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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Q&A: Search for ‘Hoopla’

 
 

Allison Rubenak, lifestyles editor, sits down with Skip Hollandsworth, award-winning journalist and executive editor at Texas Monthly, who spoke on campus Wednesday. In 1998, Hollandsworth wrote “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,” which was later turned into the 2011 film, Bernie.
THE BATTALION: Did you grow up in a small town? When did you discover that you were drawn to small town stories?
Hollandsworth: I grew up in Wichita Falls, which is not a small town, it was a city of about 90,000 when I was there. But my hero growing up was Larry McMurtry, the famous novelist who wrote Lonesome Dove. When I was a boy, they were shooting the movie ‘The Last Picture Show,’ it’s a famous movie from the early ’70s and they shot some of the movie in Wichita Falls and I would go stare at McMurtry – this nerdy cattleman’s son who had become this nationally famous novelist, and I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I can’t explain why I am drawn to these stories, but I love looking for small town hoopla.
THE BATTALION: What sparked your interest specifically for long-form narrative journalism?
Hollandsworth: It would be reading Texas Monthly back in college. I had never seen stories that were that long, and they broke the rules. I did a lot of straight reporting at the [Daily Skiff, student newspaper of TCU], and I think it’s important to do straight reporting – you learn how to do shoe-letter work and you can’t make these stories work unless you accumulate the facts. I tell a lot of college kids to go to the newspapers. They think newspapers are passe but people still read newspapers, there’s still jobs that get open and you can do a lot of things. There used to be things called Sunday magazines in the Sunday newspaper and I would write for the Dallas Morning News Sunday magazine because I loved narratives. This is during the time that there was writing called new journalism going on and Tom Wolfe was writing books and Esquire tried things and Texas Monthly was letting their writers sort of meander away from the story and then come back, so I was really fascinated by all of that. I was just a puppy in that world peeing over everyone.
THE BATTALION: From start to finish, what do you enjoy most about the writing process?
Hollandsworth: The start. I love the reporting, I hate the writing. Because I’m not a facile writer – I’m not someone who can just knock out a phrase – it’s a struggle for me. But I love talking to people and love getting them to open up and say things. So that part is the most fun for me.
THE BATTALION: You’ve written many crime stories, which often features content that is grisly in nature. How do you handle writing about these difficult subjects?
Hollandsworth: I’m able to separate myself from these stories. The only one that I was never able to separate myself from was a story titled “The Lost Boys” about a man who was abducting boys exactly around my age from a neighborhood in Houston, back in the early ’70s. So these boys were 10, 12 – my age back then. And then when I went and did the story a few years ago, I went and found the parents and I found some of these mothers whose grief never left. And I just thought it was a very emotional experience for me because I kept thinking about my own mother and that’s how she would have been if I had been abducted and killed.
THE BATTALION: What was your experience like being on the set of Bernie, which you helped co-write and was based on the article that you had written, Midnight in the Garden of East Texas?
Hollandsworth: I couldn’t tell while watching the movie if it was going to be funny. It was the first time that I had watched a movie get filmed, so I would see all these things going on and I would think, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ But somehow in the magic of moviemaking those things turned out to be uproariously funny. So I was surprised at how complicated it is to shoot a film, even how complicated it is to shoot a simple scene.
THE BATTALION: What characteristics and what content do you look for when searching to write a new story?
Hollandsworth: It’s a very simple question: How did that happen? How did he do that? How did she become a bank robber? How did he open up the world’s greatest rodeo store? It’s when I become absorbed with that question, that simple question that drives this engine for me and then I try to recreate the story so that I make the reader start flying through the sentences trying to figure out the same way I did. How did this happen? It’s just the nature of curiosity.
THE BATTALION: Do you have any advice for young and aspiring long-form narrative journalists?
Hollandsworth: Well, it’s to find one story and work on it for months. The first story I wrote for Texas Monthly was about a women’s bass fishing tournament. I went out and got the quotes and looked at how they did these kinds of stories and looked at how they did the structure, but I didn’t rush it. You find one great story, and everybody probably knows, in the business, just work on it a little bit at a time.

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