writing

Larry McMurtry and the Lonesome Dove Quadrilogy

Of the thousands of mourners who posted their goodbyes and gratitudes to Texas writer Larry McMurtry across last month, there was one stand-out theme. It was to thank McMurtry for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Lonesome Dove.” Most considered it his premiere gift to them personally, a gift that had immeasurably enriched their lives, as culturally vital as Homer’s Iliad was to the Greeks. To many, “Lonesome Dove is a book of proverbs, with advice such as:  “The best way to handle death is to ride on away from it.” Or “Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.” In fact, “Lonesome Dove,” the day after McMurtry died, rocketed up into the top 100 best selling books on Amazon, and became the #1 bestseller in Westerns. 

Without a doubt, many who thanked Larry for “Lonesome Dove,” have read the other three books in the quadrilogy. Yet, I also know, from long experience, that some fans of the book and film, are unaware that there are three other books. There’s a great deal more trail to ride with Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call. 

The first is “Dead Man’s Walk.” Call and Gus are young men, in their early twenties. I’ve always thought of Gus and Call as part of the “buddy cops” genre. Here, we meet them for the first time as Texas Rangers on guard duty, west of the Pecos in pursuit of Comanches. McMurtry writes: “Gus took guard duty a good deal more lightly than his companion, Woodrow Call.” Gus annoys Call when he brings out a jug of mescal and takes a swig in front of him. Call remarks,  “If the major caught you drinking on guard he’d shoot you.” There you see already the contrast that will define their friendship throughout the next two books. Gus the free-spirited, fun-loving sociable rule-breaker and Call the disciplined loner. 

Comanche Moon is the second book in the series. Gus and Woodrow are both now Ranger captains, but that comes later in the book. It opens as Gus and Woodrow are part of a troop of 13 Rangers trying to run down Comanche Chief Kicking Wolf. They are pursuing him along the edge of the Palo Duro Canyon. Out on the Llano Estacado, Gus feels disoriented. McMurtry steps in to provide one of his iconic descriptions of the Texas landscape: “There was not a feature to stop the eye on the long plain: no tree, ridge, rise, hill, dip, animal or bird. Augustus could see nothing at all, and he was well known to have the best vision in the troop. The plain was so wide it seemed you could see to the rim of forever, and yet, in all that distance, there was nothing.” 

“Lonesome Dove” comes next in the story’s chronology. I won’t say much here as this book is the best known of the four. I will say only that it was the first “Game of Thrones” in the sense that McMurtry killed off a great number of characters we came to love. As McMurtry himself wrote in “Lonesome Dove,”  “Death and worse happened on the plains.” 

The final book is “Streets of Laredo.” It was the original name for “Lonesome Dove” when it was just a screenplay. In this last book, Captain Call is hired to pursue a violent, psychopathic killer named Joey Garza who is a thinly-disguised Billy the Kid. In this book, we get a better look at Call and what he’s made of. For instance, here are his thoughts about loyalty: “It seemed to him the highest principle was loyalty. He preferred it to honor. He was never quite sure what men meant when they spoke of their honor, though it had been a popular word during the War. He was sure though, about what he meant when he spoke of loyalty. A man didn’t desert his comrades, his troop, his leader. If he did, he was in Call’s book, useless.”  

I envy those who have not read the quadrilogy. I would love to be able to have the singular joy of reading them all again for the first time. But a second or third read is mighty enjoyable, too.

Writer’s Block (Rebroadcast)

Writer’s block! That phrase might induce panic and a recollection of a familiar experience. It’s a very common phenomenon. So what is it?

In this edition of Two Guys on Your HeadDr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke explain the ins and outs of how and why we sometimes get stuck – and what we can do to help ourselves in those difficult situations.

Audio Player

This Song: Kathy Valentine

Kathy Valentine, bass player in the seminal 80s all-girl rock group the Go-Go’s, recently wrote a memoir titled All I Ever Wanted. In the book, Valentine explores her unconventional childhood, her time with the Go-Go’s, and her journey to sobriety. In this episode of, Kathy explains what “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream taught her about herself when she was 9 years old,  describes how she found her creative process as an author and details how music and storytelling intersected in her new book.

Kathy Valentine’s April Book Tour dates are currently being rescheduled, but you can buy a signed copy from one of the bookstores where she was scheduled to appear. Find out where to buy your copy of All I Ever Wanted

Kathy also wrote a soundtrack to accompany her book. Check out the soundtrack to All I Ever Wanted on Bandcamp.

