Photo by Shelley Neuman

Believe it or not, politics can be fun, even if it’s all you talk about for days. The Texas Tribune is proving that once again with incumbent CEO Evan Smith’s last Texas Tribune Festival. From September 22-24, this long-standing annual event will bring together more than 350 influential speakers for more than 100 panels, from politicians in office to journalists and cultural wave-makers.

“It's become a major part of the Tribune's brand,” says Smith. “An important person I respect said to me in 2019, looking around the festival that year — the last year we did it in person — that we used to be a news organization with a festival, and we're becoming a festival with a news organization. And I thought, I'm actually okay with that.”

Smith announced his impending departure from the Tribune in January 2022, in a simultaneously wistful and tongue-in-cheek farewell address that acknowledged his “sentimentality and nostalgia.” He will be finished with his tenure by December, but will continue through 2023 as a senior advisor to his yet-unnamed replacement.

“I will be sentimental about it being my last. Of course, I'm also nostalgic, and I'll be nostalgic about the early days of the festival,” says Smith. “But one of the great things about leaving the Tribune now is that everybody here is in the best possible position to carry the important work that we've been doing forward to the next 13 years. And so I'll be watching like everybody else, with a lot of pride.”

This year, the festival broadened its scope from 2021 and earlier to include even more interests tangential to politics, aiming for the same bullseye as the Tribune always does: the average reader. The festival is always as jargon-free as possible, this year including topics like Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner’s memoir and 50 years of cultural change, retired top tennis player Andy Roddick’s opinions on the duties of nonprofits, and singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett’s experience as a Texas legend.

To help attendees start building their itineraries (or give keen readers at home some things to research), Smith selected the following must-attend events for CultureMap readers to keep on their radar.

Thursday, September 22
Thursday is a shorter day with “a couple of sessions to get peoples’ appetites going,” according to Smith. Of the 10 events, he chose two not to miss:

A Conversation with Katy Tur
9:30 am - 10:30 am

The MSNBC anchor will discuss journalism with Smith himself, with special attention to her recent second book that stretches all the way back through her childhood, Rough Draft: A Memoir. This chat will be in-person, kicking off the festival.

One-on-One with Anthony Fauci
10:30 am - 11:30 am

This prerecorded conversation is only available virtually. Smith interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the U.S. president, about the “layered” public health emergencies of COVID-19 and monkeypox as it emerges.

Friday, September 23
This mid-size day has 43 scheduled sessions. Smith chose one from each time slot:

One-on-One with Glenn Youngkin
8:45 am - 9:45 am

The Virginia governor is, in Smith’s words, “one of the big Republican success stories of the last couple of years,” and will be interviewed by senior correspondent David Drucker of the Washington Examiner. Some speculate that Youngkin will run for president in 2024.

The Forward Presents: One-on-One with Deborah Lipstadt
10:15 am - 11:15 am

U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt is talking about the issue nationally and worldwide, interviewed by Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Ruth Warren. A recent report found that 2021 was a record year for antisemitism in Austin.

One-on-One with Walter Isaacson
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tulane University professor Walter Isaacson discusses Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and his current work with Elon Musk. He is interviewed by Pushkin Productions CEO Jacob Weisberg, former editor-in-chief of the Slate Group.

One-on-One with Hillary Clinton
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm

Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is interviewed by New York Times podcast host Kara Swisher about progressive values in the United States. Swisher runs the Vox Media Code Conference, and is no stranger to the stage.

One-on-One with Ben McKenzie
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Austin-born actor and writer Ben McKenzie is one Austinite speaking out on a large scale about “the case against crypto” as the city grows more and more entangled with it. He is interviewed by Bloomberg Digital executive editor for news Joe Weisenthal.

Saturday, September 24
The longest day of the festival, Saturday hosts 68 sessions. Smith chose one for each time slot:

After Roe
8:45 am - 9:45 am

This panel addressing one of the hottest topics in recent politics is run by Ana Marie Cox of The Cut, and features Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson, Texas state representative Donna Howard, and former state senator Wendy Davis, famous for her abortion filibuster.

One-on-One with Annette Gordon-Reed
9:00 am - 10:00 am

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Harvard professor Annette Gordon Reed discusses the legacy of slavery and the morals of studying history. She is interviewed by Errin Haines, editor-at-large for The 19th, founded by former Tribune editor-in-chief Emily Ramshaw.

One-on-One with Ted Cruz
10:30 am - 11:30 am

U.S. Senator and Texan Ted Cruz is slated to talk on Saturday, although he hasn’t yet been matched with a conversation partner. He’ll talk about tension with the Biden administration, the “soul” of the Republican party, and a possible reprisal of his 2016 presidential campaign.

