The Craft of Writing — March 2023
I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month is special because we welcome Reavis Wortham, an award-winning author of Westerns!
Reavis’s books in The Red River Series and The Sonny Hawke Series have received many accolades, including starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal. Kirkus also listed his first novel, The Rock Hole as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.”
To celebrate our first Western series on the Craft of Writing blog, we’re going to do something fun: The name of each person who enters a comment today will be put into a drawing to win an ebook copy of The Rock Hole, the first book in Wortham’s Red River Series. I will post the name of the winner after 9 o’clock pm CDT tonight. Be sure to check back tonight to see if you won, and please make sure I have your email address for the drawing.
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Award-winning western author Reavis Wortham on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet
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Welcome, Reavis Wortham, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!
What was your first published book, and why did you decide to write it?
My first novel was The Rock Hole, which released in 2011. It was listed as a Starred Review and one of the Top Twelve Mystery Novels of that year by Kirkus Reviews.
Like most authors, I’ve always wanted to write, and while talking with my wife, Shana, I mentioned that a lot of history was fading away as the old folks passed on. I wanted to preserve and record a way of life that was fast disappearing in the early 1960s, and the changing world that came at the end of the decade.
The Rock Hole is based on my grandfather who was both a farmer and constable in a tiny rural community located up on the Red River in Northeast Texas. I grew up hearing stories of his work in law enforcement, and wanted to relate a tale I’d heard.
I had no idea my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press (now Sourcebooks), would like that standalone novel so much. They offered me a series, requiring me to rewrite the ending because I’d killed everyone off. That cast of characters has continued through nine books, ending with the most recent that released in January of 2022, The Texas Job, which is a prequel and takes place back in 1932.
Can you tell us a little about each of the series you’ve written?
As I said, the Red River series is set in the 1960s. These historical mysteries began with 1964, with The Rock Hole, and follows the Parker family. We see life in that decade through the eyes of ten-year-old Top Parker and his near-twin female cousin, Pepper. Cody Parker and his girlfriend (then wife) Norma Fay provide a second view, representing a couple in their twenties and younger residents. Constable Ned Parker and his full-blood Choctaw wife are the elders of the clan who survived the Great Depression and WWII. They see the world from experience. Finally, Deputy John Washington serves the African-American residents of Chisum, Texas, and brings in a different viewpoint of life in that time period.
My second contemporary series featuring Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke is published by Kensington. Set in the Big Bend region of Texas, these high octane thrillers also utilize family as a foundation upon which everything rests. It features Ranger Hawke, who is the officer we all want to know, but he’s impetuous and not the greatest shot in the world. He often walks in that gray area between absolute right and wrong, but always acts in the best interest of the law and those innocent people around him.
Backed up by civilians and ex-military vets Yolanda Rodriguez and Perry Hale, he always finds himself drawn into situations we see each night on the news. Beginning with Hawke’s Prey in which the tiny West Texas town of Ballard is taken over by terrorists, it continues through a total of four books, two of which won Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America Association, Hawke’s War and Hawke’s Target.
How do you keep a series fresh after readers become familiar with the stories?
Each day of life is fresh, and often dictated by events out of our hands. I put my characters into play dealing with whatever is thrown at them, much like real life, and we watch their reactions to these situations.
Readers like to watch characters evolve, and those in my books grow with each novel. Unlike some authors who write similar human characteristics from one title to another, those people I’ve created have the same fallibilities as real people, including fears, concerns, ailments and faults. They face these, as well as the plot that drives them forward.
For example, in the Red River series, Top and Pepper grow older with each book, and experience all the trials and tribulations that adolescence and puberty throws at them. They move through each grade level in school, and endure all the same things we recall that happened to us, or those in school.
In the Sonny Hawke novels, he’s a tough-as-nails Ranger who can deal with all the horrors of the job, but at one point his emotions swell and he has a brief collapse when he runs over a cat in his truck. He’s as human as I can make him, and his relationship with his wife, kids, and community drives the story, keeping it all crisp and exciting.
How do you handle the situation where a reader jumps into the middle of a series without reading the first book or two?
Each of my novels are standalone, though the ensemble cast of characters remain essentially the same, except for the bad guys. I quickly bring readers up to speed with only a few references from earlier books. It’s my hope that when they finish a title, they are driven by the need to know the characters even more, and as my late father-in-law said, “I look forward to each book, because they’ve become family and I want to know what’s happening them.”
Then they, hopefully, go back and read the earlier books, but it’s not necessary.
Do you have plans for future books in either of your series?
My contract for the Red River series is ongoing, so I work on them all the time. I’ve started the tenth in the series, but have no title as of yet.
