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

Them Flies

“A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas.”

Way back in college, I had to take a speech class. Never figuring I’d need it since I was pursuing a degree in architecture, I staggered in and out of each class without much caring what my grade would be. In fact, I took a D and was glad to get it, but one interesting assignment was to write and present a persuasive speech.

As I recall, the idea caused much consternation among some of the other students, but I didn’t care, because all I wanted to do was complete the assignment and get out of there.

One of my fellow students wrote a gut-wrenching plea to end war, because he’d just lost his brother in Viet Nam. But he didn’t write about war, he wrote a metaphor about something entirely different that we absorbed in wonder. We knew what he was talking about, but the idea hit us from a different angle.

My professor ended the day by saying, “When writing, there are times we need to make people think, instead of slamming them with the facts as we, the author, see them. A writer or speaker is charged with making people think, and to elicit an emotional response.”

Way back when I was first published, I’d use what my old man called “three-dollar-words,” designed to force readers to a thesaurus. What a stupid idea. It wasn’t my job to expand my reader’s vocabulary. It was to inform, but mostly to entertain.

However, there were times I couldn’t write what I wanted, so I found an alternate way to make a point through the use of a metaphor…

There’s a wonderful children’s book titled, A Fly Went By, by Michael McClintock and edited by the one and only Dr. Seuss. I read the story to both of my girls when they were very young. Now my grandchildren love the rhyming story that focuses on misplaced perception and unknown fears that continues to build throughout the story until the source of all that fear is rooted out.

In a nutshell, a small boy is relaxing in a rowboat one find day, loving the outdoors and watching clouds pass overhead when a fearful fly buzzes past. It’s being chased by a frog, who is in turn being chased by a cat, who is chased by a dog, who is followed by a pig. By the end of the little book, an entire frightened menagerie passes, all trailed by a man who is frightened by a sheep who starts the whole thing by getting its hoof tangled in a bucket.

This cumulative tale is great for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we too often get caught up in whatever the Fear of the Day might be. In this book, the kids learn that instead of taking other people’s word for how bad something is, they should investigate and make informed decisions before the Boogy Man turns out to be their own fears.

It’s odd that I like the story, because it starts with a fly and I hate flies with an absurd passion. I have flyswatters in every room of the house, just in case one sneaks in and threatens my peaceful world. In the pantry, three more swatters wait for a killing.

A Bug-A-Salt gun on a shelf in the pantry. It’s a bright yellow plastic pump-action shotgun that blasts flies with table salt. We’ve salted a number of them, and plan to buy even more to eliminate the pests.

We do our best to keep the filthy insects out, with closed doors and screens, but as in many things in life, it isn’t if one gets in, but when.

For some reason they’re attracted to a great glass brick wall in our shower, and to keep from being defenseless there, I have a slightly rusted swatter within reach.

Sometimes you can’t enjoy the outdoors because of invasive flies. The first time we had a cookout here at the new house was on a late spring day, one perfect for eating out. We cooked burgers on the grill, and I noticed more than a few flies around the patties protected by plastic wrap.

There are always flies around, and we should be attentive at all times lest they contaminate our food with their filthy feet and repulsive mouthparts called the labellum and pseudotrachea.


As our delicious burgers patties sizzled, those nasty insects brought their kinfolk, until by the time we gathered the family and settled around the patio table to enjoy lunch, we were engulfed in a swam. Hundreds landed on everything so fast the kids couldn’t eat.

Waving them off was impossible, and with shrieks, gesticulations, and lots of adult curses (properly curbed for little ears), we gathered everything and retreated to the kitchen, only to be followed by bombing patrols that continued inside until we armed ourselves and launched a counter attack.

One flew into the Redhead’s mouth, (my oldest daughter) and a string of words that would have impressed a merchant seaman emerged. She spat it out and stomped the soft, tiny corpse until it was nothing but a stain.

As we all know, flies are sourced from some of the most revolting environments we can imagine. They come from the filth that attracts and breeds them, and bring their contamination to the rest of us who do everything we can to protect ourselves, and enjoy a maintained, well-ordered existance.

I’m convinced our neighbors who have seven big dogs were a significant source of the infestation, and I wondered if those good, well-intentioned folks ever cleaned up their own back yard. You shouldn’t foul your own nest, and that goes for letting feces remain in your yard for long periods of time, even though a soaking rain can melt it into the ground where it allegedly becomes beneficial fertilizer.

We keep our yard clean, despite deposits from Willie the Wonder-dog (read Shih Tzu here), and I patrol the yard with whatever utensils are necessary to keep our property clean and safe in all way.

We’re required to protect our houses from pests, and prevention works when done properly, but there are times we have to stop them before they get in. I have a pest control man who comes by a couple of times a year. His theory is, “keep them out of the house, before you have to kill ‘em inside.”

Some sympathetic individuals surely like flies and feel sorry for them in some bizarre way, but that’s not how my mind works.

I despise flies, but love A Fly Went By, and I bet you will, too. Read it to your little ones and enjoy this metaphor.

Show, Don’t Tell

There’s a Deadline Beast lurking in the near future, so this post will be brief, for me.

You’ve heard or read this before, but even writing today’s post revealed some laziness on my part and I cleaned up several pages of my work in progress.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

“In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.  C.S. Lewis

The late E. L. Doctorow, author of twelve historical fiction novels said, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

And then there’s King Stephen who is always delicate as a chainsaw. “Your readers, without even realizing it, will love you for it, because it engages them, it draws them into the story. If you show, you don’t need to tell. If she kicks him in the balls, the reader gets that she’s angry. You don’t need to say it.”

In my personal writing experience, this is one of the hardest things to learn, second only to finding your writing “voice.”

The following is from my newest work in progress, a traditional western.

One of the newer glassy-eyed inmates with a wispy mustache passed us at the same time his stomach growled, looking for a place out of the searing sun and somewhere safe to eat. Swift attacks to steal our twice-a-day allotment usually spilled more than they gained. Escobedo had only been in Purgatorio for a week, and in those few days the slender man lost half of his rations.

