Sometimes, something has to make you truly miserable before you can see the humor in it.
Los Angeles-based TV writer and ESPN.com contributor Bob Smiley entered Princeton University with the idealistic dream of studying politics and eventually becoming a small-town mayor back home in Southern California. It didn't stick.
"I hated the arguments and I realized I was setting myself up for a lifetime of headaches and arguments you can't win," says Smiley, who, it should be noted, is not the Christian comedian with the same name who actually does live in Texas.
Thirteen years after graduating with a degree in English, Smiley lampoons what could have been in his satirical novel Don't Mess With Travis. Out this month from Thomas Dunne Books, the story centers around Ben Travis, a Texas senator more comfortable on his ranch than in legislative session and far enough down in the gubernatorial line of succession that he never thought it would happen -- until it does.
Travis' first big decision (after ditching the Teleprompter at a press conference) is to do what Rick Perry only joked about: Get the fine people of the Lone Star state to secede from the Union. What results is some 300-plus pages of good-natured ribbing of politicos. And while Smiley's politics do tend to lean toward the right (he once was a research assistant to William F. Buckley Jr. and he has written for Fox News Channel's Half Hour News Hour), neither side really gets off easy, as characters share personality traits with the likes of both Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh.
But what does a Ventura County native know about Texas-sized history and ego? For these details, Smiley turned to his college roommate, Rob Hays, and his family. Hays' father gave Smiley the idea for the book and gathered friends to finance the project until it found a publisher. And while Smiley himself would rather find a way for both sides of today's culture to reach an agreement on hot-button issues rather than secede, he doesn't doubt that "if there was any state in the union that come close to pulling this off, Texas is the one to do it."
"They [Texans] make a lot of big, over-the-top statements about themselves," Smiley adds. "And even the idea of secession, I mean a lot of Texans really just believe, 'Screw y'all, we're out of here.' It's just real enough where it's fun to play with the idea [in a book]."