Mr. Gene Hill’s Impact

As we’ve discussed before, I’ve been an avid reader since elementary school. Second grade, I believe. Cowboy Sam books.

After that, I absorbed a weekly string of novels, and through the years, they became old friends. I’d bet you have those old acquaintances, also.  Like many other dedicated readers, some of us wanted to become authors and I tried and I tried, but nothing.

My reading tastes went from one genre to another, depending on my age, and where I was in life. They ran the gamut from hardball crime, to travel books, to westerns, and spy novels. Matt Helm figured in there, as well as William Johnstone. After that came apocalyptic books (Johnstone again, along with an excellent title, Malevil), in the 1970s, and horror. One book of “terror” was titled Feral, about house cats that escaped, multiplied, and terrorized a new homeowner.

Good lord.

After that, it was books about the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and camping. I’d discovered a columnist for Field and Stream Magazine, Mr. Gene Hill, and absorbed everything he wrote. That was back in the days when I was a devoted upland bird hunter (and still would be if a horrific wasting disease hadn’t swept through the south, destroying almost our entire bobwhite population).

One day I read in the paper that Mr. Hill was coming to Dallas on a book tour.

I had no idea what a book tour was.

It was 1983, five years before my first outdoor column was published, when I put on a clean shirt and went to B. Dalton Booksellers to see this man who wrote so well and touched my soul with his words.

Expecting to find a crowd spilling out into the mall, I was surprised to find a gray-haired man in a rumpled shirt and wrinkled khakis sitting by himself behind a table full of books. He looked like any one of the old men who sat on the front porch up at the store and spun yarns all day long.

I suspect that’s what he was. The man many considered to be one the best outdoor writers of all time looked forlorn there all alone as shoppers passed and avoided eye contact on their way to pick up Stephen King’s new doorstop.

His eyes brightened as I stepped up. Uncertain what to say to that Harvard educated outdoorsman, I must have mumbled something that caught his attention, because we were soon engaged in conversation, and he was doing the majority of the talking.

When a lady stopped to pick up one of his books, he motioned to an empty folding chair beside him. “Sit down, son.”

I obeyed and still remember their brief exchange.

The lady read the back cover. “What’s this about?”

“My look at hunting and fishing.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of you.” We were in Dallas’ Northpark mall, I think, and I doubted she’d ever been out of the city. Hidden by a thick German Schmear of makeup and false eyelashes, she frowned. “I don’t believe in killing animals. I don’t read these kinds of books, either.”

“Good to hear.” He gently took it from her hand and turned to me. “So you’re a bird hunter…”

The lady disappeared, likely in a puff of smoke, but I can’t say for sure. Maybe she dissolved into the ground, screaming, “I’m melting!”

Never mind, because he and I were talking about things near and dear to us. Hunting, fishing, and writing. Ten minutes into the conversation, one of the store employees stopped by.

“Mr. Hill, would you like anything?”

“I sure would.” He pointed across the mall. “Could I get some of that vanilla ice cream from over there? In a cup, please.”

Now I wish I could remember the look on that young man’s face, but all of my attention was on the writer beside me who could ask for ice cream and get it. As we talked, Mr. Hill took a packet of loose-cut tobacco from his back pocket and tucked a chew into his left cheek. I recall that clearly, because five minutes later the employee returned and I watched in fascination as Mr. Hill shifted the chew to one side and ate the ice cream at the same timg.

I was in the presence of greatness!

He sold a few books while we talked, and I was afraid I’d worn out my welcome, so I stood and he reared back in his chair. “What’re you doing tonight?”

I shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Good. Come to Abercrombie and Fitch at seven as my guest. There’s a reception for me, and I fear you’re going to be one of the few people there who I can relate to. Use my name to get in.”

At that time, Abercrombie and Fitch was one of the premier hunting and fishing stores in the country, but at age 29 and on a teacher’s salary, I’d never been inside such a high end establishment.

His name worked, though, and I walked inside an outdoor sporting goods dream store. Before they sold out and shifted their focus on what I call soft core porn clothing advertisements aimed at young people, they sold items I’d only read about in books.

I found Mr. Hill beside a 17’ Grumman canoe full of ice and drinks, and he waved me over. Someone gave me a beer, and he introduced me to men I’d only heard or read about in Dallas society. All were Safari Club members, and I recalled one was part of the investigation into Kennedy Assassination. There was a well-known attorney, doctors, a popular newspaperman, and others who looked as if they were made of money, but Mr. Hill made them think we’d been friends for years.

One of the store managers announced they were going to open all the gun cases and we could examine any rifle or shotgun in stock. “Go over there and take a look at that little side by side .410.” Mr. Hill waved a finger in that direction. “You’ll love it.”

