Author of the critically acclaimed Red River mystery series, prizewinning outdoor photographer, magazine writer and venerable educationist, Texan Reavis Z. Wortham’s intimate knowledge of the Texas outdoors and Texans enthralls his readers.
In THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG, third in the Red River Mystery series, the threat to a small community’s tranquility challenges the integrity of an experienced law officer and head of a close-knit family. Sandra Brannan, author of WIDOW’S MIGHT, says: “Reavis Z. Wortham has masterfully reinvented the true meaning of ‘heart pounding’ by bringing fears to life right where we live.”
A Texan born and bred, Reavis Z. Wortham’s writing is a synthesis of his own life as book lover, explorer and photographer. Bitten by the bug at an early age, he tenaciously ignored a pile of rejection slips to claim his place among novelists who choose to treat the Scriptural theme of the law being made for man and not otherwise: “… sometimes the line is blurred between right and wrong, and we occasionally have to slip over to the other side when it’s necessary,” he says.
Wortham’s third entry in his addictive Texas procedural [THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG]set in the 1960s, is a deceptively meandering tale of family and country life bookended by a dramatic opening and conclusion. C.J. Box fans would like this title.” —Starred Review, THE LIBRARY JOURNAL.
Constable Cody Parker’s frightening precognition of storm clouds gathering over the tight-knit Parkers is proved accurate when he is ambushed and nearly killed. The locals begin to worry that The Skinner, from THE ROCK HOLE, has returned. Cody’s Uncle Ned, also a constable, struggles to connect a seemingly unrelated series of murders while his nephew recovers. As the summer of 1966 makes its ominous approach, the people of northeast Texas wonder why their once peaceful community has suddenly become a dangerous place to live. Humor, suspense, horror, precognition, and life in the tumultuous 60s are examined with an unflinching eye by the author of the Red River series. Peer reviews are eloquent: “… bone-chilling”,says Sandra Brannan, author of the Liv Bergen Mystery Series and a two-time recipient of ABA Indie NextList.
Jamie Freveletti, International best-selling author of DEAD ASLEEP, says THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE WRONG is “… gritty, dark and suspenseful … Wortham’s rich prose places him among the finest writers of American Western fiction today.”
Reavis Z. Wortham’s critically-acclaimed debut novel THE ROCK HOLE was chosen by KIRKUS REVIEWS as one of their Top Mysteries of 2011. The author of DOREEN’S 24 HR EAT GAS NOW CAFÉ, he is the Humor Editor and a frequent contributor to Texas Fish and Game Magazine, and writes a very successful self-syndicated weekly outdoor column. In 2002, he received First Place in the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA)’s writing contest, is the past president of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association (TOWA), and a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Writers’ League of Texas.
An avid outdoorsman, fisherman and hunter, this father of two grown daughters enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing and travelling with his wife.
In the following interview Reavis Z. Wortham shares with ITW readers some of his personal life and the when, why, what, and how of his writing.
Let’s start with a brief introduction.
I’m Reavis Z. Wortham, the author of the critically acclaimed Red River mystery series. My publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, and the third book in this series, THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG, will be released on July 2. My first novel, THE ROCK HOLE, hit bookshelves only days after I retired from 35 years as an educator with the Garland Independent School district. I taught for ten years before moving to the Communications Department as the district photographer. My job responsibilities changed during my career, until I was named Director of the department four years before retirement. I wrote THE ROCK HOLE once, lost it in a computer hiccup, and wrote it a second time over period of two or three years.
As a career educationist, what inspired you to start writing?
I recall one day when I was around ten years old when an aunt asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I replied, “An author.”
It wasn’t the career in education that inspired me to write, but over the years it provided the skills to find my “voice.”
I love to read, and that addiction came early. I read to excess in elementary school, urged on by the school librarian, Miss Rosalie Russell. It was when I read THE TWO-TON ALBATROSS by William C. Anderson, I knew that someday I would be a writer. That simple travel novel was entertaining and informative. I wanted to write like Bill.
Where do a career in education and one in writing converge? What are their points of divergence?
I’m not sure there’s a convergence or divergence for all educators. I taught architectural drafting and photography, and neither offered any assistance to a life of writing. I was fortunate that my 25 years in communications provided me the opportunity to write speeches, news releases, and newsletters. I was pretty good at the outset, but through the years I polished my work and that in turn led to better writing.
Fiction apart, you also hold awards in outdoor journalism and outdoor photography. Which of the three gives you the greatest artistic satisfaction? Do these interests ever come into conflict?
My interests only conflict in their demands for time. I’m a voracious reader, and feel guilty that I’m not writing when I’m reading. When I write, I wish I was reading. Then throw in an interest in photography, there’s another drag on my time. Hunting and fishing seasons demand time away from my home office and manuscripts. But I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my career in outdoor journalism.
I’ve been honored with awards for both writing and photography, but even though I love photography, my heart is with fiction writing.
Short answer, my greatest artistic satisfaction is the publication of a book, though I wouldn’t be where I am today without the solid foundation in photography, magazines and newspaper columns.
What sort of environment kick starts your fiction?
I’m always thinking about writing, so environment isn’t a deciding factor. Stories come at me from all angles. I get them from people I’ve met, places I’ve been, things I’ve heard or read, and everyday life. They also come from dreams. Many, many ideas come from my subconscious, and I’ve woven them all into these books. I should probably sleep more, but then I wouldn’t have time to read, or write.
