The 915 – Cinco Puntos Press

El Paso, TX. West Texas. Mountain Time. Desert. Borders.

The 915 is El Paso’s area code, and also how young natives refer to their city after singer Khalid popularized it in his song, “American Teen.” El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas, which many don’t know because it’s over 552 miles away from the other large cities in the state. With this geographical isolation and distance, El Paso harnesses a unique culture, encompassing both the cozy small town feel while also promoting it’s progressive urban environment. El Paso is also a proud border town, sharing its border with New Mexico and Mexico, which houses a diverse population of Latinx peoples, among other immigrants from around the world. From this powerful culture, El Paso has given us such important art, specifically literary art.

Our intern Paulina, a native El Pasoan, is proud to present a two-part tour of on El Paso’s literary community: first, featuring Cinco Puntos Press.



Cinco Puntos Press is a small, independent publishing company about three miles from the U.S. – Mexican border, founded in 1985 by Bobby and Lee Byrd. When I visited them, I was immediately immersed into the colors of their office. Everywhere I turned, I saw their published books displayed among other distinctly El Pasoan decorations.

One of Cinco Puntos’ first published books in 1987 was Joe Hayes’ La Llorona / The Weeping Woman. Bobby Byrd still regards this work as one of their best, mainly because he felt that Cinco Puntos Press did something that no other publishing firm had before. Cinco Puntos credits their familiarity with Mexican culture as one of the main reasons that La Llorona did so well across the country because the novel felt authentic to its cultural roots. La Llorona is also bilingual, which definitely reflects our border town lifestyle. 



But why, I asked, is this publishing press in El Paso? Why is it not in New York City like the majority of the industry? To this Bobby responded, “because this is where we live.” Being in El Paso offers a unique community and the ability to see hands-on how people from all walks of life are able to thrive in such a bi-national community. For a unique city, we need an exceptional publishing press, a press that is willing to offer a space for its authors to work hands-on with them.

Philip Connors, author of the soon to be released memoir, A Song for the River, was present during my visit, and spoke about how he loved that he was able to come into Cinco Puntos and literally sit down with the staff and work alongside them as he revised his manuscript. Although not a native El Pasoan, Connors was drawn to Cinco Puntos because of how well they published Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club



As I walked around the office, I was happy to notice that many of the authors were Latinx, like me. What’s the importance of a diverse range of books? Why does Cinco Puntos value diversity in their literature? “Well, that’s where we live,” Bobby responded to this with a smile. Unlike many publishing companies, Cinco Puntos does not need to go out of their area and look for a diverse authorship because El Paso already cultivates such a diverse community. Bobby emphasized how Mexican Americans make up such a large percentage of the U.S. population, and how it’s not a niche market, so why wouldn’t Cinco Puntos Press be publishing books by and for Mexican Americans? In these moments during my visit I felt so proud that this publishing press has been doing so much not just for my El Paso community, but also for immigrants like myself that have such powerful stories just by living on the border.

Cinco Puntos also prides itself of commissioning local El Pasoan artists to design book covers, such as David Bowles’ Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky. This artist duo Los Dos (or Lxs Dos) are El Paso/Juarez natives that make murals in both of the sister cities.


Bobby Byrd in front of Cinco Puntos’ mural of Oscar Acosta by local artist duo Los Dos.


Cinco Puntos Press is distributed by Consortium Books, so it’s easy to come by their works at several bookstores in Texas. Here are some recommendations from both Bobby and myself:


A Song for the River:

Publisher’s Description: “The Gila River and Wilderness are the heart and soul of A Song for the River. Every summer since 2002, Connors has been perched in a tower 50 feet above the Gila Wilderness, watching for fire. His first book, Fire Season (which saw 30,000 copies sold), recounted the deep lessons learned about mountains, wilderness, fire, and solitude. A Song for the River, its sequel, updates and deepens the story: the mountain he loves goes up in flames; a lookout on another mountain whom he has come to love as brother dies in a freak accident; and three high school students he admires die tragically in an airplane crash while researching the wilderness and the wild river they wish to save. Connors channels their voices in a praise song of great urgency and makes a plea to save a vital piece of our natural and cultural heritage: the wild Gila River, whose waters are threatened by a potential dam.”



Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky

Publisher’s Description: “The stories in Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky trace the history of the world from its beginnings in the dreams of the dual god Ometeotl, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and the fall of the great city Tenochtitlan. In the course of that history we learn about the Creator Twins, Feathered Serpent, and Dark Heart of Sky, and how they built the world on a leviathan’s back; of the shape-shifting nahualli; and the aluxes—elfish beings known to help out the occasional wanderer. And finally, we read Aztec tales about the arrival of the blonde strangers from across the sea, the strangers who seek to upend the rule of Motecuhzoma and destroy the very stories we are reading.

