Tuesday, November 29, 2005


New blog

New Blog

vicopresscom blog has morphed into "hankvlog" my new video blog. Many of the features of this blog including poetry, articles, an occasional book review will carry in to hankvlog. The big difference will be the addition of video. This blog will stay right here. All the material and information will be available, just as it is now. But posts going forward will be on hankvlog.

Feel free to review any material here. You are welcome to visit the new blog.

Right here is the link.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Back online with Blogger

I'm back on line with plans to publish material here on vicopresscom. Mostly poems, with audio and video links, but also commentary about writing and reading.

Here is a recent poem.

Tears Katrina
by Henry Burt Stevens

Written by Henry Burt Stevens 5:26 PM EDT August 28, 2005, about 24 hours before Katrina made landfall. Henry with family, sheltered, rode out the eye of Charley HurricaneCatagory 4 August 13, 2004 Charlotte County, Florida, USA

Tears tonight for those
in Katrina's way
waiting for the crumpled
roofs and walls

water entering every
opening no matter
how small or partially closed
wetting totally total contents

the wind will make noises
few people have heard-
it's unforgettable, but
brings tears to my eyes

even now knowing what
awaits you in the night
when huddled with flashlight
you hear the wind rise

then fall dead calm, rises again
the wind sound now mixed
with thuds. snaps, crashes
of broken debris now airborne

sometime the all clear will sound
it's over and each wil
lfind what's left of what
they had besides tears, tears.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Local author makes good-for us all

Most of us are familiar with the fable of the hare and the tortoise. The hare is blessed with all the natural gifts of speed and agility. But the turtle, whose sole redeeming virtue is persistence, bests him.
Charles Sobczak looks nothing like a turtle, and his success as a Sanibel Realtor certainly isn’t due to a case of the slows. But he has raced past the traditional route to becoming a published author, and has realized his dream with the sort of persistence made famous by that turtle of fable.
Sobczak recently won the Writer of the Year award from the Alliance for the Arts organization of Lee County. The honor is well deserved, because Sobczak has done more to sell the gospel of reading, writing and publishing than has any Florida author. That’s a bold statement, so let me back it up fast.
There are better writers in Florida. And there are better salesmen. But no author or salesman in Florida today better personifies the process of making one’s publishing dream a reality as does Sobczak. He is creating an example that may lead others to abandon the frustration of publishing-house rejections. And his marketing approach is putting books into the hands of people who may not otherwise pause to consider reading, much less buying, a book.
He makes art pay while bringing it to the masses (a good way to keep art around, incidentally), and his marriage of creativity and market smarts is superlative.
Sobczak is an average guy who decided to write some books. Traditional publishing houses rejected his manuscripts, so he decided to self-publish. Sobczak’s first book, “Six Mornings in Sanibel, was a hit, and he’s been writing (and selling a few houses) ever since.
His success as a writer comes because Sobczak knows how to join contemporary events to fiction. In doing so, he expands the range of readers to corral folks who otherwise might not pick up a book.
His books range from a collection of stories celebrating the lifestyle of Sanibel to a timely and topical love story between a Christian and a Muslim. They all reflect Sobczak’s good ear-- and good timing when it comes to picking his material.
How good is Sobczak’s timing? Consider “Way Under Contract,” a black comedy about the real estate business. It’s become a very successful book, thanks in part to an unlikely marketing campaign named Hurricane Charley. That storm's fury, along with the depredations of its friends, reminded Floridians of the price to be paid for living in the lap of nature’s luxury.
Sobczak scored because “Contract’s” climactic scene is—you guessed it—a hurricane. It’s as if he were hit by lightning. He showed a similar sense of good timing with his most recent book, “A Choice of Angels.” He began work on the book before the Iraqi War. Its story of star-crossed followers of the crescent and the cross raises issues engendered by the war. Again, right after natural or man-made phenomena generated an interest in a particular subject, Sobczak was there with the goods. It’s as if he were struck by lightning twice.
But before anyone starts attributing the author’s success solely to good timing, think again. Sobczak works hard, spending countless hour researching and rewriting. And that's his night job. Any author, including Sobczak, can speak to the countless hours of revision required to bring a book to fruition. So he’s earned his success. After all, how many others had hurricane books ready for the summer of storms? Timing helps, but it’s useless unless you are able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Sobczak understands Shakespeare’s line about “a tide in the affairs of men…” and knows how to take advantage of what he’s been blessed with. He brings his Realtor’s experience to work as an author, by launching well-coordinated marketing campaigns. Too many authors think it’s beneath them to sell their books. But what better evidence can one offer prospective buyers than the eagerness of a proud poppa bragging about the latest progeny? Sobczak goes whole hog, printing up flyers and brochures, shipping out press releases, and maintaining an exhausting schedule of appearances at events big and small.
He shows by his actions--from paying to have his books published to marketing them relentlessly-- that he believes in his work.
In doing so, Sobczak may be changing the nature of the publishing business here in Florida. His books are self-published and bear the one flaw often associated with such products—the editing suffers in all of them. But the stories are good enough to draw the reader. Besides, Sobczak is becoming a better writer and editor with each of his books (he’s written four).
But it’s his approach to marketing that sets him apart. Sobczak has sold more than 3,000 books, and has garnered not only the Lee County honor, but also the Patrick D. Smith award for best Florida book.
As his books sell and gain credibility, he will undoubtedly smooth the road for the next self-publisher of a quality book to hit it big. He’s willing to proceed at a turtle’s pace, learning as he progresses. But in doing so, he will certainly make it easy for others to step lively on the road to self-publishing success.
James Abraham, an independent book reviewer, can be reached at book-broker@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005



