Fiction by authors who live in Austin

Joe Robbins Learns Something about Climate Change Deniers



Several years ago, I worked for Webb Elliott at a company called Connection Software. Some crazy things happened at the company. Some people got hurt. I almost killed Webb at one point, literally, but I won’t go into that now. The story has been well documented.

I still don’t care for Webb, but I do respect his intellect and his business instincts. A week ago, I ran into him at a coffee shop, and we chatted about this and that. Somehow we got on the subject of global warming. He had some interesting ideas, and with his permission, I recorded that part of the conversation.

Joe: I want to chat briefly about climate-change deniers.

Webb: Okay. It’s your blog.

Joe: I find it fascinating that some politicians deny the science behind global warming. I’ve got a quote here from Scott Pruitt’s interview on CNBC:

“So no, I would not agree that it [human activity] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Webb: Hmm.

Joe: Ted Cruz said pretty much the same thing.

Webb: Surprise. Surprise.

Joe: I gather from your tone that despite what these guys are saying, you think they agree with the science community’s conclusion.

Webb: Of course they do. They’re not idiots. You’d have to be slow-witted to read these studies and not agree that human activity is the primary driver to climate change.

Joe: But . . . but elected officials are supposed to act in the interest of citizens.

Webb: Please. Spare me the naiveté. That’s always been your Achilles heel. But as long as we’re quoting politicians, let me pull up a statement Rick Perry made on his interview with CNBC.

“The fact is this shouldn’t be a debate about, ‘Is the climate changing, is man having an effect on it?’ Yeah, we are. The question should be just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to effect that?”

Joe: Interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard that quote.

Webb: This is the key. This is what the so-called climate change deniers truly believe: Yeah, we are changing the global climate, but what should we do about it?

Joe: All right, let’s say I accept your premise. What do these politicians believe should be done?

Webb: Here’s where it gets tricky. I see three camps.

First, you have the survival-of-the-fittest types. The Koch brothers, and anyone they support, fit in this group. Here’s what they believe: Sure, global warming exists, and there may be terrible consequences for polar bears and coastal cities and so forth, but not in my lifetime. I’m the strongest, and I get to take what I want. That’s what it means to be a human. Might makes right. Don’t try to muck that up with a bunch of feel-good-about-the-planet regulations.

Joe: I can see some folks subscribing to that position.

Webb: Now comes the second group. They believe that humans will always find a way. We are the most adaptable species on the planet. Originating in the warm climes of Africa, we have figured out how to live everywhere from rain forests to the frozen north. We will sort out how to survive global warming when we have to. In the meantime, let the party continue.

Joe: Uh huh. Charming folks. Who is next?

Webb: The third group—and you can count me in with this bunch—believes that we’re doomed no matter what we do. Humans may be adaptable, but we are also the greediest species that ever evolved. Ninety-plus percent of the people on the planet want one thing: More.

Joe: More what?

Webb: More of everything. We all want a higher standard of living. So long as we crave better food, bigger houses, faster cars, and luxurious vacations, the planet is screwed. We can recycle plastic water bottles to the moon and back, but it won’t change a thing. The extreme weather will only get worse.

Joe: So according to this group, and you, there’s no hope.

Webb: Pretty much. Actually, the only chance I see is the one you referred to in your post on negative fertility rates. I hadn’t focused on that before. If women reach a collective decision to have fewer children, the human race might have a chance.

Joe: I’m depressed.

Webb: Sorry, man. As much as I’d like to believe it, capital markets won’t save us this time.

End of interview.

So that’s it, folks. The conversation left me feeling uneasy about the ethics of politicians. But I did learn something. I believe Rick Perry spoke the truth. It’s not whether global warming is happening. It is. The question is what should we do about it.

Best, Joe

Joe Robbins–an amateur detective with mixed emotions–is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

Joe Robbins on Presidential Hair

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I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m about to criticize our president, the highest elected official in the land. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a huge fan of President Trump’s hairstyle. Any man who dons a do that delivers one hundred different descriptions deserves my deepest respect.

The subject made me wonder about the history of presidential hair. One article I read selected a top five: Carter, Hayes, Pierce, Reagan, and Kennedy. But I believe they missed the point: Control is over-rated when it comes to hair.

It’s been many years since we’ve had a president who really put it out there with his haircut. Okay, Reagan was good, but you have to go back over a century to find anyone close to Trump.

Martin Van Buren (POTUS #8) never let male pattern baldness stop him.


And what about James Polk? (POTUS #11) He brought the mullet to Washington.


Don’t overlook John Adams. (POTUS #2) Now he made a statement with his hair.

Yes, we have Donald Trump to thank for bringing conversation-worthy hair back to the White House. I mean, Barack Obama, nice guy and all, certainly articulate, but hair? Short. Short. Short. BORING!! Aside from changing color, Obama’s hair did little more than cover his head.

Of course, some would argue that covering one’s head is the primary purpose of a man’s hair, but why stop there when you can make a fashion statement.

President Trump’s hair does all kinds of things, particularly in the wind. If you’re not sure what I mean, try Googling “images of Trump’s hair.” Did you see the one with the dude surfing the comb-over? No words.

