Texas, Our Texas
Editorial director Christopher Keyes on developing this month’s cover story.
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texasmonthly.com: When and how did the idea come up to do a story on the 75 things we love about Texas?
Christopher Keyes: It’s a concept that has come up in several story-idea meetings. For a while, we were lukewarm about the idea, only because there is a danger in producing a list of things that readers will expect. We didn’t want to green-light the idea until we were certain that there would be a surprising mix of items, and I think we absolutely achieved that.
texasmonthly.com: How did you compile the list?
CK: It was quite easy, actually. We sent out an e-mail blast to our staff writers, editors, and writers-at-large asking for ideas—personal picks on what they love about the state. There were no parameters beyond that. It could be a food or a place or a person or a concept, whatever it was that they loved. The ideas started coming in immediately, and from there, it was only a matter of paring it down to a manageable size. Though our original list included some 200 suggestions, we whittled it down to 75, a number that seemed to balance our desire for a lot of items and the ability to give our writers the room to really write something interesting for each one.
texasmonthly.com: Before you received any suggestions from writers, did you already have an idea of what you wanted to include?
CK: No, and that’s what I think makes the list so great. The choices in here weren’t created by a committee; rather, they’re very personal. Sarah Bird writes about loving humidity of all things. Evan Smith writes about a jazz song. Paul Burka, a man who has likely spent as much time at the Capitol than any person in the state, writes about the photographs you can see in the Capitol basement. Brian Sweany tells us about the doughnut shop he has frequented since high school. The list is surprising because there were no rules: Just tell us about what you love.
texasmonthly.com: Was there a conscious effort to make sure that you had items from categories? Say, items about music, items about politics, items about small towns? Was geography a concern?
CK: To a certain degree, yes. Primarily we were worried about geographic distribution. Many of us live in Austin, so there was a danger in too many items coming from Central Texas. But even before we narrowed down the massive list, we were pleasantly surprised at how geographically diverse the suggestions already were.
texasmonthly.com: Some of the write-ups are lengthy and some are quite short. Was each person given a word count for a topic? Or did you let the writer decide how many words would suffice?
CK: Everybody had a word range, but we wanted some real differences in length. If you have all the write-ups at the same length, the story can start to seem a bit monotonous, no matter how creative the choices are. Our assistant editor David Courtney, who wrote about an old pickup truck, turned his piece in at twice the assigned length, but it was so well-written—and uniquely Texan—that it was a no-brainer to run it as is. There are several items like this. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some items—Big Red, the size of our ranches, the buckle bunny—didn’t need much more explanation.
texasmonthly.com: Did you have any overlap? More than one person suggesting the same thing?
CK: Yes, for example: courthouses; El Mirador, in San Antonio; Barton Springs; Balmorhea; Amy’s Ice Cream; Larry McMurtry; the Pecos Rodeo; the Dallas Cowboys; the Capitol. All of these were on several people’s list, which made it easy for us—we knew they shouldn’t be cut.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think there are any holes? Is something missing?
CK: Not really, but again, that’s because the parameters were so wide open. These were personal favorites, things we love about Texas. But you could poll anyone who lives in the state and, while there might be some overlap, it would be a different list. And that’s what makes the story fun.
texasmonthly.com: What was the one item on the list that really stood out?
CK: Thong Island. It made me laugh the first time I read about it, and it is a place I otherwise would never had known existed. And if you don’t already know what it is, you just have to read the story.