by Henry Burt Stevens

the neighbor's cornfield
clad in ice and snow
sparkles in the sunlight
as crows pick at stubble

looking for a stray grain
that escaped the flocks
of geese who devoured
last fall the spill of harvest

come spring, thawing, melting
drying dirt enough to plough
harrow seed and feed
a new crop of green shoots

growing taller than any man
but chopped to silage and lugged
away in one pass- the machine
turning the whole field again to stubble

it seems i see the universe
mirrored in the cornfield, its
ordinary presence, simplicity
with beauty, quietness with peace.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Talking airplane worth a flight of fancy

They say men can express only two emotions, humor and anger. That may be, but I know it’s hard for us to exhibit a full range of feelings, particularly when it comes to expressing love.

“Cubs on the Loose,” by NC-87881 as told to Lyle Wheeler, ($14.95 Amea Cottage) is at heart a love story, one which uses an old device to send its message of enduring affection.

Many are familiar with the old Miles Standish story, in which the gruff old soldier sends John Alden to tell Priscilla Mullins of the veteran’s love for her. That’s an example of using an intermediary to say something one may feel uncomfortable saying oneself. That of course backfired, as Priscilla and John wound up living happily ever after.

But Wheeler’s device, that of having his beloved Piper Cub describe the author’s love of aviation and infatuation with his airplane, is a successful variation on that old gimmick.

The book recounts the travels of NC87881 and two other planes on a barnstorming flight. The pilots wanted to fly the old-fashioned way, without navigational devices, and bed down in the grass under their planes’ wings, the way pilots did back when flying was considered rare and risky.

The pilots are referred to as humanoids by NC-87881, and come across as lovable, goofy beings who would be lost without the guidance and durability of the Cubs.

Sure, many of us are familiar with plots in which a machine is imbued with human qualities. There was the deservedly ill-fated and short-lived Jerry Van Dyke show, “My Mother the Car,” and the sickeningly ubiquitous Herbie the Love (Volkswagen) Bug.

But Wheeler is able to elevate that device, known as anthropomorphism, to a literary level that merits reading. He does so by first of all understanding what he’s talking about. Fantasy, in order to work, must be based on some very real premises. Wheeler, a veteran airlines pilot who retired as the senior pilot with TWA, does know his airplanes. From simple tasks such as maintenance to general aerobatics, he understands what he’s describing, thus giving the talking airplane meaning and context.

He keeps his plane’s meanderings within the confines of common sense, even as he invests it with the qualities one would appreciate in a good friend or loving wife.

Here’s an example:

“As I continued to taxi back to the ramp, I watched with envy as 726 touched down diagonally across the bug intersection of the two runways in the center of the field. She had absolutely no problems because, landing as she did, her crosswind component was almost zero. .. I hated to admit to her that my little excursion not planned…Thank goodness no one else saw my performance. How embarrassing.”

Laymen may have trouble understanding the above paragraph, but any pilot would appreciate it. Piper Cubs are like kites and, when landing one, the pilot must be cognizant of wind direction.

But even those unversed in the ways of the sky will understand the embarrassment that would be felt if one slipped or stumbled while executing a maneuver in front of one’s peers.

Thus, both the technical possibilities and the emotional reactions of the airplane make sense, allowing the book to be enjoyed by both aviation enthusiasts and laymen.

