Howdy to all y’all from the Great State of Texas!
I’m Reavis Z. Wortham, and I write the Red River historical mystery series from Sourcebooks, the Sonny Hawke thrillers published by Kensington, and coming soon, the Tucker Snow series, also from Sourcebooks.
I’ve been published since 1988, starting out as a self-syndicated newspaper columnist for rural and small town papers before my work appeared in a variety of magazines including American Cowboy and Texas Fish and Game Magazine. I’m still on the masthead at TF&G as their Humor Editor. To date, I’ve written over 2,000 newspaper and magazine columns and articles, along with 13 novels and a handful of short stories.
I’ve been kinda busy, and continue to add to that worklist, because I love this profession.
Before the lockdown, I traveled the country, attending conferences where I served on writers panels and taught the craft of writing. It evolved into speaking to civic groups, writers groups, and book clubs, as well as signings for my novels.
Invariably, after my presentations or talks, someone will come up to visit while I’m signing books. “Would you sign this? It’s not for me, but for my Uncle Azariah. I just love your books.”
“Thank you! How do you spell that name? It sounded like you said Az-er-Yaw”
“Just common spelling.”
“I’m gonna write a book someday about my Uncle Albert, though. He was such a character…”
“Good for you. Why some day? Why don’t you start it now?”
“Uh, well, because I have a job (you can also insert: husband, family, kids, grandkids, yardwork, cooking classes, hot-flash yoga, a future paint-by-numbers career, or anything else they can use as an excuse).”
“What’s the real reason?”
This is where they look somewhat constipated. “Those are the reasons. I don’t have the time right now to write a book.”
“Sure you do.”
“I’d suggest writing instead of checking your Facebook page. Those are lost minutes, or hours. Or I have an idea, instead of thumbing through Instagram or Twitter, spend the same amount of time working on that novel about Uncle Yaws.”
“Uncle Albert, but like I said, I’m busy.”
“I completely understand. Let me tell you how I wrote my first novel…”
“Never mind. Bye.”
That brings us to the present. I’m writing this first Killzone column on an impending deadline, because I got the dates wrong. I’m typing in between a river of distractions. Right now I’m in my chair, pecking away at the laptop while our eight-month-old grandson chews on the toe of my boot.
He learned to belly crawl last week, and seems to have an inexhaustible supply of drool from a third tooth that’s coming in. This kid leaves a slime trail wherever he goes, and now the toe of my boot is soaked.
Oh, well, it’ll help with his immune system.
Another grandson is on the couch, stuffing strawberries down his neck and watching Paw Patrol which is apparently fascinating to a two-year-old, because he’s missed his mouth half a dozen times with the strawberries, making him look like a cute zombie.
Their parents are on vacation in Vail. Great timing.
In addition to those distractions, my Bride also presented me with a list of honey-do items yesterday, and I’ll eventually get to them, but only after weeding the garden, repairing a number of shelves in the RV, mowing the back yard, installing a screen door over the entrance coming in from the garage so flies won’t get into the house, and trimming the hedges.
Here’s the problem today. We’re leaving twenty-four hours from now to spend the weekend with friends. The only way I can finish this particular installment in time is to grab onto brief bits of time to write between diaper changes, lunches and snacks, watching the oldest grand-critters swim in the pool when they get here a little later today, making sure the baby doesn’t pull up and fall back on the hardwood floors because he’s about as graceful and coordinated as the aforementioned zombie), and lastly, I need to pack.
But I’m writing when I can, because that’s what I learned to do when I had a fulltime job and decided one day to become a columnist and eventually, an author. Fate was on my side and I found a small-town paper that believed in my style. With The Paris News as a cornerstone, I built a readership across the Lone Star State one paper at a time until I was in over 50 publications. It was then that King Features Syndicate noticed my success in 1999 and vowed to make me the Dave Barry of the outdoor world.
