McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Case of the $700 Fried Lizard

 If you are a Texas homeowner the title may have already told you the whole story.

Last Sunday evening our air-conditioner quit cooling. We all encounter home problems like cranky ice makers or doors that stick.  Problem, yes, crisis, no. Broken AC’s in July in Texas are THE f ’ing crisis we all dread.   With a plea for help left on the phone of our local AC guy, Nita and I slept on top of the covers under a ceiling fan with another fan at the foot of the bed.

One of the reasons I love small town life followed: The AC servicemen showed up first thing the next morning. Probably didn’t hurt we’ve been going to church with the owner for 35 years. Anyway, his two very young and able repairmen checked this and that inside our blower closet and confirmed more than one electrical component was kaput. Next they went outside and looked in the house electric breaker panel. They called me to come look and shined a flashlight on the big double breaker that guards the AC from power surges from lightning and such. Behind the breakers I saw a brown lizard head on one side and his brown tail on the other side. That sucker was fried like a crispy taco, and in sacrificing himself to the gods he’d provided an arc that shorted out those critical inside pieces.  They replaced the failed components inside and I called an electrician—whose two sons I’d coached in youth soccer—who came over with one of those sons I’d coached as a kid, who replaced the shorted AC breakers and removed the poor old fried lizard. The $700 fried lizard.  But we slept under the sheets on Monday night and I was almost even smiling when I wrote the checks. Sometimes, quick, efficient service at any cost is what matters most. At least if you living through a Texas summer.

The crisis of the month aside, I now have a writer’s website.  I hope you will take a look at it. Here's the link:

  The name of the website is ‘Swimming in the Light,’ which may not seem reflective of my Civil War novels, or even the flying horny toad dragon novel, but it is a theme in my last effort, Just To Be Fair. There’s a page on the website with a short explanation of why I chose that title. Hope you will read it, as well as reading Just To Be Fair.

Stay cool, it's only July and August is coming.  I know a good AC guy if you have your own fried lizard.  

Monday, June 7, 2021

An Unexpected Gift and Mysterious Advertising Decisions

 Now that Just To Be Fair has been for sale on Amazon for a month and some people have read it, I gotta mention two interesting things stemming from it.

First, a friend named Mike, who is my age, gifted me with his old Remington Model 66 .22 caliber rifle—the same rifle that is instrumental in the plot of Just To Be Fair. The same model I owned as a teenager and accidentally left at a friend’s country place back in the’70’s and never recovered. Mike said he bought his Model 66 for his son who is grown now and he doesn’t want it. After gushing my thanks for such an unexpected offer, I sent him a paperback copy of JTBF in a very lopsided swap. The gifted Model 66 is in my closet now, and has brought back some nice memories of my excursions into the Sabine River bottoms with it back in my tender teenage years. Hopefully, I’ll take it to the rifle range with sons and grandkids someday.

The other odd deal about Just To Be Fair and Amazon is that they four times rejected my Kindle advertising campaign for the book, even though the original book cover is on Amazon in full color and the plot well described.

When you open your Kindle to read, there is always an image of a book with a very short blurb about it. If you click on the cover image you can buy the book or read more about it. The advertising author pays Amazon ‘per click’ whether the clicker-reader buys the book or not.

The serial rejections stirred my streak of stubbornness and curiosity as I kept amending the copy and the cover image until the Amazon Kindle advertising gods accepted it.  First, I changed the brief text from referring to a shooting.  Nope. Then dropped the term ‘high school,’ thinking schools are off-limits. Another nope. Next I deleted the phrase ‘Redneck Romeo and Juliet’ romance. Yet another nope. Then I asked my cover designer to delete the rifle slung on the teenage boy’s shoulder on the cover, suspecting it was too threatening. You can see that version of the cover here. 

Anyway, that was a fourth nope. Finally, I completely rewrote the blurb again, and on the fifth try received an approval.  It’s still a mystery exactly why the rejections kept coming until the fifth effort.

 So far, the cover of JTBF has appeared on someone’s just-opened Kindle nearly 3,000 times. Sounds impressive, huh? Well, maybe not so much. I’ve paid for 17 clicks at about a dollar per click, and have had no purchases resulting from the clicks. I’m starting to feel like an email spammer or telephone robo-caller. If the campaign doesn’t beget some sales soon, I’ll zap it later this month and put the rifle back on the Kindle cover, knowing I at least tried a new marketing gambit.

Meanwhile, I’m receiving some nice feedback about the Just To Be Fair story and the characters. I hope you’ll invest a few bucks in a Kindle or paperback and give it a read. I’m betting it won’t disappoint, even if there’s no Civil War or giant flying horny toad in the plot.

