If you know Willie, ‘Roll Me Up’ is fun but no revelation

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @ 8:45 PM
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @ 8:46 PM

Tickets for Willie Nelson’s 3 p.m. signing Thursday at BookPeople are sold out. Information: bookpeople.com.

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the song, is a surprisingly spry sing-along from Willie Nelson, not the blunt — ha! — bit of ham you’d expect from a tune with such a name. It offers us crotchety country conservatives the best access to Snoop Dogg since the Gourds introduced us to “Gin & Juice.”

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the book, is an excellent chance to have a book named “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” on your coffee table, maybe between the bong and the Fritos. It doesn’t offer quite so much to us crotchety country conservatives.

Well, maybe if he’s indeed a Red Headed Stranger, you’ll enjoy the light reading. But if you’re familiar with Willie — somewhere between a mild fan and a build-a-shrine fanatic — you’ve heard most of this before:

  • There’s the childhood bumblebee fights and the Booger Red tale.
  • There’s the tree-trimming incident and the bluff that got him his radio station job in Pleasanton.
  • And if you’re keeping track of Kinky Friedman, too, the foreword includes the obligatory Willie song pun and reference to the size of a Willie Nelson joint (this one, sadly, only as large as a large kosher salami).


“RMUASMWID” … sorry, that’s horrible, let’s just call it “Roll Me Up” … is essentially an updated version of Willie’s highly enjoyable “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes” (Random House 2002), with its mix of autobiographical bits, musings, jokes and song lyrics. How similar are they? The same golf joke and a pair of drunk jokes are in both books.

There are moments of discovery: Willie plays Wii golf? A Leon Russell show in Albuquerque helped inspire the Fourth of July Picnics? And there are moments of predictability: An impassioned case for the legalization of marijuana and a fondness for a certain stop in Europe — “Amsterdam is heaven.”

He even turns serious a time or two, noting that he’s against assault weapons and for troops on the border. But he spends much more time talking about dominoes and Maui. Apparently actors Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson are frequent guests and domino victims. I’d like to hear more about those nights than see lyrics to songs I already know by heart.

“Roll Me Up” turns into a love-fest by the end, borrowing from the “let’s-hear-from-the-family” excerpt format found in his 1988 biography “Willie,” (with Bud Shrake) to exchange praise with his wife, kids and grandkids. I’d never fault a man for praising his talented children (son Micah did the illustrations for the book), but only Lana Nelson’s recollection of working for dad in the mid-1970s makes for compelling reading.

For a while there between “Spirit” and “Heroes,” I treated most new Willie Nelson albums (or at least those prominently featuring Toby Keith) as an opportunity to go buy an old album I didn’t have. There’s no reason not to look at “Roll Me Up” in the same light. If you have to have it, it’s out this week. But there are better Willie books out there.

A Q&A with sci-fi author John Scalzi

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 4:28 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 4:28 PM

Science-fiction author John Scalzi
American-Statesman staff

Science-fiction writer John Scalzi has such an amazing literary biography that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start with the fact that though he is now very much of Ohio, he’s not originally from Ohio. John, who now lives in Bradford with his wife and daughter, grew up in California, graduated from The University of Chicago, wrote for The Fresno Bee and America Online, and in 2001 moved from Washington D.C. to live in rural Ohio in order to be nearer to his wife’s family.

“I’ve grown to appreciate living here. Ohio is beautiful. Shortly after coming here, I looked up and saw the Milky Way for the first time in my adult life. And people here are friendly and kind, willing to help without being asked.”

Ohio has proven a great setting for him to work as a writer. He began writing his “Whatever” blog in September 1998, long before “blog” was really a popular term or concept; thus, his blog is one of the longest running on the internet; his blog now has more than 8 million “views” by readers from around the world.


Content from his blog has been collected in three books, all published by Subterranean Press: “You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop Into a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing;” “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008;” and “The Mallet of Loving Correction.”

In 2002, John serialized his novel “Old Man’s War” on his blog; Tor Books published it in 2005, and the novel was later nominated for a Hugo Award, the top literary award in science fiction. Since then, John’s science fiction has garnered much success, both among critics and readers.

