Brian D. Sweany Q&A

Brian D. Sweany ('94) (Photo by Ahna Hubnik)Brian D. Sweany ('94)

Degree in: English literature

Favorite Texas Monthly article: Oh boy, that is a tricky, tricky question. Texas Monthly started as a writer's magazine to let writers be writers and let writers write well-crafted stories. I worked with Skip Hollandsworth on his story, "Still Life," about a football player at Hillcrest High School in Dallas who was paralyzed from the neck down. The story was nominated for the National Magazine Award, the highest award you could win. Texas Monthly had never won for feature writing before. When Skip called me from New York to say that he won, I thought he was kidding. Then I thought I was done. How do you top that? To be the editor of that story, it's hard to beat that.

Writing about Charles Goodnight: Nothing major in the narrative style has been written about him. I was inspired by Sam Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon. Could you do for Charles Goodnight what Gwynne did for Quanah Parker? People think of the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The truth was Goodnight was a frontiersman and part of the Civil War. Then you had the cattle drive, which was unbelievably exciting and daring. After the Red River War, he established the first ranch of the Panhandle. He lived to be 93 years old in an unbelievably incredibly important time in American history. He was the Forrest Gump of the American West.

Editing process: The editing process involves a lot of time, a lot of patience and a lot of collaboration with your writer. Gary Cartwright always said, "All writing is rewriting," and that's exactly correct. Skip Hollandsworth and I just worked on a 9,500 word feature in the current issue called "A Shooting on Spring Grove Avenue" and the finished version looks nothing like where we started. It's such a different gear to be an editor and a writer. I'm a better editor than a writer.

Favorite Denton memories: I lived in Bruce Hall for four years -- I was that guy. And this was before the rooms had window units. I always enjoyed going to see shows on Fry Street and Deep Ellum (I was a big fan of Course of Empire and Funland), and the Cowboys won the Super Bowl during my junior and senior year, which was great. For a specific memory, I remember that one night Noelle and I and some other friends drove out to see the Anson light, near Abilene, which I later wrote about for Texas Monthly in the December 2000 issue.

Hobbies: I spend a lot of time with my kids, who are still young. We play soccer and ride bikes and go hiking. I love to play tennis. If I didn't have a job, wasn't married and didn't have children, I'd play every day.

On reading: I don't read for fun and I don't read for work -- it's all the same thing to me. I read everything I can get my hands on, and for a story I'm working on now, I'm rereading The Gay Place, by Billy Lee Brammer, which is one of the great novels about American politics. Brammer, by the way, was a UNT guy who later worked at Texas Monthly.

Advice for aspiring writers/editors: It's actually pretty simple, but that doesn't mean it's not incredibly important: writers write. Period. It is hard work, and it is not a lot of pay. You do it because you love to do it and you feel compelled to do it. But the reward is amazing. For me, I love being a part of the conversation about Texas, and I love helping our readers understand and enjoy this state.

Hardest part of the job: Your ambition is always beyond your means. There is simply not enough time in the day or resources in the budget to accomplish everything you want, so you have to make hard decisions about what to work on and why. I always have the feeling that we could be doing more: more pages in the magazine, more stories online, more live events. But as I always say, "We'll get there."

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