Excuses

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.”

“Uh…”

“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.”

“How?”

“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.

We write.

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.

 

 

 

 

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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at www.reaviszwortham.com. “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

51 thoughts on “Excuses

  1. Rev! Welcome! Thanks for a terrific post to start your tenure here at TKZ and jumpstart our morning.

    Your description of writing while your grandson chewing on your boot recalled to mind an interview with an author that I read many, many years ago. The interview took place over the course of several days during which the interviewer stayed at the author’s home and observed him doing a number of things. These included typing away while the author’s kids wandered in and out of the room with questions, requests, etc. The author never missed a beat on the typing or the questions.

    The author was Stephen King, who has written a few things over the year. That’s how it’s done.

    Safe journeys this weekend, Rev. See you in two weeks.

    • Thanks, Joe. Stephen King has always been an inspiration and I’ve likely developed my writing Voice by reading him since Carrie. In fact, it was his book “On Writing,” that finally got me off high center to finish my own first novel.

      Glad you enjoyed this first post. Enjoy your freedom and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

  2. Welcome to the TKZ Corral, Rev.

    I like that you aim for a quota, and that you have more than one project going. Asimov used to do this, rising from one typewriter in his apartment to go to another for a little while, then back to his WIP.

    And you are right about how anyone who wants to do this thing can manage a page–250 words–a day. Miss a day? Make it up over the next few. A page a day is a book a year!

    • You’re right. In my opinion, and believe me that every author has one on this subject, I think that writing every day keeps the mind flowing. If I miss several days (and that’s happened more’n once), my first few hours back on the keyboard feel rusty. But if I even finish one or two pages, they flow like oil.

      Thanks for reading this post!

  3. Good post, chock full of gems, Rev, especially “To be an author, you have to sit your gluteus maximus in a chair, somewhere, and string words together.” Works for me.

    I’m not a member of the family, more of a next-ranch-over neighbor, but I’m glad to see someone who knows the singular is “ya’ll” and the plural is “all ya’ll.” (grin) Welcome. And I’ll add “bless your heart.”

    • …and that you can use contractions to these contractions like:
      y’all are becomes y’all’re
      y’all will becomes y’all’ll
      y’all would becomes y’all’d
      and so forth and so on…
      Needless to say, my Spill Czech is prurt near corrupted…

    • Lordy, one of my pet peeves is the misuse of y’all. Especially when folks write “ya’ll” …gack! On top of that, I’ve never heard anyone from the south say, “Yee haw,” but it has somehow been linked to us. Hollywood, I guess.

      Hope to meet you some day, neighbor, and I’ll tell you the story of a well-known author who writes about Texas but had never heard the term, running buddy. After I explained it, he inserted the phrase into one of his books and was so proud of it. I grinned and said, Bless your heart, which he used incorrectly in another work. Sigh.

  4. Good morning, Rev, and welcome to TKZ.

    I loved your story of time management, and I whole-heartedly agree with you on social media. As you described the rodeo-circus that is nonstop at your house, I got this image in my mind of a needed addition – a kid’s corral, also for other relatives and guests and friends and anyone else who intrudes on your writing time.

    Welcome to TKZ. Thanks for a great post, and have a great weekend!

    • Thank you Steve. My laptop gives me the freedom to move away from most of the chaos, but there are times when I peck away at a story while noise and activity swirls around me. I’m not very needy for the most part, when it comes to quiet.

      Thanks for the warm welcome!

  5. Welcome, Rev. I work from my rural mountain home, with only the Hubster and dog for distractions. I feel guilty. But your point is well made. No excuses. Just do it.

  6. Good morning, Sir, welcome, and thanks for the kick in my unseated gulteus… 😁

    Your reference to keeping notes and scribbling/jotting while driving hit home – I’m in Atlanta where it’s mainly driving while parked, and have been scribbling on my right knee for years, sometimes legibly, but usually it’s bits and snippets of radio talk or commuting insight for use later, rather than on one of various WIP – but why not?

