How Austin proves that Harry Potter still has power

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Midnight Release Party on Saturday, July 30 2016.  Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Midnight Release Party on Saturday, July 30 2016.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Now that we’ve had a few days to recover from the shock of actually receiving a new “Harry Potter” book – and to finish reading it and digest that wondrous plot – we can conclude that, after all these years, the Harry Potter series is still beloved.

At the midnight release party BookPeople threw Saturday for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” about 2,000 people showed up to celebrate the bespectacled wizard and his new adventure. That’s a considerable turnout given that we all thought we’d officially hung up our wizards’ robes for such a party many years ago.

» See more photos from BookPeople’s midnight release party for “The Cursed Child”

BookPeople’s marketing director, Abby Fennewald, said Tuesday evening that the response to the book “was probably higher than we originally anticipated.” The Austin bookstore sold about 75 percent as many copies of “The Cursed Child” at this party as compared to previous midnight release parties, she said; “We’ve already sold over 1,000 copies.”

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is a book in script form about Harry and his troubled son, Albus. (The play is currently in production at London’s West End.) Despite the different format from the previous novels, anxiously waiting Muggles appeared in droves at BookPeople and at Barnes & Noble as well for the release. BookPeople dusted off its old Diagon Alley set and had a variety of magical activities for attendees, including a costume contest, a House Cup Tournament, trivia and wizard dueling.

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Midnight Release Party on Saturday, July 30 2016.  Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Midnight Release Party on Saturday, July 30 2016.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

And the food trucks joining the fun in the parking lot also didn’t miss out on the theme: Amy’s Ice Creams, for one, was serving up three wizard-worthy flavors, including butterbeer, Gryffindor’s Tower with red velvet and Dementor’s Cloud with dark chocolate. The line to get butterbeer in drink form at another trailer was also long.

Chatter all around BookPeople’s “Harry Potter” party reflected how happy everyone was to be back together, costumed in their finest Hogwarts’ wizard robes. Kids were there, sure, but the majority of the crowd congregating from 10 p.m. to midnight were the original “Harry Potter” fans, now in their 20s, 30s and beyond.

And for BookPeople, all those enthusiastic fans meant the party was a rousing success.

Has “Cursed Child” turned out to be a worthy follow-up to the original story? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to check out our photo gallery chronicling the “Harry Potter” party at BookPeople.

It’s official: Noah Hawley’s ‘Before the Fall’ is a hit

Noah Hawley, the Austin resident and creator of the Fargo TV series, who has a new thriller, Before the Fall, photographed at the South Congress Hotel on May 6, 2016.  Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Noah Hawley, the Austin resident and creator of the Fargo TV series, who has a new thriller, Before the Fall, photographed at the South Congress Hotel on May 6, 2016.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Many critics who read Austin resident Noah Hawley’s new thriller, “Before the Fall,” predicted that it would be one of the summer’s biggest hits.

This week, The New York Times best-seller list puts Hawley’s book at No. 2 in the nation for fiction, just behind “The Emperor’s Revenge,” by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison.

The rankings are based on sales that ended June 4 at thousands of venues where general interest books are sold.

We profiled Hawley recently and discussed his new book, which tracks a media firestorm after the crash of a private jet bound from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City.

Hawley spent the past weekend in Austin, wrapping up his book tour and participating in the ATX Television Festival.

Gwynne’s ‘Perfect Pass,’ Lowry’s yogurt shop tale due this fall



Two more Austin authors have new books coming out this fall that should be high on our radar.

The first is from S.C. Gwynne, the author of “Rebel Yell” and “Empire of the Summer Moon.” His latest, “The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football,” will be published Sept. 20 by Scribner ($27).
It tells how Hal Mumme and Mike Leach revolutionized football by inventing “a potent passing offensive strategy that would revolutionize the game.”

Mumme, a Texas native, started the changes at Iowa Wesleyan, where he was head coach and Leach was his assistant in the late 1980s.

The other notable book: Beverly Lowry’s “Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.”
Published by Knopf on Oct. 11, it will sell for $26.95. As many longtime residents know, four teenage girls were killed in a yogurt shop in Austin in 1991, and the investigation lasted eight years. Two men were convicted, but they were eventually released for lack of evidence.

Lowry takes us deep inside the story.

