Columnist releases new advice book

"An Interrupted Conversation" is a collection of nearly 100 pieces of advice that Phil Houseal invites readers to help finish.

Local columnist and author Phil Houseal has released his newest book, “An Interrupted Conversation,” a compilation of advice from one of his mentors, released in advance of graduation and wedding season.

Dick Culbertson, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, had retired to San Antonio in 1976, but continued to be an active leader in many areas and organizations, including the Texas Community Education Association. That was where he became a friend and mentor to the author.

“Dick first cornered me when I became involved in community education at the state level,” Houseal said. “As I explain in the book’s introduction, he literally grabbed me after a session in Austin and pulled me out in the hallway to talk.”

That began a 15-year conversation that continued as both went on to serve at the state and national levels. “I always benefited from the thoughtful and sometimes brutally frank guidance that Dick sent my way, so during one of our conversations I asked him to consider writing down a list of his best advice,” Houseal said. “To my surprise and delight, he started doing it.”

Houseal began receiving sheets of yellow legal pad with Culbertson’s hand numbered and hand written pieces of advice. The mail kept coming, even when Culbertson moved to Arizona due to health problems. One day, the letters stopped. Culbertson had succumbed to ALS at the age of 89.

“I felt angry at losing such a friend,” said Houseal, who was so moved that he dedicated two of his newspaper columns to the story of knowing Culbertson. “I wrote that it felt like an ‘interrupted conversation’ because I wasn’t through learning from him. Several people suggested that I make those columns into a book. So I did.”

“An Interrupted Conversation” contains one piece of Culbertson’s advice per page.

A sampling includes:

No.12 Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.

No. 72 If you think you are a leader, just turn around.

No. 81 What is shared is kept.

The book’s “twist” is that the entries end at No. 93, the point where Culbertson stopped. Houseal leaves the next seven pages blank, inviting the reader to fill in their own advice to bring the total to 100.

“My hope is that people will use this book as a springboard to write down their own best advice, if for no other reason than to share it with their families and friends. Everyone can come up with at least seven original thoughts to help Dick finish the conversation.”

The book is available at and at

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