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'Mr. Texas' author Lawrence Wright takes on the colorful world of Lone Star politics

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. If you follow the news, you might remember that a few weeks back, the attorney general of Texas was impeached in his state's legislature for many well-publicized acts of mischief and alleged criminality. The official, Ken Paxton, was acquitted by the 31 members of the Texas Senate, one of whom was Paxton's wife, though she recused herself from the vote. Paxton now says he'll file criminal complaints against the lawmakers who led his impeachment.

Texas politics, long known for producing colorful characters and larger-than-life dramas, are the subject of a new novel by our guest, veteran journalist and author Lawrence Wright. Wright is probably best-known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Looming Tower" about the rise of al-Qaida, which was also a Hulu series, and "Going Clear," his book about Scientology, which became an Emmy-winning documentary that aired on HBO. Wright has also written screenplays, musicals and performed a one-man show about his research into al-Qaida.

He wrote a nonfiction book about the changing character of his home state titled "God Save Texas." His new novel looks at the Texas legislature through the story of a fictional rancher who's cast by circumstance into a successful race for the state House, where he sees how things really work in the capital. The result is funny, revealing, and thought-provoking. Though he's lived for decades in Austin, Lawrence Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992. His new novel is titled "Mr. Texas."

I should also mention that, as we record this, I'm suffering some symptoms from COVID. I'm going to be fine, but you may find my voice is just a little off. Lawrence Wright, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: Thanks, Dave. It's - and I hope you recover quickly.

DAVIES: I trust I will. I trust I will.

WRIGHT: Yeah.

DAVIES: Vaccinated and all. You know, this book, apart from being a fun read, which it is, raises a question. Why should people across the country care about what happens in Texas politics?

WRIGHT: Well, no matter what you think about Texas, it's growing so fast that, by the year 2050, it's projected to be about the size of California and New York combined. Imagine. You know, right now it's a, you know, very important force in American politics. But to be that big, to have, you know, so many electoral votes, it will be the future of America. There's no way around it. And I just don't think that Americans and even Texans have taken in how consequential this growth is.

DAVIES: Before we get to the fictional story, tell us a real story about Texas politics that gives us a sense of how, well, weird it can be.

WRIGHT: (Laughter) Well, first of all, let me say I have a lot of affection for the state despite my criticisms. But historically, first of all, I'll say that, you know, Texas has never really been corrupt. We only - before Ken Paxton, the only statewide official we ever impeached in our whole long history was the governor named James "Pa" Ferguson in 1917. And voters were so upset they elected his wife to succeed him, so it didn't really strike much of a chord then.

But that - you know, it wasn't like Illinois or New Jersey or New York, you know, where we - you know, you have a history of corruption until lately. And this is what really concerns me about the state. It's not under the table. During the Paxton trial, just before it began, for instance, two Midland oilmen provided the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, with $3 million - $1 million down and $2 million alone. And clearly, you know, they openly favored acquitting Ken Paxton. So - and that's what happened.

DAVIES: Right, right. We should note that the lieutenant governor was presiding over the trial in the Senate, so...

WRIGHT: Yeah, he was the judge.

DAVIES: Right.

WRIGHT: Yeah. And he brought the force of his office on, you know, the votes within the Senate. So it - that's not the kind of thing that has happened in the past in Texas. We've had some, you know, weird scandals. Like, Bo Pilgrim, this chicken magnate, once, decades ago, walked out on the floor of the state Senate and passed out $10,000 checks to his supporters. But that's - you know, it's uncommon to have the kind of corruption that we're seeing right now.

DAVIES: You know, the voice that I hear as I read this book is that of a colorful Texas storyteller. Let me give you an example. I mean, there - you - there's a scene where you're - where a lobbyist is talking to a new member of the legislature. (Reading) All I ask is that you open your door to me, he said in a voice that poured honey on a biscuit. Over 10,000 bills will come up this season. My clients care for only a few. Most of the rest, nobody gives a country crap about.

Was it a conscious decision for you to write like one of these characters?

WRIGHT: Oh, well, I love the way Texans talk. The vocabulary, the jargon - you know, it's very juicy. And as a writer, it was fun to be able to pick up on the language. And it's - the language gives you a window on the kind of soul of the state. You know, it's - you know, there's a playfulness about the language which, you know, as a writer, I'd be a fool to turn away from because this - it's so much fun to put those words in the mouths of people who resemble people who really do exist.

