HomeInterviewsThe Texas Myth: Interview with Lawrence Wright

The Texas Myth: Interview with Lawrence Wright

Mr. Texas combines author Lawrence Wright’s love of his home state with humorous antics about a local politician, resulting in “the novel our Texas politics deserves,” according to Beto O’Rourke.

An unexpected meeting between Austin lobbyist L.D. Sparks and cattle rancher Sonny Lamb is the beginning of New Yorker magazine writer Lawrence Wright‘s entertaining story about Texas politics. The amusing and ironic events that take place as Sonny runs for election and wins with a narrow victory are written in a humorous context. This inexperienced Texas cowboy must learn how to navigate the legislature in Texas, and Sonny’s lovable character wins the hearts of everyone at the capitol. Mr. Texas ties together issues that the citizens of the state are facing, such as drought and border control, as the officeholders fight partisan divides and jostle for position. 

Wright, a resident of Texas, has taken his love for the “Lone Star State” and illustrated the workings of the legislature. Wright is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He has written a total of 11 books, including Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and The End of October. Wright is a screenwriter, playwright and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. Brittany LeJeune interviewed him over Zoom about the rollercoaster ride of getting Mr. Texas to book form, his hope for his home state and the future of his novel.

Brittany LeJeune: At the end of the book, there is information about how Mr. Texas became a novel. Can you talk about the process of taking the idea for Mr. Texas and making it a reality? How long have you worked on the story and how has the story changed and evolved?

Lawrence Wright: It started a long time ago, at least 20 years ago. Anne Richards was the governor and Texas was an entirely blue state. It’s hard for you to imagine Texas being blue, but it was at one point and Sonny Lamb was a Democrat back in those days. When I first started, it was going to be a movie, and then it became a play that we had two productions of. This was years and years ago. I loved doing it as a play. A Broadway producer came down from New York and said it should be a musical, so I started writing music, and I really loved that too. My producer changed her mind and said it should be a television series, so I sold a pilot to HBO. Then they fired my executive and killed all his projects so I had no musical and no series. Then my agent suggested I do it as a podcast, so I wrote eight episodes of a podcast and more than 50 songs with my son and Marcia Ball, this wonderful musician in Austin. All of those things served eventually to help me write it as a novel. I had the stories and the characters and I had learned a lot about them by writing them in so many different forms. It could have been that I would have written a novel to start with and I wouldn’t have had to go through all that, but actually, I think I learned so much from writing it in different formats that it deepened the story and it allowed me to have more fun with it. 

BL: Mr. Texas has a lighthearted take on politics in Texas. The political events that take place in the novel are entertaining and funny. Can you talk more about politics and how it is related to the novel?

LW: I mentioned earlier that Sonny was a Democrat, but politics in Texas changed and then Sonny had to change with it, so he became a Republican. The truth is I don’t always agree with his position on things; that was very interesting for me as a writer, to have a character that I loved and I disagreed with, but I had to honor who he was and where he came from. He is a centrist Republican trying to find a common cause with other people in the legislature to advance bills that he thinks will save Texas, especially West Texas. 

BL: Sonny Lamb is a simple, honest and loveable character. He is the center of all the events that transpire throughout the story. Can you describe the inspiration for Sonny’s character? Do you think that Texas politics need someone like Sonny working in the legislature?

LW: There are people in the legislature who are honest, upstanding and idealistic. They don’t necessarily comprise a voting majority, but there are some really good people in the legislature. I have followed the Texas legislature for many years and have become friends with many of them. There were a lot of talented and idealistic people that I could base Sonny on. I wanted to make him a rancher because Sonny in some ways takes part in the Texas myth. He is the modern-day cowboy, but the modern-day cowboy is a rancher in West Texas who is struggling against the drought and having to sell off his herd. So, it’s the Texas past facing the future. He is placed at a pivotal point in our history in Texas. So, I thought instead of making him a stock broker from Plano, I wanted to have someone who represented something about Texas. That’s why I created the Sonny that we have on hand. 

BL: Texas is widely known as the “Lone Star State” located on the border of Mexico. There are many references to the history of Texas in the novel. Texas is facing issues like drought and border control, which are directly wrapped up in politics. As a resident of Texas, can you talk more about what Texas means to you?

LW: I grew up in Texas and then, after high school, I fled. I thought I would never come back. I went off to become a writer. In 1979, I was working on an article for Look Magazine about the 12 men who walked on the moon, and it was the 10th anniversary of the first moon landing. I was talking to one of those men in New Braunfels, a little Czech-German town in central Texas, and I went to a roadhouse to listen to some music and a group called Asleep At The Wheel was playing. A young man named George Strait opened with an acoustic set, everyone was dancing, the food was so great, and I thought, “Darnit, this is home.”

As much as I had reservations about Texas, I realized that there wasn’t any other place that was home for me. So, that is what brought me back, but I am concerned about it. I love the state and I despair of it sometimes, but the thing that keeps me nudging as I am, as a writer, [is that] Texas is going to be about the size of California and New York combined by the year 2050. So, long before you’re my age, Texas will be the determining factor in American politics. It is already very close to that now.

The future of Texas is the future of America. It created a kind of urgency for me to write about Texas now and hold up a mirror to the state.

BL: I think the title, Mr. Texas, for the novel is fitting. The countless jokes used in the book can be summed up by that one name for Sonny. The cover of the book even has a cow on top of the capitol. Why did you decide to title the novel Mr. Texas?

LW: When I started the project long ago when it was a play, the title was “Sonny’s Last Shot,” and people kept calling it “Sonny’s Last Chance.” I thought that it was not a very good title if people could not remember it. Mr. Texas is at least memorable. It may not be the best title. There are people outside of Texas, for instance—you—who might have opinions about Texas. People love or hate the state even if they have never been here. I am not sure how good of a title it is, but it is memorable, which is important in a title. It functions as a kind of brand. Do you remember the scene where L.D. has hired a director to make an ad for Sonny? What she creates is a mythic figure. She makes Sonny an embodiment of all these old Texas myths, the cowboy myth. She rents a stallion for him that is star quality and has it rear up and then they ride off into the sunset with a drone following him. That Mr. Texas. It’s what she made out of him. That is where the idea for this title came from.  

BL: The story of Mr. Texas was adapted several times before it became a novel. There has been talk about Mr. Texas having the potential to become a motion picture. As of right now, do you have any future plans for the story?

LW: We are talking about doing a series and so I hope something like that happens. I’m determined to see the music be performed somehow. (Listen to the audiobook version of the book to hear the music.) Either on stage as a musical or maybe a part of the series. I had so much fun writing music for the musical that we were working on, that I really want to make that happen. 

Mr. Texas is one of our Fall/Winter 2023/4 reads. See the full list here.

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