One-on-One with Chris Bosh
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

NBA Hall of Famer Chris Bosh is interviewed by ESPN commentator Kirk Goldsberry on sports, being retired, and voting. Bosh has spoken out about social justice, and always ties it to a message of using one’s voice to create change.

Below the Line
2:15 pm - 3:15 pm

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and urban development Julián Castro joins former mayor of Stockton, California, Michael Tubbs and ProPublica-Texas Tribune investigative reporter Vianna Davila to discuss Texans living disproportionately below the poverty line.

One-on-One with Gavin Newsom
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

California Governor Gavin Newsom takes a leadership role, telling MSNBC anchor Alex Wagner about what the rest of the United States can learn from his state. The Democratic governor leans toward messaging about innovation and creating precedent-setting big change.

Tickets for the Texas Tribune Festival ($269 general admission) from September 22 to 24, both virtually and in venues across Austin, are available at texastribune.org.

Photo courtesy of Emberli Pridham

Texas author pens enchanting children's storybook about Princess Diana

Royal reads

“Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made," the Archbishop of Canterbury famously declared at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles in 1981. Of course, the British royal couple's real-life fairy tale did not end in a "happily ever after."

But now, 25 years after the tragic and untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales, a Dallas mom-and-author wants to introduce children to the parts of the beloved princess' life that really were storybook worthy. Emberli Pridham's A Real-Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana will be published through Gatekeeper Press ($21.95) on September 1.

The 48-page hardcover book is a charmingly illustrated biography intended for children ages 3 to 8. It succinctly chronicles Princess Diana's life, from her childhood to her life as a royal and mother, and showcases her impact on the world as "the people's princess."

Famous vignettes from her life — including her engagement, wedding, charity work, and White House twirl around the dance floor with John Travolta — are also depicted in whimsical illustrations by Danilo Cerovic. The foreword is written by her friend and well-known interior designer Carleton Varney.

The book will be the first in a series of "Real-Life Fairy Tale" stories about inspiring and influential people that Pridham intends to write. She is no stranger to writing books for young people. Pridham, along with her husband, David, co-authored the Amazon best-selling STEM book series, If Not You, Then Who?

But this one had extra special meaning, she says, because of her desire to share Princess Diana’s legacy with younger generations like her daughter — who inspired the book.

The Pridhams live in Dallas with their three children, Brooke, Noah, and Graham, and are involved in a number of philanthropic organizations throughout the city.

We donned a tiara and chatted with Emberli about the new Princess Diana book, her fairy tale series, and the inspiration she hopes it will provide for a new generation of little princes and princesses.

CultureMap: Why did you decide to do a children's series on the topic of "real-life" fairy tales? Are these the kinds of stories you enjoyed as a child, or read to your own children?

Emberli Pridham: My daughter Brooke, actually! I was reading to her a fairy tale one night and went down a bunny trail of wanting to read to her about a real-life princess. And Princess Diana was the first to pop into my head. She is someone who I thought would be an incredible role model that I wanted my daughter to learn about and be inspired by her incredible compassion, kindness, and empathy.

CM: How did you decide which vignettes from Princess Diana's life to focus on, and what kind of research did it entail? Were you a fan of hers as a child?

EP: I chose Diana because she was a real-life princess who exemplified grace and dignity. She gave so much of her time to important causes and to the most vulnerable of people in the world. I decided to highlight all the positive aspects about her life.

I also read her biography Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton, which really helped paint the story and life of Princess Diana.

I have always been a fan of Princess Diana and I will never forget the morning of her funeral; it had quite an impact on me, watching it back as a young 10-year-old girl. It was so apparent how much she meant to people around the world.

CM: Did you have to work with any official royal family channels to use her name or illustrate her likeness?

EP: We didn’t have to work with any official royal channels. This book is an illustrated story based on her life, intended to highlight the positive aspects of her character for children. Similar to how people work who write historical fiction books.

CM: The release coincides with the 25th anniversary of her death (on August 31, 1997), when there will be a lot of public remembrances about her. Was that intentional?

EP: No, not intentional. I wrote and released this book because I really wanted to educate children of this generation (that were either not born yet or too young to remember her) so they know about this incredible and amazing woman.

CM: The story is written like a poem, with some sweet rhyming patterns, but still covers a lot of history. What was your writing process like, writing specifically for children?

EP: As a little girl and still to this day, I love children’s books with a rhyme. I wanted the story to sound beautiful to readers, much like reading a poem. Diana was beautiful inside and out and I wanted the story to reflect that.

CM: Tell me about your illustrator and how you worked together on the charming yet detailed illustrations.

EP: I wanted the illustrations to be different, and my own. I researched a lot of different illustration styles. When I was growing up, I was a big fan of The Secret Garden and watercolors and wanted the illustrations in my book to be like a work of art that you can hang up on your wall.

Our illustrator, Danilo Cerovic, did a wonderful job; we worked well together. He was magnificent and really understood and captured what I would convey in my words and translated them into these dreamy images, truly making the pictures come to life!