Now fun is fun, but some people have taken it too far, placed President Trump’s photo next to some crazy images, including a cat, a squirrel, a pheasant, an ear of corn, and the truly disturbing: Ryan Gosling. Now that’s what I call disrespect. I’ll admit; some of these likenesses are eerie, but you have to know when to draw the line.

And putting all politics aside, whether you think he’s better than Reagan or worse than Nixon, you have to respect the man’s hair.

Best, Joe


Joe Robbins–an amateur detective with mixed emotions–is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.


Joe Robbins on Classic versus Craft Cocktails

My favorite place to grab a drink is a local bar: Chinatown.

Yes, it’s also a restaurant, and they serve up a mean Kung Pao, but more often than not I stop by for a drink only. The regular bartender—Sonny—makes a honest-to-goodness worth-the-money martini. They have the old style big glasses, and when Sonny is done pouring from the shaker, I take that first sip carefully to avoid spilling any.

Anyway, last Thursday, I stop in around six, figuring I deserve a little reward since I’ve been working hard all day. (Actually, I’m between gigs, so working hard involves a two-hour exercise routine and reading a lot, but life is short.)

I stroll in with Bombay Sapphire and olives on my mind. But as I round the corner of the bar and step toward my usual seat, I notice something: No Sonny.

Instead, standing there with a curvy figure and curly hair is a new bartender, or maybe I should say, a mixologist.

She’s in a white sleeveless shirt with an open collar and has these unbelievable tattoos on her hands. They are Wonder Woman tattoos. Gold in color, sparkly even, they cover her fingers, hands, wrists, and the first six inches of her forearms. Having lived in Austin for years, I’m as unflappable by tattoos as the next person, but my eyes linger just long enough that when I glance up, I know she knows that I’ve noticed.

“What can I get you?” she says. Big smile.


Suddenly, the old style martini seems flat, like I’m not with the current generation of hip. The craft cocktail revolution has gone mainstream. If you’re drinking whiskey straight or a gin and tonic, it’s like you’re wearing khakis with pleats. Sonny never cares about that stuff. But Wonder Woman?

Sure enough, she turns the handwritten menu my way.

“We’ve just published the latest,” she says. “Chinatown originals.”

“Uh huh.”

“New spins on old favorites. The Singapore Slang drops the pineapple juice and triple sec and subs in mango with a touch of cinnamon bitters.

I nod.

“The Piña Piñata swaps tequila for rum and is punched up with chili liqueur.


Now I rub my chin, like I’m thinking things over, but inside I’m flipping. All I wanted was a quick Sonny special, a little something to take the edge off of life, to make the streaming Netflix waiting for me at the condo a little more interesting. Maybe I should leave.

“And then there’s the Sloe Comfortable Shrew Down the Hall,” she says, “which keeps the sloe gin but drops the Southern Comfort in favor of Campari. That’s the shrew part.”

“So many great choices,” I say. “Gosh, it’s tough. Feels like I’m choosing a college major or something.”

“Over the top, right?” she says, shaking her head. “I went to classes to learn how to make all this stuff. Mixology school. Two thousand dollars and eighty hours of instruction.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“The thing is, when I’m drinking on my own time, sometimes I like straight up booze unencumbered by all the sweet stuff.”

“For real?”

“Some nights you just can’t beat a MACALLAN neat.”


“So what can I get you?”

“Um, a martini? Bombay Sapphire?”

Her eyes scrunch. “Wait. Are you Joe?”

I chew on my lip.

“Sonny told me you might drop by . . . said you always order the same drink. Joe’s usual. I got it.”

She gets right to it: ice in the shaker, long pour of the gin, a trace of vermouth, and shake, shake, shake. She moves fast, lots of energy. With an eyebrow cocked, she smiles again. Her curly hair bounces on her shoulders. She has a beautiful neck.

How old is she? Late twenties? Thirty? I’m mid-thirties myself. Okay, so I’m pushing late thirties. If she was thirty-two, that would be okay, right? When is younger too young? Should I ask her?

“So,” I say, “are you going to be working here steady now?”

“Nah, just subbing. I’ve known Sonny forever. Too bad, though, I like it here. Nice people.” She slides the big martini glass toward me, and even though it’s filled to the brim, she doesn’t spill a drop.

Sometimes classic beats craft like a champ beats a chump.

Best, Joe


Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.


Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

A Joe Robbins clip — Suicide at the Driskill Hotel

As we walked through the front door, the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage drew near. We stepped down to the brick sidewalk and turned left. In the middle of the sidewalk, just outside the entrance to the hotel, was an azure pump with a three-inch heel lying on its side. “Look at that,” Rose said. “Someone’s lost her shoe. It’s like Cinderella.” She turned to look at the carriage. “Where is she?”

Just then the shoe’s twin dropped on the sidewalk, almost hitting Rose. At first I thought someone on the balcony above us was throwing their clothes over the side, but when Rose turned to look, she drew a quick breath. The smile on her face disappeared, instantly replaced by fear.

I hurried to look, my pulse quickening.

