It’s always a pleasure to host Reavis Wortham for our Lone Star Mystery panels. At tonight’s panel, he’ll be joined by George Wier and Tim Bryant. His Red River series looks at a group of Texas lawmen and their families in the ’60;s. His latest, Right Side Of Wrong, deals with drug running, Mexican prisons, and the idea of crossing a line. We caught up with Reavis to talk about the book, the evolution of the series, and what’s coming next for the characters in Center Springs.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: In The Right Side of Wrong, your lawmen cross borders both literally, into Oklahoma and Mexico, and figuratively. What did you want to explore about crossing lines?
REAVIS WORTHAM: The working title was Across Two Rivers, and the idea came about for a variety of reasons. The tiny community of Center Springs is a microcosm of the world in the mid-1960s. Isolated by terrain, location, and mindset, the folks of northeast Texas simply want to raise their families and crops, attend church, and enjoy a life as stress-free as possible. Unfortunately, the World often intrudes in their calm lives.
Once out of the community, they find the beer joints across the Red River. The environment there breeds a number of troubles that often find their way back to the Texas side and impacts their peaceful lives. In The Right Side of Wrong, more evil appears in Center Springs, but this time it comes from south of the Rio Grande. Knowing these people as I do, they will do anything to preserve the safety and security of their families. I wanted to explore the most extreme crossing, stepping past that dim, gray line that separates us from right and wrong. Though we know the difference, what events will force us to take the law into our own hands, to step across that line to rescue a family member?
Are we all capable of violence, or extreme action under the right circumstances? The Parkers have to make that decision, and I was surprised at Miss Becky’s drive when push came to shove.
MP: It seems each book in this series gets a little darker and your characters get touched by that darkness more. Was this something planned or did it simply grow out of the series?
RW: Nothing is planned, except for the ending of The Right Side of Wrong. I began that book with the ending in mind, and the novel grew from that nugget of an idea. The first novel, The Rock Hole, was compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, because it was a period, coming of age book that recounted the simple small town life of the 1950s and ‘60s. The Rock Hole was also Mayberry in Texas, and that’s what I intended it to be, but the book quickly took on a different life as sinister events unfolded. You’re right, Burrows was darker, because in 1965, the World became darker with the growing involvement in Viet Nam, the Watts riot, and social and civil unrest. All these issues invaded northeast Texas and impacted the citizens. But in Burrows, we saw that even in Mayberry, evil exists, and mental issues were just as prevalent then as they are now. Hoarding has been around forever, I’m sure, but the surprise twist at the end shows that physical, sexual, and mental abuse was just as horrible and long lasting then, as it is now.
I never plan anything as I write. My characters and situations drive the story, and I’m simply along for the ride.
MP: The books have also grown more into ensemble pieces. Is it a challenge juggling so many strong characters?
RW: It has become difficult to keep up with the characters, to the point that I’ve developed a genealogy for the families. The list has expanded to keep the characters and their traits separate. So many people move in and out, that I had to find a way to keep up with them. Book four has become even more challenging. I’m constantly referring to my notes to remember character traits, and appearances. I’ve created an entire town with their inhabitants, with all their quirks and human frailties, so I had to find a way to record these characters. It was the only way.
MP: Is there a character whose voice speaks a little clearer than the others?
RW: My protagonist, Ned Parker, speaks the loudest. He’s a Renaissance man in the 1960s, and his views and frustrations are at the forefront of the novels. Ned is also getting older, so his physical issues have driven the story. Remember in The Rock Hole, he almost ran out of wind when he and John were pushing their way through the wooded bottomlands of the river. A 65-year-old man can’t run for a long time, especially if he’s overweight. Ned’s balding, he talks to himself, and he’s human. I like him because he isn’t like the Super-protagonists in today’s novels, who are ex-military or CIA. Ned is simply a common man.
Also, Top’s voice is strong. I was his age during those years in the 1960s, so we share the same views of all Baby-boomers. Top understands the changes in music, pop culture, and other kids his age. I lived it, therefore, this voice is crystal clear.
MP: Even though the men mainly take center stage, I’m always drawn to Ned and Cody’s wives Miss Becky and Norma Faye. What do you want to convey about these characters?
RW: Simply put, Texas women are strong. They are the backbone of the family, and probably dictate most of what happens to their men.
Though these gals stay somewhat in the background, they support the story through strength and character. Miss Becky has suffered many hardships in her life. As the series progress, we learn more and more about who she is and what drives her. When she related the story of her mother’s death in The Right Side of Wrong, I was as mesmerized as those listening to her. I’m thinking of a prequel that will tell how she and Ned met, and their early years of marriage.
Norma Faye is interesting. To me, she’s a strong supporting character that completes Cody. Interestingly, I’ve learned that many people call her a slut, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops in the coming novels.
MP: What do you have in store for the Center Springs gang next time?
RW: Vengeance is Mine, which is scheduled for release next summer, brings even more of the world’s ills into Center Springs. A mob assassin, Tony Agrioli, runs afoul with his employers in Las Vegas and arrives in this tiny community to hide out. At the same time, Sheriff Griffin continues to break the law and a showdown between him and the Parkers is on the horizon. In the middle of all this, Griffin has crossed the line with the same mobsters from Vegas, and they send hit-men to solve the problem. When the mobsters run across Agrioli, who has become friends with the Parkers, the resulting showdown will be stunning.
And to top it all off, even more twists involve John Washington, and a mysterious trio of men who will be the driving characters of the as-yet unnamed Book Five.
Reavis Wortham joins George Wier and Tim Bryant for a Lone Star Mystery Panel here at BookPeople tonight at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public.