He sat only a dozen feet from us norte americanos and wolfed down his meal. The two fresh cuts over one eyebrow and the opposite cheekbone was proof of another hard night.

Andelacio Morales rose from where he squatted with a clot of other prisoners near the long row of outside cells and swaggered across the bare yard. Even me and the boys steered clear of him when we could, but from the look in Morales’ eye, that was about to change.

Morales’ worn-out shoes crunched on the yard’s gravel and sand packed hard by decades of footsteps. The prisoner in for life towered over Escobedo who kept his eyes lowered to the tin plate between his knees. The young man’s head ducked and what little spirit was left in the newest inmate evaporated.

As I said, this piece isn’t yet finished, but this example avoids weak telling words and phrases like “I heard,” (Morale’s crunching footsteps) “He felt,” and “was afraid” (Escobedo’s fear demonstrated in the last sentence). Telling words, and phrases pushes the reader out of the story. Don’t tell us that your characters are happy, sad, scared, giddy (I especially hate that word), hot, hungry, or mad.

You want readers to be in the scene, and not on the outside looking in. Your writing should pull readers into the world you’ve created so they can use their senses based on their own memories and experiences.


Tell: The sound of gunfire reached his ears.

Show: The hard, flat reports of gunfire came as almost physical blows.


Tell: The wildflowers were pretty.

Show: The prairie was a carpet of color, nodding and swaying in the wind.


Tell: He smelled bacon when he walked into the café.

Show: The aroma of frying bacon wrapped him in comfortable memories of vacations and café breakfasts.


Tell: She heard the sound of birds in the trees.

Show: Birds flittered in the branches, and a mockingbird went through her repertoire of songs.


Tell: Bill was divorced.

Show: Bill’s fingers absently went to the pale skin on the fourth ring of his left hand, feeling was as strange as his empty bed.


“You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road.” —Richard Price

Show, don’t tell, allows the reader to experience the story through actions, words, subtext, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through your explanations and descriptions. If your character is afraid, let them feel his pounding heart, or the sharp pain in her stomach. A shortness of breath is terror, and the urge to flee is natural.

Pick out a couple of pages in your own WIP and clean them up as I get out of here. Don’t tell readers something is terrifying, like an impending deadline. Show them.

In The Air Around Us

When I finished my talk to a large civic group last month and took questions, a lady’s hand shot up. “Where do you get your ideas?”

I shrugged. “They’re everywhere. Willie Nelson once said that songs are just floating in the air and all we have to do was reach up and grab them. It’s the same for me when I’m writing. They come from nowhere, and everywhere.”

I’d been discussing my most recent upcoming release and a gentleman on the front row spoke up. “So did your idea for Hard Country come from the news or is it totally from your imagination?”

The question was one of those softballs I love. “It’s real, in a sense. A few years ago, we had a ranch in Oklahoma that should have been heaven, and it was in most cases, but our house was across a gravel road, three hundred yards from a ‘buy house’. Cars ran the roads at all hours of the day and night, coming and going to buy drugs.

“during the same period of time, meth-heads broke into our place more than once, kicking in the door and ransacking the house. I got pretty good at repairing door frames and locks, that did little good. Then they stole my brother-in-law’s truck and we learned that the first place the thieves drove it to that night was buy house to trade some of our stolen items for drugs. The law was little help, because more than one member of that small-town sheriff’s department were related to the dealers, so they tended to look the other way.

“It took an unconnected DPS officer to arrest one of the criminals before they launched an investigation. It did little good, and as far as I know, they were still selling drugs out of the old trailer house today. That idea eventually became the basis for the first Tucker Snow novel that will release August 1, 2023.”

Another hand. “So do you have any ideas for another book?”

“I have dozens, and some of them will never be written by me.”

“Name one.”

“Are you a writer looking for ideas?”

The audience laughed and the lady answered. “No, I just like to hear what writers are thinking.”

“When you’re talking to a thriller or mystery writer, they’re most likely thinking of interesting ways to kill you.” I paused for effect and she gave a nervous laugh that the others enjoyed. “But here’s one you might be interested in, because I believe my grandson has a paranormal connection some people won’t believe…”

And that gave me the idea for today’s post. Consider this proposal for your consideration.

My two-year-old grandson, Caden, piqued my interest in a possible book when he could barely talk. Sunday afternoons are usually pure chaos at our house as both daughters and their families come over to what we call here in Texas, supper. All five kids always want to get in the pool, and that’s where our story starts.

That weekend the Bride bought floats and several water toys, including a package of old-fashioned water guns. The older kids immediately filled them from the pool and commenced to spirting each other and any unwary adult who might wander past. I was one of the first victims, and in response, I took up arms and looked for a target, immediately ruling out the Bride.

Caden saw me and that’s when things got weird. This kid who only watched Bubble Guppies and Paw Patrol grabbed one of the water pistols and squeezed the trigger. His eyes lit up when the stream of water shot out, and the next thing I knew he held the plastic gun at High Ready, looking for a target.

He saw me and I swear this is true, advanced using sophisticated footwork, as if trained by a SWAT team. His form was perfect, and if you want to see an example, find any video of a trained soldier or law enforcement officer moving up in a dangerous situation. He was letter perfect and he shot me several times before ducking out of sight with his back against a wide support pillar under our huge patio cover.

The Bride saw him holding the pistol against his chest, still at High Ready, as I proceeded to find an angle on him. That twenty-four-month-old moved with me, keeping the column between us, then turned the corner to fire again before procceding, again, looking like he’d spent years in the military, or as a law enforcement officer.

Let me make this clear, this kid performed as a trained, seasoned warrior and at that age, had never seen anything like it on TV. Neither of his parents watched movies when the kids were up, because his dad works most nights and is interested in nothing but sports. Good or bad, that son-in-law who only had a vague notion of who John Wayne was, cared nothing for war or cop movies or series.