He is a New York Times bestseller in fiction, with works translated into more than 20 languages. His novels include six titles in the “Old Man’s War” series, including “The End of All Things” which came out in 2015 and five stand-alone novels, including “Redshirts,” which won the 2013 Hugo for Best Novel, and “Lock In,” which came out in 2014. He has also published quite a few nonfiction books and short stories.


Other notable career achievements: John was Creative Consultant for the “Stargate: Universe” television series, writer for the video game “Midnight Star,” by Industrial Toys, and former president (July 2010 through June 2013) of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is Executive Producer and Consultant for “Ghost Brigades,” based on his second novel in the “Old Man’s War” series, currently in development for television.

In May, 2015, John made quite a splash in literary and publishing news with a breathtaking book deal with his publisher, Tor: $3.4 million dollars, for 13 novels, to be written and published over the next 10 years. The deal quickly made headlines in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other media outlets.

John’s other accolades include winning the Locus, the Seiun and Kurd Lasswitz awards.

In 2016, he was a recipient of the Ohio Governor’s Award for Individual Artists.

Learn more about John and read his “Whatever” blog at www.whatever.scalzi.com

Q. Why science fiction?

A. Because science fiction — and mysteries — were what I read when I was younger! For example, in science fiction, I loved Robert Heinlein’s works. In mysteries, I loved John MacDonald. These are, of course, just two examples of the many authors I loved.

Anyway, when I decided to start writing novels, I wanted to write in a genre I already knew and loved as a reader. So, it was either going to be science fiction or mystery. I decided to flip a coin. Heads was science fiction. Tails was mystery. The coin came up heads.

Q. Wait—you really flipped a coin to select your writing genre?

A. I really did!

Q. Science fiction has, of course, many stories featuring alternate timelines. Do you ever wonder how life would have gone for you if that coin had come up tails for mystery?

A. Occasionally. But the truth is that I have no idea what my writing life would have been if that coin had come up tails. Would I have had as much success as a mystery writer? I like to think so, but I don’t know. I do think about how I’d have developed a different set of friends, and how odd it feels to think about not having my friends in my life. I was at the Iowa City Book Festival several years ago and talking with a current mystery writer I very much admire — Sarah Paretsky — and I thought, huh. I would have a mystery writing set of friends if I’d pursued mystery writing. Which would be cool … but I’m very happy with how my life has gone, personally and professionally.

Q. So as a writer who found his way into his genre as a reader, what do you love to read now?

A. I’m sorry to say I don’t read as much fiction as I used to. I just can’t read fiction when I’m writing my own. But I read quite a lot of nonfiction, as well as essays and articles via the Internet.

Q. Do you have a particular process that you follow for each book?

A. I set a quota for the day of 2,000 new words for the project I’m working on. That’s every weekday, with weekends off to spend with my family. That way, I see steady sustainable progress, but I’m not writing so much new material at a time that my brain feels like it’s collapsing in on itself.

I usually start by tweaking what I wrote the day before to get some momentum going and to ease back into the material, and then I fulfill my quota for 2,000 more new words. After that, I heavily revise material that was created on previous days, and after that work on the business end of my career — social media and business correspondence, for example.

I write on a computer and by the time I’ve finished a “first draft” using this process, it’s usually pretty solid. I go back over it for a bit more tweaking, but then turn it over to my agent for feedback.

Q. Do you have an outline when you start? It seems to me that those first few days of a new project would be pretty tough if you truly have no idea where you want to go with the novel.

A. I start with a high concept idea — a “what if,” — a world of some sort, and some questions about what could go wrong in that world. And then I populate that world with characters. But I’m more than happy to eventually cut large amounts of copy. I keep an “excise” file for depositing huge chunks of draft material.

I have no patience for pre-writing. Exploration is part of the process for me. This is how world building and character creating works best for me. For example, with “Lock In,” I was six or seven chapters in when I realized I needed to relegate every single one of them into my “excise” file for that novel. But that was fine. I needed to write that much to gain an understanding of the world and story I needed to create.

I’ve been writing since I was 14 and finally this is the process that works for me. Obviously, I’ve been at this for a while now. I used to panic if I’d created, say, 30,000 words of material that I realized I wouldn’t use. Now I just understand that that is part of my process, and I’m more relaxed. The result is that I’m able to create more robust worlds and, I think, more interest concepts and characters.