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The inciting incident occurs on the balcony of Driskill Hotel

Above the sidewalk in front of the Driskill was the large balcony that extended out from the ballroom-level floor. Above that, a second balcony extended from a master suite on the fourth floor. Standing on the concrete rail of that higher balcony, in her azure dress and bare feet, was Amanda Sorenson.

I stared at her without blinking. I raised my hands, palms open, every muscle in my body tense.

She stared straight ahead and took the ballerina’s first position, her arms circled in front. She did a plié and then lifted her right leg straight up in a stretch; her raised hand touched the heel of her foot. She had replaced the strand of pearls around her neck with a thick, dark choker.

My heart pounded at my ears.

“Amanda!” I shouted, stepping closer. “Get back from there. It’s dangerous.”

She must be drunk, but no . . . she didn’t appear drunk; her movements were sure, but at the same time dreamlike.

The carriage behind us stopped, and concerned voices talked in whispers. Passersby pointed. For the first time Amanda noticed that others were nearby. She looked down at Rose and me and smiled.

“Step back!” I shouted again. My throat was dry, my voice hoarse. “Amanda! Step back.”

But she didn’t. She smiled at me again, gave the slightest wave, and jumped. As she began to fall her dress floated around her thighs.

I lunged forward with arms outstretched, as if to catch a child.

A sickening snap sounded, like a flag blowing in a stiff breeze, only lower and dull. The woman in the carriage screamed. Amanda Sorenson hung between the two balconies; what I thought was a choker around her neck was actually a rope. An acid feeling rushed through me. The pounding in my ears moved to my brain and pressed against my skull. The sound I had heard was the rope snapping taut.

She made a grim spectacle in the light from a nearby lamp. Her feet quivered a few seconds and were still. Those pretty white arms hung to the side. Her blond hair covered her face. Inanely, I wondered if her toenails were painted the same azure color as her dress and shoes and fingernails.


This excerpt is from Chapter Two of A Fateful Greed.


Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

Joe Robbins reviews Sarah Bird’s novel How Perfect is That?

How Perfect Is ThatHey! Joe Robbins here, free-lance CFO, amateur boxer, and occasional sleuth living in Austin, Texas.

I don’t often review books, but Sarah Bird is one of our best hometown authors, and her novel How Perfect is That? is as funny as a great SNL skit. Check out this paragraph:

“Bankruptcy? Who am I kidding? I was bankrupt when I married Trey. I believed he would rescue me. But his succubus of a mother sliced my oxygen hose and left me gasping on the ocean floor.”

Meet Blythe Young, the heroine of Sarah Bird’s novel, How Perfect is That?

Blythe is having a bad day. Not long ago she was riding high, married to Trey Dix of the famous Dix family, one of the big names in Pemberton Heights, Austin, Texas. Then one day, Trey moves on, and Blythe finds herself ejected from the family with nothing, all because of the disastrous pre-nup the succubus forced her to sign.

Now Blythe has sunken to catering to her old society friends in Pemberton Heights.

From Susie 3

But the business is not going well. In fact, it’s going so poorly Blythe resorts to faking the food:

“Kippie Lee yanks open the compactor, and her mouth drops in horror as she reads the name on the wrapping I was trying to hide. ‘Sam’s Club?’ She points to the trays of food waiting to be presented to the cream of Austin society. ‘This is what you’re going to serve?’

“‘No, no, of course not.’ I pirouette to shield the trays of Sam’s taquitos I’d planned to slip through customs as Petites Tournedos Béarnaise à la Mexicaine.”

I could go on with these quotes all day. Maybe I will.

This novel is the perfect vehicle for Sarah Bird to poke fun at the well-heeled Austin crowd:

”AH, PEMBERTON HEIGHTS, the creamy white filling squirting out of Austin’s exclusive Tarrytown Twinkie.”

Everything is fair game for ridicule in How Perfect is That?: wives, husbands, diets, drugs, politics, sycophantic interior decorators, even the shoes:

“Shoes? The Christian Louboutins, of course, with their ultraexclusive sliver of red on the inside of the heels. I want to broadcast class, not go Sex and the City with Jimmy Choos. I want to get paid, not laid. But which ones? Are the berry peep-toes accessorized with a Swarovski crystal the size of a golf ball too much? I think not.”

This is classic stuff here, folks. Honest, I laughed out loud while reading the novel, many times.

Blythe’s troubles keep piling up: she loses her client and has to run from an IRS inspector who is hunting her for tax evasion. Desperate for a place to hid, Blythe seeks out her college friend Millie. Just as her van runs out of gas, it coasts to a stop in front of the Seneca House.

Seneca House is the ramshackle residence for college kids where Millie is housemother and spiritual guide. Blythe’s actions soon alienate all the residents, including Millie, and she finds herself with a different set of problems. As the story unfolds, Blythe must pay her dues, wrestle with her conscience, and learn hard lessons to have any hope of redemption.

Sarah Bird was voted Best Austin Author four times by the readers of the Austin Chronicle.Bluff View 010

Sarah Bird has several novels set in Austin.  With scenery like this, who can blame her?


Best, Joe.




Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.



Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.