Those columns still continue today in a few paper but that success ended with the arrival of the Internet, which killed newspapers across the country. At the same time, I had a full-time career, a second job on weekends and weeknights as a wedding photographer (brrrrr), and I contracted as a freelance photographer for school districts while at the same time dipping my toe into the magazine world.
To make things even more interesting, I started My Novel.
The Bride and I had two daughters who were in every social club and sport in the world. I spent an inordinate amount of time on bleachers, in auditoriums, or waiting the in the car, and those activities provided brief periods of time to write. I also wrote at stop lights, while eating lunch in the car, or in boring meetings. I wrote after the kids went to bed, before work in the mornings, and while they were doing homework in the evenings.
I kept a notepad close by, and jotted down dialogue or a paragraph or two any time I could find a few minutes. Without looking, I penned cryptic notes on that aforementioned pad resting on the console of my pickup as I blew down the Texas highways, heading for another photo shoot.
There were nights when an idea or bit of dialogue came in the early morning hours and I’d get up and write in my office in order not to wake the Bride (who really doesn’t sleep anyway and I think she’s part vampire, because no matter what the hour, I can look at her and those hazel eyes will pop open…creepy).
Months stretched into a couple of years, and using my time wisely (as my elementary school teacher Miss Russell always said while at the same time reminding me that all my screwups would eventually go down on my Permanent Record which I’m sure has followed me throughout my life), those little captured moments produced sentences and paragraphs that grew into a full manuscript.
I sold The Rock Hole in 2010, and it released in 2011, the year I met my mentor and brother-from-another-mother, John Gilstrap. My publishers liked the storyline and characters and soon they unexpectedly offered me an unlimited series that has now stretched to nine titles (#9, The Texas Job, releases in February, 2022).
I achieved a lifelong dream at 56-years-of-age. You know why? Because I quit talking about it and wrote.
So when someone tells me they’re too busy, it’s all I can do not to roll my eyes. Writers write. They don’t talk about it. They don’t find excuses for not writing.
I’m getting a feeling of déjà vu here hammering this out while the grand-boys are doing their thing. It’s not just this blog post, either. Our house is a central hub for a total of seven grandkids, two daughters and their husbands, and an assortment of friends, who seem to be here all the time (in fact, I’m not sure they ever go home).
I have to produce. Here’s how I do it. I write when I can. I’ve started and stopped on this column a dozen times of the past few hours since I typed the first sentence. At this very moment, the two-year-old is on the couch with me, his feet in my lap, as he watches P.J. Mask for a few minutes before nap time. To keep him still, one hand is on his legs while I type slowwwwly with the other.
Despite this chaotic and fun life, I do my best to add at least five pages to my primary work in progress.
At the same time, I’m working on other manuscripts and on good days, I can add a couple of pages on each of those WIPs, in addition to my weekly newspaper column, a bi-monthly magazine column, (now every other Saturday here for Killzone) and other projects that arise like bubbles in a boiling pot.
On “bad” days, it’s five pages on just one project. This is no brag. Just fact. I’m telling you this for a reason.
If someone wants to write that book, there’s no reason why they can’t. It’s called discipline. I urge those folks to quit finding excuses not to write and do it.
These cold hard facts might strike some people as harsh, but to me, it’s reality. To be an author, you have to sit your gluteus maximus in a chair, somewhere, and string words together.
But I need to be clear on one point. This works for me. You might be different, and can’t manage five pages a day. That’s fine. Go ahead on, though. Write anyway. Shoot for a page a day. At the end of one year, you’ll have a novel in your hands.
I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Tuco (Eli Wallach), is in a bathtub when bad guys burst into his hotel room, guns drawn, and spend wayyyy too much time saying they’re going to kill him.
He shoots them all through the bubbles floating on the surface of the water and after they drop, delivers the perfect line with a slight shrug, stating the obvious. “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”
(I just had to quit writing and drag the eight-month-old out of the fireplace.)
So, channeling Tuco, I offer this advice. “If you’re gonna write, write, don’t talk about it.”
Thanks for reading. I’m glad to be here, and look forward to hearing from y’all soon.