Epitaph

My friend, editor, and fellow writer, Don Zaidle, is gone. He was only 55 years old

He called me a few years ago to talk about this end we’ll all face. “I  think you understand me more than most people. When my time has come, I want you to talk about memories, heritage, and what it means to be Don.”

“You feeling bad?” I asked.

“Yep, and the time will come soon, so you be ready. Are you taking notes?”

“Uh, no.”

“Start. I don’t want to have to repeat myself. So on the morning of March 25, 2009, I took notes on a Texas Outdoor Writers Association notepad.

I met Don back in 1993, at a TOWA conference, and we became instant friends. He attended the sessions that year in Rockport, wearing snake boots, blousy safari pants, a canvas shirt, a weather-beaten, and a black eye patch.

He was lying in bed as we talked. “Rev, tell ‘em I never wished for anything but for full being, and good.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that life has been good to me, and I think I’ve honored the privilege of Life. I’ve experienced things that most men only read about, but they came to me natural. I had a great time as a kid. I’ve trained dogs, worked in emergency services, raised a good family, and written words that other people want to read.

“Tell them that when I was six or seven, I was outside when one of those big Texas storms rolled in. It was black, powerful, and full of lighting. I stood outside in it as that cloud passed over the land. It slapped me with wind that almost knocked me over, and I took my shirt off and let the rain lash my ski, and I shouted into the wind to take me if it could.

“Rev, it was invigorating to a kid, and I haven’t felt anything like it since, though I’ve looked for it in everything I’ve ever done.” He laughed weakly. “One time I even dove nekked off a bass boat during a thunderstorm to try and find that feeling again. But it didn’t work.”

“That’s a disturbing image, Don.”

“Forget I said it then. I’ve been shot, snake bit, bitten by attack dogs, and severely injured my hip, but I always rebounded. But my wife’s stroke was almost insurmountable.”

He often called me after her devastating stroke, and we never hug up in less than an hour.

“I worked hard to make an enduring mark. I always wanted more than a headstone. I wanted books and words to remain behind, so my descendants would know me. I wanted to leave something behind that people can pull off a bookshelf in fifty years, and read.”

Published by Safari Press, American Man-Killers came out in 1997.

“I always admired Ruark, Babcock, and Corey Ford. Their books are still out there, and I’m constantly re-reading their outdoor stories, and look how long they’ve been gone. As long as people speak of the dead, they’re alive.”

“This sounds like a eulogy,” I said.

“That’s what I’m talking about. I wanted my thoughts to be in the hands of someone I trust. It’s kind of spooky how much we think alike, you and I.”

“You’re putting a lot of faith in me.”

“You understand me, Rev. You and I were born at ta time we could grab a fishing rod, or gun, and head off into the woods and fields only to return at dusk to find the old folks waiting to hear what we’d been doing. They didn’t worry about kids running around alone all day.

“We’ve stepped off the porch and hunted quail in the surrounding pastures. We’ve shot dove in sight of the house. We were taught honor, respect and discipline, and it made us the men we are today. I want you to write my words, because you know more about me than most, because we’re brothers.

“Here’s what I think is going to happen when I’m gone. I think I’m going to that wonderful place, by whatever name it’s called, and when I get there I’ll find those who went on before.

“Some of the old folks will be stalwart, and they’ll gather to hug my neck, and I’ll hear quiet ‘I love yous’ and then I’ll get to look around that glorious place and see what was promised.”

Then he told me what to write next, and made me promise to put it down exactly as he dictated over the phone that blustery March day.

“But Don, I wrote something similar years ago about one of my uncles who passed. I got some danged interesting hate mail from folks that said Heaven isn’t the way I described it.”

“I don’t care, and they don’t know. It’s what I want to say, and I’ll be gone. It won’t matter to me.” He gave a congested chuckled. “You’ll be the one who’ll have to suffer the consequences.”

“You’ve always been a cranky, cantankerous old curmudgeon, you know that?”

