexorable advance of the white settlers. Whereas with the Vikings, the unprovoked terrible violence was just their way of doing things. The Irish certainly were not threatening to displace the Vikings from their homelands on the other side of the North Sea.

I’ve learned through writing my own novels that it is a big challenge to create and maintain a sympathetic character when he is leading a tiny army of soldiers to wreak havoc in another land. I struggled to keep my most recent novel’s main character a likable and honorable guy, given the context of the real Texas Rangers’ raid into Mexico that was the foundation of my plot.

Nelson builds sympathy for his primary Viking character by making him a father and in his way a compassionate man. He also sidesteps many of the violent particulars of the Vikings’ raids, making the books suitable Young Adult literature. Nelson even manages to make Thorgrim’s pet beserker warrior, Starri, a likable wacko who time and again leaps mindlessly into battle wacking Irishmen with his two axes.

Speaking of axes, here is Mr. Nelson on a replica Viking ship. Notice that he's wearing what is almost a cowboy hat! Maybe he is a closet Texan.

I also admire Mr. Nelson because, according to his website, as a school kid he built a wooden boat and a wooden canoe and both floated. As a young man he crewed for some years on big sailing ships, including the HMS Rose, the centerpiece real sailing ship used as the primary set for Master and Commander, Russell Crowe’s best film. Nelson even wrote his first novel while working as ship’s crewman.

I very much like that James L Nelson learned through personal experience that which he went on to write about. Not that he ran around in chain mail terrorizing the good folks in Maine, but he has climbed the rigging, quite literally, sailing old military ships, and he nicely embeds that background into his stories without overly dwelling on the mechanics of sailing. I tried to do that in my Captain McBee Honor trilogy in regards to Civil War infantrymen, relying on what I learned about being a musket toting citizen-soldier during my twenty years as a reenactor. And like Mr. Nelson, I’ve tried not to overly dwell on the details.
Another plus is that Mr. Nelson self-publishes some of his novels, as I do, and he appears to make a full-time living writing and doing historical programs related to his writing, which I do not. But I would love to be that good.

Find James L Nelson’s books on Amazon and try one of them. They are good stuff.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Pictograph and Long Knife

The photo here is of our son Todd back in the 1980’s somewhere in Arizona, or maybe Utah, on a family summer road trip.  He’s looking at a rock wall decorated with really old Indian pictographs whose meaning is lost to time.
Somewhere I have another road trip photo of a rock wall near Big Bend National Park where in 1902, 116 years ago, a couple of young cowboys scratched their names and date into the stone.

So, the question is: When does graffiti, vandalism in our world, cease being graffiti and morph into being a historical artifact? Is 100 years enough? I dunno.
The link to my writing is that I’ve created a fictitious Indian pictograph on the wall of a cave somewhere in the hill country of Texas.  The crude drawing is to document the Comanche’s fore-knowledge of a mythical giant flying lizard which has been soaring over the Texas prairie, spitting poisonous blood at buffalo, horses, and humans for a long, long time. The mythical giant beast drawn in fading charcoal on the cave wall would be Leine, the mutated horny toad with grafted batwings, one of the main characters in A Different Dragon Entirely.

Yes, it is silly. Yes, I’m have a ball writing it. Yes, conjoining the popular genre of fantasy dragon literature and historical cowboy and Indian fiction of the 19th century Texas frontier may be a bridge too far. We’ll see.

One of the violent conflicts in my Texas dragon book will be another visit to the 1840 Battle of Plum Creek, the large-scale battle between white Texan settlers and the Comanche nation. I confess I’m drawn to the battle because it happened within sight of my house, at least when our house was on the very edge of our little town of Lockhart. Now I just see more houses between my living room window and the horizon. But thirty years ago I could see the pastures where 600 Comanches tried to fend off over a 100 pissed-off Texas militiamen. The Texans did not have a giant horny toad air force flying cover back in August of 1840, but on my pages in August of 2018, Leine and Mally will be overhead somehow supporting the defenders of white civilization.

I started my Civil War novel, Tangled Honor, with the same fight. This time the running battle along Plum Creek will be the setting for the climactic action of the new book, after Leine is well-established as a character, not to introduce her as a character like I did with John McBee at Plum Creek in Tangled Honor.

That leads to another image, this one of me holding a knife-sword while standing in the midst of a wonderful private collection of Civil War and Texas frontier artifacts owned by a rich fellow in Dallas.
The short sword—or danged long knife—is engraved as having been carried by one of the white Texans at the Battle of Plum Creek. I’ve forgotten the name on the blade, but it checks against the known participants in the battle.

