Introducing Amarillo to Readers of Texas Highways

Jason BoyettComment
Photo at The Big Texan by Erich Schlegel for Texas Highways

Photo at The Big Texan by Erich Schlegel for Texas Highways

New byline this month! I have the honor of writing about my hometown for Texas Highways, which is the state's biggest and best travel magazine. Given the assignment of exploring classic "old" Amarillo as well as some of the city's newest offerings for visitors, I covered everything from Palo Duro Canyon and Cadillac Ranch to the newish Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts and upstart restaurants like YCSF. 

Also, I talk about the rodeos and stickhorses of my childhood, and how Boots 'n' Jeans has been replaced by a Jimmy's Egg, which is delicious but kind of sad.

It's a different type of writing for me but the project was a lot of fun. Read it here.

Show Up and Sit Down: Amarillo's "Cuddlers" at NWTHS

Jason BoyettComment
Photo by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine

Photo by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine

Most organizations struggle to find able and willing volunteers. This position, though, has a lengthy waiting list. And no wonder—all you have to do is sit in a chair and hold babies from the NICU. Who wouldn't enjoy that?

The one thing we hear from parents is ‘I’m so glad there was somebody there to love on my baby,’” Imel says. In situations where a mother might have to leave her child in the NICU and return to work, she will return each evening to find a comprehensive report of her child’s day. “They have a little schedule on their bed that shows they’ve been cuddled today. It may be hard, but at the same time, they’re appreciative that there was somebody that took the time to give their baby a little extra tender love and care.” — "Cuddle Up," the January 2018 cover story for Amarillo Magazine.

Read the full article here.

Paying Dividends: Amarillo's Multi-Generational, Family-Owned Businesses

Jason BoyettComment

I put a ton of work and dozens of interview hours into this November cover story, spending time with some of the most successful business owners in the city, from the Ware family of Amarillo National Bank (including fifth-generation ownership) to the families that own Wonderland Amusement Park, Bruckner's trucking and The Big Texan.

Why has Amarillo been an incubator for these successful family businesses? Richard Ware of ANB says it's because Amarillo's isolation is also its secret sauce. "We call it the ‘circle the wagons’ mentality. People just feel like we have to take care of our own businesses," he told me.


Read the full piece here, which is broken into individual profiles of the businesses.

The History of Nursing in Amarillo

Jason BoyettComment

"Before Amarillo had a hospital, it had precisely four nurses. And had those four nurses not arrived when they did, the city might not even exist..."

Photos by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine

Photos by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine

In the October issue of Amarillo Magazine, I had the opportunity to write not only about the history of nursing in Amarillo—it's a fascinating story that involves a typhoid outbreak and nuns named Cleophas, Eugenius, Winifred and Conrad—but also about the current state of nursing education. I was impressed by the passion of local nursing educators at Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University.

This was a complicated story with a ton of interviews and research, but as usual, it left me impressed by the people I had the privilege of talking to. Read "Municipal Health" here.

My Newest Book: 100 Days of Trump

Jason BoyettComment

After writing a fast, research-intense book on Greek mythology in late 2015 and a fast, research-intense book on world religions in 2016, I didn't think I had another book in me for awhile.

Then the American people elected Donald J. Trump to be the 45th president. About two weeks into his presidency, I found myself obsessively browsing news sites to find out what he had said that day. It was always something completely unpredictable—sometimes self-promoting, or controversial, or patently untrue. Whatever it was, it was completely different from the ways other presidents had talked.

The media didn't know what to do with it. They were used to reporting almost every word that came out of a president's mouth, and so they dutifully reported what Trump said or tweeted. Every statement would dominate the news cycle for a few hours. Then he (or members of his administration) would say something else that captured the nation's attention. So the news cycle jumped on that. Day after day after day.

As a writer, I believe that words matter. Especially if you carry the title of President of the United States, which filters everything you say through the world's largest megaphone. Rather than forget about each statement as it flowed through and then drained out of the daily news cycle, I wanted to remember the president's words. 

