I get asked every so often, after a reader has finished one of my Nick Sibelius novels, where the ideas and characters come from. I understand the question. I populate the novels with quirky characters—a bicycle fanatic eco-terrorist, a good old boy who seems to accidentally kill people around him, a serial killer who uses musical instruments as weapons—I could go on. For these and other characters, my only defense is that I assume I was dropped on my head as an infant. Although when I step back from these creations I do see some similarities. All of them tend to be passionate about their cause. Their principles may not be moral high ground, but they are passionate. Most of them play their passion out in creative ways. Sure, anyone could kill with a gun or knife, but a tuba?
The situations these characters find themselves in come out of my history with Texas. I moved to Austin when I was twelve and lived in the state for several decades. We Texans—yes, I live in Seattle now, but a part of me will always be in Texas—have, from our perspective, a clear vision of who we are and what we’re about. If you drive across the state line into Louisiana or Arkansas or Oklahoma or New Mexico, that clear vision appears a bit distorted, and well, odd. No matter what Alaska, California or France say (wanna be’s!) Texas is obviously the largest sovereign nation in the United States, in terms of the geography of the land and of our minds. We’ve got a governor who shot a coyote while on a jog. The Texas story here is that we’ve let coyotes overpopulate and we need to hunt them. The other 49 states are thinking, “Your governor carries a gun when he jogs?” A call for secession rises every so often from some opportunistic politician (yeah, the governor too. Don’t know if he was packing a gun that day.). A drone secessionist air force, smuggling drugs in a pipeline, burying toxic chemicals in a water tank, and sucking an aquifer dry for capitalistic gain do not strain belief. Just when I think I’ve come up with something off the wall crazy, I read a news story from Texas supporting the possibility of the very thing I considered nuts.
Now some might see this as disdain for the state where so much of my life has occurred. Your perception is merely a cultural misunderstanding. From a Texas perspective, we have a certain twisted pride in doing what “you people” (that’s Texan for someone not from Texas) think is over the top. It’s true. Everything is bigger, better, louder, brasher, crazier, and more colorful in Texas. I can hear somebody in Alaska, naked as a jay bird, banging garbage can lids together, dancing in the snow while yelling “we’re bigger, we’re bigger.” As a graduate of two of Texas’ finest institutions of learning, The University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, I offer this rhetorical rebuff of your protest.
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