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Adventures in McMurtryland

A Writer Looks for Inspiration in Archer City, Texas

The Odd Couple


Brian Sweany was named editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly in 2014. Here in the 2009 Mayborn magazine, he discusses the relationship between editor and writer, in this case, Skip Hollandsworth, whose 1998 story in Texas Monthly about the murder of wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent in East Texas became the 2011 movie “Bernie.”

A Journey Back in Time


It was all very dramatic. But the point in doing these things is that I wanted to do more than read about history; I wanted to experience it, and to see for myself what kind of memories these events would have left behind.

Playing God with People’s Lives


I was in the green room of a national TV news show, waiting to go on the air. The great David Maraniss was there. I owe David an enormous debt for writing kind words for the dust jackets on two of my books. Nearby, curled up in a chair and wearing all white, was a uniquely preserved Bo Derek. It was unsettling seeing her there. She looked small and brittle, with feline eyes. I was about to do some whoring for my unauthorized biography of George W. Bush. We were all invited to talk about the president. A friend of the Bushes, Derek had been presumably asked to appear because she would say nice things ... and because she had star-wattage. She stared at me, which frightened me even more. It was scarier than when I had sat in the dank, barren green room for “The Today Show.” That time — staring hard at me across the tiny space as if he was trying to fix me in a particular moment — was John Walsh, the man from “America’s Most Wanted.”

Cooking up Best-Sellers


John Parsley sometimes feels like a short-order cook. The senior editor at Little, Brown and Company always has multiple projects on the stove, each at different stages of preparation. “I have a lot of burners on,” he says. “Some books are at the earliest stages, maybe not a word yet written, and others are hitting stores soon. I’m the point person with each of Little, Brown’s departments for each of my books. So some days, it feels like I’m constantly running.” Parsley handles mostly nonfiction, with topics ranging from science and natural history, to politics and pop culture, to musical biographies and humor. On the day we talk, he’s busy with three projects: a popular history of thrift in America, a political humor book, and another tome apparently so mind-blowing that Parsley can’t talk about it. (A secret recipe, if you will.) But he was more than happy to talk about his job at one of the country’s leading publishing houses.

Walt Across Texas


Walt Davis was a gangly, freckle-faced 13-year-old boy growing up in the suburbs of Dallas in the ’50s when a weekly column written by the legendary Frank X. Tolbert at The Dallas Morning News captured his imagination. Tolbert, with son in tow, set off on a 23-day, 5,000-mile journey to explore the perimeter of the great state of Texas and wrote weekly columns about his and his son’s adventures. Walt, who avidly followed Tolbert’s travels on the back roads, vowed to someday make his own journey around Texas

Dilemmas of a Memoirist


From the Fringe to the Forefront


You never know when you’re going to run into an outrageously good idea for a story, let alone one good enough to win a spot in an anthology  of the year’s best crime reporting.  And usually, you don’t get great ideas from sleep-starved med students. And most of all, you don’t get fresh leads in a story 45 years old, one covered by every newspaper, magazine and investigative committee on Capitol Hill, much less one that Oliver Stone made into a major motion picture.

Denton Dreamer


Jim Matheson stands on the street corner, looking like he’s just wandered off the set of “High Noon.” His brown leather duster ripples around long skinny legs encased in blue jeans and boots. He sweeps a bit of paper from the sidewalk of Denton’s town square, just as he’s done every morning for the past eight years before settling in front of the Downtown Antique Mall to sell his wares: handmade leather hats, fishing flies and his books — books he’s written and published.


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