I Did It My Way

My sixty-seven-year-old memory is somewhat fuzzy on distant particulars, but I recall sitting beside the open windows in my un-airconditioned freshman high school English class, listening to Miss Linda Adams talk about writing. Had I been sitting on the inside row with the other reluctant students against the wall that first day of class, we would’ve enjoyed the dubious luxury of hot air pushed by a large fan.

Instead, I got to look out the window, at the same time keeping an eye on my fresh-faced, just-out-of-college teacher. Miss Adams was…splendid…in a short skirt, white top, and loose blond hair enhanced with what back then was called a “fall” that came down past her shoulders.

I also recall white go-go boots, but that’s probably from an adolescent dream, long forgotten and dried. Teachers couldn’t dress that way back then, and even the girls in my class couldn’t wear jeans. The school district reluctantly allowed pant suits instead, as long as the top came down below their…um…buttocks.

Anyway, pardon my digression that sets the scene for My Awakening. I fell in love with when she leaned back against her desk and crossed her arms that distant day, finished with outlining what we’d do that semester. “We’re going to have some fun, too. Y’all know the rules of writing, and we’ll practice them in this class.”

Moans filled the room.

Her lips were red, as were her fingernails. I’m afraid my concentration was mostly on her appearance until the sweetest words I ever heard fell from those lips at the same time a bright beam of light illuminated her person, followed by an angelic chorus of beautiful voices.

“But when we get into creative writing, I want you to break all those rules you’ve learned in the past and explore the creative process as much as you can.”

That statement sizzled through my brain, yanking me back from a particularly enthusiastic fantasy and into class.

What’d she say!!!???

Since I’m a Gemini, I answered myself.

She said there were no rules in creative writing.

That means I can do what I want!


She’d freed me! I could break those dusty old shackles of formal writing and be myself.


I rose and did the Happy Dance, a unique blend of gyrations taken from Snoopy, American Bandstand, and Elvis movies.

Not really, but I wanted to.

“Break the rules.” Her statement came to mind years afterward when I finally discovered my writing Voice in 1988 and published an inaugural humor column that was nothing like I’d ever read in a newspaper.

I was successful in getting published that first time because I broke the rules and created something no one else was doing in newspapers. I took a new and different trail again when I embarked on my first novel a dozen years later.

The opening chapter was in first person, from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Top Parker, and I learned pretty quick that writing the entire novel from Top’s POV was limiting, but I needed to see rural 1964 through a kids’ eyes. First person speaks to me, and the words flow with startling ease when I’m in those chapters.

But the next chapter switched to third person, the change was intentional, because I wanted readers to see the story from the boy’s granddad’s more experienced point of view. Both a farmer and the local constable in their rural community of Center Springs, Ned Parker’d already lived a lifetime before the youngster showed up.

The alternating POV worked well in my mind, and it never occurred to me at that time that I was breaking some sort of rule. I was simply describing what I saw as the first two chapters developed, because I think differently than many authors. When writing a novel, I see the story from different lenses, sometimes involving POVs for more than one character

I did the same thing in Burrows (a suspenseful and claustrophobic novel that people either love or hate, with no in between, but the critics loved it, so there) and I was on my way, blissfully ignorant of the fact that many editors, agents, and critically acclaimed and bestselling authors said it was wrong.

That little revelation came along as I was sitting in an audience between two well-known and very successful authors listening to a panel discussion at Bouchercon, the country’s largest conference devoted to mysteries and detective fiction. When it was his time to speak, one of my favorite and influential writers on the stage pulled microphone closer to his lips and stated with absolute authority, “You cannot switch back and forth between points of view. It’s a sin, and if you do it, Jesus won’t love you no more, and you’re going to Hell with your pockets full of dandruff and adverbs.”

He sat back to let that sink in.

Well, he didn’t say it that exact way, but the gist was the same. My friends on either side turned their heads to gauge my reaction, but I had nothing and refused to make eye contact. I was a sinner for sure and no amount of water was ever going to wash me clean.

But I didn’t care and I kept writing the way I wanted, because I had a Voice, and a style (which is dramatically different than these blog posts for some reason), and I wasn’t going to change. With twelve novels in print, one scheduled for release in February, 2022, and two others under contract for the next two years after that, I’ve continued this particular style of storytelling and have no intention of changing.

Because Miss Adams said it was okay.



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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

19 thoughts on “I Did It My Way

  1. I do the same thing, Rev. Always have. I write my protagonist in 1st POV, other POV characters in deep 3rd. Haven’t had any complaints yet. 😉

      • Great story telling. Thanks for all the hours of sharing the experience of your characters.