And just for fun, here’s two of the grandkids at the San Antonio Zoo last weekend.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Just To Be Fair

Just To Be Fair, my new novel written during the year of COVID isolation, is a done deal. It’s up on Amazon for sale as an e-book or a paperback.  I set out to draw on my experiences as a high school principal and write a story about a teenager who becomes a school shooter. I may have done that, but I may also have written a Redneck Romeo and Juliet story set in 1985.  Here’s the back cover blurb:

In 1985, we were naïve.

No one thought about school shooters.

No one imagined a student

Bringing a rifle to school

To commit murder.

Until the day

Stalker met Cheetos

In Puma Springs, Texas

And their world changed.


I hope you’ll take a look at it. Here’s the link to the Amazon page:

Sunday, April 4, 2021

An Unexpected E-Mail

I put my email address at the back of all my novels, inviting any reader who reached the end of the book to shoot me a message about the book. Over the eight years and eight novels, I’ve received a few messages from folks who wrote nice things about the book. Such notes always are unexpected and always make my day. If there is anything writers crave, it’s a pat on the back for our efforts.

Last week I received this email:

I hope all is well with you and your family. My name is M---- Miller and I recently read Tangled Honor and I enjoyed the book especially the historical connection. The book also has a personal connection, since I am a descendant of Levi Miller's brother Johnson Miller. I have been conducting genealogical research into Levi's interesting life and the lives of his parents. I recently uncovered Levi's Will which provides clues and in some cases confirmation of the identity of his parents and siblings. If possible, would you be able to provide any additional information about Levi's life prior to the war. Thanks again for the read! Have a great day.

Blow me away. You see, Levi Miller in my novel Tangled Honor is based on a real-life Levi Miller who was an enslaved man, ‘owned’ by my ancestor McBride’s in Lexington, Virginia. Twenty years ago, not long after discovering Levi Miller through a 1921 newspaper article at the time of his death, I wrote a magazine article titled, “JJ McBride, Levi Miller, and Me.”

During the Civil War, the enslaved Levi Miller was the ‘body servant’—the personal slave—of my great-great-uncle Confederate Captain JJ McBride. Here’s a post- war portrait of old JJ.

Captain McBride was twice seriously wounded in battle and twice Levi Miller nursed him back to health. Most remarkably, there is solid documentation that Levi Miller once fought with Captain McBride’s infantry company (Co. C, 5th Texas Infantry), defending a trench at Petersburg against an assault by Union soldiers, an action so unusual it earned Levi approval for a Confederate soldier’s pension.

The real Levi Miller is listed in a US Census as being ‘Mulatto ’ having one white parent. In the times of American southern slavery, the white parent would be the father. Go figure. The diary of the historical Richmond socialite Mary Chesnut succinctly addresses ‘the thing we cannot name’ within Southern culture.

“Every lady tells you who is the father of all the Mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own, she seems to think drop from the clouds or pretends so to think.”

 So, in my three ‘Honor’ novels about Captain JJ McBee and Levi Miller during the Civil War, I took the literary license to make the unmarried McBee the father of Levi Miller, Levi’s birth being the unintended consequence of JJ’s coming-of-age tryst with an enslaved woman. My speculation of a slowly-growing and reluctantly acknowledged father-son bond between the two men is a central feature of the three novels. No doubt the positive familial relationship I created between the two characters is absolute utter fiction, but I think it made a good story, and such reflects the time and place. As importantly, to me personally, perhaps it made me feel better about my slave-owning ancestors to take a bare set of facts and spin a positive, if fictional, connection beyond whatever was the actual case.

Back to Mr. M. Miller’s email, I also feel really good that a member of Levi Miller’s modern family reached out to me. We have traded some documents. He sent me a copy of Levi Miller’s will. I sent him a disturbing handwritten list of slaves owned by my 3-great-grandfather, Isaiah McBride, all the children of a slave named Anna, and I sent this old postcard from the Jim Crow era, promoting Levi Miller as a ‘Confederate soldier.’

So, an odd Easter morning blog post. But the unexpected connection with my old family history has made Holy Week one for me to remember.

 And most importantly, remember,

Christ is Risen!  He is risen, indeed. 

Have a great day.



Wednesday, February 24, 2021

1937 - 1972 - 2021

Nita and I came through Texas’ ‘Deep Freeze’ of last week, having had to cope with only minor problems, like pouring buckets of water into our commodes to make them flush because the city water system failed in the freezing weather. We were lucky, and hope this was a once-only storm in our lifetimes. Here are three of my favorite images of the Deep Freeze, all pulled off the internet.