Early in February, I was discussing this new reality with my wife, Aimee. "You should write a book about all these quotes," she said.


So I started writing. Every day, I picked a quote that had gotten significant coverage in the day's news cycle. I wrote a paragraph of context explaining why the quote mattered, or why it had captured our attention. I could have done it for weeks or months, of course, but I decided to limit it to the president's first 100 days. I released 100 Days of Trump yesterday, on his 101st day in office. Self-publishing is immediate, and I think it's a perfect medium for this kind of book.

Whether you supported Trump or not, I hope this compilation of quotes provides some insight into the neck-breaking pace of this period in American history.

Download it for Amazon Kindle ($2.99).
Download it for free at NoiseTrade Books (tips accepted).

The PARC in Amarillo

Jason BoyettComment
Photo by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine

Photo by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine

For the April issue of Amarillo Magazine, I had the honor of spending some time on-site at The PARC, where I interviewed staff and the organization's members. The Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center is located near downtown on Sixth Avenue. It's designed to be a place where Amarillo's homeless community can engage in creative pursuits between meals, job interviews, or other appointments. It's a safe place that provides human connection and meaning for a population who typically are only focused on survival.

From the story:

“They don’t get called by name. They don’t have time for someone to sit and look them in the eye and have a relationship with them,” she says. “We felt that was the missing link in breaking the cycle and finding confidence to do the things needed to get out of homelessness.”

Until the PARC, Amarillo’s homeless population didn’t have a safe, hospitable place to be productive and creative, a place to engage in meaningful conversation, or even to do something most people take for granted: starting a project and finishing it. “When they come here, we have projects for them to do and classes for them to participate in,” says executive director Valerie Gooch. “They can start something and finish it. If they don’t finish it, it will be here the next day.”

I love using creativity as an approach to help struggling people step out of a vicious cycle that can begin to strip their lives of meaning and usefulness. Everyone I spoke to at The PARC was happy, friendly, and eager to talk about the things they were creating. Volunteering here looks like something anyone can do—they want volunteers to show up, sit at a table, join in a creative pursuit (from adult coloring books to painting to other crafts), and just engage someone in a conversation. Easy.

Read the full article.

Amarillo's First Responders

Jason BoyettComment

For the December issue of Amarillo Magazine, I interviewed the heads of Amarillo's Police Department, Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services. From a personal standpoint, I appreciated their personal ethics and focus on serving the community. A day in which an average citizen comes face-to-face with one of these first responders doing their job...is not always a good day. All three—APD's Ed Drain, AFD's Jeff Greenlee, and Will Hendon of Amarillo Medical Services—provided to be thoughtful advocates for their employees and the city itself.

Photograph by Craig Stidham for  Amarillo Magazine

Photograph by Craig Stidham for Amarillo Magazine

A Dog in the Hunt

Jason BoyettComment

One of the cool things about my work for Amarillo Magazine is that each month's cover story is so wildly different from previous months. For the September 2016 issue, I wrote about a support group for grieving widows. This month? Hunting dogs.

It was fun interviewing so many different hunters, all of whom were probably more passionate about seeing their dogs work than actually shooting birds. The bond between hunter and dog is a powerful thing—as is the instinct and excitement dogs show when they get out in the field.

Photo by Davy Knapp for  Amarillo Magazine

Photo by Davy Knapp for Amarillo Magazine

In addition to the striking photos by Amarillo photographer Davy Knapp (a long-time friend), this piece gave me a chance to go with a slightly more creative introduction than usual, writing from the dog's perspective.

The dog knows.

As the fall months approach, the morning temperatures turn crisp. The sunlight changes. Leaves litter the ground until finally, early one morning, the dog’s master arrives, in the darkness. He opens her crate.

Maybe he gives a special command, like “Let’s go.” The dog knows what that means.