Q. Hmmm. This sounds like good advice for other writers. Any other tips?

A. Besides putting your butt in your chair and doing the work? Well, my big tip is “don’t panic.” That means don’t worry about whether or not what you’re writing is going to be useful, or worry if you’re not sure of the plot as you’re writing your first draft. Diversions, even those that don’t end up in the final book, are good for you as a writer so that you know what’s going on in the world and story you’re creating.

Q. You have been working on adapting and developing some of your material for television and film. How has that changed you as a writer — or has it?

A. Before I began writing fiction, I was a music critic all through college. After that, I was a film critic for several years. I got that job right out of college, but it didn’t start until September, so I spent the summer between college graduation and day one of the job immersing myself in movies. I watched three a day, read everything I could about filmmaking, and read all the Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel reviews that I could find, as well as other reviews. Looking back, I sort of created my own self-taught film school to prepare for that job.

Then, I became immersed in my film critic job. What that experience really taught me was the value of “high concept” in story, meaning, how can I create a story that is fresh and compelling but that I can describe from a bird’s eye view in just a few words that people will really get? So, for example, the high concept for my first novel, “Old Man’s War,” was what if people are compelled to sign up for the army at age 75? Well, that’s a concept that, I think, is immediately intriguing. It flips the idea of what we expect — young people drafted into the military. The concept begs a lot of questions: why would this be the case? What happens in battle? From that, we can build out something of a world. Then, of course, we start wondering about the people who would populate such a world — and from there, we have characters.

So, to get back to your original question, working on telling stories through the medium of film hasn’t changed how I approach story as a fiction writer. In a way, it’s coming full circle back to my beginning.

Not only that, but in college, I majored in philosophy, which taught me how to research and look at the world from different angles. My angle was definitely language, and how people to with one another. That has really informed my use of dialogue, and much of my stories are told through dialogue.

Q. Speaking of coming full circle … that coin flip led you to write science fiction. Why do you think people love science fiction — or is it yet a genre for general readers?

A. I think science fiction is very much for general readers. Or, to put it bluntly, it’s not just for nerds!

People love watching science fiction in movies and on television, and usually don’t think about it as science fiction or fantasy. I don’t think many people say to themselves, “I’m going to go watch the new Star Wars movie, which falls into the genre of science fiction.” No, they say, “I’m going to go watch the new Star Wars movie.” This is true of many other movies, television series and video games, and I think this opens people up to also reading more science fiction or fantasy.

Frankly, independent of what I’m doing, now is one of the best times to be reading science fiction. We’re in a second renaissance for the genre, with many more diverse writers — whether by that we mean gender, ethnicity, point of view — than ever before. That means more interesting and challenging stories, and richer literary material. As a reader, fan and supporter of science fiction, I’m thrilled by that. I don’t want to only read about people just like me but in a different world. I want to read about all kinds of people, reflecting the people in the world around me, but in different worlds and high concept stories. I’m seeing more of that, and it makes me glad to be a part of this particular literary field.

Before Michelle, Barack Obama proposed to another woman, book claims

Published: Thursday, May 04, 2017 @ 3:52 PM

ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 27:  Former United States first lady Michelle Obama smiles during the AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 on April 27, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)
Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

A new book about the life of President Barack Obama emphasizes the former president’s commitment to career and political success at the expense of his personal relationships.

>> Read more trending news 

“Rising Star” by David J. Garrow “portrays Obama as a man who ruthlessly compartmentalized his existence; who believed early on that he was fated for greatness; and who made emotional sacrifices in the pursuit of a goal that must have seemed unlikely to everyone but him,” according to a Washington Post book review. “Every step -- whether his foray into community organizing, Harvard Law School, even the choice of whom to love -- was not just about living a life but about fulfilling a destiny.”

>> Related: Obama says he'll write a book and 'be quiet for a while' after White House exit

The book highlights a long-term relationship that Obama had with Sheila Miyoshi Jager, whom he met and lived with in Chicago years before he met Michelle Robinson, his future wife.

Jager, who was briefly mentioned  only as one of a few former girlfriends in Barack Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams from my Father,” studied anthropology in college like Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham.

