Just One Book

Back in the early 1980s, I taught school under my good friend Curtis, who was then an Assistant Principal. Like me, he absorbed books by the dozens, and we spent hours discussing authors, books, and writing.

He knew I had dreams of getting published some day, and often encouraged me to finish a manuscript. Just one manuscript. “Finish the stinkin’ thing!”

We all know how that goes, but I started and abandoned a dozen ideas hammered out on an IBM Selectric typewriter. One manuscript even grew to seventy-five pages, and when I look back at it today (it’s still in the bottom drawer of my desk), I know why it died.

Years passed, and one day I got a newspaper column published and eventually self-syndicated those writings while his own career advanced.

He took a position as high school principal in one district, then assistant superintendent in another, and finally became superintendent of a small East Texas town before eventually coming back to Garland, Texas, the tenth largest district in the state.

I remained in Garland and had moved up as the assistant director of Communications and Public Relations. I was the guy on the front lines when things went wrong, and was the spokesperson for the district.

After I found myself again working under Curtis, we picked up where we left off and continued our talks about books and writing.

More than one lunch flew by as those conversations became more intense and in my case, somehow desperate. “I just want to get a book published. Just one.”

“You will.”

“It hasn’t happened yet. Look at us, were getting older by the minute and you’re getting gray headed.”

“Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

“Once, but there was some old guy there. Look, I think I’m missing out. Some day you and I’ll be in rocking chairs on the front porch, still talking about the works of other people. Then we’ll be gone and those books will still be on the shelves, maybe for generations. That’s what I want. A book on a shelf to tell a story, and to let people know I was here.”

“Don’t give up, then.”

“I never said I was giving up.”

“Sounds like it.”

“Shut up and pay the bill, boss.”

“You shut up and write.”

So I did. In 2011, my first novel was published, and in the ensuing years, there are more than a dozen on those shelves, with many more already written (waiting their turn to hit the shelves in the coming months and years), and right this minute, others contracted by two different publishers.

We’re both retired now and get together every couple of months. Curtis and I met for breakfast the other day and he grinned across the table, holding my book bearing the newest title which I signed to him. “Just one book, huh?”

“Yeah, and I made it.”

He sipped his coffee amid the smells of frying bacon and onions. He eyed me. “Now what?”


“I know that look.”

I took a swallow from my mug. “I’ve been offered to ghost write a couple of novels.”

His eyebrow arched and he pushed his empty plate to the side. “You want to publish under another guy’s name?”

“No. I want the money that comes from publishing under another guy’s name.”

I outlined the deal and an unusual offer that would bring in even more than simple contract work.

He shook his head. “But your name wouldn’t be anywhere in those pages.”


“You have a distinctive writing style. People will figure it out.”

“Maybe, but that’s not the point.”

“Aren’t you already writing under your real name for them?”

“Sure, but this is extra and those kinds of books just roll off without taking up too much time. I can write them, and still produce my Red River series, along with the new Cap Whitlatch westerns.”

“How many books a year is that?”

I sighed. “Three. Maybe four.”

“And how many standalone novels are you hammering out.”


“You can’t do it. You don’t have the time.”

“We’ll find out.”

He grinned down into his coffee. “And I remember when your dream was a single book on a shelf. Now you have a second career. I guess you need to get after that keyboard.”

So I’ve agreed to ghost write. I know half a dozen authors who’ve done the same thing. One is so prolific I was stunned by the number, and laughed aloud when he told me the names he wrote under. It’s been a great living for him, and he doesn’t care that his name is on just a few of them.

I look at the shelf to my left and my books under Reavis Z. Wortham take up most of the space. I have my wish, with many more to come.

But there’s the carrot out there that will swell my bank account.

Is that why we write?


Or is something else?


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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

20 thoughts on “Just One Book

  1. Legacy. I’ve had two previous potential careers, only one of which happened – and then I came down with a chronic illness when only ~ten years into the one I trained for.

    I always planned to write in retirement, as a hobby. It turned deadly serious when the other paths ended, and I realized there is only one thing I want, and that’s to finish the mainstream trilogy I’ve been writing for 23 years. Another five or so should do it. I know how I want it to go – haven’t been able to make it do that yet.