Listen to this episode of This Song

Listen to Songs from this episode of This Song

Texas Standard: July 22, 2017

Known for taking a stand on abortion rights and a gubernatorial race that won her national attention, Wendy Davis gets back in the game. In an announcement early Monday, former state Senator Wendy Davis made it official, announcing a challenge to a republican congressman, we’ll have details. Also, where the Texas GOP might be the most vulnerable? The answer might surprise you. Plus a prominent Texas university opens its doors to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Remembering ‘Beneficent Genius’ Bill Wittliff

When I hear the great musical theme of Lonesome Dove, I am immediately grateful to Bill Wittliff because I know we wouldn’t have the deeply treasured miniseries if not for him. We would have Larry McMurtry’s novel for sure, but we would not have Wittliff’s equally brilliant adaptation of that masterwork if not for his undeterred resolve to get it done.

Bill Wittliff died on Sunday. I was, like millions of his fans around the world, and especially those in Texas, sad to see his rare intellectual light and his beneficent genius leave us. He was a man who often worked his magic behind the scenes and so many people were touched by his artistic brilliance without knowing it. He wrote the screenplays for much loved movies like Lonesome Dove, Legends of the Fall, The Perfect Storm, Raggedy Man, and for highly Texcentric films like Barborosa and Red-Headed Stranger. Some say Wittliff launched the Austin film industry.

Though Renaissance man is often overgenerous in its use, it fit Wittliff to perfection. He was a novelist, and a screenwriter, a photographer, a publisher and movie producer, a collector, an archivist, a historian and a lifelong professor who generously shared his knowledge of all things all the time. In more than a few instances over the past few years I’d fire off an email to him to ask for his insights on some obscure subject and he’d invariably surprise me with an authoritative answer within five minutes, sometimes less.

Four years ago I interviewed Bill for his new novel The Devil’s Backbone. Naturally we talked a good deal about Lonesome Dove and I want to share some of that interview because it gives us insights into the making of that masterpiece and into the mind and methods of Wittliff as well.
I first asked Bill about how long it took to produce Lonesome Dove and if he knew it would be the huge hit it turned out to be?

“For me Lonesome Dove was a solid two years,” Wittliff said. “It was a year writing the script, and then it was another year from locations and casting and all of that, to actually shooting it and then editing and the scoring – all of it – and distribution. Here’s what I did know. I knew, because I saw the dailies every morning – and I knew, you know, that what was going through the cameras was incredible stuff, incredible performances. What I didn’t know was that the audience would take to it the way they did. That I didn’t know. I knew it was going to be great and I knew it was going to be well really phenomenal. It was just incredible to watch – to sit there every day and watch Duvall and Tommy Lee and all of them deliver those lines. You simply could not be there and not know. But what I didn’t know is that the audience would take to it the way the did.”

One reason for this surprise, Bill told me, is that in 1988 there was only one thing deader than Westerns and that was the miniseries. And, he said, “we were making both.”

I was curious about his method of adapting the novel for television. I asked him how, out of this tumultuous novel of nearly 1,000 pages, he could choose what to include and what to exclude.

“Here’s what I did,” Wittliff said. “At that time I was driving a pickup. Suzanne, my partner, had someone read it on tape. We have a place on South Padre Island. It’s six hours to drive down there. So I would strike out in my pickup, which is to say you were in a closed in space. And start playing that and listening to it. You could see it. In listening to it you would say oh I don’t need that or oh that’s too close to this. Because I was driving I could kind of see a version of the movie unfold as I drove along. In six hours, as it turned out, of listening to Larry’s novel was just about one episode. So I’d drive to South Padre and when I got there I then I would start adapting that six hours, boiled down to two hours. Anyway, that’s how I did it.”

Finally, since McMurtry had written a number of screenplays himself, I asked Bill why Larry hadn’t written it himself.

“When they asked me to do it, I called Larry and I said, ‘Don’t you want to do this,’ and he said, ‘no, I’m cooked,'” Wittliff said. “Larry’s always been smart about movies and his books. I don’t know what Larry had his thumb on when he wrote it, but boy it rang all the bells. And Larry got up from the typewriter and walked off from it at least three times maybe four times. He said ‘well, no, that’s enough,’ but then he always came back. And Lonesome Dove, both Larry’s book and now the miniseries, have absolutely become a part of the American fabric. It’s just astonishing. I’ve got calls from Ireland, Europe and England, caught up in the Lonesome Dove thing as much as Americans and Texans are. It’s just been astonishing.”