    Same holds true while getting walked by the dog – the tattered pad is in the hand opposite the leash, but the scrawling is more spasmodic and ADHD serendipitous than focused on a particular singular stalled-out effort…

    The Bride and/or I will be in-and-out-of-and-back-into Texas over the next couple of weeks getting the baby boy moved in between Austin and DFW, set up for the bar exam, and exchanging vows with wonderful Houstonian he met at Baylor, so we’ll keep an eye out for y’all on the farm-to-markets… we’ll be ones with U-Haul and mattresses strapped atop the luggage rack…

    And if we DON’T cross paths, I’m looking forward to seeing you here in two weeks… in the meantime, enjoy your weekend (even more)…

    g

    • Many thanks, brother! Glad to be here with all y’all. These boots are my form of vaccination for the kids. I think they’ve all gnawed on them at one time or another. That’s why they’re so healthy.

  7. Yes, but if I drop the excuses and actually write something, I’ll be risking writing something bad and being a failure! (That, I think, is the hidden allure to making “time” excuses for not writing). Great post.

  8. Welcome to TKZ, Rev! Thanks for the morning chuckles. The drooling zombie is hilarious. I have grandchildren who went through that stage a couple years ago, and you nailed it. Paw Patrol is toddler crack. How you get back to work with that tune stuck in your head, I have no idea. I usually need a nap when they leave. LOL But I do write before they arrive, because as you so eloquently pointed out, writers write.

    • Thanks, Sue! I’ll get my pages in today before the critters hit the door demanding to swim, popsicles, and “Da! Watch this!”

      Ain’t grandparenting great?

  9. Welcome to TKZ, Rev! It’s so true, you want to write, write. BICHOK (Butt-In-Chair, Hands-On-Keyboard). I love your approach to dealing with interruptions–deal with them, and then get right back to work. A lot of us fall prey to the idea that our writing time is not only sacred, it needs to be pristine and uninterrupted, and if it is interrupted, especially if it’s more than once that session, our writing day is kaput. But no, as you show, just get back to it.

    Thanks for a bracing and inspiring first post. Looking forward to many more!

    • Thank you sir! I wonder if some fall prey to the idea that everything has to be perfect before we write. If that’s the case, then I could get nothing done. Even Stephen King thought that everything would be perfect if he had that massive desk and a study to put it in…wrong. Flexibility is the key.

  10. Welcome, Rev! What a hoot of a post…and a kick in my corset to boot!

    I’m like Terry…retired, kids raising their own tribes, just a husband and a German shepherd for company. I. Have. No. Excuses.

    Thanks for joining us and I look forward to more gems from you, as I do from all y’all… 🙂

  11. Welcome, Rev! Glad to have you in the TKZ fold!

    Your post demonstrates the truth of that old saying: “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”

    In that spirit, I invite you to detour up to Montana on your road trip this weekend–the blades need sharpening on my mower and a few loose shingles on the roof need to be nailed down. While you’re doing those chores, you can dictate your project notes to me and I’ll write them down for you. Shouldn’t take more than a half hour and I’ll feed you lunch. 😉

  12. Welcome, and thanks for the kick in the gluteus maximus. I know I need that every once in a while.

    I’ve enjoyed the Sonny Hawke series, as well as your Red River mysteries. Now I can look forward to your biweekly Saturday posts.

    • Suzanne, thanks so much for being a fan of my work. The Red River will continue, but I’m afraid Sonny’s in retirement for a while. It I think you’ll love Tucker Snow when he hits the shelves, though. Thanks for reaching out!

  13. Hi Reavis! *Waves from West Texas*
    Great post. I am a huge encourager (yeah, I mean that both ways;) But I’m also a realist. There ARE times when you just can’t write – grieving, and special events, etc., but I agree with you, most are excuses. I know writers who have been ‘working’ on a book for the past 10-15 years.

    When I skip a couple days of sitting my butt down in front of the computer, I take a hard, objective look at my situation – 9.5 times out of 10, it’s not because I’m too busy….

    • You’re right about difficult times, Laura. But as John Gilstrap can testify, for me, writing helps me work through the grieving process. That’s where you can get those feelings out into the open and they don’t have to be published. That’s what the Delete button is for.