ICYMI: Noah Hawley, his hit book and his upcoming Austin events

Noah Hawley, the Austin resident and creator of the Fargo TV series, who has a new thriller, Before the Fall, photographed at the South Congress Hotel on May 6, 2016.  Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Noah Hawley, the Austin resident and creator of the Fargo TV series, who has a new thriller, Before the Fall, photographed at the South Congress Hotel on May 6, 2016.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

ICYMI: I profiled Austin screenwriter and novelist Noah Hawley on Sunday. His latest is a rip-roaring thriller called “Before the Fall.” He’ll also be in Austin this weekend participating in the ATX Television Festival.
Here’s a look at his events.
• 10 a.m. June 10: A Conversation with Hawley and Beau Willimon, the creator of “House of Cards.” At Google Fiber Space, 201 Colorado St. This will also feature a book-selling event for “Before the Fall.”
• 2 p.m. June 10: Pulp Page to Small Screen: A Look at Comic Adaptations. With panelists Hawley (“Legion”), Javier Grillo-Marxuach (“The Middleman”), Brian Michael Bendis (“Powers”) and Rosemary Rodriguez (“Jessica Jones”). In the ballroom of the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, 701 Congress Ave.
• 10 a.m. June 11: To Adapt Is to Evolve: A Conversation Between Noah Hawley, Bryan Fuller and Graham Yost. At Google Fiber Space.
• 11:30 a.m. June 12: Viewer Discretion Advised. A panel discussion about pushing boundaries on TV, with Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”), Jack Amiel (“The Knick”), Brian Michael Bendis (“Powers), Stacey Silverman (Universal TV) and Hawley (“Fargo”). In the ballroom of the Stephen F. Austin.
• 1 p.m. June 12: Fargo: The Music Team. A discussion among the show’s creator (Hawley), the music supervisor (Maggie Phillips) and the composer (Jeff Russo). In the ballroom at the Stephen F. Austin.

Sharon G. Flake to be keynoter at Austin’s African American Book Festival

Author Sharon G. Flake, who'll be the keynote speaker at Austin's African American Book Festival for 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sharon G. Flake)
Author Sharon G. Flake, who’ll be the keynote speaker at Austin’s African American Book Festival for 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sharon G. Flake)

Noted young adult author Sharon G. Flake will be the keynote speaker at the African American Book Festival of Austin, to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 25 at the Carver Museum and Library.

Flake is the author of such books as “The Skin I’m In,” “Bang!” and “Pinned.” “The Skin I’m In,” which deals with a girl who is teased about her skin color and her clothing, won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 1999.

Flake, who was born in Philadelphia and lives in Pittsburgh, will help put the focus on young adult literature at the Austin festival, which will include music and prizes. The festival is also celebrating a decade of promoting books. Past speakers have included Leonard Pitts, Annette Gordon, Terry McMillan, Arnold Rampersad and Peniel Joseph.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley, an author and the CEO of Brown Girl Books, will lead a workshop on perfecting your pitch. The festival will also include discussions of “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the impact of Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade.”

The festival is free and open to the public. The museum is located at 1165 Angelina St. For more information about the festival, visit

A guide to new and upcoming Texas-related books


The Texas literary scene is still raining books. The accompanying photo shows a few of the Texas-related tomes that are just out or on their way to bookstores soon. The list isn’t comprehensive but is based on copies I’ve received in the last few weeks. We’ll try to keep wrapping up new titles each month.

From left, the books are:

“The Eternal Party: Understanding My Dad, Larry Hagman, the TV Star America Loved to Hate,” by Kristina Hagman with Elizabeth Kaye. (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99.) Hagman’s daughter writes about her family, including her grandmother, the Broadway star Mary “Peter Pan” Martin, and how she came to better understand her father in his final days in Dallas in late 2012. Hagman, of course, played the notorious J.R. Hagman on the classic TV show “Dallas.” But he was also known for his pot-smoking, LSD-taking and happy-go-lucky attitude – something that vanished as he begged for forgiveness from his daughter on his deathbed at a Dallas hospital. It also reveals an exchange of letters between Larry Hagman and his mother, and a terrible fight they had when Martin was living in Brazil in semi-retirement. The handwritten correspondence brought comfort to Hagman’s daughter, and it sheds a new light on a man who wasn’t hateful at all. The book’s release date is June 7.