David Bowles stitches together the fragmented mythology of pre-Colombian Mexico into an exciting, unified narrative in the tradition of William Buck’s Ramayana, Robert Fagles’ Iliad, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Myths. Readers of Norse and Greek mythologies will delight in this rich retelling of stories less explored.”


All Around Us 

Publisher’s Description: “Grandpa says circles are all around us. He points to the rainbow that rises high in the sky after a thundercloud has come. “Can you see? That’s only half of the circle. That rest of it is down below, in the earth.” He and his granddaughter meditate on gardens and seeds, on circles seen and unseen, inside and outside us, on where our bodies come from and where they return to. They share and create family traditions in this stunning exploration of the cycles of life and nature.

Xelena González has roots in San Antonio, Texas, but has stretched her wings to fly all the way to Guangzhou, China, where she works as a librarian in an international school. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and library science at Texas Woman’s University, but her true training as a storyteller has come from getting to know other living beings—including plants, animals, and people who happen to speak different languages or see the world in unusual ways. All Around Us is her first book.

Adriana M Garcia, an award-winning artist, muralist, and scenic designer was born and raised on the west-side of San Antonio. She received her BFA From Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and studied fine arts in Valencia, Spain. ”


Folly Cove

Publisher’s Description: “Against a 1970s backdrop of Vietnam, political corruption, and radical activism, comes the true story of a loose confederacy of thrill-seeking opportunists and disaffected veterans who pulled off the largest, most audacious pot smuggle yet attempted—over twenty-eight tons of primo Colombian headed for the densely populated coast of Massachusetts in a rusty shrimp boat at the height of hurricane season. From the borderland of El Paso to the High Sierra of Mexico to the coast of South America and back, this is how they parlayed their first puff into truckloads, planeloads, and ultimately, the mother lode. Folly Cove is a high-spirited tale of the early days, when the business of pot was a benign crusade to keep America high. “

Day of Sales at BookPeople: Buy a Book and Support the Texas Book Festival!


TBF Day of Sales

BookPeople in Austin, TX

Tuesday, May 29, 9am-11pm

Join us for Texas Book Festival’s annual Day of Sales at local Austin bookstore, BookPeople! On Tuesday, May 29, a portion of proceeds from all books sold at BookPeople will be donated to the Texas Book Festival. Buy a book and help support the Texas Book Festival as well as a great indie bookstore!

Not sure where to start? Check out our list of recent favorite reads! Whether you’re buying for yourself or someone else, we’ve got recommendations for every sort of reader here.


Lois recommends:

God Save Texas – Lawrence Wright

Essential reading for every Texan! Wright takes the reader on a highly entertaining journey through some of the most colorful aspects of Texas’s history and identity, made rich and meaningful through Wright’s personal experiences and reflections.



Chemistry – Weike Wang

Refreshingly acerbic in style, Weike Wang’s novel features a confused young Chinese-American scientist’s reluctance to stay on the path of achievement in both love and career.





Julie recommends:

Everyone Knows You Go Home – Natalia Sylvester

Beginning with the appearance of a dead father, this novel is about family truth and fiction, the ways in which the past plays on the present, and the experiences of families who immigrate north over the border between Mexico and the U.S.



The Line Becomes a River – Francisco Cantú

Cantú’s mesmerizing chronicle of his life as a border guard opens up an important perspective on the urgent conversation of migration over the Mexico/U.S. border.





Claire recommends:

This One Summer – Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

This graphic novel is the beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story of summer-best-friends Rose and Windy as they face the fragile transition from childhood to adolescence.




March – John Lewis

The March graphic novel trilogy is Congressman John Lewis’s riveting account of his first-hand experience with Civil Rights, from his childhood in rural Alabama to meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. to marching to Selma.




Maris recommends:

The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

Greer Kadetzky’s trajectory changes when she meets Faith Frank, a charming famous feminist, in her freshman year of college. This sharp, sweeping novel follows Greer on her journey to find purpose in her post-college life.



Brass – Xhenet Aliu

Desperate to escape her small working-class Connecticut town, Elsie saves up tips from her waitressing job. But her plans change when she meets the brooding Bashkim. Narrated in equal parts by Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, Brass is a sparkling debut.




