MysteryPeople Q&A with Reavis Z. Wortham

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

For the last last several years, Reavis Wortham has been delivering tales of the men and women who uphold the law in 1960’s Central Springs Texas. Hawke’s Prey, his first thriller to feature contemporary Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke, reads like a cross between The Last Picture Show and Die Hard. Reavis will be joining us this Tuesday, August 1st at 7 PM here at BookPeople. We caught up ahead of time to talk about the new book and the different tract he took in writing.

MysteryPeople Scott: You said with Hawke’s Prey you were asked to write a thriller, something you hadn’t done before. How did you take on the challenge?

Reavis Wortham: It was my agent’s idea, along with a strong suggestion from my friend and mentor, John Gilstrap. My next step after getting the first book published, getting a series, gaining positive reviews, traveling with writers, and winning an award or two, is to now hit the bestseller lists. It’s harder than you think, and both Ann and John said the best way was through thrillers. John says the Red River books are borderline thrillers anyway. Historical mystery thrillers. Thought the Red River books are well-received, and Unraveled, the newest RR novel, is up for an award this summer, the publisher simply isn’t big enough to put me in the running with the big dogs.

I like thrillers, too. Writing mysteries was an accident, and though I love them, I want action, but writing them is dramatically different from the RR books. My historical mystery thrillers move much slower than a thriller, and the setup is paced much differently than today’s thrillers. When I wrote the first draft of Hawke’s Prey and sent it to John as my Beta Reader, he came back with one dramatic suggestion.

“Cut the first four chapters. Your thriller begins in Chapter 5.”

He was right. Chapter 5 is now Chapter 1, and all that setup and information is now scattered throughout Hawke’s Prey. Then there’s the pacing. Thrillers have to maintain a fast pace, all the time building up pressure toward the end. It took a couple of months to get that idea into my head, but after it locked in this first novel in the Sonny Hawke thriller series is a rollercoaster ride to the end.

MPS: Since Hawke’s Prey moves at a faster pace than most of the books in your Red River series, did the tempo effect the story telling at all?

RW: The tempo of this thriller didn’t change things at all in terms of the story arc, but it didn’t lend itself to those lazy curves where the Red River books slow down. In those you see the slower pace of life in small town northeast Texas, and the humor comes in the form of stories or anecdotes. In Hawke’s Prey, the humor is there, but in a completely different form one of frustration, fear, and in the way we think.

We’ve all been involved in situations where we either couldn’t think of what to say at that critical moment, but after the event is over and we turn it over in our minds, the perfect sentence, comeback or word pops up. Sonny Hawke doesn’t have a lot of time for has a lot of time for conversation, so we see his actions and are privy to the thoughts that go through his mind. That’s where you see who he is and what this Texas Ranger is made of.

MPS: One thing of your previous work that carried over into this and made it fresher was the ensemble feeling and your cast of characters. Sonny is the hero, but others do heroic things and we see them from their point of view. How does having these other strong characters help you tell the story you want?

RW: You’ll be glad to know there’s an ensemble cast in these thrillers as well. Of course my fictional Texas Ranger is Sonny Hawke, but he’s married to Kelly, a school teacher who shows her strength when her class is taken hostage by terrorists in the county courthouse. Herman’s dad, a retired Texas Ranger is the family touchstone who, along with his hired ranch hand Gabe Nakai, help coordinate Sheriff Ethan Hawke’s plan to rescue the hostages. Then you have Sonny’s high school twins, Mary and Jerry, the half-cocked ranching Mayo Brothers, and a dozen of the town’s quirky characters.

This series contains the same DNA as the Red River books, only on steroids.

MPS: Was there a particular reason you chose a Texas Ranger as your series character?

RW: That was nothing but a thought that popped into my head in the heat of desperation. I was on the phone to my agent, pitching a series idea that I loved, and so did Craig Johnson, John Gilstrap, and half a dozen other authors who heard it one snowy night in a Colorado Springs Hotel. They pronounced it brilliant, but my agent had reservations about the subject matter at the time. So I pitched her a second idea, which she shot down like a clay pigeon. My third suggestion didn’t far any better, and I was out of time on that conference call.

