Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year’s Eve, an excerpt from Pilot Point

In Pilot Point, I use a New Year’s Eve as the occasion when Clayton Hays finally asks out his neighbor, Leslie Johns.  And I introduce the dances held at St. Thomas (Aquinas) Catholic Church.

I attended a dance or two there when I lived near Pilot Point.  Like Clayton, I was slightly awkward.  And like him, I noticed most there were older then me.  (I was about 30 at the time.)  There was lots of silver hair.  But most of the older people sure danced better than I could.

My experience inspired me to use the parish dances in my novel, and not just as a setting for Clayton and Leslie’s relationship.   One theme of Pilot Point is the interaction between youth, time, and old age.  And the relation is not always what one may expect.  The young may be old in some ways and vice versa.  As I saw for myself, the silver haired can retain a lot of youth.  Clayton Hays, on the other hand, lost his youth too quickly.

The changing of the year prompts reflection upon one’s past and future.  And so it is with Clayton.

But enough background.  Enjoy the excerpt.  And have a Happy New Year.


         Two days after Christmas, Clayton noticed Leslie’s car was back in her driveway. So at dusk, he walked over to her house.

         “Hi Clay,” she cheerfully answered the door. “Come on in.”

         “I saw you were back, so I thought I’d come over and say hello.”

         “Good. Glad to see ya.” She shut the door against the cold. “How was your Christmas working cattle?”

         “It was okay. It would have been a lot worse if Bowie’s truck heater didn’t work real well.”

         “Oh yeah. Wasn’t it cold Christmas Day? I was thinking about you out in the weather working cattle.”

         “It was pretty brisk.”

         “I imagine.”

         “How was your Christmas?”

         “Oh, the usual. You know, relatives you’re so glad to see just once a year.”

         Clayton smiled. Leslie told some more about Christmas with her family. And they just talked for a while.

         Then Leslie asked, “Now that Christmas is past, what are you doing for New Year’s?”

         “Not much.”

         “Why am I not surprised by that?” After a pause, she said, “I think the Catholics are having a dance New Year’s Eve over at St. Thomas’s. They do every year. I’ve always been Baptist or Anglican, but I have to hand it to them, they’re not against having a good time. I imagine that will be a nice dance. And I don’t think it’s going to be formal or anything like the city people’s parties.”

         Clayton nodded. Then it suddenly occurred to him that Leslie was hinting. He stalled for time. “I guess I’d make a lousy Catholic.”

         Leslie laughed. Clayton kept thinking. He figured he ought to be more sociable even if it was against his nature. And he figured he ought to treat Leslie right and that she did need to go out, especially on New Year’s Eve. And he figured Bowie had a point. [While feeding cattle on Christmas Day, Bowie gave Clayton a hard time about not yet asking out Leslie. – Ed.]

         So he said, “I can’t dance worth anything, certainly not like Catholics. But if you like, I would like to take you to the dance.”

         Leslie smirked. “I would like that.”

         Clayton paid Leslie’s and his way in at the door of the St. Thomas Community Center. They walked tentatively into the dimly lit hall and took seats at the back of the room.

         They tried to make small talk there. But after a while, they were just awkwardly quiet.

         Clayton looked around. He noticed there was hardly anyone in the room under forty. Heads of gray and white hair were scattered among the tables and across the dance floor, throughout the room. “We’re practically the youngest folks here,” he remarked.

         “Yeah. Kind of nice, isn’t it?”

         “Yeah. It’s different.”

         After a long while, he finally asked, “Do you want to dance?”

         “I thought you’d never ask.”

         Clayton was stiff and awkward as they danced. He was trying hard not to step on her feet—and that was about all he was doing right.

         “It has been a long time since you danced, hasn’t it.”

         “Yes,” he admitted sheepishly.

         “Just relax and follow me. And don’t worry about stepping on me. I’m tough.”


         He relaxed some. Soon he was almost enjoying dancing with Leslie.

         After two dances, they sat back down and talked.

         But before long, during a quiet song, they found themselves quiet, watching the other, older folks dance.