DAVIES: Was there a particular politician or journalist or lobbyist or operative that you talk to a lot that helped inspire some of the writing here?

WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. I mean, I owe many debts. You know, there's a character that - it is the speaker of the House, Big Bob Bigbee, who is more than loosely modeled on the former lieutenant governor Bob Bullock, who was married five times, just like big Bob was, and a chaotic individual - you know, a drunk who struggled with alcohol his entire life. And yet, despite all of his personal scandals, everybody knew that he loved the state of Texas and would do it no harm. And that's how he survived in politics. I thought that, you know, those were qualities that I could work with. And, you know, there's a journalist that, you know, hearkens back a bit, maybe, to Molly Ivins who was able to kind of stride the divide between journalism and politics in a way that few people in Texas have ever succeeded in doing. So there - lots of different characters have gone into the mix, but you could think of them as ingredients that were poured into this dish.

DAVIES: The other thing that's interesting about this book is that it was something like - I don't know - two decades in the making and wasn't always a book. You want to just run down this journey for us in brief?

WRIGHT: Yeah, this book has a long tale. It started as a movie script and never got made. And I had a reading of it, and the director said, why don't you do it as a play? And then the next words out of his mouth were, we've already rented the theater. So the presumption was pretty impressive. And I said, well, when do we produce it? And he said, four months. So four months - you know, I had written the play, and we cast it and rehearsed it. And we had two productions in Austin. And a Broadway producer came down, Margo Lion, one of the titans of Broadway. And she had done "Angels In America" and "Hairspray." And she said it should be a musical. And so I started writing music with my pal Marcia Ball, one of the revered R&B players in Austin, and then Margo changed her mind and said it should be a television series. So I sold a pilot to HBO. And then HBO fired my executive and dumped all of his projects, so I had nothing. And I asked my agent during the pandemic, I've got to do something with this. What do you suggest? And he said podcasts. So I - Marcia and I and my son Gordon started writing songs again for the podcast. But, you know, podcasts are meant to be inexpensive. And we had a cast of, like, 15, and in need a full band. So it was like we built a ship in the basement, and we couldn't get it up the steps. Then, finally, it occurred to me that, actually, I am a book writer, so I decided I would write it as a novel. And I know it sounds weird and extravagant to have gone through all these iterations, but all of that helped me in the construction of the novel. Having seen it from so many different perspectives, it came off really rapidly, and I had a lot of joy in the writing of it.

DAVIES: We're going to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you.

We're speaking with Lawrence Wright. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of 13 books. His new novel is "Mr. Texas." He'll be back to talk more in a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MISHA MENGELBERG TRIO'S "ROLLO THREE")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and our guest is author and journalist Lawrence Wright. His new novel is about Texas politics. It's called "Mr. Texas."

So let's talk a bit about the story here. It's centered around a struggling rancher who gets drawn into politics. He'd never even voted before. Tell us about this guy, Sonny Lamb, as in lamb to the slaughter?

WRIGHT: Yeah. In defense, I will have to say that Lamb is a common name out in West Texas. And so - but it does suit the mood for bringing our character on stage. Sonny is a - like a lot of, you know, ranchers out in West Texas, he's facing ruin because of the drought. It's been crippling in Texas. And he's selling off his herd, and in general, he feels like he doesn't count for anything, and he wants to make a mark in the world. At that point, a lobbyist appeared, L.D. Sparks, and there's - the representative from district 74 has just passed away, and L.D. is looking for someone to replace him who he can count on - a pet vote.

And it happens that he sees a television clip in which Sonny rescues a little girl from a burning barn and then goes back in and saves the horse. And it's a perfect piece of political footage, and L.D. knows what he can do with it. So he convinces Sonny he should run for office, and L.D. promises he can get him elected. Of course, the assumption on the part of the lobbyist is that this guy is going to do my bidding, and that turns out to be an error. The architecture of the novel is the struggle between this idealist from West Texas and the cynic who really controls the Texas House of Representatives.

DAVIES: You know, I'm interested in the part of Texas that this is set in - I mean, the ranch where Sonny Lamb has toiled for so long with his wife, Lola. Texas is a geographically diverse state, and this is a part of the state I have great affection for. You want to just talk a little bit about it?

WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. Well, let's start with the fact that it's big. I mean, it's - everybody knows Texas is big, but this one House district that Sonny Lamb represents, district 74, is larger than Connecticut. It, you know, low population. You know, it's arid, dry, but majestic in its way. You know, it actually has, you know, a lot of - it's sort of an - a high desert. You know, there are mountains, and it's still - it's very, very dry, especially during this drought. And it's, you know, you drive through West Texas, you see a lot of abandoned towns. Some were once big oil towns. And, you know, they've all dried up. It's different from East Texas in that way, which is, you know, still kind of, you know, well populated and affluent.

But West Texas has had a real struggle, and the drought is bringing that section of the state to its knees. So that's what Sonny is coping with - the loss of everything that he values in his home because of the drought. And yet he determines that there's a solution which is an aquifer underfoot. A vast aquifer that is salty. And that's the reason it's not used for irrigation. But he hits on the idea that a desalination plant would be the salvation of the West Texas way of life.

DAVIES: The lobbyist who recruits this rancher to run for the legislature, L.D. Sparks, is, it turns out, a really powerful guy in the state Capitol. And this is interesting because you think of lobbyists - I mean, the term comes from, you know, representatives of industry or whatever that hang out in the lobby and try and catch members because, you know, they're supplicants. They're not the people who are running things. But in some respects, this particular lobbyist is - one of them is more powerful than most of the elected officials. Is that common? I mean, how does that happen?

WRIGHT: Well, I know a lot of lobbyists, I have to say. You can't live in Austin very long without, you know, knowing and making friends with lobbyists 'cause they're a very friendly group of people. You know, lobbyists are not just the people that stand in the lobby and grab people by the elbow. A lot of times, they write the bills. They - you know, they do the work of the legislator to bring bills forward. A lot of times, you know, you imagine somebody like Sonny Lamb coming into the legislature. He's never read a bill, much less written one. And so the lobbyists will help him write out a bill that will get through the committee and will help him know who to go to on the committee to talk to, how to politic your bill to the floor. And, of course, the lobbyist is doing this for the bills that he wants to get passed. And so you get a massive amount of help when you're doing something the lobbyist wants. The other thing is that when you get to the legislature, before the first day of the opening of the legislature, lobbyists will line up to give you money.

And there, you know, is different offices or clubs where members of the legislature will sit and receive a line of, you know, a couple of hundred lobbyists coming to put checks in their pocket. And this is all legal (laughter). It's - but, you know, they want the member to open their door to them. That's the language that they will use. And it's not a guarantee of a vote, but it's thought to be poor sportsmanship if you're taking money from people who are on different sides of an issue. You know, if you've already made up your mind about school vouchers, for instance, then you shouldn't be taking money from the public schools.

DAVIES: You know, this was a scene in the book which - one of many scenes where I would read and say, is this real? I mean, I think, you know, Texas politics can be so outsized that it probably is hard to parody in some ways, right? (Laughter) I mean, just the stories themselves are so wild. But this is a story where this new lawmaker, who's brand-new to this, the lobbyist takes him in a room. It's called the Austen Club. And then literally dozens of lobbyists from, you know, the auto dealers and, you know, whoever come in and hand checks. They're campaign contributions, I guess. And his reaction, the lawmaker's reaction, is this legal? And it is because it's reported, but wow. Is this common, do you think, in other legislatures?

WRIGHT: Every legislator does it. It's not just common, it's universal. And honestly, most of them don't have a choice. They don't get enough money to support their office. They have to have an office in their district, at least one. They have to have a staff. And they only get paid, you know, a couple of hundred dollars a month only when the legislature is in session, which is only every other year. So you know, there's dire need for income and it's the lobbyists that support it.

DAVIES: You know, you write in the book that many of the legislatures in the Capitol, you say, actually believe that climate change is a problem and that we need reasonable gun laws, you know, and immigration reform, but none of them can say so or vote that way. Do you find that to be true in - among lawmakers at the Capitol?

WRIGHT: I guess the way I would respond to that is that there are certain people with a great deal of power, because of their affinity with things like the Freedom Caucus or something like that, who are the people determining policy for the Republicans in this state. And not every Republican agrees with it, but most of them don't want to be seen as getting out of bounds. And behind all of that is the power of the oil and gas industry. It's - you cannot underestimate the force of all that money on Texas politics. An example is, you know, during our big freeze a couple of years ago where 240 Texans died, many of them froze to death, after the power grid went down.