CM: You're giving 10 percent of book proceeds to Centrepoint, a UK organization that Princess Diana was patron of, and now Prince William has been its patron since 2005. How did you decide on this nonprofit?

EP: We looked up which charities Princess Diana was most involved with and this one really struck a chord with me. (Note: The organization provides young people experiencing homelessness with accommodation, health support, and life skills to get them back into education, training, and employment, according to the website.)

CM: Where can Dallas readers find A Real-Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana?

EP: You can find the book on our website, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (There are also paperback and Kindle versions.)

CM: What can you tell us about forthcoming books in your fairy tale series?

EP: I’m thinking about so many great women, it’s hard to narrow down. I know for sure the next book will be about Princess Grace of Monaco, but after her I am not sure who will follow, so stay tuned.

A Real Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana releases September 1.

Princess Diana children's book
Photo courtesy of Emberli Pridham
A Real Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana releases September 1.
Photo courtesy of Everest

Texas entrepreneur scales to new heights with innovative marketplace for the outdoors

a mountainous achievement

Texas businessman Bill Voss has always found his zen through his lifelong passion for the great outdoors, but there’s one aspect that was making him positively furious: the shopping.

Burned out with driving to brick-and-mortar stores, standing in long lines, and dealing with dreaded returns, Voss turned his necessity into invention and launched Everest.com, a new shopping/lifestyle marketplace and community platform that links active-minded customers to more than 1,000 U.S.-based merchants and retailers.

By utilizing what it describes as “state of the art” artificial intelligence, the company aims to create the largest marketplace on earth for the outdoor recreation community, covering activities such as hiking, camping, biking, rock climbing, winter sports, water sports, team sports, fishing, hunting, kayaking, rafting, and road and trail running.

Voss’ timing is sound: Current industry estimates suggest consumers spend $700 billion in outdoor recreation, with less than 20 percent of those sales transacted online. Towards that end, Voss plans to increase his sellers to 10,000 by 2023.

Everest members can also enjoy perks through a program dubbed Caliber, which provides its members with several exclusive benefits including free shipping, advance sales, travel benefits, big discounts on gear, and — a plus these days — discounts on fuel. Voss notes that the site’s core values are pushing U.S.-made products and giving back; Everest will have nonprofit and conservation partners.

CultureMap caught up with the active Voss on the heels of his Everest launch.

CultureMap: Congratulations on the launch. Essentially, have you created an Amazon for the outdoors crowd — but with a sense of community, too?

Bill Voss: We started Everest.com to create the first online marketplace with the sole focus of offering outdoor enthusiasts retail goods for purchase from merchants across the country who offer domestically made goods.

In our experience, people who love the outdoors also appreciate the concept of community. At Everest, we want to bolster that community by giving local businesses a wider sales reach, contributing to local and national charitable organizations, and asking everyone in our community to share the story of their “Everest.”

We’re taking a fairly segmented market and bringing it together into one community-focused ecosystem. We call that ecosystem Everest.

CM: What Houston spots have most inspired you? And have you visited Everest yet?

BV: I’m a fisherman at heart. I have been fishing the Gulf of Mexico since I could hold a fishing rod. There is nothing I’d rather do than spend a whole day on the water casting, trolling, or remembering many epic fights reeling in a big one.

So naturally, I love Galveston, Kemah, etc. and being so close to the Gulf is a huge reason why I love Houston. The city itself may be a major metropolitan area, but it is full of so many parks and recreation areas that are great to walk through when you need to escape the sounds of the city for a bit— which Houston really doesn’t get enough credit or exposure for.

Houston has an amazing outdoor community with so many choices to support it — it’s hard to pick just one activity that ranks number one.

I do have plans to visit Everest actually! I am arranging a trip with two brothers that have made it to the top more than anyone else and they assure me it will be an amazing trip.

CM: Clearly, you’re an avid outdoorsman. Is it correct to say that Everest was inspired by frustration and hassle of bouncing to other sites and stores?

BV: Exactly! I found myself doing just that and it’s infuriating. I’d be visiting multiple stores, going through multiple checkouts, and waiting on multiple boxes to arrive — and sometimes dealing with multiple return scenarios. So, I set out to fix it — for all of us.

I grew up fishing, spending hours on the water with my dad. To me that’s one of the best parts of any outdoor activity, the quality time spent with the people you love. I don’t think you get the same experience if you’re sitting around a tv screen together, and you certainly don’t get it if you’re spending hours on your computer trying to track down the perfect beginner fishing rod for your daughter. Time is precious, and the endless toil of gear compilation eats into those few available hours we have to spend together.

By aggregating thousands of outdoor brands and gear retailers and centralizing them into one marketplace, we’re allowing our users to hop on, find everything they need, and check out easily. We’re just getting started but, within the next two years, we hope to add even more sellers and products along with more community offerings.