Maybe he wears a certain coat or boots. The dog knows what those mean, too.

Maybe a small change to the dog’s home environment clues her in. The presence of a certain pickup truck. A travel crate that’s been taken out of storage. A special Thermos. These are small changes to her home environment, but the dog recognizes them. She understands their significance. She can barely contain herself.

It’s hunting season.

Read the full article here.

A Q-and-A with Myself

Jason BoyettComment

Today is release day for 12 Major World Religions, so I'm celebrating it with a quick, self-interviewed question-and-answer session. Enjoy!

What was the writing process like?
Since the book was intended to provide a comparative approach, my research for each religious system was built around several categories—beginnings, historical timeline, major figures, major tenets, etc. Those sections are where I started with each religion. Other sidebars and different details developed from there as I studied and read. As for sources, I spent a lot of time between academic or anthropological books about the religion (like Mary Boyce’s valuable works on Zoroastrianism, for instance) and those written by leading voices within the religion (like Pickthall’s The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an).

Is it hard to write an unbiased book about religion when you come from a Christian background?
Not as hard as you might think. It would be arrogant to pretend that I didn’t have some biases going in, though I worked to limit them. I definitely am more familiar with the tenets and teachings of Christianity than any of the other faiths I wrote about. I’m also more familiar with Christianity’s more negative or problematic aspects, too. So I think those balance out. But I want it to be clear that, despite my background, this is not a “Christian book about world religions.” I try to keep as secular a perspective as possible and approached every religion, including Christianity, from a neutral viewpoint.

What religion was the most interesting to you?
Sikhism, without a doubt. After spending hours writing about a religion, I would sit down at dinner and share a little about that faith with my wife and two teenage kids. I found myself talking most passionately about this misunderstood Indian faith which focuses on equality, hospitality, and inclusiveness. You've seen Sikhs before, especially if you've taken a cab in a large city like LA or New York—they wear turbans and have a long history of persecution, at the hands of Muslims and Hindus in India and even from Americans in the days after 9/11. There are so many things I found inspiring about Sikhism.

What religion surprised you most in your research? 
Zoroastrianism, again without a doubt. I had some familiarity with this ancient and influential faith from previous books (including this one), but the more I've dug into its teachings, the more I see its similarities with elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The doctrinal overlap between these faiths are controversial in a lot of circles—it has to do with how you date the development of Zoroastrianism compared to the Babylonian Exile—but they are fascinating to consider. 

Which religion did you like the least?
I'm not answering that. :)

What are some random religious beliefs that now interest you?
In no particular order, here are things I still find myself telling people about: towers of silence (Zoroastrianism), the Sikh principle of seva (Sikhism), naked Digambara monks (Jainism), the Muslim appreciation of Jesus as the prophet Isa ibn Maryam (Islam), the idea of work as worship (Baha’i), and Tibetan prayer flags (Buddhism). In fact, my wife and I recently hung Tibetan prayer flags on our back porch because 1) they look cool and 2) I like the symbolism.

Where can I get the book?
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository

My New Book: 12 Major World Religions

Jason BoyettComment

Last September I put the final touches on my Greek Mythology book and headed to Europe on a vacation with my wife. I returned in October to an email from my editor. "I'm hoping you have had a good experience working with [us]. If you have the time and inclination, I have another project I hope you'll be interested in: a comparative look at the 12 most major religions."

Having written extensively about evangelical Christian apocalypticism, the Catholic saints, and the various afterlife teachings of a variety of world religions, it's not a stretch to say that religion has long been my "beat" as a writer of nonfiction. I've been fascinated by it since I began reading outside my own Southern Baptist faith tradition in my late high school years. One of my favorite college-level classes was a world religions survey course—a humanities elective, I think—led by a Catholic priest friend of mine. 

