Wednesday, April 15, 2015

This is How I Came to Publish Books

She sat on the floor with me, scissors in hand, and trimmed the paper I had written upon. The longest I recall was a dozen pages. The story itself I have long forgotten. It wasn't very good, of course, but I think it was better than some of the manuscripts I have received over the years.

 I drew out a cover on a thin piece of cardboard.

 She helped me put holes through it all, bind it together, and voila! We had a book.

 I was seven.

 Who knew.

*     *     *

 All of us kids were blessed twice.

We had a wonderful mom, and we knew it. And we made sure she knew that we knew it. She wasn't perfect, and she made mistakes; most small, some not. But the measure of a parent is the yardstick that is her kids. I bring down the mean a bit, but overall, we are a good reflection of this wonderful gal.

 She is in every book I have ever written, edited or published, and in every piece of music I have ever written or performed. She loved that I practiced law, loved the books and publishing company even more, and taught me all about business, employees, management, accounting, and more sitting with her each Sunday doing the book work and banking for our own business.

Maybe there is something here that will help you with your life, your family, your kids. That would please mom.

Let me introduce you to her.

 *    *   *

Maria T. Savas O'Brien, 84, of Mason City died Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at the Muse Norris Hospice Inpatient Unit. Mason City, Iowa. She was born on June 25, 1930, to Theodore and Evyenia Potiriades.

God blessed her with the voice of an angel, and she moved to North Hollywood, California, for her final two years of high school to pursue professional opera training. At some point she met and sang with Beverly Sills. I wish I recall the details. We have records she made while in Hollywood singing opera, and on one she talks and wishes her parents Merry Christmas. She was 16.

She married Michael Savas in 1949 and had four children: Stephanie (Prohaski), Anthony, Theodore, and Kris (Christensen). They opened and operated "The Poodle" lounge in 1964, the "Cheers" of Mason City, for nearly a quarter-century. It was always busy, and what a place. Mike and Maria thrived in their business. My dad held court center stage (he was a very funny guy, uneducated but well read, a veteran of the Army Air Corps in WWII, and loved. He died in 2000). My mom oversaw it all. Mom loved her customers--all of whom comprised her extended family. We can't tell you how much she loved being with you every day, and how concerned she was about your individual lives. She really cared. And all of you knew it.

Maria married James O'Brien in 1986 and enjoyed a long marriage until his passing in 2011. (Jim was a WWII Marine--Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa, and then he fought in the Korean War. Boy, the talks we had, the books we read together and discussed. I miss him a lot, too.)

Mom showed her love by giving — her time, her energy, her wisdom, her compassion.

To her children she stressed love, kindness, education, hard work and, most of all, peace and forgiveness. Harmony in families, married or divorced, was her top priority. She never had an unkind word to say about my dad after they divorced in 1977, and that is why all of use kids were never sucked into "adult divorce politics," and why we all get along so well. There are NO divisions in our family, period. She would never allow it. Today, we would never allow it.

Here is a classic example: When I came home from college, the first thing mom would say is "Have you seen your dad yet?" No matter what I would say, she would retort, "Go see him. He misses you. Have a cup of coffee, spend an hour. He loves you.... When you come back, I will cook dinner. But not until then."

That was my mom.

She sculpted souls gently.

Despite working seven days a week (often till 2:00 a.m., and book work, cleaning, fixing, etc. on Sundays), mom always had time for us. She was fond of telling us, "I want you kids to be able to do all the things in life I won't be able to do. And you will."

And so we have.

One of my earliest recollections was laying on the floor on a pillow watching and listening as she played the violin, her friend the cello, and my older sister the piano. And she would sing. I was about four.

She was always up to make breakfast and pack our lunch. We were never late for school. And somehow she always had dinner on the table, and baked. We were almost always at church on time, even though we did all we could as kids to knock that schedule off kilter. Sorry mom.