That wasn’t all. When we wrestled, Caden had moves. He never retreats, but attacks. If one of us played chase with him, he used one hand to slap things in our path to slow us down. If you’ve ever read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Lee describes his protagonist when he was a child. He could have been describing Caden.

When he was threer, he loved to play policeman, and wanted to put us in cuffs.

The Bride’s “office” became a jail.

That made us think he’d been on this earth before. I started thinking about reincarnation and remembered two well-researched events involving a boy and girl who are prime examples of this phenomenon.

James Leninger began to experience nightmares at the age of two. When his parents woke him up, they report he kept saying repeating the same story. “He developed a habit of saying “airplane crash on fire,” and slamming his toy planes nose first into the family’s coffee table. When they woke him from those bad dreams, he often shouted, “Little man can’t get out!” (Jim B. Tucker, M.D. University of Virginia.)

He repeated this behavior over and over, producing dozens of scratches and dents on the table and began to describe being an American pilot in WWII who was killed when his plane was shot down by the Japanese during the battle of Iwo Jima. He gave details that included the name of an American aircraft carrier, the Natoma, the first and last name of a friend who was on the ship with him, and a location and other specifics about the fatal crash, Somewhere around three years of age, he described how a Corsair plane reacted upon takeoff, always pulling to the left, and that particular war plane’s tires and tendencies for them wear out.

His parents eventually discovered a close correspondence between James’ statements and the death of a World War II pilot named Jack Larson. They eventually tracked Jack down and the veteran remembered Huston who was a pilot and friend. He described how Huston’s plane hit by Japanese gunfire and he saw the explosion when on the plane’s nose. Jack confirmed they both took off from the aircraft carrier Natoma, and saw Huston’s plane crash in the ocean, reporting that the nose was on fire.

Little James told his parents his last images from that past life was the sky covered by water, and his feet trying to kick the plane’s clear canopy open, and then nothing.

It gives me chills.

They released a book titled, Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation Of A World War II Fighter Pilot.

Here’s one of many interesting studies of their fascinating story: https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/wp-content/uploads/sites/360/2017/04/REI42-Tucker-James-LeiningerPIIS1550830716000331.pdf

And a detailed, well-researched article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1209795/Reincarnated-Our-son-World-War-II-pilot-come-life.html

The more I researched that youngster who is now an adult, it reminded me of another account I read way back when I was in college. It revolved around an Indian girl, Shanti Devi, who was born in 1926.

Not long after she learned to speak, Shanti told her parents about a past life in a town neither she nor her parents had ever been to. Small events reminded her of former memories in India, such as foods she enjoyed, or the clothes she used to wear.

As the years passed, Shanti remembered her name in a past life was Lugdi, and she died shortly after delivering a son in 1925. She even added details about labor pains and surgical procedures she endured. She described in detail the shops and streets in town, and though she refused to reveal her husband’s name, the youngster described a man with fair skin, a wart on his left cheek, and wore reading glasses.

At around age ten, an uncle decided to investigate her continuing and detailed claims about a past life in Mathura,75 miles away. Her story panned out, and the man she insisted was her husband existed. They took Shanti there, hiring a driver to follow her directions without question.

She led them directly to her former house. Devi’s father went in first, and in an effort to trip her up, had the man’s relative come forward, telling her it was her former husband. She said no, it was his her “husband’s” brother, but when Pandit Kedarnath Chaube came to the door, she threw her arms around him and wept, shocking everyone. She said he was her husband, and even identified others by name, including children and the child she says she delivered, and other familial relationships. Shani eventually became part of their family and died in 1987.

There are dozens of websites that discuss this story. Here’s one: https://allthatsinteresting.com/shanti-devi

Whether or not you believe these stories or not, or believe in reincarnation, the fact is they are great concepts that can lead to interesting books in hundreds of different ways.

Feel free to steal these ideas because I don’t need ‘em. They are flying in the air all around us.


The Big (or Little) Screen

Based on my experience, when a collection of writers gather around drinks or the figurative campfire talking about books, current projects, and other authors, the conversation eventually gets around to movies.

Last August, I briefly touched on movie deals in my discussion titled, Those Little (and Big) Disappointments. When I was a green as grass author, my first novel attracted enough attention for a producer to reach out and offer a movie deal. The production company wrapped up filming Winter’s Bone liked The Rock Hole, and called me direct to offer a movie deal. However, my starter agent (which I fired not long after that offer) started playing games with the company and they quickly threw up their hands and backed away from the project.

At that time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was for movie people to consider my work, and for that, I’m honored. Other writer friends have movie deals, have seen their works turned into movies, and even have television series. Like books, film is another form of entertainment and all of us who write would like to see our projects on the big, or little, screen. Some are lucky and occasionally, lightning strikes twice and they get both.

Good for them!

Other friends receive option money each year, and it’s significant in most cases. These books are in the chrylaslis process of evolving into screenplays, or are under discussion. As I watch these colleagues twist on the hook I’ve come to understand this part is tedious and frustrating to most of those involved.

As my old man said a thousand times, “Almost, but not quite.” He also said, “Well, dog my cats,” when he was perplexed or frustration, which I’ve used on occasion to my daughters’ consternation.

A few years ago I wrote the screenplay for The Rock Hole, and that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Distilling 90,000 to 100,000 words down into 120 formatted pages that are mostly dialogue almost made my head explode as I worked to preserve the tension, character arcs, sense of place, and relevant dialogue that made the book successful.

I read William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and it was fascinating. Full of advice and anecdotes, it helped me get over the hump of finishing my own project because it has the complete screenplay of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In addition, a friend gave me a copy of the Lonesome Dove script back in 1990, and I spent a considerable amount of time comparing what was included, and excluded, from the novel.

With those guides in place, I hammered out the screenplay, and finished with the understanding that if it ever reaches filming, it’ll likely have someone else’s name on it, but at least I can see the characters I created moving and talking (hopefully) as I see in my mind.

At this writing, The Rock Hole is under consideration of an indie producer and we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about the mechanics and funding for this future project. Am I excited. Nope. I don’t waste time on what if, but I continue to hope something will happen. Will it ever happen? I’m not holding my breath.

