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Pulpwood Queens Bring Authors, Inspiration and Hilarity to Texas, 15 Years Running by Kay Ellington NACOGDOCHES, TX—If you’re a book lover in Texas, chances are you know the story about the Piney Woods hairdresser/bookstore owner/author who launched the world’s largest book club, now numbering more than 600 chapters. But you might not know that Kathy L. (Patrick) Murphy (The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, soon to be a major motion picture) is still going strong with her annual salute to authors and reading, the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend, now in its fifteenth year. To say that the event, with its 300-plus tiara-wearing and boa-donning participants, is over-the-top would be an understatement.
 At this year’s bibliophile bacchanalia, held in Nacogdoches January 15-18, book club members adorned in varying degrees of bling casually browsed the quaint college town’s downtown shops during breaks. As an author whose novel is about aspiring writers, I thought #PQGirlfriendWeekend seemed like a great venue to check out. The Paragraph Ranch (Booktrope, September 2014) had been released too late to be considered as a book club selection for this event, so my co-author and I attended the event as civilians. This year’s event theme was “Around the World with Books: Your Passport to Reading,” and Thursday’s opening night featured authors dressed in travel-related costumes, from astronauts to pilots to flight attendants to co-host Jamie Ford (The Songs of Willow Frost; Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), who donned a floatation life jacket. One of the rituals of the Girlfriend Weekend is for authors to serve as waiters to attendees, and the festive writers delivered up plates of barbecue to ticketed guests. On Friday and Saturday a cross-section of authors from almost every imaginable genre appeared on panels and answered questions about their experiences and their writing. Murphy and Ford co-hosted the discussions. 2015’s event had an extra element of excitement as it was revealed that (drum roll, please) Dreamworks is making a movie about Kathy Murphy’s story, and Los Angeles screenwriter Claire Sera was on hand to share details about how that deal arose. On Saturday night authors and attendees capped off the weekend with the Great Big Ball of Hair Ball, with punch and pink birthday cake, eye-popping table décor, and costumed revelers dancing the night away. Was that really Lisa Wingate (The Story Keeper) as Dr. Seuss’s Thing 2, and Ashton Lee (the Cherry Cola Book Club series) reading with a come-hither voice in the Timber Guys competition? Prizes went to book club chapters and individual costumes, tables, and performances. And as always, Kathy L. Murphy reigns ever supreme. 

At the Writing Barn (Austin), host Bethany Hegedus introduces author Mary Helen Specht (Migratory Animals) and invites visitors to tour the grounds and the new Book House on January's last Wine & Words Wednesday. Photos by Barbara Brannon

Bookish Texas event highlights  2.1.2015   >>more
Michelle Newby, Contributing Editor

  • AUSTIN, Thurs., Feb. 5, Book People, Former Governor of Arkansas MIKE HUCKABEE signing his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, 11am

    Also Midland, Fri., Feb. 6, Barnes & Noble, Mike Huckabee: God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, 11am

  • TYLER, Thurs., Feb. 5, UT Tyler, Nicholas Sparks talk & book signing, 7:30pm


  • AUSTIN  Sat., Feb. 8, Book People, Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest Winners Party!, 7pm

At the Big Ball of Hair Ball, from left: Kristin Harnisch as Scarlett O'Hara, Jamie Ford as Phileas Fogg, Karen Abbott as Edgar Allan Poe, Kathy Hepinstall and Becky Hepinstall as Confederate soldiers; DEL Connor as Dolly Parton. Back row: Bill Dedman as the Cat in the Hat. Photo by Barbara Brannon


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Lone Star Book Reviews  2.1.2015   >>more
By staff and contributors

The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II

NONFICTION   Scribner, 2015, 978-1-4516-9366-9, 400 pp., $30.00

reviewed by Michelle Newby, Contributing Editor


“Enemies are people whose stories you haven’t yet heard and whose faces you haven’t yet seen.” –Irene Hasenberg Butter

Well. They don’t teach you this stuff in school. From 1942 until 1948 at Crystal City, in the south Texas desert thirty miles from the Mexican border, the federal government operated the only family internment camp in the world during World War II. Approximately 6,000 German, Italian and Japanese civilians—termed “dangerous enemy aliens” and their American-born children—were held indefinitely, without charge or trial. Crystal City also held detainees whom FDR used as leverage in prisoner exchanges with the Axis powers. For the detainees, Crystal City represented reunion with their families, the carrot preceding the stick of repatriation.