         “They dance so well, don’t they?” Leslie said.

         “Yes. They do.”

         They kept watching them slowly, gracefully glide across the floor. There was peace in their steps and quiet joy in their faces.

         Later, when the band lit into a lively tune, Leslie said, “Let’s get back out there.”


         Once Clayton, under Leslie’s guidance, had gotten the step and rhythm of the dance down, he watched the others around them. Although they had heads of gray, their dancing was spry. He watched a white-haired couple smiling at each other and not missing a step. Another mature couple was even showing off a bit. He smiled and looked at Leslie, who was also enjoying the young/old couples. Being among them dancing with Leslie made him almost feel like a kid. For a dance, they were all young.

         When the band finished the song, the leader announced, “Twenty minutes until the New Year!” The crowd clapped.

         The band then played a mellower tune, and Leslie and Clayton stayed out to dance that one.

         The announcement of the impending year put him in a reflective mood as they led each other around the floor. The time caught him by surprise. He did not know the New Year was that close. He thought about how time is that way—it steadily marches, and, before one knows it, it is gone.

         He reflected how time had passed him by—how he lost his childhood early, how the now hazy years that followed passed so quickly. He hardly ever was a teenager. Then there was college and two shining years [SPOILER OMITTED]. And the years in Alaska, too, had already become a dark haze.

         Now, he was slowly dancing with Leslie. Time had brought them to this dance.

         In spite of himself, he was now in good cadence with Leslie and with the other couples. He watched them as they floated around him, their warm hearts undiminished by their heads of gray. He could see the glow of love in their faces. They had left the struggles of long life off this floor.

         He found himself feeling that Leslie and he were one of them, slowly gliding among the couples with time floating by them all. As he watched the glowing faces and the graceful steps from the older pairs young for this night, he found himself with them, and with Leslie, in a slow dance of time.

         He felt he belonged in this dance. Yet he knew they must all soon leave the floor.

         Before he knew it came, “Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one!” And there was the noise of a passing year and the heartfelt singing of Auld Lang Syne.

         As he stood beside Leslie, he saw all the couples kiss each other and look at each other with sentimental eyes. He turned his eyes toward Leslie. She was looking at him. She turned her eyes down, blushing a little. He felt awkward. But he leaned over as Leslie looked back up and gave her a gentle kiss. They smiled at each other, a little shyly.

         The first dance of the New Year began, and they stayed out on the dance floor and joined in.

         It seemed strange to Clayton that a year had ended, and now it was another year. He gazed out at the other couples. He saw faces of joy and contentment. They seemed at peace with the passage of years.

         But he could not comprehend that peace. So many of his years were lost. So many were too much like the ones before.

         Yet, as he and Leslie danced close to each other, among the young/old couples, he had a feeling he could not fathom that, in spite of himself and his past, this year was going to be different.


By the way, I notice they are still dancing Catholics at St. Thomas.  They are holding a New Year’s Eve dance this very evening.

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Pilot Point is available in both paperback and Kindle at Amazon.

Monday, December 29, 2014

In Defense of Jane Shaw

Dr. Jane Shaw, the new Stanford Dean of Religious Life has gotten a bit of attention lately for saying the following.

I don’t think church is to be more churchy. I think church is about, anyone should be welcome. I’m really interested in how you welcome many different kind of constituencies, certainly not convert them, not even necessarily to do religion all the time.

I’ve even heard Rush Limbaugh refer to this and give her a bit of a hard time.

Now it will not surprise that Dr. Shaw (as I’ve always addressed her) is not my flavor of Anglican.  And I should give the disclaimer I have not seen her in action for some years.  But I was a frequent worshipper at the Chapel of New College Oxford back in Michaelmas Term 2007 when she was the Chaplain.  So I can speak to how she applied her philosophy of church there.

And I have to say that, unlike many who like to use the word, she was genuinely inclusive.  She made me feel very welcome and was even enthusiastic on occasion in so doing.  (And that even though I kidded her about a global warming sermon she gave at Christ Church on the coldest, most miserable Sunday of term.)