“Soraya,” by Anis Shivani. (Black Widows Press, $15.95). This collection of sonnets from Shivani, a Houston author and critic, is described as surrealist poetry. He’s a graduate of Harvard College, and his previous books include “Anatolia and Other Stories” (2009) and “The Fifth Lash and Other Stories” (2012), both of which were longlisted for the Frank O’Connor international short story award. “Soraya” is essentially a series of 100 sonnets about love. The book was published in April.

“Hurt: The Inspiring, Untold Story of Trauma Care,” by Catherine Musemeche. (ForeEdge, $27.95). Musemeche, a pediatric surgeon and former professor of surgery at the University of Texas Medical School, looks at the advances in trauma care, based on her experiences in centers in Chicago and Houston. The publisher describes the book as “a riveting account of the multifaceted history of injury and the story of how trauma care evolved to become the sophisticated, effective system that it is today.” The book will be published in early September.

“News of the World,” by Paulette Jiles. (William Morrow, $22.99). The author, who lives on a ranch near San Antonio, will be touring extensively in Texas when this novel comes out in early October. It takes place just after the Civil War and deals with a former captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who performs readings of newspapers in North Texas to a paying audience that’s hungry for news of the world. But things begin to change when he accepts a new job: Deliver a young orphan in Wichita Falls to relatives in San Antonio – a dangerous trip through unsettled territory.

“T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit,” by Lloyd Sachs. (University of Texas Press, $26.95). Although born in Missouri, Burnett grew up in Fort Worth, so Texas still claims him, despite his current residence in Nashville. So it’s appropriate that the University of Texas Press is publishing the first critical appreciation of Burnett’s contributions to American music. Sachs tracks Burnett’s early days with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue; his collaboration with playwright Sam Shepard; his work with the Coen Brothers; his studio work with such artists as Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Los Lobos and Elvis Costello; and his musical compositions for such TV shows as “Nashville” and “True Detective.” This book should resonate with Austin readers and musicians, and it’s due in October.

“How to Be a Texan,” by Andrea Valdez. (University of Texas Press, $21.95). Valdez is a native Houstonian who has worked for Texas Monthly since 2006, where she edits She’s written a sly, lighthearted look at things you should do if you want to act and talk like a Texan. She offers tips on how to take a bluebonnet photo, how to learn the two-step and must-visit spots around the state. The book was published in May.

“Prepare to Defend Yourself… How to Age Gracefully & Escape With Your Dignity,” by Matthew Minson. (Texas A&M University Press, $28.) Minson, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, tells us how to have fun after 50, even though our bodies are undergoing dramatic changes. A&M says the book “takes on health, finances, sex, diet, exercise, death, the law and what you can do to protect what matters most as you age.” The book was published in May.

“Keeping Austin Weird,” by Red Wassenich, with illustrations by Penny Van Horn. (Schiffer Publishing, $24.99). Yep, Austin has a lot of weird stuff going on, and Wassenich offers his guide to such matters in this book that’s heavy on photos and illustrations. Chapters are devoted to weird places, weird people, weird art and other weird topics. In case you’re wondering, the weird people include Carl Hickerson, the perennial flower-seller and City Council candidate; Ginny Agnew and Nancy Toelle, who have sat on the shore of Lady Bird Lake off and on since 2010, holding a sign that offers free advice; Ben Sargent, the former American-Statesman cartoonist who operates a letterpress in a building next to his home; and American-Statesman columnist John Kelso, who specializes in weirdness, too. The book was published in April.

“The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire,” by Karl Jacoby. (W.W. Norton & Company, $27.95). Jacoby, a professor of history at Columbia University, tracks the life of William Ellis, who was born a slave on a Texas cotton plantation but eventually assumed a new identity as Mexican Guillermo Eliseo, who went on to own a luxury apartment building overlooking New York City’s Central Park. It’s a fascinating tell of who one man navigates racial codes and convinced many that he was Hispanic. The book will be available June 14.

“Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story – How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War,” by Nigel Cliff. (Harper, $28.99). Most people in Texas are familiar with the story of Van Cliburn and his legendary trip to Moscow to compete in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. The Soviets didn’t want Cliburn to win the competition, of course, but the Texan captivated the nation, going on to become an ambassador of hope between the two superpowers. Cliff is a London-based writer, and his book will be available in September.