I ‘magine all authors would love to see their books on the screen. It would expand their exposure a thousand-fold and sell more books. But we can’t spend too much time on that possibility. We need to write instead and dream at night. It’s today’s project that requires the majority of our attention, not those finished titles on the shelf.

But good lord, be proud of them!

But back to writers’ conversations, we always express frustration that so many good books out there that could make excellent movies, yet Hollywood (an all inclusive term for movies filmed everywhere) continues to concentrate for the most part on superheroes.

Maybe it’s my bias against movies in which these characters just fight all the time, destroying cities and buildings, but not harming each other in any appreciable way. I’d like to see a bloody nose from time to time, at least, but I am of a certain age and grew up loving movies full of well-developed characters and believable plots. I doubt in my lifetime I’ll ever meet someone impervious to bullets, or can fly, or swing from spider webs, or ride on surfboards…

I don’t get it, but don’t get me wrong. I cut my teeth on comics and superheroes, and a few movies in that vein, but I’d dearly love to see original ideas.

I want great characters, interesting plots, and sweeping camerawork with inspiring music written specifically for the movie. Maybe like Last of the Mohicans, A River Runs Through It, Legends of the Fall, all based on books or novellas. Good lord, even thrillers like the original Indiana Jones movie, Alien (Aliens), Star Wars, or any others too numerous to list make me want to watch them over and over again.

But others pull me in again and again. Grosse Point Blank, because I just love that one. Tombstone, which might be an all-time favorite because it was one of the first movies the Bride and I ever saw on a postage-stamp-size screen in Arkansas, or Junior Bonner, which changed my life. They have something that hooks me every time, and this is the crux of our discussion over drinks. What is it that strikes a chord with us.

On the opposite side of the coin, Hollywood Reporter has an article I’ve pasted below that outlines the dangers of original content. Am I missing something here? When you’re hitching onto the train, maybe trying to recreate a series like Lord of the Rings (which of course was a novel) with another title including Rings, then you’re simply not getting it. Maybe if we had executives and producers who aren’t twelve-years-old, we might find adventurous souls who would like to branch out and produce movies with finite beginnings and endings, we might find something new.

Like 30 Days of Night. A vampire movie with an excellent twist.


What about you?

Why do you think authors are so interested in discussions as these when we get together?

Is it for the love of entertainment, or something else?

Or maybe we simply like quality movies and that’s all. Let’s talk about it at Bouchercon in San Diego. You’ll find me in the bar…



Nobody ever told me when I got into this writing business that I’d have to peel off time for social media. Honestly, back in 2011, I barely knew what that was.

Buy my book.

I recall one conversation with the guys I work with not long before my first novel came out. I made one of those declarations that came back to bite me. “I’ll never have one of those MyFace pages. I don’t intend to waste my time on it. And I don’t understand this tweeting thing. It makes no sense.”

Lesson learned. Never say never.

Social media still doesn’t make sense in many ways. It’s a time-suck that takes that wastes hours, and pulls us away from real life and what we should be doing. Like writing.

Buy my book.

But when I got my first contract, there was a paragraph insisting on a social media presence. So I got myself a Facebook personal page (I soon learned that My Space and Face  book were two different things) and an author page, and a Twitter profile.

I knew nothing about those platforms, and didn’t want to do it in the first place. (Buy my book) I’m still not sure what to do with social media, but I’m working on it. Years ago John Gilstrap and I attended a panel on using Twitter at some conference and picked up a few things. We downloaded an app and soon had about 20,000 “followers” each.

I’ve since learned about half were bots (which I still don’t understand), and suddenly found myself following people I didn’t know or care about.

The problem is that I’m an old guy playing with new technology. Young people are natives in this world of electronic relationships and I’m an immigrant lost in a mysterious world I don’t understand. It’s a wonder I haven’t triggered some nuclear device and melted down the entire internet, if not the world.

I wrote a book. Buy it.

Then one day I noticed that when I posted on Facebook with an accompanying photo, more people were interested. Hummm…so I made it a point to include some kind of image or art. That gained a few more followers, but nothing to write home about.

I still needed interaction. I talked to a few successful authors with substantial herds of “fans” hanging on their every posted idea and asked what they did to interest people.

Most shrugged. “I don’t know. I was interviewed on this blog and people started finding my page.”

“I post pictures of my dog (puppies, kittens, cat, fish, squirrel, monkey) and people got interested.”

“I tell people I wrote a book and to buy it, but I’m not getting far with it.”

“A writer friend suggested on their page that people should take a look at my page.”

“Beats me. Stephen King mentioned one of my books and now I have about a bazillion followers. You think that’s a coincidence?”

All this is as mind numbing as the first suggestion I ever heard from an editor on a panel at my first writers conference in 2011. “We’re through with vampires and the living dead. Those books as passe. Don’t send us anything else like that.”

I’m not sure any of us know what works in this writing world, only what works for us. It’s the same in utilizing social media.

In my case, it was my youngest daughter who helped me gain Facebook followers. I told her one day in the truck that the Bride nearly had a rigor when she saw a snake in the back yard, and young Meg frowned. “What does that mean?”

I had to explain that old-timey saying. “It’s a running fit.”

“What’s that?”

We disappeared down a rabbit hole, and I had to explain how the “old folks” talked when I was growing up. The old folks who were then younger than my current age.

I talked while my then-thirteen year old daughter pretended not to listen. “For example, when we say someone let the gate down, it means that traffic is heavy and it’s hard to get on the road. That comes from the old days when let the gate down on a pasture or a corral, and the cows ran out. It referred to those old floppy wire gates we had to drag out of the way and lay on the ground.”

She looked out the truck’s window as if I was driving Miss Daisy. Used to such adolescent behavior from my years as a teacher and dad, I continued to inform and annoy. “Or if someone had a “falling out,” it was a disagreement that usually resulted in the silent treatment at the worst, or little or no communication for a long period of time.