She stuck to the traditional liturgy and did not play any games with it that I noticed.  Even the sermons there were good.  In her recent comments, she mentioned use of art.  And, if I recall correctly, one of the guest sermons that term looked at a painting, a Rembrandt I think, and drew a touching Christian message out of it.  It was excellent.

In sum, she conducted services in a way that made even this hard-core liturgically nit-picking orthodox Anglican feel included and edified.  She certainly helped me to learn and worship that dark cold autumn.

Now I understand how some could read her comments and envision her turning a college chapel into a circus that would horrify and drive away the orthodox.  But my experience at Oxford in 2007, at least, indicates that is neither her style nor intent.

And, as much as we differ on any number of matters, I am still grateful for her conducting the Chapel of New College in manner that greatly included and blessed me.

Why the Heck Was Heather Cook Made a Bishop?

No, I am not going to condemn Heather Cook for her alleged hit-and-run, at least not the run part.  When one is involved in a very bad accident, it can be very traumatic and disorienting and lead to immediate unwise decisions.  And she reportedly did return to the scene of the accident within 20 minutes.  So I will withhold judgment, at least for now.

But I do denounce The Episcopal “Church” and its Diocese of Maryland for making her a “bishop” in the first place.  Why?

In September 2010, nearly four years to the day before she'd become Maryland's first female Episcopal bishop, Cook was pulled over in Caroline County.

Police at the time said she blew a BAC of .27, or over three times the legal limit, when given a breathalyzer.

In her car, police said they found a bottle of whiskey, a bottle of wine, and a marijuana pipe reported

And four years after that, she is made a bishop?  Really?

The Episcopal “Church,” with its enabling, shares blame for the tragic death of Tom Palermo.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

10th Anniversary: Holy Innocents and The Dark Side of Christmas

With tomorrow Sunday being the Feast of Holy Innocents, I think it meet to point back to what I think is one of the better posts of this blog’s ten years, “Holy Innocents and the Dark Side of Christmas,” posted in 2007.

I think those annoyed by the artificial, mandatory happy, happy, HAPPY-ness forced on us at Christmas will particularly appreciate it.  Enjoy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

10th Anniversary: St. Stephen, the First of Many

One of the more poignant posts of the ten years of this blog came on St. Stephen’s Day last year.  Sadly, it is even more true this year.

There is a particular parallel between the martyrdom of Stephen and the martyrdom of now thousands of Christians in the Middle East today that we must not ignore.  After the stoning of St. Stephen, the church was for the most part forced to flee from Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1)  Today, the church is being pressured by Muslims (There. I said it.) to flee from much of the Middle East.  The population of Christians in several Middle East countries is shrinking precipitously.  It is distressing, and it is hard to see what can be done about it.

And I am at a loss even what to say, except to pray and to remember that the holy Army of Martyrs will grow yet larger and will triumph in the end.

This St. Stephen’s day particularly, let us continue to pray for those displaced, suffering and dying for the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Has Begun

In the Chapel of Kings
A lone boy has sung.
The glorious feast of Christmas

Has begun.

For Christmas Eve Shoppers

I have never been a Christmas Eve shopper although I might become one this year for an extra gift or two.  In part because of events with my novel Pilot Point, finding the time and energy for Christmas preparation has been a push this year.

So this post is not to condemn Christmas Eve shoppers (who may be enduring self-condemnation already) but to help.

Now, at the risk of repeating myself, remember Christmas is a season that begins on Christmas Day and lasts twelve days.  There is no shame is giving Christmas gifts after Christmas Day.

But I know most would rather not use that Anglican excuse and go that route.  So may I once again suggest e-books?  They are very easy and often inexpensive to give, certainly in the case of Kindle books.  There is no wrapping, and delivery is immediate.  Yes, you can buy a gift today, and it gets delivered today.  And no one need know of your procrastination.

