Our celebration of Texas Mystery Writer’s Month continues with an essay by one of our favorite local authors, George Wier. His books are colored with Lone Star history and attitude. Here George explains where it comes from.
A Writer in Texas is a Texas Writer
– Post by George Wier
I found out today that a friend of mine of nearly twenty years duration is from my hometown, and I never even knew him or his family from those old days. I’m from a small East Texas town you’ve probably never heard of called Madisonville. When my family left there to move to Bryan, Texas, long about the Christmas of 1973, the population of Madisonville was roughly 3,500 souls, give or take. Now, it’s about…the same, but mostly take, or so I’ve heard. I met my friend Dan on a trip to Austin back in 1996, but I would see him and his wife and his beautiful daughter quite often after moving to here permanently in 2002. I had beat a hasty retreat from Bryan and College Station. I found in Austin a people who would accept me and my rather odd creative bent. You see, I write books. I write fiction books (known colloquially in the Eastern parts of the state as “those damn lies!”). I have written far more in the last thirteen years since I moved to Austin than I ever did the previous thirty.
The one thing that I have never shaken—and never will, can you say “Amen!” brother?—is the simple fact that I’m a Texan. Molly Ivins is purported to have said, “I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.” Well, that was Molly all over again. For my part, there is no perversity in it. There is, instead, something fundamentally grounding. I’m sure it’s the same no matter where a person is from. I do like to think that—I like to think that everyone else feels this same hard thump in their chest, such as when the horses come by on parade and the Lone Star flutters past. Or the sense of lost longing when parted from Texas and home for more than a scant few days. Or the sense of pride when talking about Texas with people who just…don’t know.
Let me tell you something. Now, listen close. I wasn’t simply raised in Texas. I was raised on Texas. In Texas, Texas History is a subject. There are textbooks on it, and some of them are even good. But as I grew up here I found out just how much my own family had a role in the founding of this state (we were first a sovereign country, and no, we’re never going to let anybody else forget it!). But even if the Wiers had only arrived in Texas with my father or my grandfather, my feeling for the state would be the same. Here’s why. My father, Nelson Wier, was one of the original Hellfighters. He fought oil well fires alongside Boots ‘n Coots and Red Adair. He fought them all over Texas and all over the oil platforms and drilling rigs of the Gulf of Mexico. He took me to every major big city in the state before I was ten. He introduced me to Texas oil millionaires (I spent time on Silver Dollar Jim West’s famous West Production Ranch when I was just a kid, and J.R. Parten lived mere blocks from our house) and he introduced me to old black men playing dominoes in Houston’s Fifth Ward, and barkeepers in Waco, to truck drivers and insurance salesmen. He took me to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where I met real cowboys and real cattlemen, and he took me to meet the wardens of Texas prisons. My father, you see, walked tall among the people around him. He was bigger than life. He was…a Texan.
Later in life, when I was out on my own, I drove all over the state pushing a rolling straight edge to measure the bumpiness of Texas highways for the Texas Transportation Institute, and in that capacity I believe I have been down more roads than anyone I have known, possibly apart from a fellow writer and friend who is a retired Border Patrol Agent. Since those days, I’ve been traveling on my own, whether it’s booksignings, or to visit friends, or just to see the countryside. Sallie and I range from South Padre to Amarillo, and from Texarkana to El Paso. We travel. We travel a lot. And most of our travel is here in Texas.
I have met upwards of probably a hundred thousand people at one time or another, and I’m not sure that I have a single enemy among them. All by way of saying, I know Texas, and I know Texans. But I also don’t think I’ll ever stop learning more, or meeting more people, or making more friends. Texas is simply that big, and life is too good here.
So, for me to write about anything other than Texas would mean that I would have to write…science fiction. Now don’t laugh. Science fiction is about the only thing I can write when I’m not writing about Texas. I suppose that’s what it means to be a Texas writer. You have to write about Texas. I’m not sure I can help it. But it gets worse than that. This affliction is down in the bone, where no treatment can reach. What I mean by worse, is that I live in Austin, so guess what I have to write about? Okay, that one was too easy. Austin has grown on me. It has grown into me. I could no more divest myself of Austin than I could divest or divorce myself from Texas. I love it here, and I’ve only lived in Austin for the past thirteen years.
So, when I’m writing, and I need a character, he or she is going to have a Texas name. He or she is going to have a Texas background. And you know what? That character is going to talk Texan. They’re going to think Texan, and they’re going to have a history that is nothing but Texas.
From time to time Sallie and I will discuss moving somewhere else. We really do. I have never, however, believed it would work. It would be sort of like breaking up with someone you’ve been with and gone through life with, and this pea-picking heart of mine can’t hardly take any more heartache. So, cry me a river, but I ain’t leavin’.
About my friend, Dan—I think I understand him better, now. It’s quite likely he and I saw the same things when we were little fellows. Hell, it’s likely we were born in the same hospital, albeit years apart, and if not the same room, then likely just down the hall. There aren’t many rooms or halls in that little hospital. Yeah, I think I understand him. And I think I know why he’s here in Austin. Dan plays the piano, professionally. He’s incomparable at it. I think he came to the right place.
There’s one other thing, before I close, and suppose it’s this last bit that tells the tale. There’s a level of responsibility I didn’t expect that settled upon me the moment my first publication rolled off the line and started appearing in bookstores. It was as if all of my ancestors, going back to San Jacinto, were standing there in two lines in that bookstore as I walked in to my first booksigning. Like wraiths, all presence and no substance, they stood, taciturn but faintly smiling, as if to say, “Do us proud, son. Make us mean something again. Don’t let them forget us.”
Well, daddy, and my grandaddys, and all of you old southern coots with your women on your arms and your boots dusty from the trail, I hope I have. And if I haven’t, well, I promise you, I’m working on it.
May is Texas Mystery Writers Month. Keep an eye on our blog for guest posts from our favorite Texas writers, all month long. You can find George Wier’s books on our shelves, most of ’em signed. Just give us a call here at BookPeople and we’ll set one aside.