Jan Jarboe Russell tells the larger tale of Crystal City by focusing on two teenage girls who lived in the camp behind barbed-wire fences patrolled on horseback, watched by armed guards in towers. Ingrid Eiserloh from Ohio spent eighteen months in Crystal City with her mother and siblings when her father, a German legal resident of the United States, was arrested by the FBI and placed in “custodial detention.” Sumi Utsushigawa from Los Angeles spent more than two years in Crystal City with her parents, both legal Japanese immigrants.


In perhaps the most moving passages, Russell weaves in the story of the prisoner Ingrid was eventually exchanged for: Irene Hasenberg, a German Jew and survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This episode conveys one of the abundant brain-boggling ironies in Crystal City: exchanging an American citizen for a German citizen. Paradoxes abound. Ingrid’s father, deported as an enemy of the state, was hired by the U.S. Army in Germany as a translator. Sumi, an American citizen, was deported to Japan with her parents where she, too, found work as a translator with the occupying US Army.


Crystal City is thoroughly researched narrative nonfiction written in a colloquial style that makes history engaging and accessible for all. It is rich in the seemingly small details that evoke an era, place, and experience. For example, the Japanese detainees complained they had nothing with which to grind tofu. This problem was resolved with pestles and molinos from a local Mexican restaurant. One of my favorite anecdotes involves a group of Japanese boys who repeatedly serenaded the guards in the towers with “…many choruses of one of the top tunes of the hit parade, 'Don’t Fence Me In.'” Jarboe Russell doesn’t preach at us; she presents the facts, leavened by the personalities of the individuals involved, and lets the work speak for itself. This is an important addition to not only Texas history, but world history.


I’ll end this review with a quote from a letter written by a Crystal City detainee to the INS. “No living thing should be locked up…When I am free, I want to live in a house without locks, even without doors. It will be a house made up of windows and the view must not be obstructed by anything, not even mountains.”

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Michelle is contributing cditor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.

from Michelle Newby, NBCC, Contributing Editor

Week of February 8

Migratory Animals, HarperCollins

A debut novel by Abilene native Mary Helen Specht, Fulbright scholar, creative writing professor at St. Edwards University. A look at the lives of a group of thirtysomething friends told in multiple viewpoints.


Week of February 15

The Same Sky, Ballantine

From Austinite Amanda Eyre Ward, author of five novels, including How to be Lost and Close Your Eyes, comes a ripped-from-the-headlines story of undocumented immigration in Texas. She has spent the last year visiting shelters in Texas and California, meeting immigrant children and hearing their stories; her new novel is inspired by what she learned.


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My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories

FICTION CreateSpace, November 2013, 978-1500372323, trade paper, 288 pp., $14.95 Reviewed by Barbara Brannon The five-and-ten pieces in this treasury transport you, as the best stories always do, on brief visits to other times and places—in the company of fascinating people of varying ages and situations. Richard Jespers knows just how to capture a zeitgeist moment in telling detail, without sentimentality. Whether it’s the recent era of hyphy car stunts in “Ghost Riders,” a privileged youngster’s recollection of a luxurious Italian cruise in “Men at Sea,” or the long, graceful arc of a glamorous old movie house in “Tales of the Millerettes,” each story takes us precisely to a scene on the verge of change. The point-of-view characters might be male or female; children in memory or in the narrative’s current time, teenagers (“Snarked”) or later in life (“Killing Lorenzo,” “Bathed in Pink”); struggling with sexual identity or marital fidelity (“My Long-Playing Records”); handicapped or gifted; but each follows a strong moral compass. With deft strokes and a keen awareness of popular culture past and present, the author invites us into authentic lives and subtly guides us to thought-provoking questions, a gift I’ve always appreciated in top-shelf magazine fiction. The mix of numbers in Jespers’ collection is sophisticated, urbane, surprising. Perhaps my favorite cuts are “A Certain Kind of Mischief,” a boy’s coming-of-age story I had the privilege of witnessing through various stages of revision, and “Basketball Is Not a Drug,” a clever trope played in the convincingly winning voice of a middle-aged man. Listen to these stories as you would your favorite classic vinyl: taken as a whole or as separate tracks, they’ll reward your attention on multiple levels, again and again. 

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