Jager said Obama proposed to her in 1986, but her parents said no because they believed that she, two years younger than Obama, was too young to wed. The two remained a couple and continued conversations about marriage.

Jager said the 25-year-old Obama changed significantly the next year.

>> Related: Barack, Michelle Obama discuss post-White House plans

According to Garrow, Jager, who is of Dutch and Japanese descent, and Barack Obama initially bonded over their multicultural backgrounds, but the two were pushed apart by Obama’s tunnel-visioned desire to advance in the political world and his growing focus on his black identity and dismissal of his white roots, Jager said.

“He became ... so very ambitious ... very suddenly,” she told Garrow. “I remember very clearly when this transformation happened, and I remember very specifically that by 1987, about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president.

“The marriage discussions dragged on and on ... (but there was) torment over this central issue of his life ... race and identity ... (The) resolution of his black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career.” 

>> Related: Barack, Michelle Obama sign multimillion-dollar book deal with Penguin Random House

Garrow claims that Obama ultimately believed that he couldn’t pursue a more serious relationship with Jager in part because of racial issues. Though they continued to see one another into the 1990s, after Obama started dating Michelle Robinson, their communication became more and more infrequent.

>> Related: Malia Obama’s stalker detained, given psych evaluation

>> Related: Malia Obama decides which Ivy League college she'll attend

Today, Jager is a professor at Oberlin College.

According to Washington Post reporter Carlos Lozada, Garrow’s “Rising Star” is “harsh but persuasive” as well as accusatory.

Read more at The Washington Post.

>> Related: Michelle Obama writes actress Yara Shahidi college recommendation letter

Working women upset about Ivanka Trump's new book, 'Women Who Work'

Published: Thursday, May 04, 2017 @ 1:37 PM

Daughter of US President Ivanka Trump is pictured during the Woman 20 Summit in Berlin, Germany on April 25, 2017. The event, which is connected to the G20 under the German leadership is dedicated to Women's Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship. (Photo by Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ivanka Trump’s second book, “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” which was released Tuesday, didn’t receive an entirely warm welcome, especially from working women.

>> Read more trending news 

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that teaches girls to learn how to write code, was featured in the book. 

>> Related: Before Michelle, Barack Obama proposed to another woman, book claims

Saujani wasn’t happy about her story being included, and not long after the book’s release, Saujani published a tweet to Trump telling her not to feature her story unless she stopped being “complicit,” writing: “@ivankatrump don’t use my story in #WomenWhoWork unless you are going to stop being #complicit #askivanka.”

Another woman quoted in the book, renowned scientist Jane Goodall, who said she was never informed that she was going to be quoted in the book, also had something to say to Trump. 

In a statement to Mashable, Goodall said:

“I understand that Ms. Trump has used one of my quotes in her forthcoming book. I was not aware of this, and have not spoken with her, but I sincerely hope she will take the full import of my words to heart.

“She is in a position to do much good or terrible harm. I hope that Ms. Trump will stand with us to value and cherish our natural world and protect this planet for future generations.”

Soon, other women started sending out their own messages of frustration over Trump’s book, which is described as a book that will give readers the “best skills” that she has learned from “amazing people.”

>> Related: Barack, Michelle Obama sign multimillion-dollar book deal with Penguin Random House

The book’s description is as follows: 

“‘Women Who Work’ will equip you with the best skills I’ve learned from some of the amazing people I’ve met, on subjects such as identifying opportunities, shifting careers smoothly, negotiating, leading teams, starting companies, managing work and family and helping change the system to make it better for women -- now and in the future. I hope it will inspire you to redefine success and architect a life that honors your individual passions and priorities, in a way only you can.”

Yellow Springs native enjoys publication of debut thriller

Published: Saturday, February 11, 2017 @ 12:00 AM

            “Amberlough” by Lara Donnelly

“Two years ago when my novel was accepted for publication, I certainly didn’t think it was prescient,” says Lara Elena Donnelly. “Initially, it was simply described a sexy, fun romp. But some reviewers are calling it ‘shockingly timely,’ in that it seems to mirror the tension of our current political situation.”