“Then there are words few people use these days. Like ‘hob’ which is a flat metal circle on top of an old wood burning stove. It’s where people would put the pans to cook and eventually became burners on gas and electric stoves. Then there’s the word ‘tote’ to carry something, or ‘dykes’ for wire cutters…”

She finally looked at me from the corners of her eyes to see if I was telling the truth, then went back to her examination of the passing landscape, or maybe silently asking the Lord why she was saddled with a daddy who droned on and on about nothing.

“Or ‘sashay’ or ‘mosey’ or phrases, like ‘well, dog my cats’ or ‘tuckered out.’”

“You’re still talking, aren’t you. And you’re breathing my air to do it.”

“Just explaining what I grew up with.”

“Why don’t you put those on your Facebook pages? I bet older people might be interested. It’s better than talking about your books all the time and asking people to buy them.”

With that backhanded slap and suggestion, I started posting Old Timey Words and Old Timey Phrases, which are likely the most popular posts I make.

As I said, I am no expert at this, but I can tell you one thing, if authors using any social platform post nothing but reviews and information about their books…

…Buy my books! Buy my book! I have a new book coming out. It’s a doozy. Buy my book! Here’s a link where you can buy my book…

…they’ll drive followers away in droves. Folks today want to be entertained (hence the photos that accompany my posts), and require fairly short posts so they can read them quickly and move on to the next and the next and the next.

Followers love to hear about your writing life, what you’re doing, or how you’re doing it. They seek advice on how to get published, but don’t want pages of info. Think sound bites. But they don’t want you to post every day about buying your books.

I also get a lot of comments on photos and discussions about my grand-critters. Followers love it when I share my oldest daughters’ life with her seven and nine-year-olds in Conversations on the Couch.

Daugther, addressing seven-year-old Parker: Did I hear you say you want to go to Ohio? Why?

Parker: Reasons

Or Conversations in the Car.

Daughter: What was Captain Hook’s name before Hook?

Nine-year-old Riley: Captain Hand.

Readers want to know about how you write, what makes you tick, your favorite movie/book/television program/author/actor or Life its ownself. You can mention your writing space, what you’re working on, what you’re reading, and on occasion, announce the release of your upcoming book, or reviews, or blurbs for said novel. Fans like to see covers, and read flap copy.

I heard a speaker estimate posts about life vs. books at 20 to 1. Personally, I think over 90% of my posts are things other than selling books.

Being on social platforms is like making soup. Throw in all the ingredients that personalize your own delicious creation, but don’t add too much of any one spice or ingredient. And don’t tell folks about it every time you boil up a pot (buy my book), because they’ll soon tire of it and drift on to other pages and platforms.

Post away!


To Speak Or Not To Speak

The title of my most popular talk is “My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters.” It’s as long or as short as I need it to be, depending on how much time they allow me to speak, but the framework is the same throughout.

I do a lot of public speaking, and travel across the Lone Star State to discuss books and writing. Listeners hear about my disastrous starter agent, issues with my first novel, and the loss of a movie deal.

The presentation begins when I’m ten years old, touches on adventures and misfortune in elementary school, high school, and jumps to the first time I was published in a newspaper and finally my first novel.

Sounds dull and lifeless here, but, and I hope this doesn’t come across as conceited, it’s fun, entertaining, and informative all the way through.

When I first started this writing thing, no one ever told me I’d have to stand in front of crowds ranging from twenty people to several hundred and entertain them. I thought we were supposed to just write a novel, get it out there on the shelves, maybe do a couple of signings, and lean back to rest until it was time to write another one.

But signings, panels, and book clubs, are required for high visibility. It’s part of the job.

It comes natural to me. Maybe because I taught school for ten years and then became the spokesperson for the (then) tenth largest school district in Texas. Every time I turned around I was on the television, radio, or being interviewed by usually suspicious newspaper reporters.

Talking to folks is a barrel of fun, and almost every time I finish a presentation, at least one person comes up to tell me they enjoyed what I had to say, and that I’m “one of the best speakers they’ve ever had.”

Yeah, it sounds pompous, I don’t mean it like that.

Maybe that comes from that abovementioned 35-year career in public education, where I endured hundreds of dry, boring speakers who left me wanting to stick a log in my eye for relief. Staff once hired guy to speak for three hours in the morning and another three in the afternoon.

By ten o’clock, my boss was cleaning out her purse on the front row. She fired him by eleven that morning and we improvised for the rest of the day.

The worst presenter is the individual who stands in front of a crowd and reads to the assemblage in a long, droning voice. But, here’s that oddity in nature, it worked for one of my college professors who walked into the classroom, opened a three-ring notebook full of pages in plastic sleeves, and read some of the most fascinating American history anecdotes, facts, and information I’ve ever heard. His mix of styles kept us fascinated all the way through, and it was one of the few classes I truly enjoyed.

That may be where I learned public speaking, because it sure wasn’t in another college course where I drew a D in Speech and was glad to get it. I’ve been told I’m a natural storyteller, and it might have come in part from the old men I listened to up at our country store, but also from a high school history teacher (history again, hummmm), who again blended fact and stories.

So when it’s time to step in front of a crowd, I want to entertain first, and then bring the information they’ve requested. Audiences hear personal experiences that relate to them and I usually manage to do that with humorous stories from my childhood that tie into their memories or experiences. That mix of old recollections usually makes them smile, and I have ‘em.

More than once I’ve heard, “Your story reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid. I’d forgotten until you said something. Thanks for reminding me of those/that wonderful time(s).”

Here are a few things I’ve learned through the years, and they might be useful to those of you who are just starting out, or who don’t really like to speak in public in the first place.