Wheeler started out writing columns for a defunct aviation magazine, in which he wrote as if his airplane was doing the narrating. The column outlasted the magazine. One day, after Wheeler went out to buy a $50 Coke (a joke among flyers who use any excuse, even going to buy a soda, as an excuse to gas up and take off) he was sitting in Arcadia relaxing when some flyers recognized his Cub’s call letters. Next thing he knew, the plane was being mobbed.

That reaction, along with encouragement from appreciative readers of his column, led him to write “Cubs.”

Yes, some may still think the premise is hokey. But, just as men -- and many women –often are unable to say I love you, so do many of us all too often surrender to the mundane and boringly practical. Wheeler’s Cub not only speaks of the love many who take to the skies feel as they break the bonds of earth, but it also speaks as if it were well-loved, with a healthy self-image and a concern for others.

Who’s to say that if you supply your engine, be it the motive mechanism of a plane, car or boat, it won’t return that attention by giving its last full measure to get you where you where you want to go? Sure, you increase the odds that the moving parts will continue to move well, but maybe there’s more to it than that. If our souls are as great as many of us think they are, who’s to say that some of that psychic energy is not transmitted to bits of steel and rubber?

Before you laugh, think of how many people name and talk to their vehicles.

Women know how hard it is to get a man to say I love you. Lyle Wheeler knows the language of love. And he knows it so well, he’s even taught an airplane to whisper sweet nothings over the roar of its well-tuned engine.

James M. Abraham, an independent book reviewer, can be reached at book-broker@hotmail.com..

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Book captures the essence of the city before the storms

Six months after the hurricanes ripped our community, some are ready to write ‘finis’ to the saga of the storms. “Get over it,” they say, as they cash their insurance checks and celebrate their new pool cages.

.But Punta Gorda residents, like many other folks from Arcadia and Port Charlotte, know better. For every broken brick or bit of smashed siding, there’s a heart or psyche also rent that may take much longer to heal than any bit of brick and mortar.

That’s why it’s good to look back to what was before the summer of storms, and rejoice in memories of an era and lifestyle that we’ll never see again.

Angie Larkin’s book, “In Old Punta Gorda,” speaks to that need to remember. The slim volume, produced by Old Punta Gorda, Inc., offers a whimsical look back made even more poignant by the damage the little city sustained.

The book is available at the Peace River Writers Center and the old train depot, or by calling 639-1887.

Larkin understands the essence of history, in that recorded words and memories are not the provinces solely of kings and rulers, but rather should reflect the voices and thoughts of common men and women. Hence a book that pays homage to the giants of the city’s history, by conveying the words of average men and women who remember what Punta Gorda was like before the bigger hurricane, that of development, blew into town.

Larkin wrote a regular column for years for the old Punta Gorda Herald, and carried her work into the modern manifestation of that paper, the Charlotte Sun-Herald. Just as folks anticipated her column because of its emphasis on local people and places, so will those who read “Old Punta Gorda” find remembrances of common things past.

Here’s how Gussie Peeples Baker, whose family seems to have come with the bricks to Punta Gorda, remembers a ride with her father, Vasco Peeples, through what is now Punta Gorda Isles.
“Her dad took her on a jeep ride to “Fiddlers Flats,” as the point was sometimes called. They bounced along the marshy land, looking at the vast expanse of muck and mire.

‘The mosquitoes like to have hauled us right out of that jeep,’ Dad said, ‘We’re going to build a road down here. We think the area is going to grow.’ I said. ‘Don’t bother, you’ll be wasting your time.’

It’s fortunate Baker didn’t make her living in real estate, since her prediction about growth in the former mud barrens was off by a few thousand new residents.

Today Punta Gorda Isles rules the city. All five City Council members live in or near the finger piers of dredge-and-fill design that make up PGI. But, as Larkin’s book reminds us, there was a PG long before there was a PGI. And what a rip-roaring little city it was! Here’s how Larkin describes the shoot-‘em-up days of yore.

“Law and order came slowly to the little settlement of Trabue/Punta Gorda. Kelly Harvey, the original surveyor of Trabue described the village as ‘overrun with bums, riffraff, gamblers, toughs and adventurers. There were five murders in the year 1886 alone.’ The first lock-up was an old boxcar and it was usually filled. In 1904 City Marshall John Bowman was gunned down in his own living room while playing with his children! The Marshall (sic) had been for a long time in the pursuit of a gang of thugs, ‘the Tigermen,’ but they managed to ambush him instead.”