She had time for reading, education, hobbies, walks, puppies, horses, trips to the library and of course, music lessons. Lots of music lessons. We all had to take one year, period. None of us stopped after one year. And thanks for that, mom because your love of music has enriched every aspect of our lives--and now we get to share it with our friends and families. How she put up with our various rock bands in the basement for so many years being so tired is beyond me. (The first thing we did to her new floor was burn a big hole in it experimenting with flash pots. She had the patience of Job.)

When I was 16 and 17 and playing out of town and often out of state on the weekends, she would wait up all night, unable to sleep. She would finally be able to close her eyes when we pulled in about dawn. I didn't learn that until much later in life.

We put her through a parent's own kind of Hell. But she understood. She gave me room to breath and the space to grow up, fall down, fail, and rise again. She taught me how to make my own decisions. She never made them for me. Andmom never, EVER, micro-managed my life in any respect. That is one of the greatest gifts of all you can give your kids.

Mom loved California. It was her "favorite place." We loved it when she visited; we cried when she left. She came out to help with newborns, clean, cook, and was never anything but generous. We used to sit on my deck, drink coffee, and watch the kids play in the pool. "I would love to live here again, someday," she would tell us. Someday never came.

Christmas and Easter were times of wonderful warmth and joy in our home. When I began doing this myself with my own family I learned how hard it was. How she managed is beyond me, but she did and we all have nothing but fond memories of our family gatherings.

Few days passed when we were not lying together on the floor flipping through "The Book of Knowledge," an encyclopedia set she scrimped pennies for months to buy for us at a time when we were very young and poor. She would make suggestions, I would find topics, and then she loved having me read the entries to her. I only learned much later in life I was helping to educate her, too.

When I wanted to collect coins or stamps, she signed me up for a mail-order club and was as excited as I was when they arrived. "This is a good way to learn about all the countries," she told me. "Write something about each one so you educate yourself. One page on the country and the coin [or stamp]."

Every day was an education without me knowing it.

We were very poor during my early years, but when I turned 11 we moved out to a lovely turn-of-the-century brick home on four acres (three of woods) just outside town. A rock quarry, sand quarry, caves, hills, etc. were within walking distance. Living on Plymouth Road was paradise for a kid like me.

One of the first things I wanted to do was build a fort in the woods. Within a day or two Mom got me a real (as in REAL) metal hatchet, handed it to me, and said, "Go get em Daniel Boone."

When I wanted a fish tank, she saved S & H Green Stamps and took me to the basement of Damon's Department store on North Federal to pick one out. Then she took me to the library to get a couple books so I could read how to care for them. She helped me set it up, and marveled with me at the babies, the colors, the wonderful life. To this day I have aquariums and take good care of them. And I still marvel.

When I wanted to build a tree house, she had a customer bring over lumber and dump it north of the driveway. I built a four-decker--high in a large grouping of basswood trees. "Don't fall off that platform!" she said. "I only have two sons."

She let me build rafts and wild rope swings, dig tunnels in the woods, and erect cool forts in the garage, ride horses bareback at breakneck speed (shorts only, no saddle, no boots, no shoes, no helmet), and play in the attic "as long as you don't fall through the ceiling. That would be expensive."

She put her foot down when she found me and a friend designing a submarine for the pond. ("Are you out of your mind? Absolutely not.") Yeah, that venture had success written all over it. Good call, mom. :)

When I wanted to put together a laboratory in the basement fruit cellar, she had another customer who dealt with such things bring me a giant box of test tubes, flasks, etc, got me a microscope, a chemistry set, etc, and took me to Carter and Gillis, a local hobby store, to buy chemicals and more. I had everything there--bats, rats, fish, etc. It was truly an amazing room. And it was MINE. "Just don't blow up the house," she cautioned. (She had no idea how close I came to doing that a couple times.)

What more could you ask of a mom?

Her favorite dog was our German Shepherd Holly (1968-1979). Many of you recall her. That was mom's dog. Her fifth child. When we had to put her down on the kitchen floor that cold and rainy November afternoon so long ago, mom held it together until she was alone. And then I heard her tears.