“Yes. Now, here it is. One of those things I’m really looking forward to is when I’ll touch the hem of the Man’s garment, then whistle up the dogs I loved, and we’ll go hunt birds with Corey Ford and Robert Ruark, and shoot in the shadow of God.”

Don passed last Saturday, October 12, 2013, and I believe he did just that. This outdoor world is going to miss the voice of that bewhiskered gentleman. I only wish this article could have done him justice, because there was so much more to Don Zaidle then I could write in 1000 words.

As I looked through my notes from that day with teary eyes, I pulled my copy of American Man-Killers from the shelf and read the inscription he wrote to me. It’s perfect Don in every way, and something I’ll always cherish. “To Reavis, who, despite not knowing how to pronounce his own name, is one of the finest writers I know. All my best, Don Z. TOWA, 2001.”

He also gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received when I wrote a Father’s Day article on his request for Texas Fish and Game Magazine. Five minutes after he  read the article on my dad, Don sent this to me. “Damn, son! ’nuff said.”

Oh, he wanted me to tell you one more thing that he was proud of. “I never wished hurt for anybody.”

You couldn’t ask for a better epitaph.

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My gues blog for The Campaign for the American Reader, Writer’s Read

So I’m guilty of Blog Neglect. But there’s a reason. I’m lazy.

To make up, here’s a link to a guest blog (I know, the cobbler’s shoes) but you might like to see what’s new in the world of fiction.

http://whatarewritersreading.blogspot.com/2013/06/reavis-z-wortham.html

Don’t forget. The Right Side of Wrong, book 3 in the Red River mystery series will be released July 2, 2013. Pre-order yours now.

 

 

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This Word is Like, Amazing

Of course we all have much to complain about, and truthfully, there is little to complain about. It’s human nature. Some people will complain about today’s blog, and others will be infuriated to the point of grading the following essay. Grade away.

The idea for this little diatribe came from a recent HGTV program. A lady planned a move to Charlston, S.C., because she liked the old  town’s charm. Her complaint? She absolutely HATED the horse-drawn carriages found on virtually every street in the city. So my suggestion to the unresponsive television was for her to go elsewhere. Then the horses wouldn’t bother her.

I wish I had the same option for my biggest pet peeve, but I simply can’t get away from one simple word: amazing.

Have you noticed the word’s proliferation? I think it has replaced, “like.”

“Well, we like went to the store and like there was no place to park and so I like said to my wife, ‘Jeeze, like there’s no place to like park,’ and she looked at me like, ‘What did you expect on a Saturday,’ but like, I haven’t gotten out to shop on a Saturday in like, years.”

So what is the problem with like, amazing?

The word has been so overused that it no longer has any meaning.

Here’s the definition for “amazing” from my antique, 1972, actual hardback Webster’s Dictionary. I really looked it up. Amaze is defined as “bewilder, perplex, to fill with wonder, to show or cause astonishment.”

So, when you went out to dinner with your well-dressed significant other, did they look amazing? Yes, “look amazing” is incorrect grammar (and I hear it ALL the time), but was this person bewildering? Did they fill you with wonder? Were you astonished or perplexed?

Today everything is amazing. The weather, your dog, your dog peeing outside, this new product, that new hairdo, a person in general, are all amazing. Truly? Today I make my living with words, and I have never used this one in a novel. I never pronounce it, either.

The worst offenders are television personalities and newscasters. When they’re off the script, everything is amazing.

The point is that “amazing” is so overused that it no longer has any meaning. There’s an old saying that people who cuss a lot, simply don’t possess the language skills to express themselves. I think it’s true about the “a” word. It is so overused that individuals no longer even think of the true meaning, if they ever knew it at all. Today, “amazing” is “like.”

Media people especially, please, please, open your dictionary and educate yourselves with another word. There are myriad words to replace this dead and overused adjective.

Take note of how many times you hear this in the next few days, and it will amaze you. You might even be astonished.

It’s like, amazing, isn’t it?

