"I feel eminently qualified to sustain the job of “cultural liaison” between the North and the South"
You wear lots of hats – novelist, playwright, screenwriter, editor, journalist, and I’m sure there are more. How does such a diversity of writing inform your personal style, if at all?
It’s everything! I’m pretty sure I’m here participating in this particular incarnation to simply “report the view.” (I also never ask that people agree with me - only that they’ve heard me.)
How does your personal connection to Texas, as a 5th generation rancher I believe, influence your connection to your novels and world at large? How would you put the Texas aesthetic into words?
It seems one of my raison d’etres this time around is to try and explain Yankees to southerners and southerners to Yankees. (My parents divorced, and Mom remarried and I ended up attending junior high school in upstate New York and graduating high school just outside New York City. I feel eminently qualified to sustain the job of “cultural liaison” between the North and the South.
You’re quite active in the Texas literary scene, especially with your involvement with The Texas Institute for Letters. Can you tell us more about that?
I was inducted into the TIL in 2015. I serve as the organization secretary, under president Sergio Troncoso and vice president Diana Lopez. I’m also on the executive council. It’s an honor. The TIL has an amazing, distinguished history of honoring the best and the brightest in the Texas written word. We not only have singer/ poets like Willie Nelson and Joe Ely but screenwriter/directors Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson and of course virtuosos of literature and poetry such as Stephen Harrigan, Lawrence Wright, Sandra Cisneros, Naomi Shihab Nye, Celeste Walker and many, many others.
You’ve helped put on the Dobie Dichos event in Live Oak County since 2011. Can you tell us more about this event and what it means to the local culture?
I started Dobie Dichos with Mary Margaret Campbell eleven years ago. The idea was to honor the greatest storyteller south Texas has produced - born and raised in Live Oak County - J. Frank Dobie. My grandparents lived and ranched in Live Oak County and I grew up reading Dobie’s works as a child. Dobie started the Texas Institute of Letters and in addition served as an early officer of the Texas Folklore Society. It’s easy to think of Dobie as a Texas version of Mark Twain. My idea was to invite the best of the Texas literary arts to come to the small “ghost town” of Oakville, Tx (Live Oak County) and expound upon the contemporary effects, influences and impressions of Dobie (if any) pro and con. We’ve had an amazing turnout through the years - Stephen Harrigan, Bill Wittliff, Naomi Nye, Diana Lopez, Kip Stratton, Steve Davis, Celeste Walker, Nan Cuba, Tish Hinojosa, Sergio Troncoso, John Philip Santos, Sarah Bird, Joe Nick Patoski, Jan Reid, Bob Flynn, Elizabeth Crook, Paulette Jiles … on and on. Truly an amazing group of authors and poets. (I once got an early morning phone call from my Texas literary idol, Larry McMurtry, apologizing for health reasons he wouldn’t be able to attend our event. I shook like a teenage groupie for an hour afterwards.) I retired from emceeing and participating in Dobie Dichos last year. It’s now all in the capable hands of Mary Margaret Campbell.
Can you tell us about your upcoming novel, Here We Go Loop De Loop, and the inspiration behind it?
It is allegedly the last novel in my “Texas trilogy” (first two, “Any Kind of Luck” and “Sighs Too Deep for Words”). I say allegedly because, who knows - what comes after a trilogy, a quartet? I’ve started a new novel but haven’t quite decided on its locus as of yet. Could be small-town south Texas again - or could be mid-town Manhattan - wait and see!
Here We Go Loop De Loop centers on a “cowboy, an heiress, her brother’s husband…and a badass ‘72 Mercury Montego,” a very interesting lineup of characters. How would you say your relationship to the production side of writing, through screenplays and plays, influences your character development?
The only gift I really have as a writer is dialogue. (Despite the frequent comments i get from reviewers espousing my so-called “clever plotting skills,” I know nothing about plotting other than keeping the blessed story going!) Dialogue is why i was chosen from 44 member playwrights at New Dramatists in New York to write dialogue for the late TV soap “The Guiding Light.” Good dialogue is not about how people talk but how they sound. I have a finely tuned “ear” for inflection, subtext, essence - all the myriad vocal traits that make you, you. (Plus, I’m a wicked mimic. Most helpful for a writer.)
Here We Go Loop De Loop, Sighs Too Deep for Words, and Any Kind of Luck all involve LGBTQ characters and plotlines. How does writing about these identities within the Texas canon reflect the changes in literature you wish to see or otherwise create?
Fact: LGBTQ people have always been in Texas. LGBTQ inhabitants are present everywhere in Texas. LGBTQ citizens of Texas are as endemic to the state as bluebonnets and rattlesnakes. How can a writer ignore that which is clearly resolute in every stratum of our society? (of course, whether or not one chooses to recognize that which is self-evident to the observant is naturally another question.)
Do you have any other projects on the horizon we should be on the lookout for?
In September, I have a book signing at The Twig Bookshop in San Antonio; in October, I have a virtual book event with Houston’s Brazos Bookstore, and I’ll be appearing on a panel at the Texas Book Festival with authors Stacey Swann, Kelsey McKinney, and Simon Han. Also, I’m one of the authors in the forthcoming anthology (October, 2021), Viva Texas Rivers, from the Wittliff Collection and Texas A&M University Press.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Number of books on your nightstand?
Possibly, two dozen?
Number of books on your eReader?
What are you currently reading?
River of Doubt by Candice Millard. Teddy Roosevelt exploring up the Amazon, early 20th century. Thrills, chills, mayhem and headhunters! (“Indiana Jones” minus the holy grail.)
Strange habit or writing ritual?
I have to leave home to start and complete any new book. Concentration has to be so keen for me that even the fleeting thought of having to water something or walk something on a leash will throw me completely off track.
(Do I have flaws?)
“Many are called, few are chosen.”
Something interesting/funny/unique that few people know about you?
My friends back east and in L.A. cannot conceive that I actually live on and work three family ranches in Texas. My friends in Texas cannot conceive that I actually had plays produced in New York and numerous screenplays sold (some repeatedly) in L.A.
Favorite Texas authors?
Larry McMurtry, Larry McMurtry, and … Larry McMurtry.
Award-winning William Jack Sibley is a fifth generation Texas rancher and a versatile writer whose work has ranged from writing dialogue for television’s Guiding Light to serving as a contributing editor at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, to seeing his plays produced off-Broadway and regionally. Sibley is the author of a dozen screenplays, nine stage plays, and three novels (Any Kind of Luck, Sighs Too Deep for Words, and Here We Go Loop De Loop).
Sibley’s previous works have won the National Indie Excellence Book Award and USA Best Book Award while succeeding as a finalist in the Lambda Literary Award, Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, and more. Sibley currently is the Secretary of the Texas Institute of Letters, as well as a member of The Dramatist Guild and the Writers Guild of America. He lives in San Antonio. For more, visit www.williamjacksibley.com.