Spending time with her grand kids was like gold to her, whether the Savas line or the O'Briens. She loved them all. She taught them everything she taught us--and more. She always had a game ready to enrich their minds, taught them math, writing, and critical thinking skills. She loved to bake with them, too, especially homemade bread. And taking them to church made her heart swell.

 Ask any of them what they think of their Yia Yia. Sometimes I would catch her with a tear in her eye and ask her what was wrong, and she would say, "I won't live long enough to see all the wonderful things they will do with their lives." My grandpa, her dad, told me the same thing once. Funny, now I am beginning to think the same way about my own children.

Maria gave back to her friends and community many gifts and touched many lives in untold ways. She lifted her voice in song from the East Park Band shell on warm summer Sunday evenings, where hundreds of cars would pull in, like a Drive-in Theater, to listen to the band and then hear my mom sing. She was a force in local music clubs. She sang at dozens of weddings, and untold funerals. She taught Greek in the basement of the church, and had a ball teaching non-Greeks how to Greek dance. And let me tell you, that lady could dance.

And every Sunday she sang from the loft of the church choir she directed and loved for decades at the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. My sister Stephanie filled her shoes in the choir, and that made her very proud. Mom's church and her religion were especially meaningful to her. Tradition was her watchword.

Her favorite musical was Fiddler on the Roof. I took my mom to San Francisco in 2009 to see Wicked. Just her and I. It was magical. And it was our last musical. She had some dementia then, and I knew or at least suspected this was her last "active" trip to the West Coast. She had one last trip left in her 2012. During that final visit we spent an hour watching Seinfeld bloopers on my laptop (she loved that show, but watched little TV), and reminisced about a lot of things.

"I would still like to move here," she confessed. "I know mom. We would love to have you here." I had to turn my head away so she couldn't see me for a few seconds. Below is a photo, the last one with several of her grand kids. Left to right: Demetri, Rachel, Alex, and Nikkos. Rachel and Nikkos are my brother's kids.

Maria was always busy. She was a counselor to Miniature Matinee Musicale, served as past president of Philoptochos ("Friends of the Needy"), worked as office manager/seamstress/"grandmother to all" at Dance Unlimited (my sister's dance studio), and volunteered as a docent at Music Man Square in Mason City.

My son Demetri and I flew back in January to see her in the nursing home. She was surrounded by a few mementos and objects that spoke of the life that was now behind her--photos, a dress framed she wore to a wedding when she was four, a special vase or gift. She was not doing well, down to 90 lbs., and could only whisper, her angelic voice silenced forever.

When she lost the ability to sing a decade earlier, she told me it was the hardest thing she ever dealt with.

I was returning from a scuba trip at the end of March when I got a call from my sister while standing in Customs in Houston. "Mom is failing and is in the emergency room. You need to come home."

The trip back to California from Texas was the longest three hours of my life. I washed clothes, booked a flight, and went home to Iowa. We were there, in hospice, hold her hands when she passed away. She knew we were there because she would nod briefly when we asked questions. When we finally told her it was OK to leave us, she did.

Being an orphan at 56 is an odd, empty feeling. I know many of you who have lost both parents know what I mean. We didn't grieve much because none of us had any real regrets. We said it all during life, and refused to let mistakes and words ill-spoken stand in the way of the larger picture of what is really important: Family, and your love for your family.

*     *     *

If she had a Master's in Finance, she could have run a Fortune 500 company.

If she was a school teacher, she would have been your favorite.

But she had the most important degree of all: MOM.

 And we spell it: L-O-V-E.

--The Savas Clan

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Richmond Redeemed: A New Edition of a Civil War Classic

Other than for a short time, I have been a member of the History Book Club since I was about 12. In 1981, the book I could not wait to arrive was dropped at our back door since it didn't fit into our mailbox. I spent the next week pouring through its detailed prose and studying the maps (sometimes with a magnifying glass). Part of it was read in dressing rooms on the road while playing with the band Disciple. Little did I know that 33 years later I would print a completely revised and updated version of one of the foundational cornerstones of Civil War publishing. 

