When it comes to matters of criminal justice, executive editor Michael Hall has established himself as one of the country’s preeminent long-form writers. In September, Mike’s November 2015 piece on Greg Torti, a convicted sex offender who has always maintained his innocence, took home two prestigious prizes: the State Bar of Texas’s Gavel Award and the Dallas Bar Association’s Philbin Award, which recognize excellence in legal reporting. Said one judge of Mike’s piece: “ ‘The Outcast’ is creative, informative, and courageous journalism that shines a light on a part of the justice system none of us wants to think about.” For Mike, the recognition is particularly special—he has now won both awards multiple times. And based on the stories he is working on for 2017, it won’t surprise us if he’s back in the mix next year.

And now, a sampling of feedback from our readers on the October 2016 issue:

Construction Criticism

It’s as if Joan Didion switched her focus from California and Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Waco, going beneath the surface, unearthing truths and experiences, telling stories of hope and despair, bringing together different worlds, and creating a walk-through exhibit of a town that was, is, can be, and perhaps will be [“Are You Ready to Meet Your Fixer Uppers?”].

What appears at first glance to be a promo piece for the phenomena that are Chip and Joanna Gaines and the HGTV show Fixer Upper is actually something much deeper. This is an article that pushed me to look for the story behind the story.

Thank you for this article and for something more meaningful than a typical travel piece. This was much more than I expected when I started to read and will help me appreciate the show, the city, and the people much more. I will watch more closely now.
Patri, via texasmonthly.com

My husband and I (and many of our friends) are huge fans of Fixer Upper. So we were really excited to see this month’s cover. Unfortunately, the article was a colossal disappointment. From all indications the piece was supposed to be about how the fame and success of Fixer Upper and its stars, Chip and Joanna Gaines, have improved property values and renewed interest in renovating older homes.

Instead we were given a pointedly skewed history of a not-so-small town in our beloved state. I have lived in Texas all my life and graduated from the University of Texas, in 1971, so I am quite familiar with the history of Waco. However, one would think from this article that Waco is the only city in the nation, let alone the state, to have experienced tragedy.

Ms. Brodesser-Akner was biased toward some of her interviewees, while disparaging others because their beliefs didn’t line up with her own. She spent so much time wondering whether the success of Fixer Upper, and in turn Chip and Joanna, was a good thing or whether they were somehow going to be responsible for some unforeseen disaster looming in the city’s future.

I did appreciate the short article on your “Miscellany” page, where photographer Jeff Wilson simply stated what a pleasant experience it was to photograph people who were celebrities and who were actually the same in person as they appeared on national television. Obviously he was not, as Ms. Brodesser-Akner so clearly was, plagued with a preset agenda to tear down a genuinely unpretentious and completely authentic couple.
Cathy Elliott, via email

I loved your article, Taffy. I was actually touched by it. While I have to admire the Gaineses’ success (and I do love their show), what I liked more was the idea that a community can really make a place beautiful. If we had some of this in every city and town—people with pride using their combined talents toward building, or maybe rebuilding, on the beauty of their own community—maybe a lot more places would have the bright outlook that many in Waco have, weeds and all. It is especially enlightening as we are in political “crazy season” and listening to everyone from every direction tell us what they can do for us, when maybe the better idea is to just let us do it for ourselves.
EricJM, via texasmonthly.com

I love Fixer Upper, but this story made me root for Waco and not shake my head at “Wacky Waco.”
Mklitt, via texasmonthly.com

I normally run a few issues behind in reading my TM (because I feel the need to read every article). But when I received this month’s copy with Chip and Joanna Gaines on the cover, I dropped everything. While I appreciate anything about the Fixer Upper stars, I was disappointed. They seemed like a footnote in a story about Waco. Honestly, I did enjoy the article and learned some things about Waco I didn’t know. Just wish I could have read an article about the Gaineses.
Tommye Jones, Harper

I’m happy for the Gaineses’ success. I’m happy for the visibility Waco is receiving. However, please don’t hitch the community’s success solely to the Gaineses. It is actually the result of Baylor’s impressive growth, the massive relocation of industry to the area (Caterpillar, Domtar, and Tractor Supply, just to name a few), and both the city’s and the chamber’s continued diligence to improve and beautify our community.

Many of us don’t want to see Waco’s revitalized image tarnished because some people foolishly bought into the false prophets.
Jerry O’Brien, via texasmonthly.com

Pits Tops

Hiring Daniel Vaughn as the barbecue editor was the best decision Texas Monthly has made in a while. He got me to ugly-cry over an article about barbecue [“Snow’s Queen”].
Marcus Powers, via Facebook

A touching story of resolve and dedication.
Mae Whitten, via Facebook

I love Tootsie’s story and aspire to be like her when I grow up.
Jeanine Hopkins, via Facebook

Tootsie looks like she would whup your ass if you needed it and then get you a glass of sweet tea.
Martha Scheibel, via Facebook

She is truly an inspiration. Long may she cook!
Soccermomx3, via texasmonthly.com

I have been a die-hard Texas barbecue fan for twenty-plus years and had always believed Kreuz Market to be number one. When I first read about Snow’s, I had no idea who they were or what they did. I have also never really been a fan of brisket, since it’s not that good in Lockhart.

Snow’s completely changed my view. I went to a TMBBQ Fest and stood in line for thirty-plus minutes for Snow’s. When that first piece of brisket melted in my mouth, I finally figured out why they are so revered. I immediately got back in line for another thirty-minute wait just to get another piece.
Chris in Austin, via texasmonthly.com

I suppose the ultimate compliment to Ms. Tootsie is that after all the notoriety, crowds, and pain of losing family members, the barbecue is really still that amazing.
LonghornHotspur, via texasmonthly.com

Trading Posts

I sometimes have trouble putting my finger on what exactly most irritates me about Erica Grieder’s articles, other than the obvious anti-Republican bent. But in “Trumpeting Trade,” her shallow analysis is a good place to start. Her argument, or pedantic punditry, is based on an all-or-nothing approach to NAFTA and by extension TPP, but Donald Trump’s argument about trade has always been about the quality of the deals made. The most clear-cut deal the Obama administration has made recently is the Iran nuke deal. The question isn’t whether we should have tried to negotiate with Iran, it’s whether we should have tried to intelligently negotiate. The Iran deal was stupid; NAFTA and TPP are only flawed. The problem with the Obama administration is that it is willing to consent to deals that are less than acceptable, even totally lopsided, if it meets its political goals.
Eric Sparrgrove, Katy

Lol. Texas Monthly wants the jobs to be in Mexico and China with America’s export being CASH!

You kept saying Texas leaders, but you never named one. But that’s the way you liberals operate.
David Dawson, via Facebook

Down on the Border

The only way to secure the border is if Manuel Padilla could find a way to curb demand for drugs and cheap labor [“Can This Man Secure the Border?”]. I’m not buying that he improved anything [while working as the sector chief in Arizona]. If he did, it’s no more than a game of whack-a-mole.
Marc Irving, via Facebook

Editors’ note: In “Less Is Norah,” which appeared in the October issue, we misidentified Dr. Lonnie Smith as Lonnie Liston Smith. We regret the error.