Oil field operators made billions of dollars because we had this adjustable rate for charging for power. And so, you know, something that might have been a few hundred dollars became tens of thousands of dollars for energy, and they simply took that money. They had been instructed by the legislature years ago to winterize their facilities, and they failed to do that. So one of the pipeline operators sent a check to Greg Abbott, our governor, for $1 million - in gratitude, I'm sure. But that was just one example of the money that flooded into the pockets of Texas legislators who decided not to hold the oil and gas industry responsible for the breakdown of our energy grid, and instead passed the cost along to its consumers, which we'll be living with for decades.

DAVIES: We're going to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Lawrence Wright. He's a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of 13 previous books. His new novel is "Mr. Texas." He'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOMINIC MILLER'S "CHAOS THEORY")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. We're speaking with Lawrence Wright. He's a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of many books, including "The Looming Tower," about the rise of al-Qaida, and "Going Clear," about Scientology. His latest is a novel about the colorful world of Texas politics, his home state. It's a funny, satirical look at the state legislature through the eyes of a struggling rancher who's plucked from obscurity by a political operative to take a seat in the state House. The book is called "Mr. Texas."

You know, we talked about how Texas politics can be hard to parody. And one of the most remarkable things that you describe is what's called budget night in the legislature. It's the 90th day of the session, which, as - I gather, the Constitution requires that all the budget bills must be enacted. And so you have all of these members, and the fate of their special causes or projects will be decided in crafting the budget. And they may or may not get funding. Their funding might be - go to somebody else. And so it's a hectic time, and this is the way you describe it.

(Reading) On the afternoon before budget night, members and staffers begin to wander the hallway, searching out the margarita machines in various offices. By midnight, the level is such that few could legally drive. If they were too drunk to stand, state troopers would escort them out, and the night was just getting started.

You also note that five-hour energy shots were available, some of which members downed once an hour. Really? This really happened?

WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. And in order to try to keep the legislators cogent, they turned the air's condition down to - you know, I - it's frigid in there. And members have learned to wear long underwear or carry blankets into the House. It's all an attempt to keep them awake. And that would be a problem, even if it weren't for the margarita machines.

DAVIES: Wow. I just - I'm just stunned to read that lawmakers would actually be drinking while they're dealing with this legislation, which is some of the most consequential bills that will pass in the session. I guess if you're not doing anything but casting a vote as you are instructed, it doesn't...

WRIGHT: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...Matter if you're inebriated, but, boy, hard to believe.

WRIGHT: Yeah. And also, you know, things can get volatile because the truth comes out on budget night. It's - lots and lots of bills that may have passed don't get funded, and people start making trades or sabotaging another lawmaker's bill in order to get money for his, and it can get really rough. And, you know, sometimes, you know - a couple of sessions ago, it got kind of physical. And it's not surprising, given that, you know, inebriation is a problem. And people feel - after all of this, they get to budget night, and they see their dreams flushed down the drain because some other lawmaker is able to poach the money that is going to - was going to supply the ability for your bill to become a law.

DAVIES: You know, when you and I spoke in 2018 about your book "God Save Texas," which was nonfiction, you pointed out that Texas is already the second-most populous state in the country and growing rapidly, and that if it were turned from a red state politically to a blue state or even a purple state, it would have a huge impact on the country. And you said the demographic changes are such that that is likely, sooner or later. Do you still think so?

WRIGHT: Oh yeah, I do. But, you know, everybody who has longed for change has been so frustrated. But if you look at the demography, you know, we - people are moving to Texas. You know, it's just - half a million every year. And most of them are moving into cities which are all blue, even Fort Worth, which was the last to change. And the suburbs are becoming increasingly blue. It's already a minority-majority state. So the Hispanic vote, although it's beginning to lean towards the Republicans, is still usually Democratic - and young people. Texas is a very young state, and there are a lot of young people in Texas that are furious about issues such as climate change and abortion. So those trends are all working against the Republican Party.

And in its defense, what they are doing is, you know, trying to attack the ability of people to actually vote and gerrymandering districts so that the Republicans will be, as they are, overrepresented in the Congress. So, you know - but that's a rearguard action. And it's going to change. It's just a matter of when. And also, you know, there's a great need for appealing candidates on the Democratic side.