“Before We Visit the Goddess,” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. (Simon & Schuster, $25). I’m currently working on a review of this novel by Houston author Divakaruni. She’s the McDavid professor of creative writing at the University of Houston, and she’s one of my favorite recent discoveries. “Before We Visit the Goddess” is full of different voices, going back and forth in time, with beautifully written chapters that could stand on their own as short stories but add layer upon layer of complication, wonder, humanity and empathy when joined together. The novel tracks the lives of three generations of Indian women, the oldest of whom, Sabitri, establishes a famous bakery back in India. Then there’s her daughter, the rebellious Bela, who runs away from home to marry a young man who’s living in California. And then there’s Bela’s daughter, Tara, a troubled soul who blames her mother for her parents’ divorce. Look for an expanded review in the American-Statesman this month.

“The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” by Lawrence Wright. (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95). I’ve mentioned this book, which is slated for August publication, before. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s easily one of the most enlightening analyses of the current rise of terrorism in the Middle East. Wright, the Austin-based Pulitzer winner, originally wrote much of this book as articles in The New Yorker, but he updates those pieces with new developments and offers a trenchant look at one of the biggest threats of our age. Look for a review of the book in August in the American-Statesman.

“Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe,” by James K. Galbraith. I’ve read most of this book, and it’s impressive in its understanding and revelations about the Greek fiscal crisis – and the problems with European unity. Galbraith holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas, and he has been a key adviser to former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Galbraith says the Greek situation is “economic policy as moral abomination.” The book will be available this month.

“Indeh: The Story of the Apache Wars,” by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth. (Grand Central Publishing, $25). Austin native and noted actor Hawke teams up with illustrator Ruth to tell the story of Geronimo in this graphic novel. It’s set in 1872, amid the devastation of the Apache nation, and the young Geronimo, who’s known as Goyahkla. The book will be published June 7.

“The Boys of Summer,” by Richard Cox. (Night Shade Books, $15.99). This novel from Oklahoma writer Cox is set in 1979, when a tornado devastates Wichita Falls and leaves scores dead. Among the survivors is 9-year-old Todd Willis. But for four years, he’s in a coma, and when he wakes, things are drastically changed. The novel then leaps 25 years into the future, when Willis is an adult and reflects on that life-changer summer. The book will be available in September.

“A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape,” by Matt Donovan. (Trinity University Press, $17.95). This book of essays from the co-chair of the creative writing and literature department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, was published by San Antonio’s Trinity University Press. It’s not Texas-focused, however. Instead, much of the book reflects on Donovan’s thoughts about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which buried Pompeii under 20 feet of ash. He then turns to other clouds – those that rose above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Trinity says that “the redemptive power of beauty permeates this spectacular work, reminding us that darkness and light make an inextricable pattern in our lives. The book was published in April.

“Terminated for Reasons of Taste,” by Chuck Eddy. (Duke University Press, $26.95). Eddy, an Austin-based music journalist, looks at the losers of rock ‘n’ roll, in part because he has issues with history being written by the winners. He includes much writing about winners, such as the Beastie Boys, Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen, but he also acknowledges his “appreciation of the lost, ignored and maligned,” and in doing so, he offers a multidimensional portrait of pop music. The book is scheduled to be published in September.

“The Red River Bridge War: A Texas-Oklahoma Border Battle,” by Rusty Williams. (Texas A&M University Press, $29.95.) Williams, a longtime Texas journalist, delves into the two-week war between Texas and Oklahoma in the summer of 1931, when the states rallied to arms over an old toll bridge across the Red River. As Williams describes it, the incident featured “National Guardsmen with field artillery, Texas Rangers with itchy trigger fingers, angry mobs, Model T blockade runners, and even a Native American peace delegation.” The book was published in May.

“The Turbulent Trail,” by Mike Thompson. (Five Star, $25.95). This novel from San Angelo writer Thompson focuses on a guy named Charlie Deegan, who was once an Army sharpshooter but has landed in Yuma Territorial Prison. He eventually escapes and becomes a cowboy in this historical western. The book was published in May.