Being out on the water showing my kids how to bait a hook or how to find a school of fish, those are the memories I hope they take with them. With Everest, it has been important to me to help make those kinds of experiences easily attainable for everyone and the people they love.

CM: Speaking of other stores, do you plan to go head-to-head with the REIs and Sun and Skis of the world? Or Amazon?

BV: I get this question all the time and I love it. As to the first two, definitely not. We’re a marketplace, we’re here to help companies like REI and Sun and Ski, who can participate as sellers and reach new customers.

The difference is that our members can pick up everything they need, from multiple retailers, in one cart, with one easy checkout option. Many of the big names already spotlight and sell products on Amazon — they can do the same with Everest. We are a community of like-minded outdoor loving enthusiasts that have been looking for a niche marketplace to serve all of us.

Think of what Chewy did in the pet industry — we are doing the same thing for those that love the outdoors. Amazon has to be everything to everybody. We don’t, and we don’t want to.

CM: Do you see Everest ever creating brick-and-mortar stores?

BV: Wonderful question. The beauty of Everest is we are still a young company with options to consider. But remember, one of the main tenets of Everest is supporting our sellers. We are not looking to get into a situation where we are competing directly with them.

However, we’d love to one day open a shop selling Everest sweatshirts and swag in downtown Houston. It would be so fulfilling to see the outdoor community wearing Everest branded clothing and putting Everest stickers on their gear in the future.

The bottom line is, we are sprinting as hard as we can in hopes of waking up one day as a true disruptor, household name, and eternal brand.

Photo by Ezra Olsen

New star-studded, San Antonio-backed movie sends viewers on a Wild West murder mystery

a trip to yellowstone city

Movie producer Kelly Frazier is a Western kind of gal.

Born and raised in Houston, the former music-video producer (she's worked with such country artists as Shania Twain, George Jones, and Billy Ray Cyrus) has been working almost exclusively in the genre of cowboy fiction. "I did about seven Westerns in a row, which are always the most fun to shoot," Frazier, who's been in the business ("scarily enough," she says) for 30 years, tells CultureMap.

The latest oater she's involved with is Murder at Yellowstone City, which has just been released in theaters and on digital and boasts a cast of familiar Hollywood legends, stars, and starlets.

The movie is actually something of an whodunit: A man (Zach McGowan) who strikes gold in a run-down Montana town is murdered. When the sheriff (film legend Gabriel Byrne) immediately locks up a traveling stranger of color (Isaiah Mustafa, he of the Old Spice commercials), several townspeople — particularly the town preacher (Thomas Jane star of The Punisher) and his wife (Anna Camp of Pitch Perfect) — suspect someone else is responsible.

Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss, Nat Wolff, and Aimee Garcia also star as some of the town's inhabitants.

Frazier and her K7 Storytellers company got involved with the project when actress Scottie Thompson (who serves a a co-producer and plays the victim's widow) approached her with a script filmmaker Richard Gray (who directed Thompson in The Lookalike and Broken Ghost) wanted to direct next. "He had shared the project with her, to potentially act in it," says Frazier. "She brought it to us — she's dipping her toe in producing these days — and, so, we all worked together to get a plan in place that made sense."

Of course, the plan involved scaring up some money to make the film, and that's when another Houstonian joined the party. San Antonio-born businesswoman Julie Stagner joined the circle of producers, using her background in asset management and other financial services to build a budget for Murder. "[Kelly] was looking for some investors to help with the film," says Stagner, "and I came on as an executive producer with the film and had the wonderful opportunity of working by Kelly's side on this project, being on set and getting to produce in post-production. It was a phenomenal experience learning from some of the best in the business."

The film was shot in spring 2021 at the Yellowstone Film Ranch, a location co-owned by Gray, in Montana. ("We were just super-fortunate that we didn't have any COVID issues on set, and we were able to do that," says Stagner.) Frazier and Stagner weren't the only Houstonians involved in the production. Local teen actress Isabella Ruby has a supporting role as a young, gun-wielding gal who lives and works at the town saloon/house of ill repute.

"There are so many talented people in Texas," says Frazier. "There are great crews. There's great talent — like Izzy — and tons of great actors. There are so many Texans out here in L.A. that say the same thing that I do: If there was a big-enough [film] community in Texas, we'd all move back. You know, people like [Matthew] McConaughey and Mike Judge and [Richard] Linklater and Robert Rodriguez have that luxury. But there's such a deep talent pool there."

Frazier would love to bring more film productions to the Lone Star State. However, with the current tax incentives on film and TV productions (5 to 20 percent, according to the Texas Film Commission) being lower than other states (Montana is 25 percent), making some horse operas around here isn't financially feasible right now.