DAVIES: Earlier this year, you wrote a long piece in The New Yorker about Austin, your home city. And I should also note that that's where I went to college, University of Texas, and I have family there. The title of the article is "The Astonishing Transformation Of Austin, Texas." What is astonishing?

WRIGHT: Well, first of all, when you drive around Austin, if you haven't been in the neighborhood for the last couple of months, it's - you know, it's totally changed. This is every place in Austin. And it's - you know, I was - my wife and I got to spend a night in a hotel downtown several months ago. And we opened the blinds, and we looked out the window. We didn't recognize a single thing. I didn't - we couldn't even tell what direction we were facing. And in the view of the - from the window, there were 10 building cranes.

So there's a sense of this town that we moved to in 1980 has been buried by another town. And I still love the town, you know, whatever it is. But it's not the place that we moved to. And it's - you know, it's alienating in some ways and exciting in others. You know, Austin has just become the 10th largest city in America. And that means four of the top 10 most populous cities in America are in Texas. And so it's, you know, the most urban state in America.

DAVIES: We are speaking with Lawrence Wright. He's a staff writer for The New Yorker. His new novel is called "Mr. Texas." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMANDA GARDIER'S "FJORD")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with veteran journalist and author Lawrence Wright. He has a new book about colorful Texas politics. It's called "Mr. Texas."

You know, you're somebody who writes about national issues, a lot of them. But, you know, you're not living in New York or Washington. And one of the things that I think you've said is that a lot of your colleagues who live in New York, for example, don't know any Republicans, but you do.

WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah.

DAVIES: And I'm wondering, what are your interactions with Republicans and why does it matter?

WRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think the best period of Texas politics in modern times was when George Bush was governor and Pete Laney was the speaker and Bob Bullock was the lieutenant governor. It was a period of amity in Texas politics. And as a matter of fact, both Laney and Bullock endorsed Bush for president, you know, two Democrats that supported him. That was a period of time I look back, you know, with fondness and also a great sense of regret that we can't get back to that. I would describe myself as a centrist.

I don't feel committed to the politics of either the Democratic or the Republican Party. My goal is, you know, pragmatism and compassion. You know, those are the - and unfortunately, right now, Texas has neither in its leadership. But there are a lot of Republican friends that I have that feel exactly the same way. They feel homeless. They don't have a party, you know, they have been deserted by their party. And I think that it's not just a Texas thing, but it's a very pronounced feeling in Texas. The alienation and the war within the GOP, which played out in the Paxton trial very clearly, you know, is something that I think is spreading nationally. And it's leaving a lot of disaffected Republicans in its wake.

DAVIES: You know, you write that you and your wife moved to Austin in 1980. And your wife in particular decided this is where she wants to put down roots, she's not leaving. And the one thing I wonder is, how can you stand the summers now? I mean, I was there for five days in early September. The high every day was over 100 degrees.

WRIGHT: It was hellish this year. You know, I don't know how it's going to affect the state if next year is like this one. You know, one wants to think it's exceptional. And we've had, you know, hot years before that and then moderated. But no - in all our history, we've never had a summer like that. And I think it's going to have political consequences.

One time, I had lunch with Ted Cruz. And, you know, we were sort of hashing out our differences (laughter). And I brought up, you know, Ted, climate change - are you serious? And he said, well, Larry, you know there are satellites in space that haven't detected a change in Earth's temperature in 70 years. And I said, well, Ted, there are thermometers on Earth that have (laughter) done a pretty good job of detecting it. We're in a difficult spot in Texas in that oil and gas is still the king. And yet Texas, as much as any state in the nation, is suffering the consequence of human-caused climate change.

So that's the paradox. And we have to get ahead of it because once again, Texas is leading the nation. The good side of it is, you know, alongside the oil and gas industry, we have, you know, more wind power than any other state. We are increasing our solar power. So you know, Texas has done a good job, even though they don't - you know, political leaders don't talk about it, providing alternative energy. And we need to go further down that road.

DAVIES: You know, as a native Texan myself, I sometimes encounter people, particularly, you know, politically progressive folks, who just hate Texas. I mean, you know, you lead the world in executions. You know, you wouldn't take the Medicaid expansion. You know, you have a miserly social service network. When you hear these things, how do you react? What do you say?

