Monday, September 15, 2014

Scene of the Crime with Reavis Z. Wortham!

Have you ever met an author for the first time and just known that you were going to love his books? That's what happened when I met Reavis Z. Wortham at The Poisoned Pen one evening in August. I went home, read the first of his Red River mysteries, The Rock Hole, added it to my Best Reads of the year list, and emailed him about the interview I'd mentioned that evening at the bookstore. Now you get to learn more about this author, too, and I certainly hope you're intrigued enough to pick up one of his books and read it. This man knows how to write!

Reavis Wortham
I haven't done one of these interviews in a while, but I'm sure some of you remember the drill. I've been scouring the internet looking for websites and social media so that you can learn more about this author and connect with him. It took me longer than usual because I kept reading through his tweets and Facebook posts. "Old Timey Words," S&H green stamps, tape recorders... Well, take a look for yourself!

Now let's get to the fun part of this whole shebang-- the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?  

The first title I can recall was Smokey, The Cowhorse, by Will James, but that isn’t the one that sparked me to write. I was that born reader, a kid with no interest in anything but books. In the first grade, back in 1960, Mrs. Latimer read to us from the Dick and Jane books, sparking an interest in reading that still burns hot today. I don’t remember the titles of those, but through my elementary years, I was the only student in my school who was allowed to check out two books at a time. On Saturdays, a bookmobile came to within a block of the house and I always came home with no less than seven more books stacked on the handlebars of my bike. So to finally get around to your specific question, the first one I remember reading…and loving…was The Two-Ton Albatross by William C. Anderson. This humorous, fictionalized account of a real family hit me like no other book before. It was part travel, part true life, and written as a comical autobiography. It had everything I wanted in a book at that time, and I absorbed it like a sponge. After that, I re-read it at least once a year until I was in my twenties. I still read it every couple of years, and enjoy it each time. That one book started me on a course toward an architectural degree, a specific type of house that I still want to own, travel, and a career as a writer. It helped define my writing style, and I still periodically refer to it…. and yep, it’s about time to read The Albatross again.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

At any time, I have three or four books going in various places throughout the house. They are stacked on my desk, beside the bed, and beside my recliner. When they’re finished, they go on the shelves of my extensive and growing library.

I’m also a serial home renovator. We built our house in 1998, and I have remodeled, renovated, and/or repainted every single room since that time. We began upgrading the master bathroom, and I’ll revisit it again within the month. There isn’t one square inch of this house I haven’t touched in some way, including the back yard which has become our tropical oasis in this growing city of Frisco, Texas. It was a sleepy farming town when we moved here, and today it’s the fastest growing city of its size in the nation. Sigh. We love to travel, also. I’ve been to every state in the union, Mexico, and have traveled much of Canada. I met my wife in 1990 and we married in 1998, so we’re now trying to revisit all those places I’d visited before then. We travel by truck (yep, I’m from Texas) for relatively short distances (meaning when we’re on a time limit, we consider a 20-hour drive as short), or when the distance is too great, we fly. I love to visit this nation’s great natural wonders, and am a huge fan of history. We love the outdoors. I hunt, fish, canoe, backpack, and of course read to excess.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
That depends on what we define as my home town. As noted on my website, we lived in Dallas, but each weekend, holiday, and during much of our summer vacation from school, we traveled the 120 miles to my grandparents’ farm in the tiny rural community of Chicota, Texas (renamed Center Springs in my Red River series). There you might want to visit the Rock Hole, the local swimming hole on Sander’s Creek. It became the setting and title for my first book. That would lead us to visit all the locations described in the novels, because they exist and are almost exactly as described. Though things have changed since the setting of The Rock Hole in 1964, there is a lot to see. I can even point out the Red River sandbars, the mean honky-tonks across the river in Oklahoma, the location of the Cotton Exchange in Burrows (which was really the now-defunct Speas Vinegar Plant), the angel in a cowboy hat grave marker in Paris, the Bob Swaim hardware store that still sells mule harness and other near-forgotten items, the Eiffel Tower in our town, and any number of other sights that I’ve visited in the series.

If you’re interested in Dallas, or Frisco, then I’ll have to make the local chambers mad and tell you there isn’t much that you won’t find in guidebooks. Nothing much interests me here except for the 6th Floor Museum. How about the original Preston cattle trail that is now a six lane highway only half a mile from my house? It’s a centuries-old road first established by Indians, then it became a road created by the Republic of Texas in 1841 to link Preston, Texas on the Red River, south to Austin, Texas. Then it became a cattle trail that came to be known as the Texas Road and later as the Shawnee Trail. If the weather is right, we can drive a short distance north to the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge to watch clouds of geese come in ahead of our Texas blue northers.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

I can see Sam Shepard or Ed Harris. Either of those fine actors will bring their energy and interpretation to the project, but lord knows, there probably won’t be enough action or interest for a movie. 