Grabbing at straws by then, because I sure didn’t have a third idea in mind, I glanced down to the cover of a book I was reading titled, One Ranger. “How about a contemporary series featuring a Texas Ranger?”

“What part of the state? We don’t need another series set in east Texas.”

I was in my office and we’d been planning a trip to the Big Bend region. The map was open on my desk. “How about west Texas…in Marfa.”

Though Ann is in New York City, she’s spent time in Texas. “I love it! That’s your series! Keep going. What happens there?”

“Well, it sure won’t be about the Marfa lights. How about the snowstorm of the century shutting the town completely down? I’ll rename it, and have terrorists take over the county courthouse at the same time.”

And a series was born.

MPS: Like Larry McMurtry and Elmer Kelton, I think we would know we were in Texas even if you never stated it. What does the state provide for your writing?

RW: For a fourth-generation Texan, it’s everything I need. This first Sonny Hawke, and the next, are set in the Big Bend region of Texas, the last frontier in the Lone Star State. It’s still pretty western out there, but after Hawke’s War (2018), my Texas Ranger will move across the state dispensing the old-fashioned justice that people are longing for. The bad guys go down so they can no longer hurt or kill any longer.

I hope this new contemporary series shows the true spirit of Texas and Texans. We live in a state with sweeping landscapes, five geographical regions, mountains, prairies, deep canyons, beautiful rolling hills, and 367 miles of coastline. It’s rich in history and opportunities for my Texas Ranger to range, as Mr. McMurtry said in his Lonesome Dove saga.

You can find copies of Hawke’s Prey on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Reavis Z. Wortham joins us to speak and sign his latest this upcoming Tuesday, August 1st, at 7 PM. 

 

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MysteryPeople Recommends: Sizzling Summer Reads

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Summer never ends here in Austin, TX, so as the temperatures refuse to cool down, and tempers heat up, consider the following reads to purge yourself of all those summer irritations. We’ve reviewed a host of thrillers already this summer, so if you enjoy the following recommendations, check out our reviews for Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB and Jeff Abbott’s Blame for more poolside gems. 

97812501136961He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

In the lead-up to the August 21st eclipse, eclipse-chasers can get their fix from He Said/She Said, set during a series of eclipses, with truths obscured, then slowly revealed, in perfect keeping with the setting.  This tale of unreliable narrators will keep you guessing till the very end. Kelly has created complex characters, brought together by their mutual presence in the face of a horrific, yet too-common crime, and then pushed apart by their all-too-human reactions to what they have experienced. You can find copies of He Said/She Said on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

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Man on the Run: MysteryPeople Q&A with Rob Hart

 

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Woman From PragueRob Hart’s latest novel to feature series character Ash Mckenna, has the unlicensed PI in the middle of a Eastern European spy tale when he is coerced by a mystery man (claiming to be a government agent) into intercepting the hand-off of a thumb drive. When the plan backfires, Ash finds himself on the run with Sam, his target, and the eponymous woman from Prague. The book is a slam bang action store with the same hard boiled heart we’ve come to expect from the series.

We’re happy to bring you this Q&A with Rob the day before he joins Bill Loehfelm and Jordan Harper at BookPeople for our New Voices In Noir discussion. Join us for one of the year’s most intriguing panels, this Wednesday, July 26th at 7 PM

MysteryPeople Scott: What made Prague your choice of setting for Ash’s latest?

Rob Hart: I visited Prague a few years ago and was just completely infatuated. I knew right off I wanted to set a book there. And by the fourth book in the series I was feeling like it was time to put Ash in a situation where he was thousands of miles from home, completely unfamiliar with everything around him, and totally outmatched. Ash thinks he’s pretty tough, and it was time to dissuade him of that notion.

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Noir is to Literature what the Blues is to Music: MysteryPeople Q&A with Bill Loehfelm

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

In The Devil’s Muse, Bill Loehfelm puts his New Orleans patrol woman Maureen Coughlin into a mystery that takes place over one long night when a shooter cuts loose during the Mardi Gras parade. A great take on the procedural, The Devil’s Muse has a strong sense of immediacy and presents an insider’s look at New Orleans.