The Sonny Hawke books ended with the fourth novel, Hawke’s Fury. At this time there are no further books in the works, but that could change.
A new series from Kensington begins in May of 2024, with the first Cap Whitlatch novel, The Journey South. I’ve always wanted to write pure westerns, and this one fills the bill. It begins in the Oklahoma territories when Whitlatch sells a herd of horses to a crooked Missouri lawyer. On the way back to Texas, he arrives in a small town and finds his boyhood friend facing a lynch mob. To save Gil, Cap agrees to take the prisoner back to Texas for trial. Renegade Comanches, a trio of murderous Cherokee brothers bent on revenge, and two outlaws intent on robbing Whitlatch of the gold in his saddlebags bring a sense of the old west to these pages.
This story about honor, right, and wrong is in the can, and I’m working on the second novel that as yet doesn’t have a title.
What advice would you give an author who’s considering writing a series?
Create a multidimensional cast of characters that readers value and can relate to.
Look at each novel as a standalone and don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of what’s to come. When they were growing up, I told my daughters to approach such tasks the same way you would eat an elephant. You do it by taking one bite at a time, and not looking at the massive beast itself.
They still roll their eyes at that one.
In addition to your successful series, you have a new book, Hard Country. Can you tell us a little about that one?
And that brings us to still another new series from Sourcebooks. Hard Country is the first novel in the Tucker Snow series, featuring a contemporary cattle inspector. These guys and gals are an offshoot of the Texas Rangers and have the power to enforce rural law in both Oklahoma and Texas. They investigate rural crimes for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), and go after cattle rustlers, thieves, and any online crime that has to do with farming and ranching.
Tucker Snow is as tough as they come, hardened by decades working as an undercover narcotics agent for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Through special dispensation from the governor, he and his brother Harley cut a wide swath through the criminal element of Northeast Texas. But tragedy comes calling after taking a dream job as a special ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, when Tucker’s wife and toddler are killed in a horrific traffic accident caused by a drug addled felon. Close to breaking, Tucker sets his badge aside to move his surviving teenage daughter outside of Ganther Bluff, a quiet town with enough room for them to mourn their unexpected loss.
But peace doesn’t last long for a man like Snow. Instead of settling into small-town life to heal from such an unimaginable loss, a fresh kind of hell hits them with full force.
Crimes and secrets strangle this rural community, and when a new form of meth with the street name of gravel gets too close to home, it’s enough for Tucker to put his badge back on and call Harley for help. The town will ultimately be better off with him as a resident lawman, but this unforgiving landscape will threaten everything Tucker holds dear.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Please visit my website at www.reaviszwortham.com.
Lots of folks follow my Reavis Wortham Facebook page where I post nearly every day about life, family, fun, entertainment, history, books, and never politics.
Thank you, Reavis, for being with us today.Award-winning western author Reavis Wortham on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet
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Spur Award winner Reavis Z. Wortham retired in 2011 and now works harder than before as the author of the critically acclaimed Red River historical mystery series. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel, The Rock Hole, as one of their Top 12 Mysteries of 2011. True West Magazine included Dark Places as one of 2015’s Top 12 Modern Westerns. The Providence Journal writes, “This year’s Unraveled is a hidden gem of a book that reads like Craig Johnson’s Longmire on steroids.” Wortham’s new high octane contemporary western series from Kensington Publishing featuring Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke kicked off in 2017 with the publication of Hawke’s Prey. The fourth Sonny Hawke thriller, Hawke’s Fury, was published in June 2020. In 2019, the Western Writers Association presented Hawke’s War with the Spur Award in the WWA Best Mass Market Paperback category
Interesting. I like how Reavis tells of incorporating real life and the day-to-day troubles of people into absorbing stories. Westerns have always been a favorite of mine, and I look forward to reading Reavis’ spellbinding series. Thank you for this wonderful blog post. I will definitely check out his books.
Good morning, Michael!
I’m reading The Rock Hole now, and I like the way Rev presents the characters. They come across as real to me.
Don’t forget to check back tonight after 9:00pm CDT when I’ll post the name of the winner of Rev’s book.
Good morning, Michael. I think all stories can be westerns, in some sense. All we need to do is pick away everything that isn’t the west, and there we are. Some sculptors say you start with a block of marble and chip away what isn’t the statue you want, and that’s the way I operate when creating my books. I hope you enjoy my work!
Thanks, Kay and Rev. I always enjoy Rev’s raconteuring over at The Kill Zone, too. As a fan of Louis L’Amour, I look forward to your upcoming “pure Western” series.
