Those Little Incidents

Writing is fun, and that’s why we do it. Personal deadlines, self-imposed daily word counts, locking yourself alone in a room for hours at a time with your invisible friends, those hard deadlines that loom at the same time you have other things to do, and less than impressive paychecks aren’t roadblocks to most of us.

Staring at the flashing cursor on a blank screen seems to be a challenge to some, but I blow through page after page without a tingle of fear or apprehension. Then comes the day I hit Send and the manuscript is on the way to becoming a real book. That’s a huge satisfaction.

But then comes the fun and interesting part that I never expected as a novice writer. Those moments when memories are made.

Only a couple of weeks after I finished one of the Red River novels, my oldest aunt called from her assisted living apartment. “Reavis Zane!”

Dammit! I immediately became ten years old again when she used both names. “Howdy Aunt Billie. I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you lately…”

“That don’t matter none. I called ‘cause I have a bone to pick with you, young man.”

I figuratively toed the carpet, chastised by one of those old gals who likely whacked my rear a time or two when I was a kid. Our family believed in that village theory of child raising to the point there were eyes everywhere.

I sighed and sat down at my desk. “Well, go to picking then.”

“I just read that book you wrote and I can’t believe you’re telling family secrets to the whole wide world.”

Uh, oh. I flicked through mountains of memory files, trying to figure out what she was talking about. Though a few of my characters are based on living people, I’m careful not to describe them in detail. Even family members in this litigious society can take you to task on such characterization.

Clearing my throat, I tried not to sound worried. “Well, Ned Parker’s based on Daddy Joe, and Top is me in a sense, but I don’t…”

“It’s not them. I’m talking about those two people who ran away with one. They’re Tommy and Gertrude as sure as shoot’n. I don’t see why you got to drag family into them stories.”

“Wait. What?” Tommy and Gertrude were family members who were banished from the family when I was little, but I never knew why. “You mean they…”

“Yessir. You know as well as I do that they were married to Bob and Elizabeth.”

Puzzle pieces clicked into place. Bob and Elizabeth were brother and sister, married to Tommy and Gertrude.

Her voice became stern. “So young man, you don’t need to be telling them secrets in any more books.”

“Uh, that’s news to me. Exactly what happened between them?”

“Well, my lands. I’m not gonna talk about that gossip!”

And she hung up on me without another word.

I was signing copies of still another book when I described a scene based on a real story my grandaddy told me. He was constable of Precinct 3 in Lamar County, Texas, that’s made up of several small rural communities. One day he got a call on his Motorola (son, they can outrun my car, but they can’t outrun my radio) that a suspicious individual was seen on a county road. When the highway patrol officer stopped, the teenager ran away into the woods.

The young trooper radioed back and organized a manhunt that was forming up when Grandad pulled up in his pickup. The trooper described the outlaw in great detail and my more experienced grandfather put a halt to the proceedings.

“You boys just settle down. I think I know who that is. Give me ten minutes and I’ll be right back.”

He drove off down a gravel road and turned down a dirt drive to a house back in the woods. A farmer’s wife came outside when she heard the car. “Hey, Ned. What brings you out here?”

“Is Leroy around somewhere?”

“He’s in the barn. He run again?”

“He did.”

Grandad called Leroy out, put him in the front seat of the truck, and returned to the building manhunt. He pulled up and called the trooper over. “Is this your suspect?”

He bent down and peeked through the window. “That’s him! You caught him already?”

“I knew who you were talking about. Leroy here runs from every lawman he sees, but he’s never done anything wrong. So y’all can go about your business and we’re gong to the store to get some ice cream.”

So there I was at the signing, enjoying the long line of fans holding my book with that story when a tall, gray-haired man handed me his copy. “I read this already, but I’d love to have your signature.”

“Honored. Just a signature, or would you like it personalized?”

“Personalized. Sign it, To Judge John Smith, That Young Trooper Who Had a Lot To Learn From An Old Constable.”