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An Interview With The Characters Of The Red River Mystery Series

The tiny Lamar County farmhouse buzzed with voice as many residents of Center Springs, Texas, arrived for our first interview with the characters of the Red River Mystery series. Those to be interviewed gathered around the table, while spectators listened from the living room, or through the kitchen’s screen door.

Moderator: Thank you all for coming, and for helping get this first interview off the ground. I’m sure there will be more in the future as our readers send in suggestions. Let’s start with the first question for Constable Ned Parker. What do you think of these books that have detailed your life, and the lives of your family and friends?

Ned: (Rubs his bald head) I believe the man writing these has no business in digging up so many bones. What’s done is done, and I don’t see no reason to talk about it any more.

Miss Becky: Now Ned, you can’t go back and change it, so why not let him tell his story.”

Ned: Because what happened at the Rock Hole ought not be brought back up…

Moderator: Well, let’s not go there today. Mr. Ned, you’ve been constable since the War. How have things changed as far as your job is concerned?

Ned: They got worse. Sure, folks made whiskey when I was younger, but around here it was small-time stuff. I’d bust a still, or pick someone up for being drunk, or break up a family argument, but there wasn’t no meanness like there is now. These days folks don’t just fight, they try to kill one another. Or somebody dies, and while the family is at the funeral, some sorry son-of-a-bitch kicks in the door and steals their valuables. It just ain’t right. And I’m worried about what it’s going to be like for my grandchildren. Think about what might happen by the year two thousand.

Modertor: Mr. O.C. Rains has been judge for a long time. Judge, you and Ned have a special relationship.

O.C.: Yep, we’ve been running together since we were knee-high to a grasshopper. Ned is the best constable in the county, with Cody there running second, because he’s newer. Ned is fair, but don’t get in his way. There isn’t much retreat in that old boy. Now that fellow sitting beside him is Sheriff’s Deputy John Washington. John is a legend in this town, as was his daddy, One-Armed George. Though George was an unofficial deputy when John was a boy, he served his people down there across the tracks well. John, he accepts responsibility for a number of things, and is a good friend to the Parker clan.

John: Yessir. I believe we’re family, and that’s something in this day and time. These Parkers, they don’t see color too much. Aw, you know everybody knows if your colored, or an Indian, or Chinese and such, but the Parkers, they see past most differences. They see into your soul, and if you’re a good person, then they’ll make a place at the dinner table for you, and that’s a good place to be, ‘cause Miss Becky’s fried chicken is the best in the county. Like I said, they’s family, and I’ll do anything for them.

Moderator: John, you all just returned from an incident in Mexico where you had to make some hard decisions. Some people might say that you and Mr. Ned crossed more than a border between countries. You crossed a moral lie.

John: Well, it ain’t my story to tell, but since you asked me direct, I’ll answer. Mr. Cody there needed our help, and the folks he was up against we hard men, but they were crooked. Me’n Mr. Ned won’t abide a crooked lawman, so we did what we had to do. What we did wasn’t right, nor wrong. It just was.

Moderator: That book was named by the author’s wife, but we’ll hear from him in a little while. With us here are the twelve-year-old Parker grandchildren who seem to be more twins than cousins. Top, Pepper, do y’all  have anything to say?

Pepper: I dam…sure do. A lot that’s written about me makes me look like I get in trouble all the time. But I can’t help it. I’m a tomboy and like to do more stuff than play with dolls, in fact, I haven’t owned a doll since I was three. I really don’t mean to say the things that come out of my mouth. They just do.

Top: We have fun. Pepper is my best friend, and I won’t say nothin’ against her, but she likes to see how much she can get away with. That’s all right with me, most of the time, but not when it gets me a whippin’. It seems like we get in the middle of whatever is going on at the time. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed at home instead.