Lydia recommends:

You Bring the Distant Near – Mitali Perkins

This gorgeous novel follows three generations of the Das women as they emigrate to New York, struggle with culture shock and keeping tradition, grieve, grow, raise children, become American, and learn—over and over again—how to love.



Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert

Danny Cheng’s college plans seem set with a scholarship to his top choice art school and his work in an exhibit in a hip San Francisco gallery, but discovering long-hidden painful family secrets, as well as suppressing his feelings for his best friend and his guilt over his part in a recent tragedy threaten to derail his future.




Lea recommends:

The Terrible Two – Mac Barnett

Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the reluctant reader in your life, this series follows two best friends/ pranking partners whose hijinks will have readers laughing out loud!




Grandma’s Purse – Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Great for talking about family history and connections with grandma! Kids and adults alike will love these beautiful illustrations.

Books for Budding Feminists: Some Recommended Reading

Reading more about women of history and women of today is something we can all aspire to, and with graduation coming up, there’s plenty of opportunity to inspire young adults to learn more about the place women occupy in the past, present, and future. If you (or people you know) are interested in learning more about women’s lives, struggles, and female trailblazers, this list of recommended reading from our intern Aliya should get you started!


Text Me When You Get Home – Kayleen Schafer

Text Me When You get Home started because of the author’s own journey in discovering the love and support women can provide for each other. As someone who previously prioritized male recognition over female relationships, Schafer had to teach herself that there can be more than one kind of love story to a person’s life, and that can be just as important as any romantic relationship. As a memoir, tell-all, and compellation, Text Me embodies the spirit of so many current movements that highlight the female bonds every woman can relate to, but don’t necessarily speak about. It’s all in the title, Text Me When You Get Home.


Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine – Michele Lent Hirsch

After having struggled with her own heath issues, Michele saw an opportunity to shed light on an issue people don’t realize exists until they’re experiencing it. Even though females are some of the most primary demographic for many illnesses, they are often overlooked or have their symptoms underestimated. In Invisible she shares three women’s stories alongside her own, and how each of them experienced being young, ill, and woman.   


Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain – Abby Norman

In Ask Me About My Uterus Abby Norman reflects on her experience struggling to find a diagnosis for the horrible pain she’d had for years and presents poignant examples of the way women’s symptoms are often disregarded in the medical community. After being forced to drop out of college and end her career as a dancer, she decided to take control and find her own diagnosis. A powerful call to action on all fronts, this book strives to shake current assumptions and strike forth in a new way of approaching women in heath.


I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope – Chessy Prout & Jenn Abelson

Chessy took her trauma, having been sexually assaulted as a freshman in high school, and created possibility. This memoir not only tells that story, the one of shame and pain and triumph, but it also shifts the focus back at the culture that allows things like this to happen daily without recognition. Featuring concrete ideas to force change in an unforgiving society and the empowering voice of a young girl, it’s hard to read this book and not feel inspired.


Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World – Ann Shen

A beautifully illustrated adult picture book, Bad Girls has everything you never learned in school about amazing women. The passion, drive, and rule-breaking tendencies of each woman paved the way for others to come and proved something in their own right about the true strength women possess. From spies to artists and Joan Jett to Marie Curie, it spans decades, professions, and status quos with moving biographies and watercolor portraits.


Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You – Ann Shen

The follow up to Bad Girls, Legendary Ladies takes the world of celebrating women to a mystical realm where magical stones repair the earth and home is a volcano. As another beautifully illustrated picture book it takes very conceptual characters and shapes them into tangible biographies, making us feel as though we can be just as strong and powerful. I can say reading just one a day fills me with the pride and inspiration to combat any obstacle put in my path with the same dignity they signify, only maybe fewer talismans.


Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum – Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Many times women and girls on the autism spectrum go undiagnosed and unrecognized because they don’t fit the traditional symptoms that are often found in men. Jennifer has had this experience personally and details her journey into discovering her identity and her diagnosis for the reader in a book sprinkled with careful wit, playful honesty, and a whole lot of strength. Going against the medical mainstream can be difficult, but for Jennifer that’s what she’s been doing her whole life as a “misunderstood miracle.”



Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World – Rachel Ignotofsky

With the STEM field so present in the world of innovation right now Women in Science comes at the perfect time to highlight some of the forgotten ladies that made it what it is. Not only that, but in addition to biographies from Jane Goodall to Patricia Bath it contains a collection of quirky, unique renditions, an illustrated glossary of scientific tools and terms, and relevant statistics on women in STEM. In a field often dominated by the opposite sex, it’s powerful to see the unspoken framework of women who built it for those to come.


Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win – Rachel Ignotofsky

A sister to Women in Science, Women in Sports takes on the record breakers and trailblazers of the athletic community. We all know Billie Jean King and Simone Biles, but do we know Toni Stone or Patti McGee? After reading this you will, not to mention so many more women who fought against an environment structured to make them feel and act inferior to their male counterparts. A true testament to the not only physical but also psychological strength of the female athlete, Women in Sports will leave you impressed, grateful, and ready to stand.

Independent Bookstore Day


Tomorrow is the last Saturday in April, which means book lovers across the country are gearing up for Independent Bookstore Day. Each year on this day, indie bookstores hold special events featuring authors, live music, children’s activities, readings, and more. Just as no two bookstores are the same, no two parties are either.

The holiday encourages people to visit and support their nearby bookstores. Locals know these stores bring more to a city than just books. They are community spaces, places where people can come together to gab about new releases or old classics, or get lost for hours just perusing the shelves. Even with the rise of e-readers and online bookselling, local bookstore don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. In fact, more have cropped up in recent years.

Whether you live in Houston, Austin, El Paso, or elsewhere, independent bookstores across Texas are celebrating tomorrow. Here’s what some Texas bibliophiles are up to:


BookPeople, Austin

The largest independent bookstore in Texas is hosting readings and a book swap. At 10:30 a.m., Xelena González and Adriana M. Garcia will host a storytime with their award-winning children’s book All Around Us! Then, in the evening at 6 p.m., visitors can bring their favorite book from home and participate in a White Elephant style book swap while snacking and drinking wine and beer.

Also, Austinites can participate in the city’s second annual bookstore crawl. Participants visit three or more of Austin’s 15+ bookstores, complete a task at each one, and post about it on social media using #atxbookstorecrawl to be entered in a drawing to win the grand prize: books, gift cards, and more.


Brazos Bookstore, Houston

Houston’s longtime book hub is hosting events all day, including a book poster raffle, storytime, face painting, coffee and poetry, adult coloring, and more. View the schedule of events here.


Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston

Another longstanding Houston indie bookstore, Blue Willow is hosting events, including a storytime, book bag giveaway, and literary libations.


Interabang, Dallas

Dallas’ newest independent bookstore is participating in its first Indie Bookstore Day with a lineup of events. They’ll have a storytime, book recommendation session, and happy hour. And if you spend $50 or more at the store, you’ll get a free Interabang tote or mug.


Other Texas Independent Bookstores to Check Out




Ticket Give Away: Texas Monthly Live!


We love a good night of live storytelling. We bet you do, too. Our friends at Texas Monthly are putting together a night of live, Texas-style storytelling at the Paramount Theatre in Austin that you won’t want to miss. We’re excited to give away a pair of tickets to the show!


Texas Monthly Live!
Friday, May 4 at 7pm
Paramount Theatre, Austin


About Texas Monthly LIVE
Texans will experience the magic of an issue of Texas Monthly re-imagined for a live studio audience at the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin. Mixing music, video, narration, and live performances, this special 90-minute editorial performance will take audience members on a gritty storytelling journey they’ll never forget. Texas Monthly Live will feature live stories curated by the magazine’s editors showcasing the breadth and depth of Texas.

Secure Your Seat at the Paramount!
Enter below to win a pair of tickets to Texas Monthly Live! You can also purchase tickets, while they last. Use the code PROUDTEXAN at checkout to receive 15% off the ticket price.

Winners of the give away will be contacted on Wednesday, April 26. We’ll see y’all at the Paramount Theatre on May 4!


Explore Your Local: The Literary City of San Antonio

Last weekend, we headed to the sixth annual San Antonio Book Festival, where thousands flooded the grounds of the Central Library to peruse books and catch panels and presentations with their favorite authors. Among the crowds were some 90 authors, including the likes of Jorge Ramos, Attica Locke, Sandra Cisneros, and Luis Alberto Urrea.


Throughout the day, audiences listened to panels discussing topics like Timothy Leary, once infamously known as “the most dangerous man in America,” border issues, and the science of jellyfish. Those looking for a laugh visited Paula Poundstone, popular standup comedian and panelist on NPR’s comedy quiz program Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! And poetry lovers lined up for the Typewriter Rodeo, whose members spent the day clacking away on vintage keyboards, writing up poems on the spot for anyone who came by. When visitors weren’t sitting in on panels or waiting in lines that curved throughout the library to meet literary icons like Sandra Cisneros, they scouted out Fiesta medals from the booths lined up outside. (We still have a few Texas Book Festival Fiesta medals for sale until after Fiesta 2018!)