    But there are no other avenues, and that old drive seems even more focused on the writing. I just spent a couple of hours digging through the first two volumes for something I remembered writing – and got myself as revved up as possible to get LIMBO finished organized, and then to keep writing the scenes until they’re finished.

    The problem is dragging the recalcitrant non-functional brain along to the word-mart to buy the right ones and string them up. Same problem I’ve had the whole century – and two books got kicked out there, so it’s not fatal

    It would be nice if marketing were easier, and if some of the hares started came home with a carrot in their mouths, but it is happening regardless.

    Legacy – and to be read for a very long time.

    Godspeed with the ghosted books – and your eponymous ones. It’ll be worth it. Or you wouldn’t have picked that goal. Something in us says we can do this, doesn’t it?

    • It IS legacy, and I’d hoped readers would hear that word pop into their heads like popcorn! We can do this, and I’ll keep y’all updated.

      This part is to all who have replied. My Bride and I are on the road with the Gilstraps, taking a tour of south central and the Big Bend region of Texas, so I’m behind in tagging into these discussions. Drive much if the day and catching up here at the Paisano Hotel in Marfa.

  2. Congrats on picking up the ghost writing jobs. I don’t get too worried about ‘why’ we write. I write simply because I like to explore on the page. To some degree, all writers must feel that way because why would anyone commit so many hours of their lives to it if they weren’t explorers at heart?

    • These books are going to be fun, but they’ll come hard and fast for the next year or so. I’m interested in seeing if some readers recognize my writing style. Trying to keep it somewhat similar to the original author, but I can see places where my voice comes through.

  3. I have been paid for writing.
    I’d like to be paid again.
    I write fast, but the day job takes up most of my time. I have a page quota that I do make each week, but it’s slow. Sooooo slow.
    I’m just trying to get to the point where I have more completed things to send out.
    Pray for me.

    • I will. I’m going up to the cabin and lock myself in pretty soon until I emerge with about 85,000 words. August 1 is coming like a freight train.

  4. Important question, Reavis.

    It’s okay to be motivated by striving for money or fame, but I think I come down on the side of LEGACY. When I do my soul searching in the wee hours of the morning, I realize that what I really desire is to make a difference. If I could write one book (fiction) that would change our culture, clarify young people’s values, or change the direction this country is heading, I would feel fulfilled.

    It will probably never happen, but I can try. And, in the meantime, if fame or fortune happens to knock on my door, I’ll open it. Most of all, I’m not criticizing anyone who seeks fame or fortune. I wish them success.

    Good luck with the ghost writing. Keep us informed how it’s going.

  5. As the estimable Dr. Johnson once observed, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

    The cynical old coot overstated things, of course. Many a writer writes to express themselves, regardless of market. But I daresay the vast majority want to at least make some spending dough for their efforts.

    I see nothing crass is writing to make a living, even chasing a market, so long as you honor the craft and do the best you can. Back in my trad days I wrote a series under a pseudonym because because I thought of a market-driven idea off my beaten path. A publisher offered me money, and I took it. (I wrote about this on TKZ via an interview with my doppelganger, K. Bennett).

  6. “… That’s what I want. A book on a shelf to tell a story, and to let people know I was here.”

    Sounds about right.

    I’ve also ghostwritten books. Go for it!

    (P.S. Happy Solstice)

  7. Good discussion, Mr. Wortham.

    I want to leave a footprint behind.

    I think (or believe, if you will) that humanity is wired to want that-for folks coming behind to know what life was like when we were here.

    And, I just love making stuff up of course. Most children do. 🙂

  8. A book on a shelf to let somebody know I was here.
    I don’t know about other folks but that’s my goal.

    When the list of people you knew that have passed on is longer than the list of people still here that makes it real.

    Gets right to the point for me.

  9. I found this story about the author’s journey to publication and his conversation with his friend Curtis quite inspiring. It made me reflect on the motivations behind writing. While the author mentions the allure of financial gain from ghostwriting, I wonder what drives most writers to pursue their craft. Is it primarily the desire for recognition, storytelling, personal fulfillment, or a combination of various factors? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter and what motivates you personally as a writer.


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