"I would shoot every movie in Texas, to be able to be home and close to family," says Frazier. "So, the great thing about Texas is it can be literally any place you want it to be. You've got the beach. You've got, you know, the swamp country of East Texas. You've got the big mountains of the Big Bend and everything in between. So, there's so many looks you can get in Texas, and it would be great... Financially, if it made sense, I would shoot every movie in Texas."

At the moment, both Frazier and Stagner hope that their townsfolk will take in this murder-mystery in the Old West. "I think [audiences] will feel a lot of emotion," says Stagner, "and they'll be entertained in a great way from all the classic and traditional things that you'd find in a Western."

But don't forget about the movie's meaningful message. "As cliched as its sounds, do the right thing and search for the truth," says Frazier. "If you see an injustice, do something about it, and don't always take things on the surface."


Murder at Yellowstone City is now playing in select theaters and on streaming services such as iTunes and Amazon.

Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) as Alice Murphy and Isaiah Mustafa (Shadow Hunters, IT) as Cicero.

Murder at Yellowstone City movie Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) as Alice Murphy and Isaiah Mustafa (Shadow Hunters, IT) as Cicero
Photo by Ezra Olsen
Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) as Alice Murphy and Isaiah Mustafa (Shadow Hunters, IT) as Cicero.
Photo by Luis Noble

Texas author thrills with new romance and murder mystery titles set in the Lone Star State

made in texas

After her author debut last year, Texan author Ashley Winstead is bookending her summer with two new releases — two books that couldn’t be any more different.

Last year, Winstead published In My Dreams I Hold A Knife with publisher Sourcebooks Landmark. The dark academia novel follows a group of friends returning to their alma mater with fresh questions about what happened in the murder of a classmate.

Her next thriller, The Last Housewife, which follows a Dallas woman’s obsession over getting to the bottom of two of her former friends’ deaths in the Hudson Valley region, comes out August 16.

Winstead says the upcoming title is her darkest yet — completely contrasting with her last release, Fool Me Once, which was published in April by Harlequin Romance. The romcom novel is set in Austin and is full of sexual tension, political shenanigans, and messy, but lovable, characters.

Though her books fall on separate sides of the fiction genre spectrum, each novel features rich plots, smart writing, and, in the case of her two 2022 releases, a bit of Texas sprinkled in. CultureMap sat down with Winstead to discuss her writing career and her three completed books.

The Winstead File

Age: 35
Family: Husband and two furry felines
Neighborhood: The Heights
Hometown: “I’m a Navy kid, so a bit of everywhere. I usually say California. Texan since … 2010. Spent six years in Dallas before moving to Houston in 2016."
Most frequented Houston restaurant: Squable
Favorite Houston bookstore:Murder By The Book

CultureMap: You’re a rising star in the literary world. Did you always want to be an author?

Ashley Winstead: Absolutely. Like throw me in the camp with pretty much every other writer who feels like they're born to do it. I was attracted to language since I was really young.

I have a very vivid memory of being seven years old or around that age and getting like an assignment from a teacher to write probably a paragraph of creative writing about a ship crashing on the shore or something. And I remember spending hours pacing my room, thinking about different ways I could phrase a single sentence and falling in love with like the musicality of language — thinking if I use certain words, could that mimic the sound of waves crashing.

I was a goner from the start. In fact, I thought I wanted to be a poet and went to college to be a poet — so, you know, one of five people in America — and quickly learned that was not gonna be the path for me. It’s been a long journey, but yeah, always, always.

CM: Before becoming a full-time author, you worked with Arnold Ventures. What did you do there and how did that job inspire aspects of Fool Me Once’s main character, Lee Stone?

AW: I stole very blatantly from my work there. I worked at Arnold Ventures as a communications director — kind of exactly what Lee does for her company. And Arnold is a national philanthropy that works really hard to change policy to be more effective at helping people improve their lives.

We worked on climate change policy, criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, justice, education — just like really a wide variety of topics. I had to become extremely knowledgeable, particularly about what the research said about policies and the political landscapes of almost every state across the country but in particular, Texas, cause we worked really closely here.

For the five years that I worked at Arnold, I was behind the scenes with a mix of activists researchers, politicians, and government folks, trying to figure out what new policies made sense would be effective and then trying to campaign to get them passed. I saw so many things behind the scenes, as you can only imagine, especially here in Texas, which was by far the most bananas behind the scenes politically — the schemes, the shenanigans of politicians in Austin.

I was lucky enough to get to go up to Austin and to the Capitol a few times and talk to the chief judge about criminal justice reform and do a lot of advocacy related stuff. And I just kept thinking, "this would make such excellent fodder for a comedy." I could lift real life things — I didn't for liable purposes or whatnot, but I really could have — and people probably would've said it was too far fetched.