I walked over and the manager wearing cotton gloves handed me the gun. I took it with my calloused, grubby hands and admired the engraving on the side plate. The tag flipped and I read the $14,000 price.

Shocked and terrified that I was going to drop it, I held that beautiful gun so the manager could take it from my hands. I wandered down case after case, trying to find one that didn’t have at least five digits and several zeros, before returning to Mr. Hill’s side.

Their conversation had drifted to the most dangerous animals they’d ever hunted. One said lion, another cape buffalo, leopard, and they finally noticed that I was there. The corners of Mr. Hill’s eyes wrinkled in anticipation.

“What’s the most dangerous game you’ve ever hunted?”


The silence was astounding. The lawyer tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

“One of these days, when I’m older, they’re gonna give me a heart attack when they flush from right under my feet.”

Laughter all around, and Mr. Hill put a hand on my shoulder. “Some day you’re going to make a fine writer, or an excellent liar.”

I’ve met a number of authors since then, and call many of them good friends, and a couple, family, but this is another column about kind words from those who’ve made it, and I’ll be forever beholden to Mr. Gene Hill and that night when I was in deep water and he offered encouragement.

Oh, and I still have that book he’d co-written with another excellent writer, Steve Smith. He signed Outdoor Yarns and Outright Lies, to me that day.

“For Reavis, Remember: There’s no future or challenge in honesty.”

I tilt one to that fine writer, and gentleman.

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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

20 thoughts on “Mr. Gene Hill’s Impact

  1. A fine tale indeed, Rev. Thank you. I hope those quail don’t flush from proximity for a long, long time, if ever.

    Have a good weekend.

    • Thank you, sir. Wish I could follow dogs again and hear those birds flush. I’m afraid they won’t recover in my lifetime. It was great while it lasted, though, and imparted a lot of wisdom, morals, and ethics in this boy.

  2. “A fine writer or an excellent liar.” A worthy goal for fiction authors.

    Rev, thanks for taking us along with you to spend time with Mr. Hill at the bookstore and A&F. But chew and vanilla ice cream??? Aaargh.

  3. I appreciate your doing posts like this because not only is it good to recognize those who’ve helped us from a writing standpoint, it’s great to recognize those whose lives have touched us in some way generally speaking. In a world of anger & chaos, it’s a very pleasant surprise for people to recognize the positive impacts of others on our lives. Thanks.

  4. Love your Saturday stories, Rev. My first encounters with authors were cookbook authors who also had television shows. My first “go to a fiction author” event was a drive across Florida to listen to Suzanne Brockmann speak. Hubster came along because of the ‘driving into unknown territory and at night’, neither of which are skills I possess, and I was impressed with the excellent questions he posed, despite never having read one of her books.

    • Isn’t it great to look behind the curtain? We should all attend signings and support those in this business. It’s disheartening to look out over a sea of empty chairs. Long ago pledged to make a excellent presentation if there’s only one or two people out there. They took the time and money to come see me and they’ll always get my best.

  5. Good lord, do you know how to spin a yarn, Rev. I was more the artsy-fartsy type in Texas, but I can appreciate where you’re coming from and what you have to pass onto us. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for sharing the story, Rev.

    In middle school, I went through a period where I read nothing but OUTDOOR LIFE magazine and the books on their book club list. One of my favorites was THE FRONTIERSMAN by Allan Eckert. Years later Allan moved to my hometown, and I was able to take my sons to meet him and see a mineral project he was working on for his next book. He was surprised the book was an early edition, and smiled when I mentioned the OUTDOOR LIFE book club.

    Your story is a reminder that we all need to pay it forward. Thanks for the post.

  7. My husband is also a hunter and fan of Gene Hill’s writing. He urged me to read several of Gene’s books which are in our home library. Even though I don’t hunt, I enjoyed his stories. What an amazing experience to meet him and spend that amount of time with him.

    Being members of Safari International we have had the pleasure of meeting many interesting authors, hunters, artists, and speakers at their conventions but only for moments, nothing like your time with Gene Hill. Not only that, but to be given such encouragement by such an excellent author. May we all be so lucky.

  8. Another great yarn, Reavis. Really enjoyed this one, as well as all your previous ones. And now I’m looking forward to reading your Hawke’s Prey novel. About a week ago it came up as a BookBub deal, and I snatched it.

  9. A nice piece, Reavis. A pity about the bob whites. Cool birds. Before the suburbs surrounded us, we could hear their calls.

    My dad wrote a hunting and fishing column for the local paper. It was mainly pictures of monster bass that locals caught and someone’s deer, but he filled in the space with homespun humor and hunting and fishing how to. It takes a very special talent to do that.

  10. I really enjoyed the post! My husband hunted quail and had some very expensive bird dogs. We had quail on our farm in Tennessee back in the eighties, and I didn’t know something had wiped them out. Here in Mississippi, most hunters go after dove.

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