  • People want to laugh, but don’t try to be funny by telling jokes. Only do that if you’re really, really good at it. Wait, never mind. Don’t tell jokes, period.
  • Don’t talk at your audience. Don’t preach. A conversational approach to storytelling and teaching is the best. Again, draw on your own experiences to make it more personal to the audience.
  • Make eye contact. Don’t forget to look front, left and right. Find that person who’s engaged and talk to him or her, then find someone who out there with a blank look on their face and speak to them, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. (Lordy, I remember a guy on one Bouchercon panel who leaned back in his chair to expound one some subject, tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and talked for a good five minutes to the ceiling. Gilstrap and I wanted to flee the scene and find a bar, and would have if I hadn’t been on that panel and sitting right beside the guy. Gilstrap got the giggles while I had to maintain at least a little composure.)
  • Which brings me to speaking on panels. Years ago I was on another five-person panel seated on chairs above a crowd of about two hundred. Our discussion went well until the moderator asked the gentlemen on my left to talk himself and thrillers. He rose and stepped to the edge of the stage leaving an empty seat between myself and Texas author David Wilkinson, cleared his throat, opened the book he was hawking, and read to excess. I mean it. He read for days. And as usual, the mischievous kid in me awoke after a while and I leaned across the empty seat and introduced myself to David. We shook as if we were sitting at a livestock auction, and talked among ourselves and to the other panelists while the author droned on to what felt like the end of his novel.
  • Be energetic. For the love of God, be energetic!
  • But don’t talk too fast. I was watching one of my favorite movies the other day, A River Runs Through It, and listened carefully to Robert Redford’s cadence. It was slow, but not plodding, and his inflections kept my attention, making it feel like he was talking to me.
  • Don’t dump volumes of information on your audience. They’ll retain little of it unless they’re born note takers. I usually get them to laughing, throw in a bit of important writing info, and then slide into another story or something they can relate to, and then back to technique before another story that usually occurs to me on the spot.
  • If you’re inexperienced, start out talking to book clubs. They’ll be forgiving, then polish your “act” in front of local civic organizations and clubs who are always looking for speakers. But remember, small groups are sometimes hard to engage. I’ve found that the larger the group, the more fun we all have.
  • I avoid power points. I don’t use technology. It defeats me. Simply visiting with the audience as if we’re sitting in a living room makes it easier and I don’t have to lug around a heavy thumb drive, hoping someone has the equipment to project the image from a laptop.

There are thousands of pages of information out there on public speaking. You can join Toastmasters or some such club or organization that teaches the steps and techniques to stand before a crowd, but it might not be for you.

If not, outline your program, then practice in front of a mirror until it comes smooth and effortless.

Sounds simple, don’t it?

Practice, practice, then practice some more. It’ll pay off in the long run.

For example, last month in front of large group of Dallas writers, I realized I’d spoken to them before. Something different was necessary to avoid picks and torches as they stormed the lectern, so I tried something different. I began my presentation near the end, but realized the whole structure was built on earlier parts that were linear in construction, so the next thing I knew, I found myself doing the entire presentation backwards, and it worked!

They all remembered I’d been there eight years earlier, but more than one attendee said they loved the presentation because it was chock full of writing advice…and I was best speaker they’ve had in years.

But it was the same talk, and I wondered as I left, if I’d just competed with myself.

Who knows, but at least they were entertained, and learned something about writing, and that’s why I was there.

Gads, how pretentious this all sounds, but it’s the only way I know to get this point across. I apologize for my perceived arrogance and hope this helps you in front of a room full of strangers who want to learn and be entertained at the same time.

Scratching the Surface

I have a new desk!

Well, truthfully it’s not new. The person who gave it to me said it was built around 1926, June 7 of that year according to a part stamp, and used by one of the most prestigious attorneys in Paris, Texas. It weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a buffalo, and cost me not a dime.

I already had a desk, because that’s an essential part of being a writer. Thinking back, my first “desk” was a dented gray typewriter table that held a portable Smith Corona typing machine, and half a ream of paper on the left fold out wing, and two or three typed and oft-corrected pages on the right one that were the result of an hours’ worth of work.

That was back when I worked in a public library after high school and junior college, and had to set it up when I got home after class each time I wanted to be creative. Wish I’d kept those horrible pages. Back then it was hard to tear myself away from the books I was reading in order to write, and when I was struggling to come up with just the right words, I wished I was reading.

My next desk was made from cinderblocks and a piece of three-quarter plywood that sat in a corner of my first apartment. Only marginally larger than the typing table, it also served as a impromptu bar during parties. I hate to say it, but that was the best use for it at the time.

From there I built an oak rolltop that worked better as a hand-writing surface. The nostalgic appearance of those classic old pieces of furniture is worth more than the desks themselves, which seems to collect a truck load of assorted detritus that never seemed to belong to me. It barely worked with the old manual typewriter, and my first 286 computer looked ridiculous perched on the narrow surface in front of tiny drawers and cubbyholes.

But in my mind, authors wrote at impressive desks and therefore, I needed the proper accoutrements. The search continued.

The Bride and I married in 1998, and set up housekeeping with mostly hand-me-down furniture. I still had my parents’ tiny wooden Sears and Roebuck kitchen table. I sanded it down, refinished the wood, and reupholstered the seat cushions. Finished, it looked like a dining room afterthought in my little office, but it served the purpose. I wrote my first novel there, alternately typing and staring out the window and onto our front yard.

The next three books were birthed on the same piece of antique furniture Mom and Dad bought in 1950. Our close friends Mike and Keri Miller must have gotten tired of looking at the table every time they came over, because Mike gave me his old desk when he bought a new one. Made somewhere around 2000, it was so heavy I was afraid I’d have to add a new pier to support the slab.

More books were created on that desk with a finish so easily scarred one of my grandkids marked it forever with her fingernails when she was pretending to be a dragon. I kept it though, because it was a serviceable work surface and by then I didn’t care what it looked like.

Fast forward to this year when my hunting buddy and inspiration for the Tucker Snow series (the first, Hard Country, releases August 3, 2023), Constable Rick Easterwood (Ret), almost begged me to take an antique desk his wife, Kim, had procured and refinished. To put it simply, the huge desk took up over half of his garage and he wanted it gone.