I also knew that Lee was a person who was really passionate about changing the world and that would be like a central conflict for her — that she would be so eager to change the world for the better and completely blind about the ways she needed to change.

CM: What’s it like writing books set in Texas?

AW: I haven't fully interrogated why it took me so long to write a book set in the place where I live. Granted, Fool Me Once is in Austin, but still in Texas. I think I needed to be persuaded that people would be interested in reading like a romantic comedy set in Texas. And I know that sounds weird. And people might bristle at that, but Texas has such a challenging reputation outside the borders of the state.

People look at us and see this legislatively backwards, toxic place — and I think very accurately. What they don't see — and why I was really principally motivated to set Fool Me Once in Texas — is just the huge movement of people working so hard in Texas to change things like advocates and people who will spend their entire lives fighting for progressive policy in Texas and fighting for people who are vulnerable here in Texas.

Fool Me Once is kind of my love letter to a part of Texas that is really vital and really alive. It's my Texas, and one that people don't really see outside the border.

When you set a book in Texas, you are bringing baggage to it in a way that you're not setting it in places like New York or California — even though they have their own political ecosystems, they're usual places for books to be set. They're a little more neutral and when you write in a book set in Texas, it's colored deeply by the setting.

CM: What should people expect from The Last Housewife, your next book, which comes out August 16? How does it compare to your first thriller, In My Dreams I Hold a Knife?

AW: First and foremost, it is not the soapy popcorn-esque tone of In My Dreams I Hold a Knife. I'm taking pains to warn people that it's very, very dark and very graphic on page. Please look at the trigger warnings and take them very seriously.

But, what you can expect in terms of story, is the story is I'm most proud of writing I think to date. It is about a woman named Shay and she lives in Highland Park in Dallas. She's a newly married Highland Park wife, and she should be writing her first book with her free time, but instead she's lounging by her pool and going to lunch with the other Highland Park wives.

She feels really empty and she can't figure out why it is that she is so uninspired to write this thing she's been wanting to do her whole life. Lying by the pool one day, she puts on her favorite true crime podcast and finds out unceremoniously that her best friend from college has been found dead under highly suspicious circumstances.

And this just opens up so many questions because the way her friend's body was found actually mirrors the way another woman's body was found eight years ago on their college campus. But she's the only person in the world who knows that.

So she's sitting in Highland Park thinking to herself, 'like if I don't do something with this knowledge, you know, what's gonna happen?' So then, she flies to New York. The principal action of the book takes place in the Hudson Valley area of New York, but it's shot through with Texas as well. I'm calling it my cult revenge thriller — it's Eyes Wide Shut meets Promising Young Woman.

CM: You write two very different genres — how do you balance both the thriller and the rom-com sides of your brain? Where do you find inspiration for each?

AW: I don't know that I balance it very well, to be completely honest, because there's always one genre kind of creeping into the other one. I have to go back and slap myself on the wrist when I'm being too joyous or romantic in a thriller or too tense, fast-paced, or clipped in a romance.

Right now, for example, I'm writing three different books at the same time and it's a little too much for my brain to handle. My agent told me that I need to put down my thriller that I'm working on and switch to my next romance. I think it's gonna take me a full week to fully shake off the thriller.

I don't know if that's a very good answer — it is a struggle, but it is the most intoxicating way to write. I highly recommend it. I am a writer who sinks so fully, mentally, and emotionally into whatever I'm writing that I actually need the break of switching to a different genre to not like lose my brain completely.

When I'm writing a thriller, I am so deep in the drama and the angst and the fear that I'm like a weird person to be around really — my poor husband. And when I'm in a romance, I'm like unfailingly cheery and making jokes all the time, which is probably more obnoxious than the thriller version of myself.

And when I'm done writing a romance, I'm like, 'oh, this is so wonderful,' sinking back into like the drama.

CM: Do you do any writing around town? If so, what types of places do you like to work?

AW: My other writer friends here in Houston know to tip me off to mostly bars where it's kind of a sleepier atmosphere. Somewhere you could start out with a coffee and then kind of gradually move through the beverages of the day until you're ending with wine. Somewhere quieter, sleepy, but where you can watch people. I get a lot of ideas just watching people.

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Your Expert Guide

There are so many great places to live in San Antonio that it helps to have an expert on your side. The Neighborhood Guide presented by Kuper Sotheby's International Realty gives you insider access from the agents who live and work there, providing in-the-know info about your possible new community.


The Dominion has always intrigued real estate agent Matthew Resnick — he lived there himself for more than eight years, and was a HOA board member, and has family still in the neighborhood. His office has been located in The Dominion for the past 15 years.

"I've made it my passion to become the expert for people buying and selling in The Dominion and its surrounding areas," Resnick says. "It's a masterplanned community where you can live, work, and play, with golf courses, parks, ponds, and trails."