You notice there how he shuns credit for his success. He was a selfless man. That is why he created the Wittliff Collections with his wife Sally at Texas State University. There you can find the papers of great Southwestern writers like McCarthy, Dobie, Graves, Cisneros and some of McMurtry’s, which will be his greatest legacy, because it provides a place and resources for young writers, and artists, and filmmakers to come and dream about works they might animate and worlds they might create.

Steve Davis the curator there, said, “Bill embodied the best of Texas — he was incredibly creative and was very generous to others — as seen in this wonderful collection that he founded, which will continue to inspire others for generations to come.”

Finally, it is only fitting that we hear from McMurtry himself. Larry sent this touching note to me just yesterday.

He wrote: “I met Bill years ago when he and his wife asked permission to publish IN A NARROW GRAVE, my first volume of essays under their singular and distinctive Encino Press. It is the most impressive of my more than fifty published volumes. He was an absolute genius photographer, as you can see from his Wittliff Collection photos. Bill skillfully adapted LONESOME DOVE into a beloved miniseries, and I know he will be deeply missed by Texans everywhere.”

Bill lived a beautiful, fun and inspirational life. I believe firmly that in thinking about his life he would agree with Gus McCrae, who said, “It’s been quite a party, ain’t it?”

On Mother’s Day: Remembering Nonnie

On Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother, too, because she was also my mother. She was, and this remains true for many kids today, my second mother. She lived with us and was my back-up mom – my safety net of sanity when life got crazy. She was a grand-mother.

Her name was Nonnie, which my mom told me was short of Eunice. Nonnie was my nanny until I reached first grade. To the extent that I have any talent as a writer I attribute to her. She taught me to read and write early. She was a role model as a disciplined writer. When she was 70 she bought a Smith Corona electric typewriter – a beautiful shiny blue work of art with chrome trim. To me, it seemed like a sports car for writing. In six years she wrote four novels at the kitchen table during my nap time. The tap, tap, tap sound of the keys was my lullaby most afternoons.

She wrote under the name Sylvester Wimberley. Sylvester because she guessed a man was more likely to get published than a woman. Wimberley because she so loved that Hill Country town.

I wish I could tell you that Simon & Schuster discovered her and she had a couple of best-sellers, but that was not the case. When she died at age 82, in 1969, we found the four novels – and journals and diaries – in her chest of drawers, neatly stacked in manila envelopes beneath the many tablecloths she had crocheted over the years.

They were all moved up to the attic with many of her memories where they were out of sight, but not fully out of mind. When I was in graduate school ten years later, I went up there and found her manuscripts in an old suitcase behind Christmas decorations. The pages were yellowed and brittle, but still quite readable. Over the next few days I read them all. I had hoped to find an Atwood in the attic, but, truth is, Nonnie was more of a diarist than a novelist; more Aurelius than Atwood. She was, perhaps, like her grandson: good in short bursts, but not as skilled sustaining the long narrative.

One journal entry especially moved me; it focuses entirely on her lifelong relationship with her hair:

From my earliest memories my hair has been a subject of conversation. My father was the first to make me conscious of it. He thought it was beautiful. It was long and straight and heavy with a gold cast to it. My father would not let it be cut. Even as the younger girls were getting theirs cut, my father would not let me cut mine because he liked the length of the braid.

My grandmother was on her deathbed and mother had to take time about with her sisters caring for her. So my father took care of us and he had his say about how I should wear my hair. When I went to school the boys would make fun of it saying it was the color of molasses candy that had been pulled. I am not sure the golden tint was still in it then. The boys delighted in sticking the ends of the braids into their ink wells which earned them my angry retaliation.

When I was twelve I went outside with my grandfather McGee one summer’s day. I went out on the front porch with him just after sunup. He turned to talk to me and he stopped and said, “Eunice, I didn’t know that your hair was such a pretty red.” I laughed and said that it was just the sun shining through it and lighting it up like that. I never forgot that moment. I had had so few compliments in my life and I was to remember that one always. My grandfather would sometimes pass behind me at the supper table and run his rough hand over my hair. He didn’t say anything, but I found it as comforting as a compliment.