Stephen King talks about desks, both large and small, necessary and unnecessary, in his book, On Writing. I took his story to heart and never aspired to have a fancy piece of writing furniture. But when I went over to see the desk Rick called about, I decided I wanted it.

So I have a massive, antique piece of furniture the grandcritters call the Spider Desk, because the wood grain on one end looks exactly like a spider.

So does it help me writer better? Nope. I’ve written in my recliner, lying in bed, and on the console in my pickup. Once on a deer hunt, it was so cold I couldn’t stay in the woods. I started my truck’s engine and when the thermostat opened and glorious heat poured through the vents, I sat in the back seat with my legs protruding between the driver and passenger seats, resting them on that same console and wrote with a fury, holding the computer in my lap.

The new desk speaks to me. It’s a serviceable conversation piece that I write on, and I love the stinkin’ thing. I finished the second Tucker Snow, Achilles’ Heel, on The Spider.

Furniture isn’t important. The bookshelves, the desks, and whatever computer or writing device you use are simply additional instruments that help you unlock your imagination and get a novel on paper.

In my opinion, it isn’t the desk or its placement in the house or room that counts. It’s the fact that you have to put your rear in a seat somewhere, turn off the television and stuff that infernal device we call a phone deep down into a well somewhere and get to work.

Should I make that clearer? Turn the phone off, get away from social media, and show up for work on whatever surface works for you.

With that said, do you have a precious piece of furniture to write on, and do you feel it’s essential to your creative process?

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.

Those Many Books

My good friends, bestselling authors Michael and Kathleen Gear, recently posted a photo on Twitter of their 32,000-volume home library. At the time of this writing on February 1, it was trending to the tune of 4.1 million views and thousands of retweets.

Sparked by people’s fascination with such a massive personal library, comments came fast and furious, to the point that digital fistfights broke out and trolls attacked the couple for a variety of bizarre reasons including, “why do you have so many that you can’t possibly read all of them?”

I’ll answer that one for the Gears. “Because they wanted them.”

But thousands were envious and climbed upon their own ramparts of books to repel the attacks and support the couple and their collection.

I’m a reader and collector as well. We moved into our new house four years ago and I contracted with a master cabinetmaker to build bookcases in my office. The polished cherry built-ins reach twelve feet high, wrap around two walls, and the builder constructed a ladder and rail system to reach the upper shelves. He said it was the tallest cabinetry he’d ever designed to hold the weight of so many books.

It is a dream library, though I fall far short of the Gear’s 32,000 mark. Conservatively, I’d estimate my book collection might reach upwards of 5,000, mostly hardback volumes. Lacking enough shelf space even now, some are still packed away in an old quilt box built by my great granddaddy. They’re also scattered throughout the house on bookshelves, barrister bookcases, on other shelves and cabinets.

And yes, I’ve read them all except for those on my TBR stack. I’ve even written a few that are properly alphabetized, that take up almost an entire shelf.

The first paperback books that started my first adult collection came from a married couple, Don and Sally, who lived around the corner when I was in high school. Of course I had a library card, and I’d like to think I was one of the most prolific readers who ever checked books out of the Pleasant Grove Public Library, but I wanted my own.

Don loved westerns and gave me my first Louis L’Amour novels. He bought them for a few cents off a rack at the Rexall, read them, and passed them on to me, after Sally first made sure there wasn’t anything in them that high schoolers shouldn’t read.

But for high school boys, hope springs eternal to find some of those words and scenes Sally worried about. In my case, however, they didn’t show up in anything that came from that generous couple. I had to read The Dirty Dozen (1965) to finally see the “F” word in print, the word “whore” in Drums Along the Mohawk, (1936) and the mild sex scenes in Harold Robbins’ novels (1960s and 70s), that made me go “humm.”

Today there’s a huge push here in the Lone Star State to remove such books from school library shelves, and that kind of book burning nonsense is starting to worry me, because books have been a source of information and entertainment since I was a little critter. Honestly, I don’t need low-level politicians tell me or anyone else what to read.

My first real salaried position was working as a page in the Dallas Casa View Branch library, and shelving books was the best job I ever had. Reporting for work after school, then college, was never tedious, and at least once a week I told myself that someday I’d have my own personal library. Many of those books with bad words in them.

I’ve collected ever since, and prefer physical books over eBooks. For a while there, as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and a host of other mom and pop outlets closed their doors to the behemoth Barnes and Noble, I thought bookstores might be a thing of the past.

When B&N bulldozed whole sections in their stores and filled them with big empty tables holding a few tablets, the end seemed inevitable. Physical books might be going the way of the dinosaurs. Good lord, my personal library might be a museum piece before long.

But now stores are coming back, and the market has steadied between eReaders and books. Now the Twitter comments on the Gear library make me wonder. Why is that people can’t believe some of us have our own libraries. And why not? Amazon will sometimes deliver them right to your door only hours after you order them.

It pleases me to look up at the books I’ve collected for the past fifty-plus years. No, I won’t read most of them again, but the familiar titles and covers are my security blanket full of memories filled with the pleasant recollections of the stories between those covers.

There are collections by Robert Ruark, Donald Westlake, William C. Anderson, Douglas Jones, Edward Abbey, and Bill Bryson that I’ve gone back and re-read. Other authors who’ve become friends are there, as well as a collection of first editions by the King himself. I still read his old stuff now and then.

I have books by Owen West, Brian Coffey and Leigh Nicols that make me grin, for those are the early pen names of Mr. Dean Koontz.

Other single titles have sustained me through the years when things looked to be spinning out of control. Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis by Howell Raines was a gift from the Bride who knows all things. My Health is Better in November, by Havilah Babcock and anything by Mr. Gene Hill were there when things became bleak.

I still go back and read The Old Man and the Boy by Robert C. Ruark. Talk about comfort food (books) for the soul.

This personal library is a close friends= my kids will have to deal with when the Bride and I are gone, but with one daughter who is a high school librarian, and another who understands personal belongings that are important to us, they’ll know what to do.

So with that said, here are some questions for the hive mind.