Texas Book Festival Fiesta medals

The day came and went all too quickly — but San Antonio’s literary scene thrives year-round. A number of authors have chosen to call San Antonio home. Naomi Shihab Nye, author of 19 Varieties of Gazelle and Habibi, lives there, as does poet and children’s book author Carmen Tafolla. Before she moved to Mexico in 2015, Cisneros had a house of her own in the city, one that spurred controversy in the ’90s for its periwinkle veneer. It’s no wonder writers find the city appealing. It’s colorful, lively atmosphere and rich history make it a great setting to base novels in. In fact, it’s the backdrop of several books, including a number of Rick Riordan’s mysteries, like Big Tequila Red, and Stephen Harrigan’s The Gates of the Alamo.

A peak inside the Twig

The city’s local literary scene is also thriving. There are a number of independent bookstores that have cropped up over the years. The Twig Book Shop is a cozy shop tucked away in the popular Pearl Brewery area. Book lovers come to browse the shelves, listen to readings from local and national poets and authors, or join book clubs. Not too far away sit Antiquarian Book Mart, a shop started in 1971 that buys, sells, and trades books, and another long-standing landmark Cheever Books, which has sold a collection of unusual and rare books for over 30 years. 


So, even if you missed this year’s festival, San Antonio’s literary scene is always ready to be explored.

Announcing 2018 Library Grant Recipients!

The Texas Book Festival is proud to announce it is awarding $100,000 in Texas Library Grants to libraries across the state.

Promoting literacy and strengthening Texas libraries have been primary components of the Texas Book Festival’s mission since our founding in 1995.

Since 1996, the Texas Book Festival has funded 1,121 library grants totaling more than $3 million to more than 600 public libraries in our state.

This funding, which comes largely from generous donations made by Festival supporters, enables libraries to share the diversity and breadth of literature with their entire communities.

Strong libraries foster strong communities. We’re grateful for the opportunity to support libraries as they find innovative ways to engage their patrons and encourage literacy in Texas.

2018 Texas Book Festival Library Grant Recipients

1. Allen Public Library
2. Alpine Public Library
3. Bandera County Public Library
4. Benbrook Public Library
5. Bonham Public Library
6. Boyce Ditto Public Library
7. Camp Wood Public Library
8. Charlotte Public Library
9. Cleburne Public Library
10. Cockrell Hill Public Library
11. Cooke County Library
12. Cross Plains Public Library
13. Dickens County-Spur Public Library
14. Dickinson Public Library
15. Dripping Springs Community Library
16. Driscoll Public Library
17. Elgin Public Library
18. Fannie Brown Booth Memorial Library
19. Flower Mound Public Library
20. Harrington Library
21. Henderson County Library
22. Hondo Public Library
23. Hutto Public Library
24. Judy B. McDonald Public Library
25. Lake Travis Community Library District
26. Little Elm Public Library
27. Longview Public Library
28. Lubbock Public Library – Mahon
29. Marathon Public Library
30. Mary Lou Reddick Public Library
31. McAllen Public Library
32. McMullen Public Library
33. Mesquite Public Library
34. Mt. Enterprise Library
35. Orange Public Library
36. Palacios Library, Inc.
37. Pasadena Public Libraries
38. Pflugerville Public Libraries
39. Pottsboro Area Library
40. Roberta Bourne Memorial Library
41. Sam Fore Jr. Public Library
42. Smithville Public Library
43. Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library
44. T.L.L. Temple Memorial Library
45. Westworth Village Public Library
46. White Rock Hills Library
47. White Settlement Public Library
48. Whitehouse Community Library


How Grant Money Will Be Used

2018 grants target a mix of needs. Several libraries receiving a Texas Book Festival grant will expand their collection of Spanish and bilingual books, including Cockrell Hill Public Library, located in a city where 91% of residents are Latino, but only one eighth of the library’s current collection serves the needs of bilingual and Spanish-speaking families and individuals.

Other libraries will expand their audiobook collections, replacing collections currently held on decaying cassette tapes. Bandera County Public Library, for instance, will use its Texas Book Festival grant money to serve special needs students in their community who listen to audiobooks for educational and personal enrichment.

Many library grantees are rural, including Roberta Bourne Memorial Library, the only library in its area within 300 square miles. With its Texas Book Festival grant, the library will replace out-of-date and worn out books and update their collections which serve as an important resource for the local population, 29% of which is below the poverty line.

“The books and resources housed within public libraries across Texas should be celebrated, maintained, and updated,” says Lois Kim executive director of the Texas Book Festival. “The Texas Book Festival is committed to continuing to listen to what experienced and dedicated librarians across the state tell us they most need to best serve their communities.”

