texasmonthly.com: Why write a story about Texas lakes?
Brian D. Sweany: I think two reasons. One, the magazine is always looking for good service pieces, something that hasn’t been covered a million times in a million publications. This was not a topic we had covered with our readers in recent memory, and there’s no better time than the summer. Second, last June we ran a story on rivers, and it received a great response. Naturally, a piece on lakes seemed like a wise decision.
texasmonthly.com: What do you hope readers will gain from a story like this?
BDS: Simply put, we want someone who never goes to lakes to give it some thought. Start with the cover—the image is designed in such a way that when you look at it, you want to get in the water. If that hooks you, the write-ups are designed to do two things: appeal to you through their description and provide clear information so that it is easy to plan a trip and go.
texasmonthly.com: This piece sounds like it was fun to report. Would you agree?
BDS: It’s one of the perks of the job. On one Monday, instead of being behind my desk, I was hiking in the High Plains through McBride Canyon south of Lake Meredith. And on a recent Saturday, my family and I were zipping over the waves of Lake Texoma.
texasmonthly.com: This story was a collaborative effort, which you oversaw, correct? How did you divvy up the necessary reporting—throw darts, first-come first-serve, establish an office-wide draft? How long did everyone have to do their reporting?
BDS: First, great credit has to go to Charlie Llewellin, the magazine’s new media director and all-around outdoorsman. His research led to a list of thirty or so items, which we narrowed down. Then I sent out an e-mail to a number of writers to see who would be interested in hitting the road, and we went from there. Very little arm-twisting was involved (it’s not like we were writing about “Things to Do In, On, and Around Texas Landfills”). I’d say that people had their assignments about a month before the deadline, which wasn’t as much time as I would have liked.
texasmonthly.com: How did you go about choosing the lakes for this story? The lakes profiled run the gamut from family-friendly to a fisherman’s paradise. What criteria did you use to go about winnowing down the list of possibles and coming up with the final product?
BDS: We wanted to be geographically diverse, for starters. We couldn’t have half of the lakes be in the Austin area and only one in East Texas. Second, we wanted interesting activities. At almost all of these lakes, you can swim, fish, boat, ski. We decided that we’d pick one key activity at each lake to focus on as a way to sell each location and make it stand out: so, camping at Inks Lake, scuba diving at Possum Kingdom Lake, and, yes, wearing your birthday suit at Hippie Hollow at Lake Travis.
texasmonthly.com: This story contains some interesting surprises. For example, if I gave the average person a word-association test, chances are he wouldn’t automatically connect “Dallas” and “mountain biking.” (See the write-up on Joe Pool Lake near Dallas.) What was the most unexpectedly interesting thing you learned about Texas and its lakes from doing this piece?
BDS: For me, it was that each write-up has a surprise in it. I learned where to find really big bass (Lake Fork), what’s the largest man-made body of water in the South (Toledo Bend Reservoir), how to live on a lake (Lake Amistad), and where to get lost on the water (Caddo Lake). When I was growing up, my family didn’t go to lakes, so this was a lot of fun for me. I won’t make that same mistake with my daughter.
texasmonthly.com: Which of the lakes stood out in your mind as a place you wanted to visit most?
BDS: I think S.C. Gwynne really got a lot of people interested in renting a houseboat on Lake Amistad. And I hate to admit this, but I’ve never stopped at Caddo Lake, though I’ve been that way countless times.
texasmonthly.com: Did you make any vacation plans while compiling this story?
BDS: Yes, though in a way, getting out to do these counted as a bit of a vacation. (Please make sure my boss reads that.) And it is fun to get out and do some of these with the family. I can thank Texas Monthly for my daughter’s first boat ride; that’s something that’s important to me.