Moderator: Cody Parker, you came home from Vietnam and it wasn’t long before you owned a honkey tonk across the river in Oklahoma, and became constable yourself. We won’t talk in great detail about what happened down by the Rock Hole, but tell us a little about the whirlwind of events that has shaped this family in recent years

Cody: I’m not sure what you mean about the Rock Hole. (He smiles and winks) I needed an income, so I used my savings to buy The Sportsman Lounge. Not long after that, The Skinner started killing people, and when that case was solved, Ned decided to retire, so I ran for constable and got the job. Not much more to it, really.

Moderator: Let me ask in a different way. There has been a lot going on in Center Springs these last three or four years.

Ned: Yep, and that’s what I’m-a tellin’ you. Things have gone from bad to worse. It seems like we’ve been finding bodies everywhere in this county. Out in the woods, buried by a whiskey still, strung up in barns, and hung over fences. Not too long ago we found a feller sittin’ in his truck with half his head blowed off down in the bottoms. I’m getting’ too old for this kind of nonsense.

Moderator: Cody, you just got out of some trouble down in Mexico, didn’t you?

Cody: Well, that’s what John was talking about. I can’t say much about that, because all that story comes out in July when a book called THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG is released, but the truth is, there’s a lot of drugs coming up out of Mexico, and it needs to be stopped, so that’s why I went down there.

Ike Reader: Listen, listen. These men here have done a lot for us here in Center Springs. Without them, there’d be drunks barreling down the roads, murderers loafing at the store, and clowns everywhere. You know, I’m afraid of them clowns who work for the circus and spend their winters just right across the river there in Oklahoma. You don’t have any idy what they’re thinking behind all that makeup they wear on their faces.

Moderator: Folks, that was Isaac Reader, one of the farmers who live here in Center Springs. Ike, what’s your take on the way things are going around here these days.

Ike: (Glances around the table) I don’t have much more to say, because it’d probably get me in trouble. Listen, we all carry guns now, because you know, the laws ain’t gonna get there in time to stop whatever meanness somebody wants to do. They show up later and try to figure everything out, so we gotta protect ourselves as best we can. These lawmen here do a fine job, though. I won’t take that away from ‘em.

Moderator: I have a list of questions submitted by those who’ve read the first two books of the Red River mystery series, THE ROCK HOLE and BURROWS. I’ll throw them out and anyone can feel free to answer. Let’s begin with the first one. Are these stories real?

Author: I guess I’ll have to field that one, and the answer is yes and no. The history and geography are real, and some of the stories are based on the truth. It’s just hard to separate everything out.

Moderator: Does Pepper really talk that ugly?

Pepper: (glancing at Miss Becky) Only when adults aren’t around.

Moderator: (Still reading) What are the kid’s favorite subjects in school, and what do you want to be when you grow up?

Top: I like English the best. I like to read and my favorite authors are Fred Gipson and Keith Roberson who writes the Henry Reed books. I want to be a lawman some day, but I haven’t decided if it’s as a police officer, a highway patrol, or a Texas Ranger. I’m leaning toward the Rangers right now.

Pepper: I hate school, but I get pretty good marks in this new math they’ve started. I don’t know what I want to do, but I may be a rock and roll singer. I think I sound like Janis Joplin.

Moderator: All right. Miss Becky, why don’t you get the things you need for the house? It took forever to get a washing machine, but you don’t have a dryer and still hang clothes on the line. There are water spigots under the counter, not on top, and you don’t even have a sink in here.

Miss Becky: I get what I need when I need it. I have the sun to dry my clothes, and the water’s right there in the house. When the good Lord is ready for me to get anything else, then I’ll get it.

Moderator: In the first two books, both Cody and Top seem to have a second sense that has been called the Parker Curse. You all dream of things to come, but never have everything you need to predict the future. How many others have this gift of second sight?

Ned: Top has it the strongest, but Cody feels things too. The truth is, and I don’t want to talk about it too much right now, I had it the most when I was young, when me and Miss Becky first got married. (Ned pauses, seemingly at a loss for words).