Many years later, after I had married, I still kept my hair long and braided. It had become strawberry blonde. I wore it as a braid wrapped around my head. I took the pins [out] of my hair and wrapped the braid around my neck. It was as wide as a collar. Once I was wearing it that way when I went to call on Betty Graham and she asked me where I got a collar that so closely matched my hair. I told her it WAS my hair. She had to take it down to see the length of it and was surprised by its weight, too. I suppose that was the longest, and heaviest, it ever was.

Once when my niece Guy Ann was five years old and she and I were standing out in front of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio waiting for my husband Fred, a strange woman came up to me and said, “Lady, did you know that your hair and that child’s hair are exactly the same color?” I had not thought about it but when we got home Guy Ann wanted to see for herself. So she pulled my hair down and laid hers over it. Sure enough, you could not tell where mine ended and hers began. As the years went by Guy Ann’s hair got a little darker and mine got ever lighter until it was both blonde and white.

In 1963, when I was in my late 70s, I ran into Sam Black, a man I had not seen for fifty years. He greeted me with these words, “Well, Eunice, you have lost some of the gold in your hair!”  Indeed I had.

Now that I am 80 years old, my hair is all white. White like new cotton. And I think it is just lovely.

My grandmother wanted all her life to be published. I am happy to know that, now, by quoting her here, she finally is. Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma.

Dan Chaon

Dan Chaon is the author of three short story collections. His short fiction has received multiple awards including publication in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize stories.

Chaon’s first novel Await Your Reply was a national bestseller, and his second novel Among the Missing was a finalist for the National Book award. In his new novel, Ill Will, Chaon explores mystery, death, grief, and the personal narratives we cling to. Dan came by by KUT’s studios in Austin to talk to Owen about themes,

Dan came by by KUT’s studios in Austin to talk to Owen about themes, craft and shining a light into the dark corners of the human mind.

As Owen points out, many novels are called “haunting” but Ill Will can’t be fully described without using the word. Chaon tells the story of two crimes: the death of protagonist Dustin Tillman’s parents when he was a child and the current mysterious deaths of several college students around town. Dustin’s adopted brother Rusty was convicted of their parent’s murder, but new evidence has overturned this conviction, and Dustin must reassess his history with his brother as he also investigates the local deaths for a connection he is sure must exist. Ill Will is unsettling, unconventional, and unapologetically full of dark humor.

Talking about the genesis of this nuanced novel, Chaon recalls hearing a story about several college kids drowning in the river of a college campus and the surrounding urban legends that there must be some sort of connection between them. This idea becomes a central theme in this book: the oh-so-very-human determination to create meaning even or maybe especially in the face of tragedy. When our ideas of our story are challenged or contradicted, things can unravel quickly.

To explore these ideas Dan says he makes sure he has a touchstone to each character, and that this is especially important in a novel like Ill Will where there are so many voices and sometimes contradictions to articulate. “You hear authors say ‘the character took on a life of their own’ and it sounds silly but there’s truth to it”. Getting into the mental place to do that, he explained, is more like the imaginative play of childhood or musicians jamming together.

Dan also discusses what it was like to explore things that, while not completely biographical, had deep roots in his own life. His own experiences as a widower and as a parent to teenage boys both play a role in Ill Will. Just like with horror films, Dan and Owen discuss the power of shining a light into the dark corners of our minds and the relief and empathy that comes from imagining the worst that can happen:

“If I’m not shedding a few tears over something by the time I’m finished, I haven’t done my job”.

-by Felix Morgan

 

 

Dyslexia

Experts estimate that between 15 and 20 percent of the general population has dyslexia in some form. Reading and writing are different experiences for those with the language-based learning disability – and we learn more about it all the time.

The Write Up: Juliana Barbassa

In this episode of The Write Up, we talk with prizewinning journalist and nonfiction writer Juliana Barbassa about her book Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink depicting the beauty, crime, pressures, and violent paradoxes shaping Brazil’s most vibrant city.

Juliana Barbassa has lived and written all over the world. Born in Brazil, she has lived in Iraq, Spain, Malta, Libya, France, and the United States. As a journalist, her ability to dive in and find the human face in the most desperate of stories won her acclaim including the Katie Journalism Award, the emerging journalist of the year by the U.S.-based National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the John L. Dougherty award by the Associated Press Managing Editors.