There’s such a thing as a little too much color, so I suppose modern residents should thank Police Chief Chuck Rhinehart for keeping the peace a little better than did the unfortunate John Bowman. Now, that wild and wooly action is confined to City Council chambers!

Those excerpts give the read an idea of both the book’s substance and Larkin’s lively style of writing. All too often the fun’s beaten out of history by well-meaning lecturers and authors. But Larkin understands how human nature is unchanging, and infuses her accounts with the spirit of that nature.

To her credit, she includes a healthy section on the city’s black community, which is too often neglected when describing Punta Gorda’s past.

The result is an edifying and unifying account of life in the city past, a sure balm for those of us working to rebuild what was lost during the summer of storms.

James M. Abraham, an independent book reviewer, can be reach at book-broker@hotmail.com.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


The Lord maketh a fine murder mystery

Lost in the sound and fury of the religious right’s rise to social and political prominence is the quiet, traditional message of The New Dispensation.

But that gospel of salvation and unconditional love preached by the man after whom they named Christianity is explored with conviction by Joseph H. Hilley in “Sober Justice” ((Riveroak).

Hilley, a lawyer from the low country of Alabama, does the safe thing in picking a subject about which he’s familiar. His lead character, Mike Connolly, is a lawyer who has fallen far from his religion.

When the story opens, Connolly is thinking about his next drink. He shacks up with a stripper, has emergency rations of gin stored in his every hidey- hole, and governs his life by how close he will be at any given moment to the next drink.

He’s chosen by a judge to take on a controversial case, one of those “red balls” that every lawyer worth his or her briefcase ducks with grace and desperation. Head honchos in the area are implicated in a strange murder, and the millstones of justice are swiftly rolling over a sap who happens to be nabbed near the scene.

The suspect, a poor black man, hardly hears the cavalry when Connolly, flush with a bad case of the shakes, shambles into the attorney-client room of the local jail to confer.

But again, remember the message of the New Testament. It’s delivered in ways as clear and self-evident as the tale of the Prodigal Son, and as subtly as Jesus’ description of the lilies in the field.

Connolly may be beyond salvation in the eyes of his fellow lawyers. He may be "‘buked and scorned" by his own daughter and despised by his ex-wife. But, as a child of this world, he is still a candidate for redemption.

In this age in which miracles are brought courtesy of Steven Spielberg or the next great computer simulation, Hilley’s not afraid to bring some of that wonder to his novel.

Connolly’s life takes a turn for the better when he winds up in a church. In short order, he has a revelation reminiscent of that experienced by Antipater in Robert Graves’ “King Jesus.”

Connolly gets a chance to experience the wonder of the Lord he once called father, and the brief moment leads him to forsake the juniper juice.

And temperance comes not a moment too soon. A cover-up is underway, and Robinson gets swept up in the shenanigans. He’s abducted from jail and shipped to a mental institution, where he’s given enough PCP to make him think he’s at a disco in Hell.

Connolly, blessed with new energy and determination, manages to not only track down Robinson, but also follow the snaky plot through to its conclusion.

Here’s where the wings come on: Hilley actually has Connolly undergo two additional miracles ?? not the "I just-hit the-lottery" sort of occurrences, but rather physics-defying stuff. Water doesn’t turn into wine, (remember we have a recovering alcoholic here), but the laws of time and space are bent by the real boss.

Here’s how Connolly’s spirit-guide, a practical clergyman named Father Scott, explains the miracles that saved Connolly’s life.

“’Look,’ Father Scott said. “Like I told you before, I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell you why. I can only tell you who. You have encountered the One who made something from absolutely nothing. Time doesn’t set boundaries for Him. He exists beyond time.’”

That may sound complex, but any true religionist will recognize Father Scott’s description of faith and God’s power. Among such people, to even question such miracles is akin to asking if one is really breathing. The answer is in every breath one takes.

To extrapolate, Hilley’s book reaches across the unfortunate chasm that separates non-religionists from those who see the Word as the Alpha and the Omega. His book is full of what one would expect in a murder-mystery. There are lots of tussles, some pretty girls, and even a sort of car chase. But through it all is a spirit not often extant in the world of Mike Hammer and the Continental Op, the presence of God.

More information on “Sober Justice” and books in a similar vein can be obtained at www.cookministries.com.

Hilley’s effective blending of the spiritual and the grubbily mundane may, like honey, draw more to the word than a stiff dose of old-time religion. That would be a well-deserved benefit of Hilley’s gripping, well-turned tale.

James M. Abraham is an independent book reviewer. He can be reached at book-broker@hotmail.com.

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