I trust you all had a good first month of 2018, nasty weather here and there notwithstanding.  I could channel the spooky Snow family characters in Game of Thrones—with its delightfully sinister dragons--and drolly warn you that  ‘Winter is coming,” but around here it’s more likely, ‘Our one day of winter is over, get ready for some heat.’ Even in February.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Joy of Friendship, Flying Lizards, & Pop

“Nil ego contulerim iucundo sanus amico.”

While I am of sound mind, I shall prefer nothing to the joy of friendship. -- Horace, Satires I.v.44

I think that quote from Horace will appear in the front of my new novel. I’m amused that the Latin version is only six words, while the English translation takes fifteen words. We have a wordy danged language, don’t we?

“The Joy of Friendship”: Some 18,000 words into the manuscript of my new novel, the tale has turned into a story of discovery and friendship between two females living in 1840 on the Texas frontier. Never mind that one is a 15-year-old teenager whose mother died giving birth to her, and whose dad spoils her—as much as a teenage girl might be spoiled in a pioneer home with more daily chores than minutes in the day. Never mind that the other friend is a 135-year-old mutated giant flying female horny toad who can only converse through telepathy, projected in Latin, and whose primary activity is finding enough ‘cibum’—that’s Latin for meat.

Also never mind that I’m an old grey-beard man, half a century and a whole gender beyond the two characters, be she pioneer-human or horny toad-dragon. Never mind, I didn’t raise daughters. But I did grow up with a smart-ass saucy sister and I married a sassy gal with an occasional sailor’s vocabulary, so I think I’m muddling along pretty well with the two character’s growing friendship.

I posted a couple of real life horny toad images in a December blog post, and I stare at those photos for inspiration on keeping the giant horny toad likable and credible. Dragons in the stories I’ve read tend to male, and either evil, greedy, and witty, as personified in Tolkein’s Smaug; or male and not evil, but still greedy and witty as personified in Naomi Novik’s Temerarie.

Leine, the name of my horny-toad dragon, is coming along as not male, for sure, but still with a greedy streak in regards to cibum, and an evolving wit. She starts slow on her pithiness—not to be confused with slow-witted—because for 130 years she’s been without anyone who can communicate with her in Latin, her only language. You know about Latin, it’s the dead language of the Romans and giant flying horny-toads.

A Different Dragon Entirely is unfolding scene by scene into something I didn’t quite expect, but which I’m immensely enjoying writing. I confess that I didn’t set out to write a chick-lit sort of story about a weird saucer-shaped lonesome dragon and a smart-ass head-strong teenage girl. I suspect that storyline has been well covered in other fantasy dragon tales. Nonetheless, that’s what is tumbling out of my head onto the computer screen, and I like it. I’m betting that seasoned readers of dragon literature will quickly lose an expected reluctance to accept a winged horny toad in the wilderness of 1840 Texas Hill Country as a bonafide fantasy dragon. We’ll see.

A friend posted an image of a real-life flying lizard from Australia. Here’s another photo of the breed. If it were a Texas horny toad, nature would have stolen my thunder, but as interesting as this little gal is, she is still lizard-size, not croc-size, or like my flying Leine—house size.

Finally, I’ve been away from my blog keyboard for a few weeks, what with the holidays, and this year, helping out my 97-year-old father who has been hospitalized with pneumonia in both lungs. Pop is a tough old coot who beat the odds and the pneumonia and is home now. Even if he is now wearing an oxygen tube full-time, he is at home and not in the damned hospital full of sick people and constant irritations. Here’s a photo I took of him a couple of days ago reading the first chapter in my Texas Ranger novel, A Different Country Entirely.

Pop is not my prime reader, the mythical perfect reader for whom I write, but like any son, his approval still means a lot to me, even if I’m old enough to have my own grown sons and grandchildren. Pop finished the opening chapter, which I worried might not be to his taste. It is a graphic and violent scene of an Indian depredation on the Guadalupe River, the same river by which we vacationed for several summers in the 1960’s when I was a teenager. We swam, fished, and canoed in the crystal clear water, loving it. In my book, things don't go so well for the vacationers.

Anyway, after finishing the chapter, Pop marked his place and closed the book. He looked up, and nodded his approval to me. That was a nod I’ll take to the bank any day. He then commented that he was glad we didn’t have to worry about Apaches when we swam in the river back on those vacation trips. Then he closed his eyes and took another nap.