“Birds in Trouble,”
by Lynn E. Barber. (Texas A&M University Press, $29.95.) This isn’t technically a Texas book, but since a state university published it – and since the issues raised span the nation – it seems appropriate to include. Barber, Alaska’s noted birder, decided to write this book after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, in an attempt to explain the plight of bird species that are declining each year. She focuses on habitats, and how changes to those natural areas have a huge impact on the survival of birds. The book includes lots of Barber illustrations of various species. “Birds in Trouble” was published in April.

“Morgue: A Life in Death,” by Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell. (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99). Di Maio is the former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, and Franscell is a longtime reporter. And the two team up for this behind-the-scenes look at how evidence and pathology play a role on the witness stand. The book was published in May.

Texas Teen Book Festival announces lineup


The Texas Teen Book Festival announced its lineup Tuesday for the Oct. 1 event at St. Edward’s University, and participants include Renee Ahdieh, Sabaa Tahir, Ally Carter, Jeffery Self, Traci Chee and John Corey Whaley.

Ahdieh is the best-selling author of “The Wrath and the Dawn” and the upcoming sequel, “The Rose and the Dagger. Tahir is the author of “An Ember in the Ashes.”

Carter is known for the “Embassy Row” and “Gallagher Girls” series, while Whaley is author of “Highly Illogical Behavior” and “Noggin.” Self is the writer of “Drag Teen,” and Chee is the writer of “The Reader.”

Austin author Katherine Catmull (“The Radiant Road”) will also join the lineup.

The authors complement the previously announced keynote speakers, Laini Taylor (“Strange the Dreamer”) and Leigh Bardugo (“Six of Crows”).


The one-day event will feature author sessions and panels, book signings, workshops and vendor displays. It will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 pm. at St. Edward’s, 3001 S. Congress Ave.

The festival is one of the nation’s largest teen book events and is free and open to the public. It’s presented in collaboration with the Texas Book Festival, BookPeople, librarians and St. Edward’s. The program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information, visit

Greg Abbott sets May 25 signing of new book, ‘Broken but Unbowed’


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has a new memoir coming out May 17, and it’s titled “Broken but Unbowed.”
For one hour only, he’ll be signing copies of the book at 11:30 a.m. May 25 at the Round Rock Barnes & Noble, in La Frontera Village, at I-35 and SH-45.

Abbott lost his ability to walk when an oak tree crashed down on his back, fracturing vertebrae into his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. At 26, he felt that the future he had dreamed of was gone.

As promotional materials point out, Abbott soon realized that our lives are not defined by our challenges, but by how we respond to them. He went on to overcome his paralytic limitations to become the longest-serving attorney general in Texas history and now governor, all while in a wheelchair.

The book also discusses Abbott’s legal challenges against the federal government, his defense of the Second Amendment and other matters. And he reportedly compares his own physical troubles to those of the nation, saying that our country has been broken, and that it’s up to us to restore America to its place in the world.

The book is being published by Threshold Editions and sells for $28.

Although advance reader copies have not made it to the American-Statesman, he’s a brief excerpt about the day of his injuries from online sources:

“The first shock was the sound—a loud explosion that sounded like a bomb had exploded about ten feet away. Reflexively, I turned my head to the right, where the sound originated. It was a tree. A big oak, well over fifty feet tall, with a trunk two or three feet wide—and an enormous crack at the base.

“And the tree was falling exactly where I was running.

“Think of the sense of panic you feel when you perceive imminent danger. That sudden sinking feeling in your stomach when your heart abruptly stops, then races rapidly. That moment of fright that makes your hair stand on end. Then multiply it times a hundred. That’s what I felt.

“In a nanosecond, thoughts raced through my head.

“If I stop or keep going straight, I’m gonna get clobbered, and I can’t go left because cars are parked there. Go right!

“The next thing I knew, I was down. Flat on my back. The entire catastrophe—from the time I heard the sound until I hit the ground—lasted no more than a second.

“The good news was that I was still conscious. The bad news was that I had not lost consciousness. The pain was immediate, excruciating, and unrelenting. I had broken bones in the past and had a concussion playing football. But this was altogether different.

“The pain was magnified by my inability to breathe. I’d had the wind knocked out of me before but this was beyond comparison. Trying to take in air ripped me with stabbing pains. Any attempt to exhale was sheer torture. All I could muster were short, shallow gasps.