Can you write fiction anywhere and at any time?
I’ve heard of people who can only write during certain hours in a specific place. I can write any time, at any place. It may be from my early days in scribbling newspaper columns on yellow legal pads during long, boring meetings. After that, nothing matters. I’ve written beside a campfire, in a deer stand, in airports, on a laptop during football games, in the truck during lunch breaks, while waiting in the truck for my wife to run into the grocery store for a few things, in the living room, bedroom, on the patio, sitting on the bed, under a tiki hut in an RV park in Key West, on the beach in Hawaii, in a rented RV in Talkeetna, Alaska, while my fishing partners filled the interior with snores, at night in a condo after skiing…the list is endless.
In writing fiction, do you follow an outline, or submit yourself to the story and characters as they wish to develop?
THE ROCK HOLE was completely a linear stream of consciousness. I started with the idea of Ned Parker walking into a corn field with a hoe over his shoulder. I watched the story unfold on my computer screen as if someone were writing it for me. Truthfully, I didn’t know the identity of the killer until that individual was revealed when ten-year-old Top opened his eyes.
BURROWS began with the idea of an industrial building packed with garbage, and an article on the Collyer brothers’ New York City brownstone back in 1947. Again, I didn’t know where the story was going, even by the time I was halfway through. But while camping in our RV one rainy week, the ending came to me in a flash. I sat down at the desk and wrote 10,000 words in one day. After that, I went back and filled in the gap, and the novel was finished. Again, I was surprised at the twists, and the killer.
THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG originated with a magazine article I’d read back in the 1970s. That idea simmered for years, until I began to work on the manuscript. I wrote the first chapter, which was originally a stand-alone short story, and then jumped to the ending. Once again, it wrote itself in blizzard of words. After that, it was back to writing the middle.
Now I’m halfway through the fourth book in the Red River mystery series, but this one is still linear in the sense that I’m following what the characters do.
Now, I’m thinking of writing an outline for another book. We’ll see what happens after that, because I once pecked out a brief outline for THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG and abandoned it after the first page.
Characters drive my stories, they change the direction, and they do things I don’t expect.
What led you to deal with the theme of crossing over to the right side of wrong?
That’s probably the most interesting question you could have asked in this interview. Sometimes the line is blurred between right and wrong, and we occasionally have to slip over to the other side when it’s necessary.
As I mentioned above, I read a magazine article back in the mid-1970s that stuck with me. A young man crossed into Mexico for a vacation, just south of Brownsville, or maybe Presidio, Texas. He was arrested and put into jail there. More than a month later, he was on the verge of death, beaten and starved. Officials were planning to send him to a prison even deeper into Mexico. Somehow, he got word to a friend and used car dealer on the Texas side of the Rio Grande that he needed help. In a stunning move, the car dealer loaded his vehicle with guns, contacted a friend who lived in Mexico, and crossed the river. They met up, shot their way into the jail, rescued the dying man, and then shot their way out and back across the border.
That story stuck with me for years, and while working on THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG, it surfaced as the climax of the novel. I wanted to explore the concept of good people doing what is right, no matter the consequences, and no matter if some people might think the road they’ve chosen is wrong. I’d bet that we all have the capacity to take matters into our own hands, if the trials of life threaten our loved ones. I know I would.
Tightly knit families, the Great Outdoors and handling challenges to integrity lie at the heart of your writing. Please comment.
I come from a tightly knit family, but over the years, we’ve drifted apart. I remember one of my old aunts tell me that during the Depression and WWII, most of our family lived within ten miles of each other.
They all tried to do what was right, and they did for the most part. I brought the Parker family to life in their footsteps, but the Parkers are stronger, more tolerant. Constable Ned Parker is somewhat of a Renaissance man, but at the same time, he holds true to the time period and people. He’s based on my grandfather, who told me “folks are only worth what they have inside, what they stand, for, and who they stand beside.” I hope future generations understand the value of that concept.
How do you spend your time when you are neither rendering public service nor writing?
I don’t do as much public service as I should, though I recently worked for a semester with a high school student who wants to be an author.
Beyond being a book addict, I’m a serial home renovator.
I’ve already said I read to excess, and that’s no joke. I finish several books a week, from fiction to nonfiction, to history, biographies, or travel. There are usually half a dozen going at one time, until one catches fire and I push forward to the end.
I’m an avid outdoorsman. I hunt in season and fish when I can. My wife and I love to hike, camp, canoe, and travel. I’ve found there’s not enough time to do everything, so we do the best we can.
As a boy, award-winning writer Reavis Z. Wortham hunted and fished the river bottoms near Chicota, Texas, the inspiration for the fictional setting of THE ROCK HOLE. In addition to THE ROCK HOLE, his critically-acclaimed debut novel which was chosen by KIRKUS REVIEWS as one of their Top Mysteries of 2011, and BURROWS, which received starred reviews from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and LIBRARY JOURNAL, Wortham also penned DOREEN’S 24 HR EAT GAS NOW CAFE, a collection of his humor works from TEXAS FISH & GAME MAGAZINE. He lives with his wife, Shana, in Frisco, Texas.
To learn more about Reavis, please visit his website.