Richmond Redeemed pioneered study of Civil War Petersburg. The original (and long out of print) award-winning 1981 edition conveyed an epic narrative of crucial military operations in early autumn 1864 that had gone unrecognized for more than 100 years. Readers will rejoice that Richard J. Sommers's masterpiece, in a revised Sesquicentennial edition, is once again available.

Order this book by clicking here.

This monumental study focuses on Grant's Fifth Offensive (September 29 – October 2, 1864), primarily the Battles of Chaffin's Bluff (Fort Harrison) and Poplar Spring Church (Peebles' Farm). The Union attack north of the James River at Chaffin's Bluff broke through Richmond's defenses and gave Federals their greatest opportunity to capture the Confederate capital. The corresponding fighting outside Petersburg at Poplar Spring Church so threatened Southern supply lines that General Lee considered abandoning his Petersburg rail center six months before actually doing so. Yet hard fighting and skillful generalship saved both cities. This book provides thrilling narrative of opportunities gained and lost, of courageous attack and desperate defense, of incredible bravery by Union and Confederate soldiers from 28 states, Maine to Texas. Fierce fighting by four Black brigades earned their soldiers thirteen Medals of Honor and marked Chaffin's Bluff as the biggest, bloodiest battle for Blacks in the whole Civil War. In addition to his focused tactical lens, Dr. Sommers offers rich analysis of the generalship of Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and their senior subordinates, Benjamin Butler, George G. Meade, Richard S. Ewell, and A. P. Hill.

The richly layered prose of Richmond Redeemed, undergirded by thousands of manuscript and printed primary accounts from more than 100 archives, has been enhanced for this Sesquicentennial Edition with new research, new writing, and most of all new thinking. 

According to Dr. Sommers, this new edition contains much new material: 168 new printed and manuscript sources, nine new illustrations, 231 new endnotes, two new appendices, even a handsome new dust jacket.  Except for those appendices, the new material is not concentrated in specific places but is interwoven throughout the entire book.  This is especially true for the new thinking, new analysis, new approaches to understanding and presenting generalship.  All these additions make the 150th anniversary edition essentially a new book.  To use your categories, I would estimate that 10% to 20% of the book is new. 

Yet all this new material is available in a book that is actually 28 pages smaller than the 1981 edition.  This is because the current book uses longer lines with slightly smaller type point.

Dr. Sommers' new analysis brings new dimensions to this new edition. In addition to being a selection of the History Book Club (then and now), the National Historical Society awarded him the Bell Wiley Prize as the best Civil War book for 1981-82. Reviewers (then and now) hailed it as "a book that still towers among Civil War campaign studies" and "a model tactical study [that] takes on deeper meaning . . . without sacrificing the human drama and horror of combat."

Complete with maps, photos, a full bibliography, and index, Richmond Redeemed is modeled for a new generation of readers, enthusiasts, and Civil War buffs and scholars, all of whom will welcome and benefit from exploring how, 150 years ago, Richmond was redeemed.

(Stay tuned for a post on the exciting new enhanced e-book for this title.) 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why do we Write? Well, Not for Money.

Please excuse my long absence. It has been a busy year, with my son graduating and getting ready for college (he leaves in 2.5 weeks), band gigs, crazy summer schedules, a marketing director out on maternity leave, and all the rest.

Here is a fascinating article, offered up by Mark Hughes, the author of our bestselling The Civil War Handbook. Write for posterity, because you have to, for fun, or to impress your in-laws. But never, ever, plan to do so for money. Same goes for publishing. But once you have the virus. Ah. Well.

Click here to read the article.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

WINNER of the 2014 Albert Castel Book Award: Stephen Hood's "John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General"

Congratulations, Sam. It is nice to see these reviewers read the book and understood its purpose.