In 2003, Barbassa joined the Associated Press and returned to her home country of Brazil to be the Rio de Janeiro correspondent. There she found a city in the midst of massive growth and explosive change. Poverty and crime still plagued much of the city, but Rio was also enjoying an influx of new business and international attention. This attention increased when Rio won the hosting honors of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Rio now feels the pressure to grow into the ideal Brazilian city, at least in appearance, at an accelerated pace.

 

Barbassa’s book is not one of dry economics or global public relations. Instead Barbassa shares the narrative of a city and its people in the midst of radical transformation. She zooms in on the people and places that give Rio its complex character. We meet criminals and prostitutes, shopkeepers and mothers, police officers and children. Barbassa’s journalistic instincts drive her into heart of the story, often putting herself in mortal danger as police stand off with drug lords or raze impoverished neighborhoods to the ground.

Her own story of returning to Brazil and experiencing the tension pulling at Rio firsthand gives the book a memoiric thread. Her intense feelings for the city serve to enliven her excellent research.

On the Write Up we discuss her thirst for stories as a journalist, her willingness to investigate the darker narratives, and her struggle to care for herself, both physically and psychologically, while reporting on violence and brutality.

She also gives us insight as to how her life and career led her all over the world and eventually back to Brazil. And how her growing desire to explore the strange contradictions of Rio led to writing this book.

When talking with Barbassa, you sense the conflicting feelings she has for Rio. There’s a real love as she describes the smells and sights, and unflinching honesty as she chronicles the hardships of the disenfranchised city. She highlights the extremes of this incredible city where natural beauty and corruption both thrive. It is her ability to love the city as a local while also maintaining the critical distance of an investigator that gives this book such depth.

Amelia Gray

I’ve long been a fan of the beautifully dark and bitingly funny fiction of Amelia Gray. Her short story collections AM/PM, Museum of the Weird, and most recently Gutshot rank among my favorite books to pick up for a quick, smiling nightmare.

Her novel Threats digs deeply into grief and melancholy, so deeply that the pages seem soaked in an unstable sadness, a madness that runs through the characters, the setting, and the prose itself. As NPR described it, “Amelia Gray’s psychological thriller takes us to the brink between reality and delusion.

The dream logic and expansive bizarreness of Amelia Gray’s fiction can have a reader gasp and laugh in the same shudder. Compassion and outlandish cruelty hold hands, and it’s the combination of these opposing elements that make Gray’s work such a delight to read. We squirm, we laugh, we turn the page.

Like Kelly Link and Manuel Gonzales, Gray is part of a modern tradition that seeks to re-mystify the world. The inexplicable becomes the norm. But her writing is in no way escapism. Magic and monsters can appear, but more frightening still are the grounded-in-reality lovers and mothers.

Gray has also been compared to David Lynch and even body-horror filmmaker David Cronenberg. She dips into horror, but it’s a stranger, more nerve-tickling horror than you’d expect from the establishment of the genre.

To read Gray is to risk. She takes readers to dark, honest places. And like a nightmare, we may dispute the logic, but the emotion and terror are inescapable. Her stories and essays has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, VICE, and The Wall Street Journal.

Gray came to the KUT studios while visiting Austin from her home in Los Angeles. We chatted craft, risk, and the joys of writing. We talk about her writing routine and how she mines her own fears and desire to inspire her fiction. We also trace her career and how she sees herself in the current literary scene.

It’s always a treat to talk with Amelia Gray. Her imagination, wit, and insight ensure any conversation will shine. And, like her stories, humor and darkness weave through all her words.

-Owen Egerton

C. Robert Cargill Live at SXSW 2016

Novelist, screenwriter, critic and slam poet C. Robert Cargill sits down with host Owen Egerton at SXSW 2016 to talk about coming up in Austin, the history of scary movies, and advising on the set of Dr. Strange.

Think There’s No Poetry In Texas? Think Again

A New Yorker told me that he never uses the words Texas and poetry in the same sentence.

He thinks Texas poetry is an oxymoron because he doesn’t see how such a refined art form could be produced in a macho culture. But he is wrong. Cowboys and vaqueros were reciting poetry in the warm glow of firelight on the Texas plains hundreds of years ago.

A modern inheritor of this tradition is Walt McDonald. He gives us this poem that celebrates country music in Texas. It’s called “The Waltz We Were Born For.”