“I didn’t know what had happened, but I could tell it was bad.”
To read more about the book, go here.

Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo headline Texas Teen Book Festival

Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor
Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo


Laini Taylor and Leigh Bardugo will be the keynote speakers at the 8th annual Texas Teen Book Festival on Oct. 1, the Texas Book Festival announced Monday.

Taylor is the author of the upcoming “Strange the Dreamer” as well as “Lips Touch Three Times,” and Bardugo is the author of “Six of Crows” as well as the Grisha Trilogy: “Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm” and “Ruin and Rising.” Her sequel to “Six of Crows” will be published in September, and it’s called “Crooked Kingdom.”

Both are big names in young adult literature, and they’ll lead a series of author sessions, panels, book signings and other events for young adult genre fans at the festival, held at St. Edward’s University.

The Teen Book Festival is presented in collaboration with the Texas Book Festival, BookPeople, a team of librarians and St. Edward’s. It’s also made possible in part by a grant of Humanities Texas.

The event will start at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 1 and continue through 6”30 p.m. at the university, 3001 S. Congress Ave. It’s free and open to the public.

For more information, visit

Chatting with Austin author Dominic Smith

Dominic Smith
Dominic Smith

My interview with Austin novelist Dominic Smith, whose latest is “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos,” is scheduled to run Sunday, but as usual, I had to leave out parts of the interview to keep the story to a manageable length.

So I’m including some of that here. It has to do with literary inferiority complexes, and whether Smith’s native Australia is similar to Texas in that respect.

Smith says that for most of the 20th century, Australia indeed had an inferiority complex, but that things changed in 1973, with Australia’s Patrick White won the 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.

“That gave a new generation of Australian writers the confidence that they could write Australian stories and have them be taken seriously as literature,” Smith says.

Still, he says, Australia went through what’s called the “tall poppy syndrome — that if someone shoots up and become great in one thing, there’s a historical impulse to cut them down. The idea is basically that Australia has a history of cutting down their tall poppies, and a lot of them.”

He adds: “There were a lot of writers and painters who left Australia and went to Europe or America to get known. I think that’s really changed, though. Despite cuts in recent years, there’s been a massive investment in the last 30 years in Australian arts, with quite an amount of funding for literature and art. I don’t know about Texas historically, but I think it’s true — that there’s a desire to prove one’s worth as an artist outside the confines of what is perceived as provincialism.”

And while Texas has no Nobel Prize winners in literature, Smith quickly points to the Texas tales of Cormac McCarthy and others, saying that he thinks regional Texas literature can also be universal.

“It’s interesting that with both Australia and Texas, there are these enduring stereotypes,” he says. “Both places are urban, but people culturally cling to the cowboy or the West Texas ranch or the Australian Outback. Most Australians have never been to the Outback.”

Smith’s new novel focuses on a female painter during the 17th century Dutch Golden Age, then switches to 1950s New York, where a lawyer named Marty de Groot has a painting of hers in his apartment on the Upper East Side. At the same time, a young art history student decides to forge that painting, only to be haunted by her youthful indiscretion when she finds out that her forgery is on its way to a museum in Australia where she works in 2000.

The painting at the center of the book is titled “At the Edge of a Wood.” It shows a young girl overlooking a scene of skaters on the frozen river below.

Smith says that the idea for the painting was inspired by the Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp. “He painted all those winter scenes where you see skaters out, a whole village. Avercamp was a generation before Judith Leyster (another inspiration for the novel), and he painted these winter scenes in the early 1600s. He lived in this very remote place, and he was deaf and also mute, and his winter scenes are to me spectacular because what they show is a cross section of society. … A peasant taking a leak, then you have this aristocratic-looking couple being pulled on an ice sled. At the very end (of the novel), the self-portrait of Sara de Vos is somewhat based on Judith Leyster’s self-portrait. It was probably her masterwork that she submitted to get into the Guild. She has the incredibly vital and alive expression, and she’s turned to the viewer and her lips are slightly parted as if she might speak to you. And I just love that painting. It was a nod to her as well.”

If you want to see the Leyster painting and learn more about Smith’s research for the novel, go here and read what Smith wrote recently for the Paris Review. And if you want to meet Smith in person, he’s appearing at the Blanton Museum of Art at 6:30 p.m. on April 21. For details on that event, go here.