Now, if you really want to talk characters and actors, How about Robert Duvall to play my main protagonist, Ned Parker? Huh, huh!!!???

[Sounds excellent to me, but by the time Hollywood grinds its way to any sort of decision, he'll probably be celebrating his 100th birthday....]

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

John Dortmunder, the hangdog criminal in Donald E. Westlake’s quirky crime novels. This likable but pessimistic and hard-luck professional thief leads an ensemble cast of characters who are seldom successful in their endeavors, though they are always entertaining. I’ve collected Westlake’s books for years, and the Dortmunders are the best. In a recent review by BookList, my latest novel, Vengeance is Mine, was compared to two of my favorite Westlake books. What a great honor!
Booklist Starred Review: "Mob enforcer Anthony Agrioli’s latest assignment is to rub out some Cuban casino owners in Las Vegas—and their young children. He takes care of the adults without trouble but has some problems killing the kids. He takes it on the lam, beating it out of Vegas before his boss can track him down, but not before hooking up with a beautiful blonde (who will turn out to be a handful of a different sort than he had hoped). Hiding out in Center Springs, Texas, Anthony soon finds out this seemingly peaceful town is like a beacon for violence and corruption, most of which has nothing directly to do with him, but all of which soon ensnares him. This very entertaining novel, set in 1967, is reminiscent of Donald E. Westlake’s Mob comedies The Fugitive Pigeon (1965) and The Busy Body (1966), which, like this book, feature offbeat characters getting themselves into offbeat situations—although this book also has a more serious side, too. Those who have read the author’s earlier books, including The Right Side of Wrong (2013), will be familiar with Center Springs and its rather unusual denizens, but knowledge of those earlier volumes is not required. This is a fully self-contained story, and it’s a real corker."

If you could have in your possession one signed first edition of any book in the world, which book would that be? Why that particular book? 

 It would have to be The Old Man and the Boy by Robert C. Ruark. I neglected to mention his work in a previous question because I wanted to address it here. This book had a significant impact on my life, and should be read by anyone with an interest in the outdoors. I recommend it to all my friends whose children like to read. Written in 1957, it is the captivating story about the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather, but it goes much deeper. Ruark’s style is absorbing, and the stories ring true to any boy who loved to be outside the four walls of his home. This novel led me to read and eventually collect first editions of all his works. He was a bestselling author in the 1950s and 60s, and for me, all his works are captivating.

 But why this particular book? Like Ruark, I was was a loner. His conversational writing allowed an underweight, asthmatic kid the opportunity to enjoy his chosen sports. The novel also taught manners and respect. He was a mentor in absentia, and an inspiration for a budding writer. The Old Man and The Boy eventually launched my career as a columnist, and ultimately my current position of Humor Editor in Texas Fish and Game Magazine. If not for Ruark, I might never have found my writing “voice” that defines my columns and magazine articles, and ultimately the Red River series.  If I had my way, this intellectual sportsman named Robert Ruark would be required reading for students of the literary arts.

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

My bride found out before I did. She was checking our emails when word came through that The Rock Hole would be published. When I came home from work, she told me the computer was messed up and asked if I could read the error message that popped up. When I sat down and saw the email instead of a problem, I was at first stunned, then thrilled.  I hugged her and we celebrated by popping the cork on a bottle of champagne and drinking it out beside the pool.

When I saw The Rock Hole on the shelf, not far from books by Donald E. Westlake, I felt that I’d finally arrived. I simply stood there and grinned like an idiot.

Name one thing on your Bucket List.

To see Bestselling Author on the cover of my newest books. I think I’ll get there. The next check mark will be one beside the words: New York Times Bestselling Author.

You've just received a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice. Which bookstore are you making a bee-line for?

That would be Half-Price Books in the Dallas area. I know, authors don’t make money from resale in used bookshops, but that’s where I discovered C.J. Box, Lee Child, James Magnusen, Annie Proux, Mark Sullivan, Texas authors Jeff Long and Joe Lansdale, and James Rollins. 

Once I read these authors, some now friends, I purchased their other works and look forward to their new books, which I pick up as soon as they are released.

An extremely reliable source tells you that a thinly disguised you is a character in a book that's currently high up on the New York Times Bestseller List. What kind of character do you think you are? 

I’ll have to answer it like this. I created a character named Tom Bell in my third novel, The Right Side of Wrong. My family says I wrote myself as a tough old 80-something cowboy who does what’s right, no matter what the situation. I would hope that’s what another author would see in my personality and use in their works, though I’m not sure I need to be that old (I’m 60). There is no black and white in this world, and we should always do what’s right…period.

Available Now!

It's been an absolute pleasure getting to know you a little better during this interview, Reavis, and I know my readers feel the same way.  Thank you so much for spending this time with us!

May your book sales do nothing but increase... and may we see "New York Times Bestselling Author" on your book covers soon!

(If you haven't done so, please take a few moments to read my review of The Rock Hole, the first Red River mystery by Reavis Z. Wortham. Thanks!)


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