Elizabeth Crook on her new novel “THE WHICH WAY TREE”

Elizabeth Crook’s latest novel The Which Way Tree is an epic southern tale. It chronicles the dangerous endeavors of Samantha Shreve, a 12-year-old girl growing up in Austin, Texas, just after the Civil War. After witnessing a panther kill her mother, she sets out with a hodge-podge team of characters to slay the evil beast—which, around these parts, is known as El Demonio de Dos Dedos. Told from the point of view of her older brother Ben, the story feels both authentic and intimate.

Crook is the award-winning author of five books, including Monday, Monday, a fictional account of the 1960 mass shooting at The University of Texas at Austin, which won the 2015 Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Our intern Marisa asked her a few questions about her new book, which is available at your local bookstore or library now!


What was the research process like for this book?

A lot of fun. It involved the usual plunge into history books, articles, old authentic journals and letters from the period—a lot of reading and note taking about everything from the politics of the time to the specifics of daily life. And then of course it involved deciding what was relevant to the story and what wasn’t—and leaving a lot of it out. It was more fun than it sounds! Essentially, as a writer, you have to know the history intimately enough to step into that time every day and get around without being recognized as an imposter.


In your mind, how does this book veer from or continue themes you’ve explored in your previous books?

That’s hard to say: my books differ vastly in subject matter. The most common theme is humanity running up against inhumanity during various kinds of chaos.  For the most part my characters, in all five books, tend to be good people trying to make their way through actual historical, and often violent, events. They often make grave mistakes in the ways they try to navigate. The books portray some amount of loss and sadness but aren’t depressing, I hope. There’s a big difference between a book that makes you sad at moments and a book that leaves you depressed. I wouldn’t want to write the latter. The Which Way Tree deals with heavy subject matter, as my other books do also, but what readers often comment on is the humor in Benjamin’s storytelling.


Why did you decide to write this book now?

When my son was fourteen he got lost in the canyons in Bandera County one night, and was finally located by search helicopters after a nine hour hunt, during which a mountain lion was spotted trailing through the canyon into which he had disappered. It was the scariest night of my life and left me obsessed with mountain lions and their attacks on humans. I read everything I could find on the subject. I guess I wrote this story partly because I had run out of real life accounts to obsess over.   


What challenges did you face writing this book and how did you try to overcome them?

Actually The Which Way Tree presented fewer challenges than my other books and was more fun to write. Every chapter rolled naturally into the next. I suppose the greatest challege was how to frame it. A boy Benjamin’s age wouldn’t simply sit down and write this tale, so I needed to give him a plausible reason for doing so. It took some figuring and brainstorming, but in the end I decided to write the story as testimony to a war crime, under mandate of a judge, in order to justify its existence.  


The book tells the story of an epic tale, akin to that of “The Whale” (Moby-Dick) which you mention several times throughout. Yet, the book itself isn’t too lengthy. How did you manage that?

Benjamin is recounting events that deal with a small cast of characters during a brief amount of time. He doesn’t elaborate, he just tells what happened. So the story covers a lot of ground quickly. For instance, here’s the brief paragraph at the end of a chapter, when Benjamin and three other characters set out to fetch a panther tracking dog:

“We fed the goats, turned the chickens loose in the yard to scratch, tossed cobs out for the pigs should they come up from the creek, mounted up and started off. It was about noon at that time.” Having Benjamin tell the story kept me from wasting any words in describing how things are done. They’re just done.  


When writing books that take place in a different time period, do you ever feel a pressure to make them relevant to today? If so, why and how do you achieve that?

No, I never strive for that. If I’m telling a story set in the past, it stays where it’s rooted. If there are themes relevant to today, it’s only because human nature tends to lead us into the same kind of predicaments repeatedly.

Explore Your Local: A Peek Inside Interabang Books, Dallas’ Newest Independent Bookstore


When I walked into Interabang Books—Dallas’ newest independent bookstore—for the first time, I felt like I was walking into an art exhibit. My eyes were immediately drawn to the wall in the middle of the store adorned with a retro, comic-book-style mural of a man and a woman talking on telephones. Then, I was struck by the wall to my left. It was lined end to end with colorful spines, and I wondered how long it would take me to peruse every row. The wall on my right featured crisp white shelves, showcasing several selected titles with their covers facing out. Each one looked like a curated work of art.

The store’s aesthetically pleasing nature makes sense, considering one of the masterminds behind it, Jeremy Ellis, was an art history major at Texas State University. Now, he brings his artistic eye to the store. He painted the mural and changes it out every few months.



