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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A (Partial) Atlas of Texas Crime Fiction

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

A hard land with a difficult history, Texas has always lent itself well to crime fiction. From the crime fiction greats who helped define the genre to those writers shaping the landscape of crime fiction today, Texas has a long tradition of social critiques and sendoffs of hypocrisy (the hallmarks of Texas crime fiction, in my opinion) delivered via murder mystery. Tales of Texas history may gaslight their audiences into believing in the state as a land of triumph, but we crime fiction readers know the dark, murderous truth about the land we call home….

Below, you’ll find an incomplete (of necessity) guide to Texas crime fiction, brought to y’all in honor of Texas Mystery Writers Month (that is, May). Emphasis is placed on well-known classic writers and the wide array of new crime fiction released in the past few years. We know we’re leaving out quite a few of the Texas mystery writer greats, and many of the good one-off novels. Some have gone out of print; others have simply dropped off our radar as we find new voices to champion.

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Joyrides and Family Feuds: MysteryPeople Q&A with Reavis Wortham

  • Interviewed by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We’re happy to be hosting Reavis Z. Wortham this Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM, as part of a panel discussion with Rob Hart and Tim Bryant. His latest in his Red River series, Unraveled, has the lawmen of Central Springs, Texas, as well as teen cousins Top and Pepper, contend with the fallout from a car crash. The accident injures two people of the opposite sex and race, who belong to opposite sides of a feuding family. We caught up with him to discuss the book, music, and the book’s 1968 setting.

MysteryPeople Scott: I know Unraveled was inspired by a song. What was it about the tune that sparked the idea for a novel?

Reavis Z. Wortham: I’m a huge country music fan, and by that I mean traditional country and not the bubble-gum rock and roll hick rap crap that’s out there right now. Sorry if I’ve alienated any readers, but good country tells a story, sometimes about the good things in life, but mostly death, cheating, troubles, heartache, misery, and Life that’s wrested from the ground by blood, sweat, and hard work. You know, the fun stuff to sing about…or listen to. It’s played with three chords in 3/4 or 4/4 time, and touches the heart.

A couple of years ago I was on a road trip, listening to an old song about two people who shouldn’t have been in a car together. I’d heard it a hundred times since it first came on in the Old Man’s pickup back in the ‘60s and it continued to resonate through the decades. I must have been in just the right mood when it came on that day and the subject matter inspired me to tinker around with a short story that quickly evolved into an entire novel, Unraveled, because it’s about people’s lives unraveling in more than one way.

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Top Five Texas Authors of 2015

  • List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

This year authors from our home state showcased the wide breadth of story material to be found in the state of Texas.The novels below take a look at past and present, with settings ranging from small towns to our big cities, often showing how the Lone Star State effects the United States.


97800622594001. Pleasantville by Attica Locke

An involving story of a lawyer with a murder client tied to a current election in the early Nineties, Attica Locke’s latest novel delves into Houston’s black society and the relationship between Texas and U.S. politics. Locke uses a legal thriller set-up and private eye approach to show how the social and institutional interact. You can find copies of Pleasantville on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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Special Crime Fiction Sunday: “Chocolate Moose” by Bill and Judy Crider

We are happy to have Texas genre writer extraordinaire Bill Crider joining us for an evening of Lone Star Crime with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder. They’ll be here at the store on Monday, September 28th, at 7 PM. Bill will be reading from his latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery, Between The Living & The Dead. If you are not familiar with his Clearwater, Texas lawman here’s a taste from the Anthony Award winning short story he wrote with his wife. It even has a chicken fried steak recipe. Can you get more Texas?

“Chocolate Moose” by Bill and Judy Crider

“Sheriff Dan Rhodes didn’t go to the Round-Up Restaurant often, but not because the food wasn’t good. He didn’t go because the food was too good.

The portable sign out front told the story with black letters on a white background: ABSOLUTELY NO CHICKEN FISH OR VEGETARIAN DISHES CAN BE FOUND ON OUR MENU!

What could be found were huge chicken-fried steaks and mashed potatoes smothered in cream gravy; big, soft rolls served with real butter; cooked-to-order T-bones marbled with fat on a plate beside a gigantic baked potato slathered with real butter, sour cream, and bacon bits; hamburger steaks with grilled onions piled high, along with a mound of french-fries or, if you preferred, hand-cut and battered onion rings. And, for dessert, there was a choice of peach or cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream on top. If you didn’t like cobbler, there was chocolate pie, with the best, the richest, the sweetest filling that Rhodes had ever tasted under its inch-thick meringue.

In other words, the Round-Up served good, solid food that stuck to your ribs, put a smile on your face, and, according to many leading physicians, filled your coronary arteries with substances whose effect on your health it was better not to think about. Which was why Rhodes rarely ate there.  His wife, Ivy, had him on a low-fat regimen that was taking inches off his waistline and, she claimed, adding years to his life. As Rhodes pulled the county car into the Round-Up’s black-topped parking lot, he wished, in spite of the risk to his longevity, that he were going there to have a big slice of chocolate pie, or, failing that, maybe one of those baked potatoes.  But he wasn’t. He was going to see about a man who’d been killed by a moose.


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Austin Mystery Writers Present: MURDER ON WHEELS edited by Ramona DeFelice Long

murder on wheels

– Post by Molly

Come by the store on Tuesday, August 11, at 7 PM up on BookPeople’s second floor, for a great home-grown event. Presented by Austin Mystery Writers, and edited by Ramona DeFelice Long, Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move has deliciously dangerous tales contributed by many of our favorite authors. Kathy Waller, Reavis Wortham, and MysteryPeople’s own crime fiction coordinator, Scott Montgomery, will all be present at BookPeople’s Murder on Wheels event to speak and sign this collection. A share of profits goes to Meals on Wheels.

Murder on Wheels contains many different settings, subgenres and approaches to its theme. Kaye George, in her forward, details the collection’s origin: “The genesis was a ride my husband took…on the Megabus…I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder…There was one problem – where to hide the body. So I asked the group, Austin Mystery Writers, for suggestions.” From this initial discussion, sprang enough ideas for a collection, and thus Murder on Wheels came to be on our shelves.

“A Nice Set of Wheels,” by Kathy Waller, delivers a Great Depression-era story of longing and wanderlust in a small Southern town. “Family Business,” by Reavis Wortham, relates the twists and turns of an unlucky family of bootleggers through the generations. V. P. Chandler’s “Rota Fortunae” gets mystical with a tattoo of a ship’s wheel and a story of transatlantic unrest,  while Gale Albright’s “Mome Rath, My Sweet” sends a private eye down the rabbit hole in a hard-boiled retelling of Alice in Wonderland.

Kaye George and Earl Staggs shift the focus to public transportation with their respective stories, “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” and “Dead Man on a School Bus.” Laura Oles looks at how a “family business” deals with outsiders in “Buon Viaggio.”  Gale Albright’s “Apokalypse Now” tackles the dangers of bicycle obsession, especially in a marriage. Scott Montgomery’s tale of generosity gone sour, “Red’s White F-150 Blues,” is a properly Texan tale of trucks, Conan the Barbarian obsession, and increasingly bad decisions. Each story fits with the theme of wheels in a different, unique, and often funny way.

You can find copies of Murder on Wheels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by the store Tuesday, August 11, for a speaking and signing event with several of the collection’s authors, including our very own Scott Montgomery!