Good morning, Debbie! You and I are both familiar with Rev’s storytelling skills on the Kill Zone blog. It’s been nice to get an idea of his overall work, and I like his advice: “Create a multidimensional cast of characters that readers value and can relate to.” You have certainly done that with your Tawny Lindholm thriller series!
Thanks Debbie and Kay! I try to build worlds with real characters that have a story to tell. It’s as if I take on that persona when I’m writing and those “people” relate everything through me. I get so deep into the books that I sometimes have trouble returning to the real world and feel groggy and slightly disoriented for a half hour or so when I quit for the day. Hope you enjoy the Tucker Snow contemporary series, and the Cap Whitlatch traditional westerns!
Thanks, Kay and Rev. This was a very interesting post. It’s good to hear the background to the different series. I always enjoy your posts at TKZ, Rev. And, Like Debbie, I look forward to your Western Series. I am impressed how you are able write so many books and keep all the characters in the correct books.
Good morning, Steve! I am also impressed that Rev has so many books out. There are a lot of characters to keep straight.
It’s easy for me to keep track of the characters and storylines. I tell folks it’s like when you watch your favorite TV shows. You remember the characters and plot lines from week to week, and that’s how I operate. Hope y’all enjoy my work!
Great interview, and fab advice from Wortham!
Good morning, Priscilla. Thanks for stopping by.
Yes, we can learn a lot from Rev’s experience and success.
Thanks so much, Priscilla. Hope my experiences help. Feel free to reach out at any time!
Congratulations, Reavis, on an outstanding writing career, and Kay, for another great interview!
I haven’t read many western novels, but my brother Joe feasts on them — especially the ones Louis L’Amour wrote. His collection wasn’t complete until a local library sold off most of theirs, and I picked up most of them for Joe.
So, my questions are: do you collect western novels (beyond your own)? and where does L’Amour rank in your opinion?
Howdy, Frank! Like your brother, I’ve always been a fan of westerns, because some of the earliest novels I read as a child are what started me on this path. Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James and all the Cowboy Sam westerns by Edna Walker Chandler led me to Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, and Clay Fisher. I’m a huge L’Amour fan and own all his westerns. He’s number one for continuity and great stories. But there are others. The Buchanan series by Jonas Ward, Brian Garfield and the Terry C. Johnson are only a few others that still reside on my shelves. People always ask about Zane Gray, and even though my middle name is Zane (mom loved his books), I simply can’t get through them.
Then there are contemporary westerns that I love. Books by Larry McMurtry who was and still is a significant influence on my work, (my upcoming Cap Whitlatch traditional western that releases August 2 of this year, Heading South has tones and flavors from Lonesome Dove), C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, and relative newcomer James Wade come to mind first, though there are others. If you want to start your western experience, I’d recommend either Lonesome Dove or Zeke and Ned, both by McMurtry.
Thanks for weighing in!
Suspicions about the ‘Z’ confirmed. What else could a middle initial ‘Z’ stand for, but Zane? We once stayed at the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel overlooking Avalon. I’ve probably read more of the works of “Luke Short,” (Frederick Dilley Glidden) than Zane Grey, though.
This was great! I’m reading The Rock Hole now…
Honored! I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know. I always value any kind of feedback.
I’m also reading The Rock Hole now. We’ll have to compare notes.
I live in New Mexico and my husband is a huge fan of Westerns, so I have become a fan through him. Your books sound interesting and I will definitely check them out!
Please do! If you like historical mystery westerns, then the Red River series is for you.
If you prefer contemporary westerns, try my Sonny Hawke books.
And if you want traditional westerns, you’ll have to wait for the Cap Whitlatch series to begin this August 2.
“…he has a brief collapse when he runs over a cat in his truck.”
I applaud this unique form of a “save the cat moment,” an in-depth look at the character that speaks of previous losses.
Thanks so much! The rule in writing is never to kill animals, but all my books are based on rural life, and that isn’t easy on anything that lives and breathes. It all relates to characters, though, and provides a realistic look at life. That’s what I try to provide.
AND THE WINNER IS:
Here’s how I randomly determined the winner of Rev’s book “The Rock Hole.” I listed all the folks who commented (minus my husband) in the order they appeared:
1. Michael Emmert
2. Debbie Burke
3. Steve Hooley
4. Priscilla Bettis
5. Patricia Bradley
Then I used an online Random Integer Generator to pick an integer from 1 to 7. It came back with “4,” so Priscilla Bettis is our winner.
Congratulations, Priscilla! You’ll receive an email from Amazon with your ebook copy of “The Rock Hole.”
And thanks to Reavis for being my guest and to everyone who visited the blog today. Hope to see you next month!