Episode 23, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube


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“(Art) is personal because it's who you are. And you create this identity or you discover this identity. And your choices are either to affirm it or to let it go.”

Today’s episode of Keep Talking features popular novelist, journalist, and screenwriter Stephen Harrigan. He talks to us about his father (also a World War II pilot who died before Stephen was born), the similarities he shares with him, his mother’s role in identifying his writing abilities, and his path to becoming the writer he is today. We also learn what it takes to be good at your craft, why art becomes a part of an artist's identity, and how to keep yourself aligned to your life’s purpose.

About Stephen Harrigan (Quote from Wikipedia):

“Stephen Harrigan is an American novelist, journalist and screenwriter. He is best known as the author of the bestselling The Gates of the Alamo, for other novels such as Remember Ben Clayton and A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, and for his magazine work in Texas Monthly.”

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Time Stamps:

(00:00) Intro
(01:02) Get to know Steve Harrigan
(02:02) Steve talks about his father
(03:13) Steve explains how little he knew about his father growing up, and how he feels about him now that he’s learned more
(05:42) Overcoming the shock post World War II
(06:32) Steve shares the similarities he’s discovered between his father and him
(08:21) Steve’s journey into becoming a writer
(12:56) How did Steve come to realize that he was a gifted writer?
(14:24) Steve shares how his mother played an instrumental role in helping him discover his writing abilities
(15:44) Steve talks about his popular article in the Rolling Stone
(17:48) How Steve was able to make writing his full-time profession
(19:22) Some writers who proved influential in Steve’s career
(22:49) What were the things Steve did to hone his craft at the beginning of his career?
(25:07) Why is your art an integral part of your identity?
(26:13) Why Steve calls his interest in writing a “discovery” rather than a calling
(28:40) How Steve was able to honor his writing skills and dedicate himself to it
(30:08) The period of Steve’s life between his first article and working as a staff for different magazines
(32:50) The big hacks or processes to writing that Steve discovered over the years
(37:07) What kept Steve moving in his journey as a writer despite not making huge financial gains out of it initially?
(39:14) How writing gives Steve a sense of self-identity
(41:00) What does a great working day look like to Steve?
(43:42) A day in Steve’s life
(46:37) How does Steve balance work and family?
(50:10) Steve talks about his family’s role in shaping his career
(51:56) Steve’s reasons behind his book The Gates Of The Alamo
(57:40) Steve talks about his six-year journey writing the book The Gates Of The Alamo
(01:00:14) What, according to Steve, is Texas's role in the development of America?
(01:03:33) The fight about the Alamo and how Steve views its application to the rest of the country
(01:11:18) Steve’s advice to people with an artistic bent and worried about the financial side of life


“(About writing) I had this feeling that you get when you discover something that you're good at… just a sense of recognition.”

“I knew that the work was worth it because I did have this bent… it was something that... if you're a football player, and you can throw a good pass, or you can run fast, that doesn't make you a better person. But...if you put in the work, you can improve and you can maybe be somebody good at it. And that was the way I felt about writing.”

“(Art) is personal because it's who you are. And you create this identity or you discover this identity. And your choices are either to affirm it or to let it go.”

“I was more of a stylist than I was a reporter. ”

“To me, the evolution that has to happen is the fun that has to be in the process of writing.”

“As much as I cared about my job and my books and my articles and my screenplays I cared more about my family, and that's in a really good way, a stabilizing revelation. Now, when you're just by yourself, and you've got your own personal self to take care of, it just made me by many degrees more aware of the world, more aware of other people. It made me feel more responsible for what I was doing, and made me question what I was doing more.”

“One of the funny things about having written a book about history is that people keep asking you to predict the future.”

“I think, even a job that you don't really connect to, when you're doing it every day, you're growing in it every day, you're gaining respect among your colleagues, you begin to create a sense of self-worth, and I think self-worth is what feeds your life as an artist.”

Relevant Links:

Books Mentioned:

People mentioned (quotes from Wikipedia and Texas Monthly):

  • Cormac McCarthy - “Cormac McCarthy is an American writer who has written ten novels, two plays, two screenplays, and two short stories, spanning the Western and post-apocalyptic genres.”
  • Kenneth Roberts - “Kenneth Lewis Roberts was an American writer of historical novels. He worked first as a journalist, becoming nationally known for his work with the Saturday Evening Post.”
  • Ernest Hemingway - “Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman.”
  • Mike Levy - “Michael R. "Mike" Levy is the founder of Texas Monthly magazine, and was publisher until retirement in August 2008.”
  • Bill Broyles - “Bill Broyles, presided over the publication of twelve issues of Texas Monthly while working, many months, 24/7.”
  • Greg Curtis - “Gregory Curtis was born in Corpus Christi and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.”
  • John Wayne - “Marion Robert Morrison, known professionally as John Wayne and nicknamed Duke, was an American actor and filmmaker who became a popular icon through his starring roles in films made during Hollywood’s Golden Age, especially in Western and war movies.”
  • Dan Patrick - “Dan Goeb Patrick is an American radio talk show host, television broadcaster, and politician.”
  • Lyndon Johnson - “Lyndon Baines Johnson, often referred to by his initials LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th president of the United States, serving from 1963 to 1969.”
  • Sam Rayburn - “Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn was an American politician who served as the 43rd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He was a three-time House Speaker, former House Majority Leader, two-time House Minority Leader, and a 24-term congressman, representing Texas's 4th congressional district as a Democrat from 1913 to 1961.”
  • John Nance Garner - “John Nance Garner III, known among his contemporaries as "Cactus Jack", was an American Democratic politician and lawyer from Texas.”

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