  2. I had a straight-out-off-college creative writing teacher who looked like that my senior year, but I was a girl so I didn’t care. Some big, handsome guy did, and she lost her teacher’s license because she got too interested, too. Stupid. She was a good, involved teacher although she knew spit about writing fiction.

    • That happens, and it’s a crying shame every time. Some younger teachers fail in more ways than one. Miss Adams retired after 50 years, if memory serves on the dates. She was exceptional and many former students who became lifelong friends mourned her passing in 2012.

    • You are very kind, good sir. Thanks so much for reading and responding. I hope to continue to entertain, and hopefully share some of what I’ve learned.

  3. Writers often remember a special, influential teacher who unleashed their creativity–although some might say “unleashed their demons.” 😉

    Bless those gifted teachers like Miss Adams or, in my case, Miss Parker.

    My friend/mentor Dennis Foley says there’s only one rule in fiction: Don’t bore the reader.

    You are never boring, Rev!

    • Thanks, Debbie! I wrote very similar words in a precious comment to a poster. My other influential teacher was my librarian from 1st grad until the 6th when she became my home room and language arts instructor. I still think about her all the time, because she helped instill a live if books.

      Later gator

  4. Interesting post, Rev.

    I must have had Miss Adam’s cousin for my junior English teacher. Miss Linda Warner was the spark that started my interest in writing. Funny how those “fresh-out-of-college” teachers could stimulate their student’s imaginations. We even created a ghost student that year to keep Miss Warner entertained.

    And, like Sue, I also write the MC in 1st POV, and other POV characters in close 3rd.

    • Thanks for sharing! Switching POVs keeps things interesting for sure.

      I bet she remembered you long after you graduated. Probably still does, if she’s still with us.

  5. Great post, Rev! The way I see it, the so-called “rules” of fiction writing are really like the Pirate’s Code, “more like guidelines.” To paraphrase one my writing mentors, there’s only one rule: make the reader feel.

    And you did that beautifully here.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. All I ever wanted to do was entertain first, and teach second. The best lessons are those you absorbed without knowing it, and that’s how I tried to teach when I was a public school instructor.



  6. I wonder, Rev, whether that panelist at Bouchercon meant switching POV in a SCENE. Yes, you will at least go to Purgatory for that one, unless you are Charles Dickens.

    In any case, the 1st/3d style seems to me to have been popularized by James Patterson, who’s done okay.

    It’s an easy way to lengthen a 1st Person story. I really should try it sometime. But I’m too much of a stuffy purist, I guess.

    BTW, I had a most wonderful English/Creative Writing teacher in HS, Mrs. Bruce. Kept in touch with her all the way until her death at age 90. Her tutelage came from the other direction. I was hugely influenced by Richard Brautigan in HS because of my hippy older brother. So I wrote this wild, out of control piece from the POV of mashed potatoes. When I got the paper back her scrawled note was, See me. She would go on to teach me that wild means little unless it’s relatable. That’s the balance.

    • My first attempts in a freshman college creative writing class were cringeworthy, but we all have to start somewhere.

      I’ve never read Patterson, but it appears that he’s been somewhat successful at it.

      Teachers are the spark. Hopefully they can ignite the student’s interest to continue. Looks like Mrs. Bruce was successful.


      • Diana Gabaldon did OK with that POV system in her Outlander books, too.

        What I don’t “like” is having all the POV characters in first, because after the first page, which usually has the POV character’s name at the top, it disappears and I have trouble remembering whose head I’m in. Clearly, these authors haven’t mastered the “distinctive voice for each character” well enough for my aging brain.

        I remember Miss Cook in 7th and 8th grade English, where we had some creative writing along with spelling and memorizing poetry. But for the life of me, I can’t ever remember her telling us there were “rules” beyond the basics of grammar and spelling, and she never “told” us–she just marked up the papers.

  7. Reavis, Thanks for reminding us that the only rule is there are no rules.

    Funny coincidence: I’m writing the third novel in my cozy mystery series. I decided each book should include a little bit of experimentation, so I created a ten-year-old girl to add some spice to my established amateur sleuths, and her chapters are all first person. The others are third. It was good to see others weigh in on this concept.

  8. Thanks, Rev. You can certainly put one in the classroom, or wherever you choose to when you write. Given that I went to Catholic schools at about the same time that you describe we had nuns instructing us so we didn’t pay as close attention as we might have. Thanks for the vicarious thrill and most of all for the advice. Whatever works, works for me.

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