Yesterday, I found this image online in a collection of 1930’s photographs taken by Arthur Rothstein, during the Great Depression. It’s a striking portrait of a teenage boy in his ‘bedroom’ next to his mother in the ‘kitchen.’ They are migrant farm workers who followed the harvest season from state to state. You can see the New Mexico license plate and the wooden apple crate from Yakima, Washington. 

That had to be a tough life, beyond anything I can imagine. While my dad was a teenager during the depression, jobs were scarce, but my grandfather had skills enough to find work in pattern shops, even if that meant moving often, chasing the next job.  Money was hard to come by, but still, they lived in houses, not tents and the back of trucks. 

The next photo is me under the homemade wooden camper top on the old pickup truck which was the first ‘car’ Nita and I owned as newlyweds.  We lived in it for a couple of months on our ‘honeymoon’ camping trip to see America in 1972.

There are some similarities in the two photos: The old quilts, the lanterns, pieces of canvas, stuff in boxes.  No bathroom. But the differences are of course much bigger.  We were ‘boomers’ who had been to college, tourists who didn’t have to pick apples or hops along the way to buy groceries and gasoline. We had saved enough money for the trip—barely. We even had our first bank credit card, co-signed by my dad—only to be used in emergencies, he had stressed to me.

All this looking at two photographs to say that Nita and I have been lucky. We were born in a good time, in a good place, to parents who lived on really tight budgets, but still set high expectations for us. (Our long honeymoon camping trip with no jobs waiting for us must have bothered them, but they didn’t try to talk us out of it.)  Even if we camped and were temporarily ‘homeless,’ Nita and I have no clue what life must have been like for those migrant workers living through the ‘30’s.

Look one more time at that teenage boy and his mother, and imagine that setting is your home, with no improvement on the horizon.  Mercy.

Now look to the far left of the 1937 photo. There stands a guitar case. Life may have sucked, but somebody in that family made music anyway. Where there’s music, there’s hope. I like that.



Friday, January 1, 2021

2021--Thank God

 I’m still here, even it’s been five months since I last blogged. I’ll blame 2020 for my negligence. I’ve not quit writing, not even slowed down—except for the blog. I reckon that not doing most of those things I do away from our house has been good for me in that one way, at least. Being retired, my job hasn’t been threatened by COVID. But for months, church stopped, Kiwanis Club meetings stopped, Civil War reenactments stopped, other meetings turned into zoom episodes, and family visits decreased.

Along the way, my daughter-in-law caught COVID 19, but thankfully recovered after a mild case. Worse, my 99-year-old dad passed away a week shy of his 100th birthday, which would have angered him if he’d been aware of the timing. 

Since he was a WWII veteran, the Honor Guard from Bergstrom AFB honored him with a flag-draped coffin and playing taps at his graveside.  

A couple of months later, the last of my four uncles died at age 90, leaving my siblings and me as the ‘old wise ones’ in our clan. I’m not sure I’m up to that duty, since I’m no Gandalf or Moses with a magical staff. After that, wifey Nita and I are pleased to wake up this morning in the year 2021.

The manuscript I’ve been hacking away at for most the past year has nothing to do with the Civil War, early Texas, or giant flying horny toads.  Nope, it’s me scratching an itch that’s bugged me since 1999. That’s the year when a couple of high school students brought guns to school, turned the school library into a fort, and murdered other students and teachers inside Columbine High School in Colorado.  The first of several horrifying school shootings over the next twenty years.

I spent nine years as the principal of a high school, and nothing, I mean nothing, more disturbs me than the thought of a gun-wielding angry teenager, hell bent on murder, loose in my school.  So, decades after my tenure as a high school principal ended, and having gained some degree of expertise by writing other novels, I’ve been creating a story about such a situation.

It hasn’t been an easy task, as my story unfolded differently than I’d expected. That’s a funny thing I’ve learned by doing, by writing fiction. I as the author am supposed to be in control. After all, it’s my fingers, on my keyboard, taking orders from my brain. Yet, regardless of all that ownership of the moving parts and mental effort, characters emerge who surprise me, situations play out differently than I’d intended, and the tale told winds up different from the tale first imagined.  My school shooter story is no exception.

I set the story in 1984-85, during a school year when I was a new-ish principal. Those years were before cell phones, before the internet, before email and i-phones and texting. We didn’t even use radios to communicate in my school.  Exterior doors were kept open all over campus, we didn’t have a school police officer. Times were different, better in some ways, worse in others, but, for sure, communication was primitive by today’s standards, making the pathway of a school shooter much, much easier than now.

