2014 Evening with the Authors

Cynthia J. Beeman is the former director of the Texas Historical Commission’s History Programs Division, where she oversaw numerous state and federal preservation efforts, including the state historical marker program.  She joined the Texas Historical Commission in 1987 as marker inscription writer and was coordinator of the marker program from 1992 until 2001, when she became division director.   Beeman now works as an independent public historian, writer, and consultant.  Her volunteer work with the Texas Women’s History Project in the 1980s and her coordination of statewide efforts to celebrate Women’s History Month and promote women’s history in Texas led to her being named one of ten Outstanding Women in Texas Government by the Governor’s Commission for Women in 1990.

Cynthia  grew up in Victoria in South Texas, in a family that always seemed to be surrounded by books, and that traveled around the state every summer. She recalls their annual camping trips “with my parents in the front seat, my two brothers in the back seat, and my sister and me in the way back of the station wagon. Two things would trigger my calling to Dad from the back of the car: I always wanted to stop and pick some sunflowers; and whenever I saw a sign that read “Historical Marker Ahead” I tried to get him to stop so we could read it .   Years later, I was fortunate enough to be hired for my dream job—writing historical marker inscriptions at the Texas Historical Commission. I still think that’s the most fun job in Texas. “

Sarah Bird is the author of eight novels. She has been selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great Writers series; a Dobie-Paisano Fellowship; New York Public Library’s 25 Books to Remember list; Elle Magazine Reader’s Prize; People Magazine’s Page Turners; Library Journal’s Best Novels; and a National Magazine Award for her columns in Texas Monthly.

Sarah was recently voted Best Austin Author for the fourth time by the readers of the Austin Chronicle, she was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and received the Ilumine Award for Excellence in Fiction from the Austin Library Foundation this year.

 She has written screenplays for Paramount, CBS, Warner Bros, National Geographic, ABC, TNT, Hemdale Studio, and several independent producers. Sarah’s screen adaptation of her sixth novel, The Flamenco Academy, is currently in development. She has contributed articles to The New York Times, Salon, O Magazine, and is a columnist for Texas Monthly. Her ninth novel, A Princess Lily Girl, will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in Spring 2014.

 Sarah,who moved all over the world growing up with her air force family, now lives in Austin, TX where she and husband George Jones, (not the dipsomaniacal singer), make their empty nest with not-frequent-enough visits from son Gabriel.

Elizabeth Crook was born in Houston in 1959. She lived in Nacogdoches and then San Marcos, Texas with her parents and brother and sister until 1966 when the family moved to Washington D.C., where her father was director of VISTA for Lyndon Johnson. Two years later her father was appointed Ambassador to Australia and the family moved to Canberra. When they returned to Texas Elizabeth attended public schools in San Marcos, graduating from San Marcos High School in 1977. She attended Baylor University for two years and graduated from Rice University in 1982.

 Her first novel, The Raven’s Bride, was the 2006 Texas Reads: One Book One Texas selection.  The Night Journal was awarded the 2007 Spur award for Best Long Novel of the West and the 2007 Willa Literary Award for Historical Fiction.

Elizabeth currently lives in Austin with her husband and two children.

Texas State University creative writing professor Doug Dorst released his second novel, “S.” a collaboration with Hollywood producer, director and writer J.J. Abrams, on Oct. 29 and it currently sits at number 8 on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

Abrams, the producer for the hit television series “Lost” and the summer blockbuster “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” approached Dorst in February of 2009 with the outline of an ambitious novel; a love story that unfolds in the margins of a mysterious novel.

Two readers of a library book, “Ship of Theseus,” connect and build a relationship as they write notes and leave personal artifacts, such as handwritten letters and postcards, within the novel.

“It’s a groundbreaking piece of experimental fiction,” said Daniel Lochman, chair of the Department of English at Texas State. “It’s an incredible and extremely sophisticated novel.”  Dorst, who worked many late nights to accommodate a busy teaching schedule and a newborn child, is happy with the results and thankful for the experience of working with Abrams.

Born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, Rob Harrell created, wrote and drew the syndicated daily comic strip Big Top from 2002 through 2007.

Currently, he writes and draws the long-running daily strip Adam@Home, which appears in more than 140 papers worldwide.

In July 2013, his first graphic novel, Monster on the Hill, was released by Top Shelf Productions. It is a 183-page full-color story about a down on his luck 1800’s English monster.

He will sign a deal with Penguin Kids books to write and draw a series of middle grade books which should debut in late 2015. As a freelance illustrator, he has worked with clients including Mad, Simon and Schuster, American Greetings, Time, Inc. and Volkswagen.

His figurative paintings have been shown around the country, including solo shows in San Francisco, Austin and Indianapolis.

 He lives with his wife Amber on a hill in Austin, Texas with their two dogs, Cooper and Kasey.

Paulette Jiles is a poet and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the bestselling novels Enemy Women and Stormy Weather. She lives in San Antonio, Texas

I sing in a choir, which I enjoy very much. I am an alto, and so have to carry harmony. Since I am very deficient in reading music, I depend on the person next to me and the basses behind me to find my note. I have Piano For Dummies and a keyboard, but I am not making much headway. Luckily, I have a good ear and am neither sharp nor flat excessively. I envy the sopranos. Especially the lilting voices on the Alleluias—and they get to do the melody. But somebody has to chop wood and carry water. I have necessary work to do here on the ranchito, including feeding and care of two horses and a donkey, fence work, hauling feed and hay, and cleaning stock tanks. Before long there will be grass to mow, and my lawn mower is broken. I write in the mornings; but when the hot weather comes, I will have to shift that to the afternoons, as the cool early morning hours will be the only time to get outside work done. I ride with friends once or twice a week. I don’t travel all that much, but when I do, it is usually to Missouri to see family, to San Antonio, Texas, to go to the opera or to have lunch with friends, or to Llano, Texas, to visit with other writer friends.

Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, which has been named a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014 and LA Times Summer Books Pick of 2014. Kirkus praised the novel in a starred review, stating, “The elaborate bait and switch of this fast-paced, funny caper novel will surprise its readers as much as the victims. They’ll want to reread immediately so they can admire the setup.” His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Varian now lives in Round Rock, TX with his family.

Varian Johnson


SAVING MADDIE – A Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book

MY LIFE AS A RHOMBUS – NYPL Book for the Teen Age, TLA Tayshas List


Elizabeth McCracken was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and is the recipient of the Harold Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Michener Foundation, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She was also honored as one of Granta‘s 20 Best American Writers Under 40. In addition to The Giant’s House, a Barnes & Noble Discover Award winner, she is the author of several other novels, including Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry; An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, and Niagara Falls All Over Again.

She has taught creative writing at Western Michigan University, the University of Oregon, the University of Houston, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  She holds the James A. Michener Chair in Fiction at the University of Texas, Austin, and boy are her arms tired.

She is married to the novelist Edward Carey and they have two children.

Some thirty-plus years ago, I was a totally broke playwright in New York. One June weekend I went to a wedding in the far reaches of the Catskills and caught a ride back to Manhattan with a young Princeton professor of African Religion. Somewhere along the Taconic Parkway, he asked me what I did and I spent a half hour telling him about the one-acts I’d been putting on in East Harlem.

 Two weeks later he called and asked if he could nominate me for an award for promising young writers and scholars. To my utter astonishment, I somehow ended up winning a Hodder Fellowship. I moved to Princeton for the year and all that was required of me was one public reading; I had nine free months to devote totally to my writing.

In May, they renewed my fellowship. I ended up spending four years at Princeton, writing eight new plays and producing them with students and faculty, as well as finishing my first publishable novel.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the gift of those four years was what made me a writer.

A native of Lufkin,  Utley received his BA in history from UT and his MA in history from Sam Houston State University.  He is currently a faculty member in the public history program at Texas State University-San Marcos, teaching oral history theory and practice.  After a long relationship with the Texas Historical Commission, he is also a contract historian/cultural resources manager where he does reports for UT at Austin, Lower Colorado River Authority, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

 During his tenure with THC, he was the administrator of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program and coordinated the Official Texas Historical Marker Program.  In 2008 he was named a Fellow  of THC and in 2009 was awarded the  Thomas L. Charlton Lifetime Achievement Award for his career as an historic preservationist and oral historian.

He is the author of several books, the most recent  HISTORY AHEAD; STORIES BEYOND TEXAS ROADSIDE MARKERS (with Cynthia J. Beeman, 2010).

Stephen G. Yanoff is a former insurance company executive from Long Island, New York.  He worked in Manhattan for over twenty years and became an acknowledged expert in the field of high risk insurance.  He is an award-winning playwright and has taught public speaking at several universities.

He is also a proud Aggie, having received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate from the Texas A & M University System. He now lives in Austin, with his wife, two daughters, and two grand-dogs.

About his writing, Stephen says “early on, I realized that to be a successful mystery author I had to accomplish two goals:  Offer the reader a unique perspective and tell a story in my own ‘voice.’

To accomplish the first goal, I decided to write a series of books based upon my own career in the high risk insurance industry.  Consequently, each book involves an actual claim that I encountered, and many of the characters and events are real.

Secondly, I try to inject some humor and history, since both were an intrical  part of my job and my life.  So far, the results have exceeded my expectations, and I think I know why.  Be it fiction or non-fiction, I never write a book that I wouldn’t want to read myself!”

CF Yetman

My mother recalls that one day, when I was in the 6th grade, my teacher called her in for a conference and accused her of doing my work for me. At issue was a story I had written about a gang of talking cats, who, if memory serves, were crimefighters of some kind. I had written the story during a hurricane as a way to distract myself from my fear, but my teacher assumed that the work had not all been my own. My mother loves to tell this story and I have worn that tiny badge of honor ever since.

Despite earning a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin, the dream of being a writer myself dared not rear its head for a long time. I wanted to hang out with writers, I wanted to work with them, I wanted to be in that world. But me? Write? Then one day in 2008, I was walking around Lady Bird Lake in Austin and was pondering if I really were to write a novel, what would it be about? And then it hit me: German mother gets job with Monuments Men at the end of the war. Adventure ensues. I still remember where on the trail I was when I had the idea, because I have it again every time I walk past that spot.

Fast-forward five years, and here I am writing this text for the website of my novel. While I was learning to write a novel,the most amazing thing happened. George Clooney decided to make a movie about the Monuments Men. So for the last two years, George and I have been secretly working in tandem, although he doesn’t know it, but that’s okay. I am grateful that he is helping to promote my book. Thanks, George.

So here we are. What else can I say? I am a mother, a wife, a mediocre cook and an outspoken complainer about Austin traffic. I will watch virtually any World War II program that comes on the Discovery Channel and am a huge fan of the writings of Philip Kerr who is an incontrovertible genius (free plug for him here). I am still at my desk at 4:30 am (most days) but now I am working on things like this and getting ready to write the next book about Anna Klein and the Monuments Men. I have promised my daughter that there will be characters named Harry and Louis in the book, and if you are perchance the parent of a young girl, you will know exactly what this means. But that’s all I will say for now. I look forward to finding out what happens next.

Published on August 31, 2015 at 1:37 pm  Comments Off on 2014 Evening with the Authors  
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