Ellis has been a part of Texas’ independent bookstore scene since 1994. He started off at Taylor’s bookstore in Dallas, then moved to BookPeople in Austin where he was the marketing director, and later worked as the general manager of Brazos Bookstore in Houston. After nearly five years in Houston, Ellis was looking to move back to Dallas, which was lacking a full-service independent bookstore at the time. When he met Lori Feathers, now Interabang’s co-owner and book buyer, and Nancy Perot, who had long had an interest in community-centered bookstores, the three teamed up. On July 1, 2017, Interabang opened its doors. Now, the 5,000-square-foot space houses about 16,000 titles.

Since it’s begun, Interabang has brought in a series of well-renowned authors for signings and readings. Author Ann Patchett spoke at the grand opening, which garnered a crowd of about 500 people. It’s only fitting Patchett christened the space—she’s sort of a symbol of success herself in the world of independent bookstores. In 2011, she opened up one of her own, Parnassus Books, in Nashville.



Some might wonder how indies can thrive in an era of Amazon and e-readers, but the independent bookstore movement has gained ground in recent years. Though they were once closing across the country, since 2009 they’ve grown in number by 40 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association. Staying relevant is all about evolving, Ellis says. Good bookstores reflect their community. At Interabang, the staff is always adapting to what patrons want, listening to them and checking sales reports to find trends. “The real product of an independent bookstore is the staff,” Ellis says. “You can get the same collection of pages from just about anyone, but you might not be able to find that collection without going to the individual who recommended something that you really loved. No algorithm can do that.”

With that in mind, I went around asking Interabang’s booksellers what books they recommend right now and why. 


For teens, Melanie Thompson, the children’s events and marketing coordinator, recommends Wicked like Wildfire by Lana Popovic. “You’re going to want to visit Montenegro after reading this book,” she says. “Its gorgeous and ancient cultural setting provides a brilliant tapestry for this mysterious drama of mothers, sisters, and possibly witches to play out. Delicious to read in so many ways.”




Jack Freeman, digital marketing coordinator, loves poetry and non-fiction. For poetry, he recommends Fast by Jorie Graham, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. “This is truly ambitious,” he says. “It gets at truth with a capital-T, without being pedantic. It does what poetry tries to do: makes you feel not alone.”

For non-fiction, he recommends The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú, a memoir out Feb. 6. Cantú, a Mexican-American, spent four years as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. “You can tell what an empathetic writer he is,” Freeman says. “He’s writing as a human being who has been exposed to human suffering.”


Tyler Heath, inventory assistant, recommends Heartbreaker: Stories by Maryse Meijer. “These stories are uncomfortable and stay with you the next day like a hangover,” he claims. “Not for the faint of heart.”






Tom Blute, events coordinator, recommends Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. “It’s the third in the trilogy, and it’s a modern Russian spy thriller,” he says. He’s quick to note Matthews himself worked for the C.I.A. and included a lot of insider information in the book. It’s a wonder how he got so many details past the agency’s redacting committee.





And finally, Carlos Guajardo, store manager, recommends Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. “On a Greek island, two wealthy young women encounter a handsome Syrian refugee, whom they endeavor to help, with disastrous results,” he says. “Perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, and Saul Bellow.”










Books to Read When You’ve Seen Black Panther and Need More


It’s been almost a week since that gorgeous, groundbreaking, record-shattering juggernaut of a film, Black Pantherhit theatres. I know a lot of us saw it opening weekend—it did earn $201.8 million domestically in three days, after all, which makes Black Panther‘s debut the biggest domestic opening weekend ever for a black director and the biggest global opening ever for a film with a predominantly black cast (you can read more about the film’s many historic successes in this fantastic Buzzfeed article).

So now that you’ve seen it (probably multiple times, maybe enough times that your wallet is shaking its head—yeah, us too), what do we do while we wait for the next appearance of T’Challa (hopefully along with Nakia, M’Baku, Shuri, and the whole crew) in Avengers: Infinity War?

We read, of course! Our resident Science Fiction and Fantasy nerd Lydia is recommending some brilliant Afro-futurist and/or fantasy/magical realism by African and African-American authors to get us all started.


Black Panther comics, by multiple authors

This seems like the best (and most obvious) place to start. Both the original history-making series written by Don McGregor and the new reboot series (written by MacArthur genius, National Book Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates) are fast-paced, thoughtful works full of adrenaline-fueled fun and unapologetic black pride. Know a young reluctant reader who can’t stop raving about the movie? Get them started on the comics, and they’ll be ready for Ronald K. Smith’s new middle grade novel, Black Panther: The Young Prince, in no time.