I glanced up to meet his eyes. “You’re that young highway patrol officer I wrote about.”

“Yep, your grandaddy taught me a lot back when I was full of piss and vinegar, and you wrote it exactly as it happened.”

“Uh, should I apologize, Judge?”

“Nah. It was the truth.”

No one told me what to expect after a book comes out, but I swear it’s always fun. Enjoy the experience, because only a small percentage of potential authors ever get published. It’s that carrot at the end of the stick, and it’s a helluva ride.

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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 “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

15 thoughts on “Those Little Incidents

  1. I just want to say, I love the way you tell a story.

    Thanks for an enjoying read.

    • Thanks so much, BJ.
      I learned long ago as a teacher that including stories helps remember information that might be helpful in the future. We all hear the old adage, “show, don’t tell,” and I hope that the data, knowledge and guidance scattered in these blog posts will help in some way.

    • You know, Priscilla, I bet they’re all around you. Think back on relatives and acquaintances and look for the little things you can gather together to form one character.

      Just yesterday, I had an old acquaintance come up to me at a funeral and ask if I was interested in writing his biography. I told him no thanks, to write it himself, and then studied the guy for a while as he talked to harvest a few mannerisms and quirks. I think he’ll appear in some form at a later date.

      By the way, I don’t know about the rest of you who post on this blog, but do you get lots of requests to write a book “about my (insert a person here) who was quite a character and I think people would love to read about them?”

  2. Thanks for the morning smile, Rev. Funny how real memories blur into semi-fictional ones until I sometimes can’t remember what actually happened vs. what was invented.

    • Good afternoon Debbie. I’m afraid my Bride has pointed out more than once that a story I’ve attributed to friends and relatives never happened the way I tell them in a group. sigh.

      I love this great quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, (John Wayne) “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

  3. Interesting stories, Rev. I enjoy the way you tell them.

    On the subject of how our stories affect readers, I am the most pleased when readers have contemplated the symbolism in my stories, and want to know if they got it right.

    Enjoy your weekend.

    • Ain’t that a hoot! I had an English teacher write to tell me how she uses the symbolism in my books to teach her kids. Honestly, I didn’t know I’d included symbolism, and really hope the kids see through that.

      I remember a term paper I had to write back in high school, “The significance of windows in Wuthering Heights.” I wrote two papers, one that I turned in to earn a B, and the other that I kept for years, but never allowed my teacher to read. “Emily Bronte just wrote a story she hoped people would read and had her characters gaze out a window from time to time because she couldn’t think of anything else for them to do. She didn’t bother herself with any of that symbolism crap.”

      Probably a good thing I turned in the other one.

  4. Love these pair of stories, Rev. I especially love your oldest aunt calling to give you what for, for supposedly writing about something you didn’t know about 🙂

    The magic definitely can happen after a book is published.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thanks Dale! Honestly, I’ve heard from a lot of relatives and friends from that part of the world I write about who tell me they know exactly who specific characters are, though most are fictitious. They’ll tell me it’s old so and so, who was quirky, weird, or hardheaded, and more than once the character we’re referring to is the person talking to me.

      Can’t help but grin.

  5. I never wrote from a place of memory, and only a very few characters were kinda based on real people. What stunned me was that people were upset when I told them I didn’t base a character on them. I didn’t even think of them when I wrote the story. People are weird.

    • That’s in the same vein I mentioned Dale Ivan Smith in the post above. And you’re right, people are much more weird than those I write about.

  6. I love those stories, Rev. (I think your Aunt Billie must have been related to my Great Aunt Pearl.)

    I do glean characteristics from people I know for my stories, but I feel confident I disguise them so well, no one will ever know. 🙂 However, I’ve told my dentist more than once he’d better be careful or I’ll put him in one of my stories and kill him off. So far he’s still alive.

    • I’ve told people the same thing. I’ve also told them that when I’m intently listening to what they have to say, I’m also thinking of different ways to kill them off…

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