Why the big hubbub about the Gear’s personal library?

How big is your personal library?

Are there authors whose works have been instrumental to your personal career or well-being?

And finally, which authors were the foundations of your own writing or reading world?

So with that, happy reading!



Larry Bozka died of cancer on January 5, at 4:30.

I know the time, because I’d checked my phone at that exact moment, waiting for an electrician who was keeping me from going to my deer stand.

Outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, and fishermen in Texas knew about Boz, because he was an outstanding photojournalist with credits in countless outdoor publications, Past President of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association, former editor of Texas Fish and Game Magazine, and the author of Larry Bozka’s Saltwater Strategies, before launching into a long list of successful photographic and video endeavors too numerous to list here.

Boz gave me a chance, way back in 1992. I’d reached out to him via snail mail to see if he was interested in allowing me to write for a pulp outdoor newsletter I can’t name today. It was a statewide publication and I thought it would give me the opportunity to get my name out there, since I was working hard to expand my self-syndicated newspaper column.

He called long distance from Houston a few days after getting my packet, and hired me on the spot to write for him. We talked for an hour on the phone that day, on his dime, and from the moment I heard his voice, we were friends.

Taking a pretty much unknown writer under his wing, he gave me the opportunity to expand my imagination. I wrote humor for his paper, and we spent hours in the field, planning our next adventure, story ideas, and where we wanted to be twenty years from then.

From there Boz moved over to become editor of Texas Fish and Game, and brought me along, giving me the opportunity to write whatever I want. He was a gentle editor, who taught me much.

Then we lost our minds and took figurative shots at everything we could think of in an insane satirical publication called the National Fish Rapper. He was encouraging to a budding author, always there when I had a question or thought. He was a mentor, editor, friend, and never knew what he did for me.

Hang in here with me as this meandering trail brings me to my days as a middle school photography teacher. This was the late 1970s and early 80s, a time full of great rock and roll, parachute pants on the boys, Calvin Klein jeans and long bangs on the girls, and a troubled kid named Mark B.

Back then I had a reputation as a hard teacher who was a disciplinarian, and one who taught a fun class at the same time. Because of that, a number of floundering students appeared in my room who needed whatever it was that I could offer.

Mark was one of them. He’d been kicked out of most of his classes at one time or another and was no stranger to expulsion. Tougher than boot leather, he was always in trouble and tended to fight other guys at the drop of a hat. With a squad of toadies following behind, he cut quite a swath through the school.

I didn’t put up with much back then, and he and I butted heads almost on a daily basis. Once night he broke into the school, kicked through walls to access the principal’s office. I won’t go into details about what he left in the principal’s desk drawer, but suffice it to say that everything in there had to be thrown away.

Finding success and satisfaction in breaking through sheetrock that night, he turned his attention to my classroom. The hole in my wall reminded me of the Road Runner or Coyote punching through billboards. He tore the room apart to teach me a lesson.

For his enthusiasm, he wound up being expelled for the remainder of the year, and I never heard another word about Mark.

Four or five years ago the Bride and I went to Billy Bob’s dance hall in Ft. Worth to see Mark Chesnutt. I met the country music star through Boz (wait for the connection…) and we became friends. Mark loves to fish, and so do I, so the three of us had a great time in Rockport, Texas, sharing the outdoors and creating stories that should never be told.

At Billy Bob’s that night I sent word backstage to Mark, telling him I was there and would like to come back and visit with him before the show. I got a note ten minutes later to come through a specific stage door.

Note in hand, the Bride and I went backstage and were stopped in a dark hallway by a big deputy sheriff who looked at the note, then down at me.

“You aren’t going back there right now.”

I looked up at the bear-sized lawman. “This note came from Mark himself. Here’s his handwriting.”

“Nope. You’re not going in there.”

Face flushing with anger, I looked at the Bride for support. For once she didn’t have any answer except for a raised eyebrow, so I turned to the big guy. “I’m not sure what I’ve done to offend you, but we’d just like to go back and visit with my friend.”

“Mr. Wortham, you and I have something to talk about first.”

I paused. “Do I know you?”

“You did, Mr. Wortham. I’m Mark B.”

My eyes widened in shock.

The big guy grinned. “Thought I was in the pen, didn’t you?”

“Frankly, yes. But you’re a deputy sheriff. How….?”

“Because of you, and the principal. I was out of control when I was a kid, but you two talked to me, and listened, and y’all stayed on me. You encouraged me in class, and it stuck, though I didn’t know it at the time.

“All that kicked in a few years later when I got in trouble again. It wasn’t pretty, but the judge sealed my records and I straightened up. If it wasn’t for y’all, I’d be in prison, but you helped turn me around.”

Then he hugged me, and I disappeared as that big guy wrapped his arms around me. I had only one thing to say.

“Don’t hurt me.”

He pushed me back and grinned. “I just want to thank you for taking the time to work with me.”

We talked for a few more minutes before he allowed us backstage, which is another story that evolved that night.

Part of my point is that Boz introduced me to Chesnutt, who in a roundabout way allowed me to talk with Mark B., a success story I would have never know about.

The second point is that we don’t know what impact we have on others. One student in my photography class eventually became the Chief Photographer for Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, who has a connection with…Larry Bozka.

Boz’s passing leads me to this observation. We don’t know what future impact a kind word, or a kind act can have on someone. Giving a writer positive feedback might be all they need to continue trying to make it. Honest critiques can make all the difference. Maybe nothing but a sincere, encouraging word is all we need to offer.

I’ll always hear his encouraging voice that was supportive and full of life and humor. Helping and encouraging freshmen writers was always part of his mission, and it should be ours as published authors, too.

It was because of Larry Bozka, and others who believed in me, that I’ve achieved success as a newspaper columnist, magazine writer and monthly columnist still for Texas Fish and Game, and an author 15 novels and counting.

He was one of a kind, and readers everywhere will miss that twinkle in his eyes and his distinctive writing voice. We

I lift my glass to Boz. Another fine writer and friend gone.