Everfair by Nisi Shawl

One of the most intriguing aspects of Black Panther is its setting, the hidden-in-plain-sight hyper-advanced country of Wakanda. Due in part to the rich resources brought by a Vibranium meteor, Wakandans were able to develop incredible technology that puts them a hundred years ahead of the rest of the world (eat your heart out, Tony Stark).

Similarly, Nisi Shawl’s masterful steampunked-history novel Everfair explores an alternate reality in which the people of the Congo were able to develop steam-powered technology ahead of the violent oppression and invasion from colonizing Belgium, England, and other developed nations. Everfair becomes a sanctuary utopia sheltering Congolese natives, as well as Africans stolen and pressed into slavery who escape from America and other nations to return. A fantastically complex tapestry woven from many voices, Everfair is a brilliant story about a little-studied time and place.


What is Means When A Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah 

Arimah’s collection of magical realism stories set in many places, including Africa (much as the author herself has lived in many places, including Nigeria) is full of shimmering strangeness and wonder and possibility which, when cast alongside the grounding themes of family tensions, class dynamics, and dislocation, makes her first book truly one of a kind. Arimah’s work has received numerous grants and awards, including the 2015 African Commonwealth Prize and an O. Henry Award, and What is Means When A Man Falls from the Sky leaves no doubt as to why.

But! You don’t have to take my word for it: listen to national treasure LeVar Burton read the title story of Arimah’s collection on Episode 5 of his new (amazing) podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, as well as a fantastic bonus conversation with Arimah following Episode 8.


The Binti trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor

This is a must-read for all of us celebrating the introduction of the newest Disney princess, genius techie smart-aleck Shuri. Nnedi Okorafor (who has also written for the Black Panther franchise) presents a masterpiece in the Binti trilogy. The story follows the titular character, another 16 year old African genius, on a journey to take her place at the most revered university while struggling to both preserve her cultural identity and survive extra-terrestrial war.

I also highly recommend Okorafor’s Akata Witch (and sequel, Akata Warrior) and Who Fears Death, which will be adapted into an upcoming HBO series (produced by George R.R. Martin).


The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)

Texas author Nicky Drayden’s novel of interconnected stories set in South Africa follows a young Zulu girl with immense powers, a queer teen who discovers he can control others’ minds, a sarcastic pop diva, a politician with a hidden side, and an ancient demi-goddess desperate to claw her way back to her former power. This book is an adventure and a whirlwind of fun.

Be sure to check out Nicky Drayden’s recent Q&A with Texas Book Festival where she talks writing, world-building, and her forthcoming novel, Temper!


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This one comes out next month but we can promise—it’s completely worth the pre-order. This smartly paced, brilliant fantasy built on West African culture and folklore features a kingdom on the brink of war, forbidden magic, violent tensions in the royal family, and the age-old clash between modern change and traditional culture. This may be Adeyemi’s debut novel, but her immersive world-building and deft handling of several characters and a slow-burn, conflicted romance makes her a star on the rise. Children of Blood and Bone has been collecting rave reviews and deserves every word.


After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)

In this brief but hit-the-ground-running quick-paced novel, Deji Bryce Olukotun explores a future where an enormous solar flare destroys electrical systems worldwide, strands an astronaut on the International Space Station, and leaves Nigeria the only country with a capable and working space program. At times serious and other times wryly hilarious, this is not one to miss.



The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I’ve already recommended Jemisin’s award-winning record-setting Broken Earth trilogy on this blog and to everyone I know, but those are certainly not her only amazing books. Warring factions, royal families with dark secrets, surprise heirs—N.K. Jemisin brings all the profound history and family drama that helped make the Black Panther film so great in her Inheritance Trilogy. If you’re into rich fantasy, complicated families at war for the throne, and all-around badass women, run out and get The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and meet Yeine Darr today.


Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)

Onyebuchi’s dazzling world of sin-beasts (manifestations of a person’s sins) and Aki (young sin-eaters indentured by mages to destroy the beasts) is home to a young aki, Taj, working a dangerous job to help his family survive in the corrupt walled city of Kos. The first in a duopoly, Beasts Made of Night is perfect for lovers of dark magic tales and underdog triumph.



Also recommended: everything ever written by queens of Science Fiction/Fantasy, Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler! While these two prolific and award-winning authors are considered “canon” for SFF, they’re always worth a revisit (or a first visit for some).