“I never knew them all, just hummed
and thrummed my fingers with the radio,
driving five hundred miles to Austin.
Her arms held all the songs I needed.
Our boots kept time with fiddles
and the charming sobs of blondes,

the whine of steel guitars
sliding us down in deer-hide chairs
when jukebox music was over.
Sad music’s on my mind tonight
in a jet high over Dallas, earphones
on channel five. A lonely singer,

dead, comes back to beg me,
swearing in my ears she’s mine,
rhymes set to music that make
her lies seem true. She’s gone
and others like her, leaving their songs
to haunt us. Letting down through clouds

I know who I’ll find waiting at the gate,
the same woman faithful to my arms
as she was those nights in Austin
when the world seemed like a jukebox,
our boots able to dance forever,
our pockets full of coins.”

Here is another one I enjoy from well-known Texas poet, Chip Dameron. It is printed in the shape of Texas. You begin in the Panhandle and work your way down to the Rio Grande. The words celebrate the part of Texas in which they reside. It is called “A State of Mind.”

Last, here is Violette Newton, Poet Laureate of Texas in 1973. She wrote this humorous poem which speaks directly to the problem of getting respect for Texas poetry:

Up East, they do not think much
of Texas poetry. They think Texans
have no soul for aesthetics, that all
they do is pound their own chests,
talk loud and make money.
But every time I’m nearing Austin,
I look up at a painted sign
high on the side of the highway
that says, “Bert’s Dirts”
and to pyramids of many-colored soils
sold by Bert, and I swell with pride
at that rhyming sign, I puff up
and point to that terse little title
and wish we could stop
so I could go in
and purchase
a spondee of sand
to make a gesture of my support
for poetry in Texas.

Take that, New York.

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

Kirk Lynn

On this edition of The Write Up we chat with novelist, playwright, and professor Kirk Lynn about the craft of writing, the adventure of theater, and the deep desire to abandon society and escape into the wild. We also discuss his debut novel Rules for Werewolves.

Lynn began writing prose in college, but found the companionship of his desk and typewriter unsatisfying and so he took a chance on theater. It was on the stage that he found his passion for the human voice. Along with six friends, Lynn founded Austin’s Rude Mechanicals , now called the Rude Mechs. For nearly twenty years this growing company has produced some of the more daring and critically acclaimed plays to come out of Texas, a number of them penned by Lynn including Stop Hitting Yourself and Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century.

Lynn has a gift for voice. Whether he’s writing from the view point of a founding father, a new mother, or a runaway teenager, Kirk inhabits a voice to such depth that we forget the writer and engage the character. Rules for Werewolves is a chorus of voices narrating the struggles of a group of young people attempting to create an mini-utopia in the uninhabited houses of American suburbia. Lynn incorporates chapters of pure dialogue, first person point of view, and poetic inner monologues to trace the compelling story of the societal marginals.

We dive into what drives Lynn as a writer and the disciplines that shape his craft. We also talk about the path his career has taken since his early dreams of writing. We discuss his marriage to poet Carrie Fountain and how becoming parents has influenced both their work.

Lynn is currently Head of Playwriting and Directing in the Department of Theatre and Drama at the University of Texas. We talk about Lynn’s approach to teaching and the strange sensation of standing before a classroom of students as a presumed “expert.”

Years ago Lynn gave up alcohol. The experience has impacted how he approaches life and writing. He talks about drinking and sobriety with humor and insight.

Sitting with Kirk Lynn is a thrill. His energy and wit seem endless. Whether talking about Jack Kerouac, parenting, or public nudity, it’s always a pleasure to hear from this beloved Austin writer.

-Owen Egerton

 

Debra Monroe

Debra Monroe

Debra Monroe is an award winning author of six books and acclaimed university professor. But she was, in her own words, “ raised to be a farmer’s wife, a shopkeeper’s wife, a telephone man’s wife.”

In her most recent memoir, My Unsentimental Education, Monroe chronicles her journey from the backstreet bars and the presumed limited opportunities of her small Wisconsin hometown to a seat in the ivory tower. Along the way she battles the discouraging voices of her parents, her professors, and a series of poorly chosen lovers. With her passion for literature and her undefeatable spirit, Monroe not only reaches her goals as a writer and an academic, but also achieves a hard won confidence. The book is a beautiful and often hilarious chronicle of one woman’s battle to be exactly who she wants to be.

Whether trying LSD for the first time, unintentionally accepting a job at a pornographic movie theater, or discussing her love life with religiously conservative neighbors, Monroe manages to move her life and career forward. With a wit that helps ease the hurt, we travel with Monroe through heartbreaking relationships with every sort of wrong man. She makes her way through marriages and romances that quickly announce themselves as mistakes.