Lara’s novel, “Amberlough,” is a thriller that, she says, “takes place in a country on the verge of a fascist coup. The main characters are a smuggler, a stripper and a spy. We follow them as they attempt to navigate a society crumbling into totalitarianism.”

Lara, who now lives in New York City, grew up in Yellow Springs. “I’ve been writing for a long time, since about the fifth grade. I was also part of (the scholastic competitive writing program) Power of the Pen, which certainly is part of how and why I became a writer.”

She graduated from Wright State University in 2012 with a B.A. degree, majoring in English, minoring in Women’s Studies, and taking enough history classes, she says, “to give me an unofficial minor in that as well.”

Lara credits her Wright State professors for helping her move her writing career along, citing Scott Geisel, as her thesis advisor, as well as professors Erin Flanagan and Brady Allen, among the many she says helped her explore and develop her talent.

Though Lara describes Yellow Springs as “wonderful,” she was ready to spread her wings and live somewhere else. Before recently moving to New York City, Lara lived in Louisville, Ky., because that is where several members of her father’s family are located, and it gave her some connections while also an independent experience.

“I worked at a variety of jobs, wrote stories, wrote a novel that I shopped around but never sold, and finally wrote ‘Amberlough,’” Lara says. “Actually, ‘Amberlough’ started as a series of stories. But after my mom, who is also a writer, read the second of the stories, she said I was trying to fit in too much, and perhaps the stories needed to be a novel. I said ‘no!’ of course. But then I thought about it and realized she was right.”

The idea for “Amberlough” came, Lara says, from two disparate sources: her love of the movie ‘Cabaret,’ and a trip to Ireland with her father.

“We were in the northernmost part of Ireland, in a beautiful and windswept but desolate mountain pass,” Lara says. “A cabaret-like character came to me. I knew his name — Aristide. And I could somehow see him in this desolate place, so unlikely for such a character. So I asked myself, well, how would such a character end up here?”

From there, Lara kept asking herself questions, and eventually wove together her novel.

You can learn more about Lara and “Amberlough” on her website, www.laradonnelly.com.

You can also meet her at two upcoming local reading and autograph sessions:

Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m., Books & Co. at The Greene.

Saturday, Feb. 18, 3-5 p.m., Dark Star Books & Comics, 237 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs.

Other Upcoming Literary Events

Monday, Feb. 13, 1-3 p.m., Washington-Centerville Library, Centerville branch, Library Lobby — The “2nd Monday Authors” series welcomes Dan Baker and Gwen Nalls, and their co-authored nonfiction book, “Blood in the Streets,” and David Warren and his children’s book, “Mealtime Guests.” Learn more about the event and authors at www.wclibrary.info; click on “Programs” tab and the 2nd Monday Authors link.

Thursday, Feb. 16, 6:30-8 p.m., Dayton Metro Library, Community Room of Kettering-Moraine branch (3496 Far Hills Ave., Kettering) — “You’re a Real Character: Defining Self in Creative Nonfiction.” Learn tips and techniques for writing personal essays. Led by author Erin Flanagan (www.erinflanagan.net). Free and open to the public.

Friday, Feb. 17 — Deadline for the Dayton Metro Library Teen Fiction Writing Contest. Entries will be accepted from writers grades 7-9 in three categories: Flash Fiction, General Fiction and Fan Fiction. Visit www.daytonmetrolibrary.org or your local branch for entry details.

Sunday, Feb. 19, 7-8:30 p.m., Wright Memorial Public Library, 1776 Far Hills Ave., Oakwood — Writers’ Café, a casual hangout for writers ages 18 and up and of all experience levels, meets the first Friday and third Sunday (at 2:30) of each.

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2-3:30 p.m., Books & Co. at The Greene — The Antioch Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton (www.antiochwritersworkshop.com) will present a free and open to the public mini-seminar on “Incorporating Research into Your Work.” The session will provide tips and techniques on how to use details gleaned in research into stories, novels, essays, memoirs or other writing. It will be led by novelist Sharon Short, www.sharonshort.com

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 7-8:30 p.m. Wright Memorial Public Library — The Wright Library Poets will meet to share poetry and hone craft. Poets of all levels are welcome. For more information, contact Elizabeth Schmidt, Schmidt@wrightlibrary.org, or call 294-7171.