It does not have to be the Kindle version of Pilot Point that you give.  Many, perhaps most, books that come out nowadays are available in Kindle.  But if you do choose to give Pilot Point, which I think a good gift for Anglicans and Texans especially, you certainly have my festive thanks. :)

Christmas Eve shopper or not, I hope you enjoy this Christmas Eve and Christmas season as much as I intend to do.  And, as always, thanks for your support.

Have a Happy Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

10th Anniversary: Christmases Past

Long time readers know Christmas is important to me – and I can get downright insufferable about it.  In keeping with that, I thought this 10th Anniversary year of this blog would be a good time to look back at past Christmasy posts.

My first Christmas as an Anglican and the first one of this blog was bittersweet.  On Christmas Eve and the day itself, I missed out on having an Anglican churchy Christmas, and I was disappointed about that.

But then I walked into a favorite Anglican church the 1st Sunday after Christmas, and I discovered Christmas is a season.  I got my churchy Christmas after all.

My next Christmas Eve was my first one to participate in a Lessons and Carols service (as I will this Christmas Eve).

My 2007 studies in Oxford brought about a tutorial paper that is one of the best things I’ve written, if I may say so myself.  It ties together the Black Death with our celebration of Christmas today, if you can imagine that.

I’ve mentioned I have a weakness for Christmas lights.

I’ve excoriated Christmastime abominations, religious, political, and retail.

I’ve created and used a chant for Christmas Eve.

And, of course, I’ve fretted over when I should allow Advent to become Christmasy.

Yes, it’s been good to be an Anglican at Christmas.

But I cannot let this Christmas pass without mentioning a past Christmas far more memorable than any of mine.  This Christmas Eve will be the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce near the beginning of World War I.  I recommend this BBC documentary.  

That was a bittersweet Christmas indeed.

May you have a memorable and happy Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas is less than a week away. DON’T PANIC!

Yes, some may be so behind on preparing for Christmas that they may find my admonition not to panic not helpful.  But I do indeed want to be helpful and will do so with two suggestions concerning a task that should be a joy but often becomes a burden - gift giving:

1. Remember that Christmas Day, glorious as it is, is the first day of Christmas.  Christmas is not only a day; it is a season of twelve days.  And, as in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, it is perfectly fine to give Christmas gifts that arrive after Christmas Day (although trying to give the particular gifts mentioned in said song will not make anyone’s Christmas easier).  So do not be in a mad rush.  Gifts that come in the midst of the Christmas season are often a greater surprise and even more (and certainly more leisurely) appreciated than gifts opened on the 25th.

Yes, there are a few who hold up their nose at gifts that arrive after Christmas Day.  They consider them “late”.  As one who used to have that attitude, such are in need of prayer for repentance.

2. There are numerous ways to make gift giving quicker and simpler.  I will suggest one here.

If you have friends or family who like e-books, it is very easy to give the gift of a Kindle book.  I’ve done it myself.  At the Amazon Kindle page for a book, click “Give as a Gift” on the right.  Then once you’ve signed in, you can select “E-mail the gift directly to my recipient” and fill in their e-mail address (the method I’ve used) or you can have the Kindle book e-mailed to yourself, and you can pass it on yourself.  (Note that you can write a personal message when having Amazon e-mail the gift to someone.)

Finish the order, take care of the payment, and it’s done! No messing with gift wrap.  No worries about snail mail delivery.  And Kindle books usually cost less than print books, sometimes a lot less as is the case with my novel.

Speaking of which, I of course do hope you use this tip to give my novel Pilot Point, which is only $2.99 in Kindle form.  But if you have other books in mind to give, as the owner of too many books, I understand and am glad to help.

May you have a blessed last week of Advent and a happy Christmas free from unnecessary stress and fretting.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

10th Anniversary: The Choir of King’s College Cambridge

As I began looking forward to this year’s Nine Lessons and Carols service from King’s College Cambridge, I remember that I first saw the great choir ten years ago this month in Dallas.  I wrote of my experience here.

And, yes, I do plan to see them again in Dallas this March.

I later found out the name of the cheeky soloist.  Any guesses?