Miss Becky: Let me try. We haven’t talked about this since the Bad Time in the early thirties, when the Depression was on. Ned and one of his brothers had the Sight, and Ned had something else. He had the curse, or gift, of helping folks to the other side, to die in peace when it was their time. He’d hold them and make it easier to pass, and that about got him convicted…

Ned: …of murder, and that about killed me. We need to stop with this story now, and maybe y’all can read it when Rev over there can finally write about it. I know it’s still hard for him to do it right now, because he still feels it as strong as I did back then, because he’s one of us and has the Sight. He’s like us, though, and even though he dreams, he can’t explain it until after something happens. It’s frustrating, so let’s go to the next question.

Moderator: Some readers of this series are concerned with the number of dogs that are killed. Some have asked how would fans feel if Hootie dies?

Ned: That’s the dumbest question I’ve ever heard. How’d you think we’d feel? Hootie’s a good dog, but we’d feel bad for a while and then go on. Dogs die in the country all the time. I think people spend too much time putting human feelings on ‘em myself.

Moderator: Cody, what are you doing to deal with your mental problems from Vietnam?

Cody: I have Norma Faye, and we talk.

Miss Becky: And he has Jesus. He’s going to church with me now, though I haven’t seen anything written about it yet.

Moderator: What do you think about the war itself?

Cody: I think war is always a last resort, but it’s like a fight. If one starts, you fight to win, and you fight as hard as you can until it’s over. The thing to remember is that there aren’t any rules. You crush the enemy by whatever means necessary. They don’t seem to be doing that right now, and a lot more people are going to get hurt before it’s over. Here’s one more thing I think, you can’t win against a war of resistance, and you can’t win against religion without destroying those people in any way you can. It ain’t pretty, but it’s war, and I don’t think we’re doing what’s right in Vietnam.

Moderator: All right, this one is difficult, but I have to ask. Norma Faye, some people have called you a floozy. How do you feel about that?

Norma Faye: I don’t care what people think. Cody and I knew we were supposed to be together when we first met. The only problem was my marriage to Calvin Williams. He was mean, abusive, and didn’t care about me. We were going to divorce anyway, so Cody didn’t have anything to do with that relationship. We’re completely happy, so if being a floozy means I married the man I was truly in love with, then I’m a floozy.

Cody: I’ve heard her called a home wrecker, but I wasn’t married, so they don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe I’m the floozy.

Miss Becky: Norma Faye is a good woman. She was just in a bad place then, but she and Cody are happy.

Moderator: Miss Becky, do you wish Ned would grace the doors of your church more?

Miss Becky: He gets there when he can. Sometimes I turn around and see him sitting in the last pew beside the door, where he can leave in a hurry if someone calls him. I go to church a lot, but I don’t believe that you have to be there every time the doors open to talk to the Lord. This whole world is our church, so we can talk to him anywhere.

Moderator: We haven’t heard from Miss Sweet yet. Miss Ma’am, you’re a twin, a healer, and John Washington’s aunt. How many babies have you delivered?

Miss Sweet: Oh, lawdy. I couldn’t even begin to count, but I’ve helped right smart of the colored population, and a good helpin’ of white folks too. It ain’t about color, though, it’s about doing the Lord’s work. I doctor them that need it, and I’m glad to do it.

Moderator: Is there anyone else in your family with healing skills?

Miss Sweet: No, honey, jus’ me, but y’all was talkin’ ‘bout the Parker curse a little bit ago, and I was there when Ned was helpin’ them folks to heaven, and I don’t think there was anything wrong with what he did then, nor now. The Lord gives us a gift, and we need to use it.

Moderator: John, do you think you’ll marry that lady you met a few months ago.

John: (Ducks his head) Well, I don’t know about marrying. We’ll see what happens when it happens, but we’re getting along just fine, and she’s a good woman.

Moderator: All right, we need to wrap this up, so let’s talk more about this book titled THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG. Who wants to start?

