Friday, February 2, 2024
Leth Oun, Tim Lounibos (the narrator of Leth's audiobook), and I are thrilled to be finalists for the Audie Awards, the equivalent of the Oscars for audiobooks. We are in remarkable company. Winners to be announced March 4. For more, visit lethounbook.com and follow our Facebook feed for regular updates.
Thursday, February 23, 2023
I was excited to hear today's Philadelphia Inquirer landing on my lawn this morning as it featured a full page story about Leth Oun's "remarkable life," as writer Rita Giordano describes it.
Here is the link to the online version, which features additional photographs.
Friday, February 10, 2023
From early in my career as a newspaper reporter to freelancing to the last 14 years writing for universities, I’ve been fortunate to write hundreds of profiles of fascinating people from all walks of life. I am particularly blessed that I met Leth Oun at Widener University in 2011 when I wrote a magazine article about him. We stayed in touch and, in 2017, I began working with him to turn his rough draft of his amazing life story into A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service. Today is its official publication day. I want to thank Temple University Press for publishing it, those of you who have bought it, and most importantly, Leth for allowing me to work with him on his important story. It’s an honor to be his coauthor. Please check out lethounbook.com for more information and follow us online for news about the book and announcements about forthcoming events.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
It will be released by Temple University Press on February 10. Stay tuned for the announcement of launch events.
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
Monday, November 22, 2021
|On a tour of the White House with Leth Oun in 2019
I’m happy to announce that A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service, which is by Leth Oun with me as coauthor, is under contract to be published by Temple University Press in 2023. Born in Cambodia in 1966, Leth was nine when his father, an officer in the Cambodian army, was executed by the invading Khmer Rouge. Leth was enslaved for almost four years in the Killing Fields, where he almost starved to death, lost many loved ones to the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, and at one point was tortured. After the Killing Fields, he spent one year homeless and then three years in refugee camps before he immigrated to America at the age of seventeen, penniless and speaking very little English. He worked numerous minimum wage jobs and persevered to earn a college degree and ultimately become an officer in the Secret Service, where he has served since 2002 and has fulfilled countless assignments under four presidential administrations, including handling a dog trained to detect explosives. His life story is one of being a witness to one of the worst genocides in history, of tragedy, survival, and recovery, and of finding success in America. It also is a story of his love for two countries, for his family, for his dogs, and for his life as a U.S. Secret Service officer.
I met Leth when he stepped into my office on a sleepy summer afternoon in 2011 when I was the editor of Widener University’s alumni magazine. That meeting eventually led to our close friendship and this book, which has proved to be the hardest yet most fulfilling writing project I’ve taken on, an experience that has changed me for the better. Leth wrote a short first draft and through several years of numerous interviews, additional writing, and revisions, which were assisted by Dr. Barbara Ryan, professor emerita of sociology who taught Leth at Widener, we expanded and completed the book. His story for me is not just his American dream, but a dream of America as a place that embraces immigrants of all races and religions and welcomes them into our family, a story that fulfils what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes. Serving as coauthor for Leth—who introduced me to his fellow Secret Service officers as “my brother” when he took my family on a tour of the White House—is an honor that has been more rewarding than I could have ever have imagined when I answered his knock on my office door.
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Putting cash into a jukebox is not the wisest expenditure, but I've long had one go-to song that gives you the most value for your money. I worked it into my poem "Harmonica Rescue," which I'm happy to say is published on page 24 of the new Philadelphia Stories magazine.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
In the book Rough South, Rural South: Region and Class in Recent Southern Literature, now out in paperback from the University Press of Mississippi, Jean W. Cash writes about my work in her essay "Twenty-first Century Writers: The Rural Southern Tradition Continues."
Cash, who edited the book, is the author of the first biography of Flannery O'Connor and Larry Brown's biography. She writes of my novels Calling and Fall Line:
In both novels, Starnes has produced work worthy of attention, providing real insight into how misguided ambition and the power of money and government contribute to the loss of the agrarian South both physically and spiritually. Both works transcend their immediate setting through Starnes's characterization of men incapable of adapting to daily life. Starnes knows his home region and its people and how to write about them with admirable authority and poetic understanding.
Friday, August 5, 2016
Friday, April 15, 2016
|Photo by F. Carter Smith
I lived my George Plimpton moment at the ATP 250 U.S.Clay Court Championships in Houston last weekend. A great time interviewing John Isner (at left), Sam Querrey, and trying to return a ball from Reilly Opelka, who we will definitely be hearing more about. Read all about it on the Sports Illustrated web site.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Recent support of the book has come from two big names at Sports Illustrated who know a thing or two about tennis. Frank Deford said, "I enjoyed it immensely...a marvelous job of pivoting the plot and making it such a good story." Jon L. Wertheim, executive editor for SI and a regular fixture on Tennis Channel, said in his pre-U.S. Open blog post last August that it "comes with highest recommendation."
For more on the novel, visit the About Red Dirt page.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Fifteen years ago, after I had begun to get serious about writing fiction, Larry Brown's stories, novels, and especially his essays that shared his own experience inspired me to keep working -- even when my own writing was not going very well. When my first novel Calling came out in 2005, the year after he died at the young age of 53, I dedicated it in his memory. Now, my essay "Larry Brown: A Firefighter Finds His Voice" is part of the new collection Rough South, Rural South: Region and Class in Recent Southern Literature. I hope that it helps more readers and writers to discover him. The collection was published this month by the University Press of Mississippi and edited by Jean W. Cash and Keith Perry.
Friday, September 4, 2015
Signing books at the U.S. Open was almost as good as playing in the tournament. Books will be available in the store through the finals. Check out my slideshow of photos from Wednesday, September 2.
Selected Essays & Creative Nonfiction
- "Putting off the inevitable..." -- Newsday/Philadelphia Inquirer
- "A Boy, His Granddad, and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron" -- The Bitter Southerner
- "In the Country, In the Bullring..." -- The Classical
- "The Trauma and the Pity" -- The Classical
- "'We Are Finally Coming to Claim Our Writers" -- The Washington Post
- "The Founding Fathers, Willie, and Me" -- The New York Times