*     *     *

The Kalamazoo Civil War Round Table is pleased to announce that Stephen M. Hood's "John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General" has been selected as the winner of the 2014 Albert Castel Book Award! This award is made on a biennial basis to the author of an exceptional book on the Civil War in the Western Theater.

“I knew we had a very special book from the moment I first read the manuscript, but all of us at Savas Beatie are thrilled and humbled that 'John Bell Hood' won such a prestigious award,” said Theodore P. Savas, the managing director for Savas Beatie. “We were always confident that anyone who actually took the time to read Stephen Hood's book, whether in reviewing it or for pleasure, would find it original, well-researched, and truly ground-breaking in what it exposes about the state of this slice of Civil War historiography. It surprises people, I think, when they find out Sam's work is not an argument that Hood was the overlooked Jackson or Lee,” continued Savas. “It is about intellectual honesty and rigorous scholarship, and a cautionary tale about both. Anyone writing about General Hood or his tenure with the Army of Tennessee in the future who ignores this book and/or his recently discovered personal papers will do so at his peril.”

See more about this award-winning book here:

“Sam Hood makes a compelling case that Hood’s reputation has been unjustifiably tarnished over the years by authors who have repeated half-truths and myths that are not supported by primary sources. Even people with little or no interest in Hood should read it as a cautionary tale that the things that ‘everybody knows’ are not always true.” –Dave Jordan

Receiving honorable mention is "General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of William S. Rosecrans Influenced our Understanding of the Civil War" by Frank Varney. Read more here:

Mr. Hood will receive the 2014 award on September 19th. The meeting will begin at 7:30 pm, at Westwood United Methodist Church, 538 Nichols Road, Kalamazoo, MI and will be open to the general public. Refreshments will be offered, beginning at 7:00 pm.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hard Rock and Civil War Publishing--A Great Mix.

I must apologize for the lack of recent posts.

Last February my brother and I formed a new band. We used to play all over the Midwest (1979-1981), and set it aside to go back and/or finish college. Careers, marriage, and kids followed, and not a week went by without discussing how much we enjoyed our days in "Disciple," and how fast those days passed us by.

Recently, we decided to give it another go and formed "Arminius." The pressures of travel and aiming for mega success are long past, but the creativity and fun remain.

Our first gig was on May 1, 2014, with three other bands at the famous Boardwalk rock club in Orangevale, California. We had 200+ rocking fans, and delivered a 40-minute power set of UFO, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Angel City, and some original material. What a ball. Looks like we snagged another give gigs out of that one.
Arminius is (left to right): Jack Petterle (drums), Anthony Savas (lead guitar), Ted Savas (bass, vocals),Jay Scheuer (vocals), and Sasha Avanov (lead guitar)

 Recently, we decided to give it another go and formed "Arminius." The pressures of travel and aiming for mega success are long past, but the creativity and fun remain. Our first gig was on May 1, 2014, with three other bands at the famous Boardwalk rock club in Orangevale, California. We had 200+ rocking fans, and delivered a 40-minute power set of UFO, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Angel City, and some original material. What a ball. Looks like we snagged another give gigs out of that one.

Now that things have settled down (a bit), expect more posts as we heat up into the Summer Season of strong releases.

(And if you are on Facebook, you can look up my personal page, friend me, and see all the photos, and some video soon to go up.)


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hood on Sword Writing About General Hood. Part 1.

Cicero. One of my favorites. Right up there with Pliny the Elder, Socrates, and a handful of others.

Click the image to the right, read it, and then click HERE and absorb Part 1 of 4.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

John Bell Hood. The Reviews and News Continues . . .

Over at TOCWOC (The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed), Brett Schulte recently published a balanced review you can read HERE . . .

As did Harry Smeltzer at Bull Runnings, which you can read HERE . . .

and another, under Chris Mackowski and Kris White, at their Emerging Civil War blog, which you  you can read HERE.

More is coming on the latter site. A lot more. Eyebrow-raising more. Soon.

And here it is HOOD ON HOOD. Part 1. Start reading what other reviewers have only hinted about. Start HERE.

-- tps