Bill will be returning to BookPeople for our New Voices In Noir Panel, this upcoming Wednesday, July 26th, at 7 PM, but we were able to get some questions to Bill before the event. He’ll be joined by Rob Hart and Jordan Harper for the panel discussion. 

MysteryPeople Scott: I know you said you were wary about doing a story set around Mardi Gras since it’s a cliched backdrop for authors to use when writing about new Orleans. What did you see as the in to making the story fresh?

Bill Loehfelm: A couple of years ago, a friend and I were discussing writing about New Orleans, talking about avoiding clichés and the postcard version of New Orleans that we’re constantly selling. I told him I had a list of rules, of things I’d never write about, and one of them was Mardi Gras. But instead of agreeing with me, he challenged me, pointed out I had a lot of experience as a waiter and a bartender, a lot of inside experience with Mardi Gras that others didn’t have. That comment put the idea in my head of a Mardi Gras story told from the inside out, a story from the point of view of someone inside the infrastructure of the holiday. It gave me a fresh take on the subject.

When the opportunity for a Maureen Coughlin one-off came, it seemed to perfect time to take up that challenge.

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MysteryPeople Makes the List!

Mystery transparent_1000pxMysteryPeople has recently been featured on Feedspot’s list of the Top 50 Mystery Blogs around today, and we couldn’t be more proud to share list space with sites like The Strand Mystery Magazine, Mystery Writers of America, Killer Characters, ReviewingtheEvidence.com, and the Seattle Mystery Bookstore. We’re ranked number 17 on the list – plus we’re the highest ranked bookstore blog!

We’ve also got plenty of strange bedfellows on the list, given the multiple meanings of “mystery,” so those looking for blogs featuring paranormal mysteries, ancient aliens, Reddit discussions of unsolved crimes, and more, take a look at this fascinating list (which does primarily feature mystery fiction review sites).

Thanks to Feedspot, the authors who inspire us, and our loyal readers for helping us make our mark in the blog scene!

See the full Feedspot list. 

Short and Sharp Words: MysteryPeople Q&A with Jordan Harper

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Jordan Harper’s She Rides Shotgun is one of the most exciting full-length novel debuts to come down the road in some time. It concerns an ex-con on a crime spree road trip with his eleven-year-old-daughter. Over the course of their journey, both are targeted by a White Supremacist gang. It is a tough, uncompromising book, with a heart that is hard-won.

Jordan joins us at the store for our New Voices of Noir panel this upcoming Wednesday, July 26th, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined by Bill Loehfelm and Rob Hart. We got ahold of him by himself for this pre-interrogation.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for She Rides Shotgun come about?

Jordan Harper: I recently prowled through my DropBox and found an early draft of She Rides Shotgun that was dated 2014. It’s been in the works for a long time now, and just how I got the initial idea is a little murky to me. But I know the initial idea came from me noticing that there was a very small subgenre of crime story, that of the criminal and child on the road together. It’s a subgenre I’ve always loved, even if I’d never noticed it was a genre at all. I was inspired to add to the canon that includes Lone Wolf and Cub, Paper Moon and The Professional.

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Brimstone and Potpourri: MysteryPeople Q&A with Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie follows a man just out of prison after a twenty-five-year stretch for killing a bully back in his mid-teens. The victim’s father, a mob captain, doesn’t think he’s paid enough. This a hard-core crime novel with a beating heart. We caught up with Mr. Pluck to talk about it.

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for Bad Boy Boogie come about?

Thomas Pluck: Bad Boy Boogie is a story I’ve been kicking around for at least ten years, inspired by events in my hometown, and how the place has changed since. It’s an odd suburb, Martha Stewart sprang from one side like a decorating demon in a cloud of brimstone and potpourri, and I grew up on the other, literally across the tracks, in a zoned industrial dump between a truck repair shop, a quarry filled with trash and capped that we called “the Fields”, an and abandoned paint factory we used to explore. The part of town where my old Italian grandmother, when she went to the town hall to ask the mayor to replace our streetlamp light bulbs, was told, “if you don’t like it, move.”

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