Men fear her ambitions, are intimidated by her intellect, or simply have no desire to move as she rockets forward. As Monroe finds her way, she also finds herself. Her story charts the difficult task of leaving behind one’s socially assigned identities to find the authentic self. My Unsentimental Education is a celebration of misadventures, surprises, and powering forward against all odds.

This Monroe’s second memoir. Her first, On the Outskirts of Normal, came out in 2010 and traced her experiences adopting a black child while living in a small Texas town. Monroe is also the author of two novels and two collections of short stories. Her first collection, The Source of Trouble, won the Flannery O’Conner Award for Fiction in 1990 and launched her into the national literary scene. From there she wrote a second collection of stories, A Wild, Cold State, in 1995 and the novels Newfangled in 1998 and Shambles in 2004.

 

Monroe has often been praised for her honest portrayal of the darker corners of American life. She doesn’t back away from images of poverty, crime, and abuse. Her writing is, as the Boston Globe describes it, “fine and funky, marbled with warmth and romantic confusion, but not a hint of sentimentality.” She’s known for using humor to highlight the humanity of her characters.

 

A conversation with Monroe is a true delight rich with humor and insight. On this episode of the Write Up, we talk about the different challenges of writing memoirs and novels, the rewards of teaching students in the Texas State University MFA program, and the importance of discovering who one really is.

 

 

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola’s new memoir, Blackout: Remembering Things I Drank to Forget, chronicles her addiction to alcohol with brutal honesty and brilliant humor. The book is gaining critical acclaim from reviewers in The New York Times, The Washington Post, LA Times, and Kirkus Reviews. Entertainment Weekly observed, “It’s hard to think of another memoir that burrows inside an addict’s brain like this one does.”

Blackout was named one of Amazon.com’s Best Books of June 2015, People Magazine’s Best Books of the Summer, and won a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

Hepola recently joined us on The Write Up to discuss the memoir. We also chat about her work as an editor at Salon and as a freelance writer, and the complicated ways alcohol affected her writing and life.

Hepola cut her literary teeth as a writer for the Austin Chronicle in the late nineties and early 2000s. She made a national name for herself as a cultural journalist and personal essayist with Slate, The New York Times, and The Morning News online magazine. Her brand of red-hot wit and self-deprecating honesty earned her admirers and writing jobs. But as her career slowly grew, so did her dependence on alcohol.

From the backyard parties of Austin to basement bars of New York City and the sidewalk cafes of Paris, Hepola tracks her drinking bouts and the blackouts that followed. Many mornings she woke up alone with a cloudy head, mysterious bruises, and black space where the last several hours should have been. On more terrifying occasions, Hepola woke up in bed with someone she didn’t recognize.

It wasn’t until confronted with crumbling friendships and a stalled career that Hepola took the courageous step of getting sober. Hepola’s memoir does not stop there. She describes the struggle to rebuild her mental and physical health, her return to Texas after years in New York, and her discovery that her writing voice did not depend on an open bottle.

Blackout also touches upon the bizarre and sometimes wonderful experience of online dating, the undulations of adult friendship and the pressures of being a professional woman in the once male-dominated world of journalism.

Hepola speaks of her life and writing with an unmasked candor and humor. Her research and insights also enable her to link her own story to cultural trends in dating, women’s liberation, and America’s obsession with alcohol.

On the podcast, Hepola shares the difficulty of transitioning from personal essays to a book-length memoir, the allure alcohol seems to have for so many writers, and necessity of releasing one’s inner editor while writing a first draft.

Find out more at sarahhepola.com

Scott Blackwood

Author Scott Blackwood talks about his new novel “See How Small,” with host Owen Egerton.

Amanda Eyre Ward

Amanda Eyre Ward on compassion, gratitude and “The Same Sky.”

In this episode of The Write Up, Amanda talks with host Owen Egerton about the calling of telling stories of the voiceless and powerless, the importance of looking past politics and statistics to the faces of real people, and the ways in which exploring the lives of these courageous children has impacted her own life.

We discuss the unpredictable creative process. Amanda celebrates “circling confusion” and even the unexpected blessing in abandoning a “broken book.”

We also touch on the gift of good readers, challenges of balancing writing and family, and the glory of Texas barbecue.