So, yeah. My editor was right in thinking I would be interested in the project. By the end of that October, we were discussing an outline and had put together a very condensed writing schedule. During my kids' Christmas break, I began writing and researching in earnest. My deadline for the manuscript was in April.

That gave me about 16 weeks to write chapters about Egyptian mythology, Greek mythology, Norse mythology, and the teachings and beliefs of a dozen world religions in what would become an accessible, intensively fact-checked and well-sourced reference book.

It. Was. HARD.

I've written a lot of books on tight deadlines, but this was definitely the most challenging project I've ever done. But I am thrilled with the result. My author's copies arrived last week, and every time I page through the physical book, I'm surprised by the diversity of information in there. While this book lacks the snarky "voice" I've adopted in previous books—for better or worse, depending on whom you ask—it has become THE book I'll put at the top of my resume. 

From the current election in the US to terrorism and other events on the world stage, religion runs the show. It drives decisions. It influences behavior. It colors our perspective of almost everything that happens on our planet, from scientific advancements to the arrival of new technologies.

We need to understand religion better—our own faiths, and those belonging to others.

12 Major World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths releases a week from today, on August 30. I'm proud of this book and hope you'll pre-order a copy.

Hope is a Four-Letter Word

Jason BoyettComment

Really proud of my cover story for the August issue of Amarillo Magazine. It's called "Hope Is a Four-Letter Word" and tells how nonprofits and Amarillo residents are working to transform the historic, troubled San Jacinto neighborhood from the inside out. Interviewed a ton of people for this one, from the medical staff behind Heal the City to formerly incarcerated women rebuilding their lives at Patsy's Place Transitional Home to poverty activists who have a big vision for the area. I was especially impressed with the senior adults serving a weekly meal to other senior adults at Acts Community Resource Center

Brady Clark summarized the work happening there with a fantastic quote that found its way into the piece: "No one agency, no one ministry, no one organization can deal with this. It’s too big.”

As Heal the City continues to expand and Square Mile Industries works on bringing a grocery co-op to the neighborhood, I'm excited to see how things continue to shape up in San Jacinto.

[photos by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine]

[photos by Shannon Richardson for Amarillo Magazine]

My Op-Ed in The Guardian

Jason BoyettComment

Politics and religion are two things I used to post about quite often, back when I was a blogger building a "platform" so I could sell books and establish myself as...something. I wrote a lot about religion, so I would opine on that. And I care about politics, so I would opine on that, too.

I don't do either of those much anymore. Most of my writing career is for other companies, organizations, or people these days—often not even under my own name—so I like to hold my opinions close to the vest. But the sudden vitriol this week coming from the Republican party against refugees fleeing Syria was just too much. Too much hypocrisy for the party associated with conservative religious beliefs, the authority of the Bible, and the Evangelical Christians who comprise so much of its base. I don't often feel compelled to take a stand, but I did this time.

I wrote a short piece about it, pitched the idea to editors at The Guardian, and they published it yesterday. The formal op-ed style isn't my favorite genre of writing—it can be pretty stilted, under a very limiting word count—but I always think it's good to write in a format that stretches you. Here's an excerpt from "Republicans like to invoke the Bible yet ignore what it teaches about refugees":

While it is understandable to be concerned about safety, taking an anti-refugee position is contrary to the beliefs of the faithful voters these Republican leaders rely upon every election day. They are also taking a position contrary to the Bible these leaders supposedly care so much about.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), welcome strangers (Matthew 25:40), and show mercy to those in need (Luke 10:25-37). No doubt these teachings apply to families on the run from ISIS.

These passages represent only a sliver of biblical teaching on the topic, and the Christians I know don’t just believe these verses, but act on them. 

Read the rest of the piece, in which I discuss some of the work my conservative, religious family members have done on behalf of refugees in Amarillo—and why the Republican party seems to be abandoning this work of the faithful out of concerns about security. I continue to be so saddened by this direction taken by the GOP presidential nominees and governors.

"I was a stranger and you invited me in."