Growing up in a small town in east Texas, I had guns as a teenager. My friends and I would go down to the Sabine River bottoms and ‘plink’ at cans and turtles sunning on logs in the river, although I doubt we ever hit any turtles. I’m saying that to clarify it was easy to decide what weapon I’d arm my shooter with in the year 1985—a Remington Model 66 long rifle .22, one of Remington’s most popular guns. The Model 66’s, made from 1959 to 1987, were semi-automatics, with a capacity of fourteen cartridges. The cartridges were fed through a tunnel in the plastic butt stock, similar in design to the Civil War Spencer repeating carbines.

The Model 66’s are slow and awkward to load, no clips or magazines to pop in and out, but they can dependably shoot fourteen rounds with fourteen squeezes of the trigger. I had one, and regret I accidentally left it at a friend’s place one weekend, someone who I haven’t seen in many years, who now lives I know not where. So my personal Model 66 is lost.

While the weapon was easy to choose, the murderous thoughts within the teenager on whom my tale focuses were not easy at all to sort out and set down in writing. I mean, who knows what turns a teenage kid into a teenage killer? I’m not talking about urban gangs, where the malignant influences to violence are not big secrets. I’m talking about a small town or country kid who slides into a figurative sucking whirlpool and can’t find a way out. Like I said, a challenge.

I can’t be a spoiler of my own story, and even the title is still up in the air. The manuscript is still being critiqued chapter-by-chapter by a circle of tough readers. It has been a tough story to write, a fitting story to create in the tough year 2020.

Stay tuned for an announcement about the book in a month or two.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Rooster, A Bathing Lady, & A Church Window


This blog is all about one of my favorite, and most visited, tiny pieces of my world. Yes, it’s the corner of our master bedroom bathroom where the toilet resides. Over the years it’s grown into a little mini-shrine of my life. 

Fittingly, since I’m a southpaw, from left to right:  The stained glass in the wooden frame was salvaged from Urban Park Methodist Church in Dallas where Nita and I were hitched back in 1972. The church faded away and the building was razed some years back. Nita’s sister, who was also married there, talked her way into buying or being given several of the small stained glass windows. Our son Ben reframed the window, making a maple frame to fit.  It’s colorful and every day reminds me how lucky I am that Nitabird married me.

Next is a late 1980’s poster of an art museum exhibit of Edgar Degas paintings in Washington DC.  I like hot baths and bathing women, with and without strategically draped towels, and this particular painting is modest for the French impressionist Degas. So, I bought the poster and hung it near our bathtub. Some years later, perhaps owing to my daily encounter with Degas’ bathing beauty, his fictional brother became a character in Whittled Away, my first Civil War novel.  The historical French artist’s mother was in fact an American Creole, so I created a plausible link in my story which includes an ink drawing of a naked bathing lady drawn by Edgar Degas and mailed to his fictional brother who was campaigning in the Confederate army. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I like it and the teenage Texas soldiers in Whittled Away really liked the bathing lady drawing. I mean, what's not to like?

Last is the art deco-ish shelf over the toilet. On top is a bunch of miniature wargaming soldiers I painted, and which carry the banner of the 17th Texas Infantry, the Confederate regiment about which my most recent Civil War novel, With Might & Main, is written.

Behind the little soldiers stands a giant rooster playing a guitar. No, he is not Foghorn Leghorn or his cousin. This colorful bird arrived when Nita was being a troubadour at several Methodist Church retreats called Walks to Emmaus.  Somehow, the rooster just fits and makes me smile.

On the bottom shelf stand two big blue plastic Civil War soldier toys, both painted by son Ben back when he was a little guy and wanted to do what daddy was doing that morning—painting toy soldiers.

In front of the clock that came from my dad is another wargaming figure—a Carthaginian war elephant I painted over 30 years ago.  And flanking the elephant are two antique lead toys, likely from England, a gift from my good neighbor Wayne.

The final gee-gaw on the shelf is the tall blue Egyptian cat. I don’t why it’s there, I don’t even like cats. I’m a dog guy. We did go to Dallas to see a travelling King Tut exhibit way back in time, so maybe we bought it there because a mummy wouldn’t fit in the car trunk. Who knows.

If this silly post merits a big raspberry, go ahead and toot. I won’t care. I think I just needed to write something light-hearted and goofy to move past my last post about my dad passing away.  Thanks for reading it.