Mother’s move to New York was just the latest of several problems I had that summer. By then there were Rebecca’s parrots, the Appropriate Behavior Rubrics at work, the increasing hostility of my downstairs neighbor, and the small, strange problem of Maurice.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2018 issue.
I’d often thought of going to Cuba, but in the summer of 2017 I was nearing the end of the first draft of the novel, and it became clear I needed to visit the island for research, to see Nicaro for myself. And, though I told no one, I began to dream of the events that might lead to my family’s reconciliation, a fantasy in which I was the hero.
A feature essay from the Spring 2020 issue.
I moved to Texas in 2017 and returned often to Dilley. When I would chat with residents—after a city council meeting, at the nail salon, before a cook-off—they’d ask if I was in Dilley to write about how depressing or messed up the place is. Or they’d scoff: I was just another journalist coming to write about the detention center. Or they couldn’t figure out why someone would want to study a town they found so dreadfully boring. In reality, I was struck by how the town is at the crossroads of three industries: oil, confinement, and smuggling. I wondered what it might take to revive a small town like Dilley—and at what cost. I kept sticking around.
Cattle rustling, signature crime of the Old West, has returned to Texas. “These days, we got more rustlers than you can say grace over,” Ranger Wayne Goodman told me. “It used to be you didn’t catch a rustler that didn’t know cattle, or at least have some kind of agriculture in their background. Now, what with the drought, it doesn’t take much skill. Cows are so thirsty you can lead them into a trailer with just a bucket of water.”
A feature essay from the Spring 2019 issue.
As in all cities, the story of displacement and discrimination is as old as the municipality’s. And while it might seem like a somewhat ahistorical cheap shot to draw a direct, incriminating line from Spindletop’s boom to the swath of corporations that now dominates Houston and its high-risk neighborhoods, the residue of truth is there. Houston, like every other metropolis, abets the long history of industry-induced subjugation that manifests, visibly and invisibly, as endemic environmental racism. It’s written into the city’s code, embedded from day one in the place’s naïve aspirations of itself.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2019 issue.
I am journeying north. I want to see the infinite yellow flat of the Texas panhandle. Stables and barns. The dipping heads of pumpjacks. Enough to situate a fictional ranch along the Caprock Escarpment, a location I need to depict for a novel-in-progress. My mother’s family comes from the region, but I’ve never been there. My plan is to drive the seven hours north from Austin to Palo Duro Canyon, where I’ll camp for the night. Often, a single detail will bring a scene into clarity, and I’m off to find it.