Resnick — who is also a certified expert in diamonds and jewelry, thanks to growing up with his father's business, Reznikov's Fine Jewelry — calls The Dominion San Antonio's premier lifestyle community.

His reasons? Here are a few more of his personal favorites about life in the area:

Where to eat & drink
No matter what you're craving, you'll be satisfied. Resnick recommends Signature, Piatti, Rudy's BBQ, and Bar 301.

Where to play
"I enjoy spending time with my family hiking at Friedrich Park," he says. "I also really enjoy playing a round of golf or having a tennis match with my kids at the Dominion Country Club and La Cantera Resort & Spa."

What to see
TopGolf is another way to practice your swing, or more adventurous souls can check out Six Flags Fiesta Texas, horseback riding at Rose Palace, and iFly indoor skydiving.

Less heart-pounding but still enjoyable is retail therapy at The Shops at La Cantera or a visit to Cascade Caverns and the Cave Without a Name.

Where to live
"Behind the gates in The Dominion you have many distinctive neighborhoods that each have their own style, appeal, and architecture," Resnick says. "You will find contemporary and modern to traditional and Colonial architecture in all sizes, from garden homes to large acreage lots with mansion/estate homes."

A recent large sale of Resnick's definitely falls into the latter category: 5 Crescent Bluff, a beauty of over 7,000 square feet built by the award-winning Roberto Kenigstein of Image Homes.

"Matthew really cares, as though he's making the purchase himself," says his client. "Having moved a handful of times, I have experienced a variety of Realtors as both a buyer and a seller. Matthew and his team are exceptional."


Matthew Resnick works and plays in The Dominion. For more information on buying and selling a home in the area, click here, email matthew.resnick@kupersir.com, or call 210-849-8837.

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6 splurge-worthy spas for max relaxation in San Antonio

Weekend plans sorted

It can be difficult to embark on a "treat yourself" spree when tallying up the costs of self-care. Skimming the extensive (and often expensive) menu of available services at any given spa, special treatments can feel like a waste of money. Thankfully for San Antonians, we're surrounded by local spas offering much more than the standard massage or facial. From award-winning hotel spas to salons offering boutique beauty services, here are six San Antonio spas where the end result is worth every penny.

Mokara Spa
As the city's only Forbes four-star spa, the Mokara is widely recognized as one of the best spas in the world, not just San Antonio. And you don't have to be a hotel guest to enjoy a service at the 17,000 square foot spa itself, where prices will cost $100 and up, depending on the service. Spring for the signature facial treatment, where a trained esthetician will customize a skincare regimen to your own personal needs. They also have treatments like body wraps, pedicures, manicures, massages, customized spa packages, and more. Book a service here.

Loma de Vida Spa
Looking for a way to treat a mom-to-be in your life for Mother's Day? Treat her to the Babymoon experience at La Cantera Resort's Loma de Vida spa. The experience include's a couples massage, a baby belly facial for the mom in question, and a chance for her to take some time to float peacefully in the spa's outdoor pool and enjoy lunch or a snack in one of the private cabanas. The entire experience is $555, but the spa offers weekday discounts and those Hill Country views are worth it. Book a service here.

The Thompson San Antonio Hotel Spa
It's hard not to feel like Goldilocks when entering the Thompson Hotel spa, because everything is justright from the second you walk in. Pricing for spa services range upwards from $100, but the spa offers some cost-effective spa packages (the Relax and Recharge package includes a 50-minute massage and 50-minute facial for $350, for example), or the Thompson Hotel spa membership, which includes benefits like 2 complimentary day passes a month for friends and family, 20 percent off spa services, and more. Book a service here.

The Spa at Eilan
If you're looking for a couple's treatment, the Eilan spa has a lot of options, from the Soothe for Two Rasul service (essentially a private steam and aromatherapy session), a couple's hot stone massage, or a men's facial. The spa at Eilan also has a wide assortment of spa packages that include a facial and massage in the set price. If you've never tried a body wrap before, the Eilan spa has a signature Hanakasumi body treatment, which features the calming scents of cherry blossom and lotus flower. Prices start around $110, and you can book a service here.

Folawns Medical Spa and Salon
If you're feeling a bit sluggish after a long week, you might want to try something other than a standard facial or massage. Folawns Medical Spa and Salon offers vitamin B12 shots that'll give you a boost that's both more natural and more convenient than having to stop at Starbucks. For only $20 a shot, it also helps boost your immunity, too. Folawns also offers other treatments like hydrafacials, IV treatments, laser hair removal and more. Book a service here.

Beauty Haus SA
Have you ever felt like you walked straight into a TikTok reel? Beauty Haus SA's got you covered on that front, but they aren't just about the 'gram: The talented staff offers a wide assortment of relaxing treatments, from massages and facials to lash lifts, brow tints, lip plumpers, and more. This writer tried her first ever lash lift and tint at Beauty Haus. They're not kidding when they say you won't need mascara for at least 4-6 weeks, as long as you apply castor oil to your lashes. The starting price for the lash lift and tint starts at $75 dollars (prices vary based on the technician) but it's definitely a nice confidence booster. Book a service here.