WRIGHT: Well, I feel the same way about - you know, those things that you cite, I think, are awful. You know, what Texas needs is more pragmatism and compassion, and those are the very things that it lacks in the current governance. On the other hand, you know, Texas has done a better job than any other state in providing jobs, which is, you know, absolutely essential. And I think that's something to be really proud of. I can't help but say that, you know, we have to take a step away from the culture wars that we're waging now, which are not only nonproductive, they're incredibly divisive.

You know, a state has, really, two obligations, one is to create opportunities. And in that, I would say, you know, making it possible for businesses to work, making sure the justice system works, making sure our children are educated. You know, these are all ways of creating opportunity. But the other thing that a state or a city, any political entity is supposed to do is to create community, and that's where Texas is falling down.

And it's not just Texas, it's happening all over the country. But Texas sets an example that is very contagious. And I think it causes - Texas is responsible for a lot of that, and it accounts for the reason people hate Texas so much in a way they don't hate Wisconsin or Michigan or places where you have also, you know, radical elements, you know, raging out of control. But Texas stands for all that disunity. And so we have to shoulder the responsibility of the kind of culture that we've been creating.

DAVIES: You know, when I think about some of your work - I mean, you wrote a lot about al-Qaida, this deeply researched book about the road to 9/11, and then this book about Scientology. And these were both cases of a lot of people, you know, in a belief system that radicalized them in a certain way or led to extreme views and gave them power to influence others. Do you see any parallel between that kind of mindset and what you see in the legislature in Texas?

WRIGHT: I guess when you phrase it that way, what occurs to me is the gun culture. Texas, you know, especially our political figures - they are so giddy about guns. They celebrate it - you know, Ted Cruz putting bacon around the barrel of an AR-15 and cooking, you know, Texas breakfast...

DAVIES: Oh, my goodness.

WRIGHT: ...You know, Greg Abbott holding news conferences at a shooting range. And every time we have a mass shooting, you know, there's, you know, this residue of grief that constantly comes up. And yet we - there's this belief in the Second Amendment that - there's a sense that it's under attack, whereas it's triumphant. Anybody can buy a gun now, and it doesn't matter your mental state. And then the number of killings in Texas, as is true everywhere, is on the rise. And a lot of this is because of the the cult around guns that is totally unnecessary and is very, very damaging to our culture.

So if you're asking me if there's a parallel with the the religious cults that I've written about in the past, I would say basically the gun culture is - has gone so far that even Republicans think that they've gone too far. And yet they can't seem to find a way to pass red flag laws and, you know, make sure that people are old enough and know how to handle a weapon and all those sorts of things. They can't find their way back. And so, you know, the extremists have, because of this giddy sense of celebrating guns and - it represents freedom and individuality. And these are things that Texans value. But it doesn't have to be synonymous with every single person owning a gun.

DAVIES: You know, this book - I mean, I won't give away much about it. But it takes a hopeful direction both for this new legislator and for people in the Capitol - you know, a hope that they'll move away from division and culture wars. How hopeful can you be about this?

WRIGHT: It's my attempt to nudge the state a little bit in a different direction. Texas has the qualities that it needs to express. Texas is a very friendly state. It's a very caring, is full of very caring people but not very caring policies. And I think it's perfectly within reach for Texas to become a model for other states. It's got the money. It's got the resources. It just doesn't have the leadership. And if we can make a change in that department, I think that Texas will take its place in a responsible way as being the leader of the rest of the country. And this is hard for Texas because - you know, having grown up in Texas, I'm sure you must have felt the same way. Texans always felt out of the game, you know, that America was ruled by the cultural elites on either coast. And and as a result, Texas was just kind of this rebellious kid around the corner, you know, who wanted to do things his own way. And that's not a good posture for being the leader of America. And that's our destiny. So we haven't taken it on yet. We need to educate our children more. We need to provide the infrastructure. We need to, you know, create a path through the problems that beset America, such as climate change and health care. We can do that. It's just that we haven't addressed it. And that's where I hope that - if readers in Texas take a message - an author's message from it, I hope that's the one that they get.

DAVIES: Well, Lawrence Wright, thanks so much for speaking with us again.

WRIGHT: Dave, it's always a pleasure.

DAVIES: Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of 13 previous books. His new novel is "Mr. Texas." Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Justin Torres' long-awaited second novel, "Blackouts," which has been shortlisted for the National Book Award. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER'S "IT'S ONLY A PAPER MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
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