Like many of you I’m sure, I am behind on getting ready for Christmas and other matters.  So I may imitate a favorite blog, Instapundit, and have short posts with links instead of my usual erudite commentary.

I do have some treats in mind for you nonetheless, particularly with Christmas upon us and with the 10th Anniversary of this blog coming to an end.

By the way, if you need some assistance with gifts, don’t forget my novel Pilot Point.  Thanks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pilot Point Gun Show Tour Update

I’ve mentioned here the possibility that I will take my novel Pilot Point to the Fredericksburg Gun Show this weekend.  Well, the show is so full that it is unlikely I can get a vendor’s table.  And, with the grace of my presence desired closer to home, I have decided to cancel.

But I do have a big book signing lined up for Christmas Eve Eve, on this Tuesday the 23rd at Half Price Books, Corpus Christi, from 4 to 7pm.

Yes, it is not a gun show.  Sorry.

For those unable to make the trip, remember it is now only one week until Christmas Eve.  And remember that I do not have a tip jar.  To assist with both situations, Pilot Point is available in both Kindle and paperback.  You’re welcome. :)

May this last week of Advent be a great blessing to you.  (This Advent has been a blessing to me, and I hope to find the time and energy to share some of that.)

Hannah Overton Will Be Home for Christmas

Readers may remember that I’ve followed the Hannah Overton case for some time.  Her capital murder conviction was rightly overturned in September.  But her release did not come until yesterday’s bond hearing.

The three month delay in her release is hard to excuse.  But part of the delay was her defense team’s wise and successful effort to get Judge Jose Longoria recused.  He presided over the 2007 trial and has demonstrated he cannot be trusted to be a fair judge of this case.

One result of said recusal is the success of yesterday’s bond hearing.  Bond was set at a reasonable $50,000 with no onerous conditions.  So, finally, Hannah Overton is home with her family after seven long years.

Nueces County DA Mark Skurka has said he intends to retry Overton for capital murder.  But a development during the bond hearing would make much a foolish task even more difficult:

Arguably the most dramatic moment of the hearing came when Hannah’s attorneys revealed that one of the state’s star witnesses at trial, Dr. Alexandre Rotta—who had treated Andrew on the night he was brought to the hospital in 2006 in a coma—had recently contacted Hannah’s defense team. Dr. Rotta told Hannah’s attorneys in an email that seven years after Hannah’s trial, her conviction still kept him up at night. This complicates matters for Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka, who has vowed to retry Hannah on capital murder charges. The fact that key prosecution witnesses such as Dr. Rotta— along with Dr. Edgar Cortes , another physician who examined Andrew on the night he was admitted to the hospital—now question Hannah’s conviction casts doubt on whether Skurka can win his case . . . .

Skurka would be wiser to clean up his office.  Yet another indication of the corruption of the Nueces County DA’s office has come out.  Eric Hillman is suing said office.  The former prosecutor claims he was fired for following the law:

Eric Hillman prosecuted drunk driving cases, but, when he uncovered a witness who had the potential to help someone he was prosecuting, he claims his bosses told him not to share that information with the other side.

 He did and the lawsuit he filed Monday claims it cost him his job.

"It is unlawful to fire or terminate an employee because they refuse to commit a criminal act and that's exactly what happened here," said Hillman's attorney, Amie Pratt with the Gale Law Group.

Prosecutors are required by law to share any evidence that may help the defense.  This legal requirement was also alleged to have been violated in the 2007 Hannah Overton trial. 

Was that violation inadvertent and isolated?  I think not.  And I am not alone.

[Hillman’s] attorneys say this case could point to bigger problems in the pursuit of justice in Nueces County.

"Nueces County seems to be in favor of withholding evidence from defense counsel which is a huge problem," Pratt said.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas and Aloneness – an excerpt from Pilot Point

I’ve mentioned that Christmas and other holidays can be difficult times for those dealing with aloneness, difficult family situations, and past traumas.  Mother’s Day used to be my bad holiday. (And do read my post last week if you are among those not looking forward to Christmas for similar reasons.)