New Hill Country wine school teaches Texans how to become aficionados


Texan wine enthusiasts and beginners wanting to test their skills or develop them further can now do so at a new Hill Country wine school led by an award-winning winery out in Hye, Texas.

William Chris Wine Co. (WCWC) has opened their William Chris Wine School with Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) classes and a one-of-a-kind ambassador certification course beginning in April. The school is offering these courses not only to educate fellow Texans about the intricacies of wine, but also to provide inspirational experiences that help ignite their passion for it.

“WSET courses are designed to inspire and empower anyone looking to develop their wine knowledge—regardless of prior experience, and from enthusiasts to professionals,” said Director of Education Kelsey Kramer in a press release. “So, we encourage anyone to sign up for our WSET courses no matter their current level of wine knowledge.”

WCWC is the first Texas winery to provide these educational courses to industry peers and enthusiasts. They’ll offer two WSET level tracks with multiple classes; their beginner-level WSET Level 1 classes are open for registration for April 15 and May 15. The WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses are for more experienced aficionados, and are centered around trying new wines from all over the world while also educating on wine theory, grape-growing techniques, and more. The level two classes are scheduled for May, June, and July.

Kramer added that over half of the William Chris team have successfully passed the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses.

“Our ultimate goal, as always, is to increase the standard of knowledge for those in the Texas wine industry,” she said. “Anyone who participates in a course with us supports this goal and the future success of the industry as a whole.”

Though Texas wine is not included in the WSET curriculum, the wine school has their own solution for that. They are offering an exclusive Texas Wine Ambassador Certification program that focuses solely on wine-making and grape-growing in our own state. Their first certification class is scheduled for April 22.

More information about the William Chris Wine School and its classes can be found on their website.

Goofiness keeps Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves light on its feet

Movie Review

In the franchise world in which we now live, movie studios are always looking for the next big thing that will ensure fans come flocking to the theater. The role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons has gotten a pop cultural boost in recent years thanks to the Netflix show Stranger Things, and now – just shy of its 50th anniversary – it's getting its own blockbuster movie, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

The film premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) as the festival's opening pick. The somewhat complex story centers on two of the titular thieves, Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), who lead a group of rogues who make a living by stealing, but only from those who deserve it. One such altruistic mission, a relic that can bring back the dead, leads to the pair getting caught and put in jail, separating Edgin from his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman).

Michelle Rodriguez and Chris Pine in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Michelle Rodriguez and Chris Pine in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Fellow thief Forge (Hugh Grant) agrees to look after her, but after a daring escape, Edgin and Holga discover that Forge is even more of a scoundrel than they thought, rising to the title of Lord in their absence with the help of the sorceress Sofina (Daisy Head), and poisoning Kira’s mind against them. They must gather the rest of the team, including Simon (Justice Smith) and Doric (Sophia Lillis), to try to take him down and recover the relic once and for all.

Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, with help from co-writer Michael Gilio, the film has the unenviable task of turning the famously dense game into something that pleases both fanatics and those unfamiliar with its many characters, creatures, and locations. It’s clear the filmmakers are trying to strike a balance between the two, loading the story with terms they barely attempt to explain while at the same time making the movie as goofy as possible.

Only the second of those two approaches truly works. The problem the filmmakers run into is that this is an introductory film that barely seems to care about introducing its characters. A lengthy speech by Edgin at the beginning attempts to do that, but is staged in such a way that the humor of sequence takes precedence over the details of the people. The only reason the characters wind up likable is because of the sheer amount of time spent with them and the actors’ performances.

Well, that and the comedy sprinkled throughout the film. If Daley, Goldstein, and Gilio do anything right, it’s not taking the material too seriously. The world has already seen Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, so adding in funny elements like the wise-cracking Edgin, a supremely fat dragon, and more keeps the film from getting lost in its own minutiae. Not all the jokes land, but 75-80 percent of them do, which is enough to keep the film buoyant.

Pine, as he’s shown in the recent Star Trek and Wonder Woman films, has charm to spare. He occupies this particular role extremely well, and so even if you can’t remember his character’s name, his performance carries the film. Rodriguez is an acquired taste, but her surly demeanor and physical prowess works for her here. The supporting actors shine at times, but the film doesn’t showcase them enough to make them stand out.

While miles better than the reviled 2000 Dungeons & Dragons, Honor Among Thieves is a merely okay beginning for a possible new franchise. There’s some excitement to be had and it stays light on its feet thanks to the comedy, but more attention paid to the story is warranted if they decide to make sequels.


Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters on March 31.