      I had a lady once tell me that folks who deal with depression can’t write every day and so my advice is too harsh, and believe me, I completely understand, but as I’ve said, there’s no absolutely RIGHT way to do this. We find what works for us, and that’s what makes an author’s output unique.

      You’re correct. Most of the time it’s only…Excuses.

  14. Hello and welcome, Reavis! Great post. On the money.

    I have a checkered past with Texas. Went to U.T. for undergrad before moving to the real Paris (France) before coming back to the Rio Grande Valley before moving to L.A. and the Hollywood life before settling in at my little acreage outside Charlottesville, Virginia (a college town that’s like Austin was in ’50s-’60s).

    We all have our stories, and I’m happy to know yours. Now back to my WIP, which has nothing to do with Texas! 😉

    • Thanks Harald. I bet a lot of folks have at least one root deep in the Lone Star State. Wish Austin was still as it was back in the 50s and 60s, but alas, the only thing that stays the same is change.

  15. Welcome to TKZ! Enjoyed the post. I looked at the description of the first book in the Red River historical mysteries, which describes the setting year 1964. I’m just 2 years from being considered historical. WOW! That puts a new perspective on my Saturday. LOL!

    You are so right. We all can make a million excuses, but the bottom line is, we have to produce. There’s no getting around it. Happy writing, all!

  16. My life seems to be a series of interruptions. Can’t remember when it was anything but. While working in the corporate environment, I had to schedule a meeting with myself in a different building to escape the clamoring for my time to attend to an infinite list of “D” priority time wasters so I could focus on the “A” priorities that mattered.

    Now in nominal retirement, I have discovered the wonders of smartphones and the i-Cloud. When I have an idea for a scene in one of my novels or some dialogue, I can dictate it into an app called Memo and it will translate my voice into text. In a few moments it will be uploaded to the cloud, and from there the notes are available on my PC where I can copy and paste into my word processor. No pencil and paper notepad needed. Obviously in need of some serious word smithing.

    I often don’t have paper or pencil on hand but I always have my phone with me. While walking in a park, or killing time in a waiting room, when an idea flashes into consciousness, it can be recorded. But one does have to be careful when dictating murder mystery dialogue where you can be overheard. “And then I stabbed him is the back.” does tend to raise some eyebrows. Also in the middle of the night, it is considered good form to arise from bed and go into another room to dictate an sudden flash of inspiration or fragment of a dream. One’s mate will be in a much better mood in the morning.

    I currently have 325 notes available. Many others have been deleted after being included in a novel’s text.

    • I completely understand about those meetings. They drove me nuts for 25 years and now that I’m out of that world, I don’t miss it one bit.

      My strong Texas accent doesn’t translate well with voice recorders, but at a country music concert last night, bits of dialogue and ideas popped into my head. I tapped them out on this phone in Notes, and will use them tonight. Technology is wonderful when it works.

      Many thanks for commenting.

    • Thanks Truant Librarian. Love the handle. My finest real job was as a page in a library, (for the uninformed, pages shelved books). Besides wiring, it was the best job in the world. Thanks for reading my post.

      Best!

      Rev

  17. Welcome, Reavis.

    Great advice with a generous portion of humor. Always a winning formula. I very much look forward to your every-other-Saturday visits to my email box.

  18. Welcome, Reavis. Glad you’re here to keep us all in line.

    I thought I was good at multi-tasking, but you’ve humbled me. Looking forward to all your future posts.

  19. Late welcome, Rev! Love your style and your message!
    As other TKZer posters know, I’m often late to the party here. Still working a M-F 5a to 2p job means I don’t often read emails until bedtime, and a long honey-do list takes up the weekend hours. (As does honest writing!)
    But, excuses aside (ha ha!) I wanted to say, ‘”Hello, neighbor!” I’m at the Red River myelf, barely 45 minutes away from you (I’m less than five minutes from the aforementioned border marker, actually.) I was startled to see that name in this post. I thought another (different) N TX writer friend had come to join the TKZ ranks and I couldn’t imagine why she hadn’t said anything about it beforehand.
    Very glad to learn of your work. I’ll definitely be picking up some of your series for my father. He loves Westerns!
    Thanks again for the great post. I’m looking forward to more!

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