Writing About Texas
By WLT Board President, Tony Burnett
Texas is widely recognized as a hotbed of literary talent. If you regularly attend the Writers’ League of Texas’ Third Thursday panels, this will come as no surprise. The March event brought stratospheric levels of accomplishment to the panel. Rarely can one find this much talent in one room.
The panel included author Stephen Harrigan, who was born in Oklahoma City but educated in Texas. He has written both nonfiction and fiction set in our great state. His works wrestle with the idea of Texas and why Texans are Texans. He has won numerous awards including the Spur Award for the Best Novel of the West. He is also an accomplished and prolific screenwriter. Carol Dawson is a native Texan whose ancestors settled in Texas along the Red River before Texas even became a state. She comes from a long line of educators. Her grandmother taught English to Bill Moyers when he was a student in Marshall, Texas. She has written extensively in both the nonfiction and literary fiction genres and is currently working on a 100 year history of the Texas Department of Transportation. A longtime member and supporter of the Writers’ League of Texas, she will be teaching a class on revision at our retreat in Alpine this summer. Elizabeth Crook has also won the Spur Award. Her most recent historical novel, Monday, Monday, is set at the University of Texas in 1966 when Charles Whitman tragically instigated the first school shooting in America. Her ancestors came from England but she calls Texas home, having lived in Nacogdoches and San Marcos. She feels her work will continue to be set in Texas as it offers a wealth of opportunity for storytelling. Though James L. (Jim) Haley was born in Oklahoma, he went to school in Fort Worth and is now a resident of Austin. He has written extensively about Texas history and government in both the nonfiction and fiction genres. He feels the old Texas voices still reside in the soil of rural Texas. Authentic folk tales and oral history permeate his writing. James is yet another Spur Award winner, and has won several other awards including the Tullis Prize from the Texas State Historical Association and the T. R. Fehrenbach Book Award from the Texas Historical Commission. He also writes for the Texas Bar Association.
As you can imagine the panel was a hotbed of information about writing within the historical framework of a location. Anecdotes about researching and fact-checking were exchanged with all the authors agreeing that the Internet has made this much easier, though sources on the web are not always reliable. Most agreed that when possible, it is best to interview living sources face-to-face.
When asked about what audience a narrative would be written for, the answers varied. Jim suggested researching and running with it, generally writing for yourself and then letting the book find the audience. Carol admitted that different books have different markets. Novels, being about human interaction, have a wide audience but research is still required for the story to be authentic, and nonfiction is sometimes more specific in its target. Elizabeth writes for a specific audience open to human interest. If it’s moving and compelling it will find its niche. Stephen writes for a universal audience, not specifically Texan. He writes with curiosity, telling his own story in his own voice. If it’s accurate and authentic it will find the readership.
The writers agreed that writing in Texas is changing. The state is becoming more urbanized and losing some of its rural flavor. Though Texas was once sovereign with a small town atmosphere, its narrative must now be approached with new eyes as it continues to change. The deep rich history of our state and diversity of cultures allow for a wide range of approaches. From genre fiction to a narrow dispensation of factual information the rich heritage allows writers the opportunity to explore.
This is the type of information the Writers’ League of Texas presents monthly at absolutely no cost to the general public. Join us tomorrow, April 16th for the next Third Thursday. Our panel will be about humor writing with writers Wendi Aarons, Les McGehee, Neal Pollack, and Susan Schorn. See you there!
Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His story collection, Southern Gentlemen, will be released January 10, 2015. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.