One of the plots of my novel Pilot Point is how Clayton Hays and his friend Bowie Smith deal with their aloneness – and they do not deal with it very well.  One Christmas opens a window to this.

The following excerpt from that Christmastime is short and simple.  We see their reluctance to accept an invitation to a family Christmas; it reminds both of the families they do not have.  Bowie instead has arranged to work cattle on Christmas Day.

We also see Bowie adding logs to a dying fire.  That does not seem a significant moment at first.  But his words as he does so end up echoing through the novel – and through Clayton’s struggle.


         Kim, Bowie, and Clayton were playing poker over at Bowie’s. He had a fire going, but it was dying from neglect—the three were so intent on their cards.

         The armadillo on the rafter had a red elf cap on, and there was a picture up of Santa wearing a cowboy hat with his sleigh being pulled by longhorns. Those were the only Christmas decorations Bowie had up.

         After a hand, Kim asked Bowie, “What are you going to be doing Christmas?”

         “Nothin’ much.” He shuffled the cards.

         “The wife says you’re welcome to stop by for Christmas dinner. So come on over.”

         “I appreciate that, but I don’t know if I’m going to have time. I’m going to give the Hunt land workers Christmas by taking over for them. Most of them have families to go to, and I don’t. So I figured I’d stand in for them so they can have the day off. Seven-card stud.”

         “That’s awful nice of you. I didn’t know you were doing that for us. I appreciate it. The offer still stands though.”

         “I thank you.”

         “How about you, Clayton?”

         He shrugged his shoulders and kept looking at his cards. “I don’t have any plans.”

         “Well, come over for dinner at my place then.”

         “Thanks, but I’d feel out of place. Christmas is a time for family and…” his voice faded.

         “Keep it in mind anyway. Janet’s cooking and hospitality can make anyone feel like family.”


         When they finished the hand, Bowie looked over at the fire. “Hell, there’s only one log left burning and barely at that. We’re so busy with cards, we weren’t paying attention.” He got up and walked over to the logs he had piled to the side of the fireplace. He leaned over. But before he picked one up, he looked back at Clayton with an expression both wry and yet as serious as a long winter.

         “One log can’t keep a fire going. A lone fire dies. You’d think we’d know that.”

         Clayton watched him as he turned back to the fireplace and put three logs on. They watched as the fire began to grow strong again.

         Bowie came back to the table. And they went back to their cards.

         When the cards came around to Clayton, he asked Bowie, “What kind of work are you going to be doing Christmas.”

         “Oh, mainly just feedin’ and docterin’.”

         Clayton shuffled the cards and began dealing them. “Five-card draw.”

         After losing some more money, he asked, “Could you use a hand on Christmas?”

         “Sure, are you offering?”


         “We haven’t won that much money off you, have we?” The three chuckled.

         “I appreciate that,” Bowie then said without any bluster, looking at Clayton.


Pilot Point is available at Amazon.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Pilot Point Gun Show Tour Resumes!

First, apologies for not writing a more normal post this morning.  Trust me that I had a post or two in mind with all the craziness going on in the world.  But today I am a bit swamped.  I am happy to report that, unlike the world, my craziness is a good craziness.  Nonetheless, busy is busy (as work is constantly interrupting me as I try to type this!).

One reason I am busy is later today I go set up my table for the Aransas Pass Gun Show tomorrow.  Yep, the Pilot Point Gun Show Tour resumes tomorrow Saturday at the Aransas Pass (Texas) Civic Center from 9 to 5.

But I know most of you are not within driving distance to meet me and buy my novel tomorrow.  And, with less than two weeks until Christmas, some may be a bit busy taking care of their naughty and nice lists.  If so, may I make a suggestion? ;)

Yes, my novel Pilot Point is an appropriate gift for both the naughty and nice.  Or at least I think so.  Click the "Pilot Point" link below to find out more.  Better yet, go to and "like" my Pilot Point Facebook page.

May God bless the remainder of your Advent season and preparation for Christmas.