What made you decide to have Sonny deal with a vigilante?
About three years ago my wife and I were on a road trip down I-20 to Marfa, Texas, and we kept passing camping trailers and big RVs going both directions. From the time we left our home in Frisco, until we arrived in the Big Bend area, we saw three or four cars pulled over by the highway patrol, likely for traffic violations. As we drove and talked, I realized I’d never seen a recreational vehicle of any type pulled over for a traffic violation.
So like any writer, I started playing What If. What if someone wanted to cross the country campers or RVs for a nefarious reason? The odds are they won’t be stopped. I can attest to that, because we often use our fifth-wheel trailer, and I’ve never talked to another camper who has ever gotten a ticket while towing a trailer. We usually don’t have that happen, because pulling large trailers makes you extra cautious.
I heard on the radio during that same trip about the search for a serial killer, and an individual charged with murder, but got off on a legal technicality. Of course, when we got home and I did a little research, I realized I-20 and I-10 are virtual corridors for drug runners. All that jelled into Hawke’s Target.
I noticed there was more humor in this Sonny book, especially with your bad guys, how do you think that came about?
I’m the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game magazine, and have been writing a syndicated humor column for newspapers across the state for over 31 years, so humor figures into everything I write. My Red River novels are also light-hearted in many ways, and truthfully, I’m kind of a smart-ass. So with that, I allowed myself permission to write what I wanted, and not edit it out like I usually do.
In my opinion, humor helps increase the rich flavor of a novel, if it’s done correctly. It breaks the tension at just the right moment, or adds a spice that’s missing. In times of stress, or sorrow, people often look for a brighter side.
I think this is your first foray into East Texas. What about that area makes it stand out from the rest of the state?
This is the first time I’ve addressed deep East Texas behind the Pine Curtain. I’ve always been fascinated by the Big Thicket, and the folks who live along the Sabine. I’ve read a number of books about how wild it was until it eventually settled, so to speak, in the 1950s. The forest was once so thick and dense, people often got lost and disappeared, never to be found. Others used that heavily wooded country to hide out, before, during, and after the Civil War. Even after 1865, outlaws hid out in those woods, and moonshiners found it the perfect place to make whiskey. Some people who preferred not to be part of our society stepped into the Thicket, and used it as a shield for decades.
The land is a character all its own, and it needed its own story told. It’s still wild in places, and in a sense, unexplored by most authors, Joe R. Lansdale excluded.
One thing about the Sonny Hawke books is the forward momentum of the story telling. How do you keep it moving?
It moves fast, don’t it? All of my Sonny Hawke’s are rocket ships of action. I’ve always been a huge fan of thrillers. It took me a little while to figure out they’re like a runaway train. They move fast. I simply put my characters in dangerous positions, and push them downhill, watching the momentum take hold as the plot moves faster.
Readers might notice that the chapters are a little longer in the first third, or Act 1, of all my novels, then get progressively shorter, moving from the viewpoints of various characters. In the final third, or Act 3, the more abbreviated chapters accelerate the action as the plot advances, pushing us quickly downhill until the climax.
What’s the best thing about winning The Spur award for Hawke’s War?
It’s the satisfaction that I’ve written a novel that the Western Writers of America feel is worthy of such a prestigious award. Many of my favorite authors are Spur Award winners. Long before I started writing novels, I’d look for that designation on any western I picked up. It’s been a goal to join them for decades, and I’m honored that my second novel, Hawke’s War, which is a contemporary western thriller, was selected.
Do you have a new Red River book in the works?
I do! I’m deep into the second act of Laying Bones, which should be out in 2020. It’s set in northeast Texas in the early winter of 1969, and is based on the suspicious accidental death of a cousin back in the early 1950s. That one will be Book 8 in the series.