O.C. Rains: Let me start, since much of this next one is personal to this family. Cody was ambushed in a snowstorm, and almost killed. During his investigation with Ned, they discovered a drug connection here in Chisum, originating in Mexico. It almost gets Cody killed, and Ned too, but they find out who’s running the operation, but that doesn’t come completely out until the fourth book, if I’m not mistaken.

Moderator: Rev, what are you calling the fourth book?

Author: I have half a dozen names right now, but none of them have gelled yet. It could be NEITHER RIGHT NOR WRONG, ANOTHER SIDE OF WRONG, or A CROOKED ROW. Either way, you’ll find this one much more complicated, but with the original flavor of THE ROCK HOLE, or so I hope, but with more than one subplots. The third one, THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG, is at the publishers now like they’ve already said, and you’ll see many of the same characters when it comes out in July. It’s more of a mystery thriller. I hope y’all like it.

Moderator: Well that wraps it up for this interview and I’d like to thank you all for coming. We’ll be back again soon. Now, Miss Becky, can I have a piece of that coconut cake?

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Virtual Blog

Thanks for tuning in. The following is my part of the Virtual Blog Hop, that has been skipping across the web for the past several months. I’m pretty bad about neglecting this blog page, and this little exercise forces me to keep it active. I’ll try to do better, but this exercise with its pre-designated questions will give you an idea about my next project.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)? The Red River Mystery, is The Right Side of Wrong. I can write the books, but can’t usually come up with appropriate titles. One night while I was brainstorming with the family, everyone started to compete for titles. My wife, Shana, had the winning entry for Book III.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book? The Right Side of Wrong picks up where Burrows left off, catching up with the Parker family in the spring of 1966. I wrote The Rock Hole, book one, to recapture a fading past. The rural communities of my youth are disappearing, along with the way of life these folks lived, their morals, and especially, their speech patterns. I wanted to preserve the memories I have of those more innocent days, so novel took place at that time, based on a statement my maternal grandfather said on a number of occasions. “Some people just need killing.” The last time he said that came after a conversation we had not long before he died, in which I asked him about a case he’d worked on when I was a kid.

Burrows came about when my editors at Poisoned Pen Press said The Rock Hole wasn’t a stand-alone novel. They wanted a series, and had me completely re-write the ending, because I killed everyone off in the original manuscript. It was obvious the second book had to pick up immediately after the first, and they’ll progress through the years. I’ve seen that progression work, especially with books by C.J. Box. I wanted to see how the kids would deal with the incidents they suffered, and the first third of the Burrows follows the family’s struggles to return to normalcy.

A third of the way through the manuscript, I found my characters moving toward an abandoned funeral home that was packed with refuse. That’s when I remembered an unpublished short story I’d written back in the early 1980s. I located it on an ancient floppy disk, dusted it off, and slipped it into the computer. At first I was appalled at the style and quality of writing, but I realized the story about hoarding now tapped into the current Zeitgeist. The second part of Burrows deals with the horrors of mental illness, and that was based on a newspaper story I’d read a decade earlier about the Collyer Brothers in New York City who died in their family brownstone that was packed with garbage…again, hoarding.

Then, with upcoming The Right Side of Wrong, I brought to life a novel based on my original characters, and again, a magazine article about a used-car salesman that crossed into Mexico back in the 1970s to rescue his friend from a Mexican jail. I remembered the story incorrectly, but the bones were there. Here’s an interesting sidebar. Just last weekend, I was having supper with my good friend Jan Reid, well-known Texas author and contributing editor for Texas Monthly. Over beers, he, my wife Shana, and I meandered through a trail of stories and story ideas until he asked about the origins of The Right Side of Wrong. I told Jan the story as I remembered it, and how I’d been searching for years for the article to refresh my memory. He laughed, and said he’d written it, back in the late 1970s. Talk about a small world! Jan told the story, not how I’d remembered over the course of 35 years, and said it wasn’t as exciting, or bloody, as The Right Side of Wrong. This is really a small and interesting world. But the exciting part is the nucleus of the book is about normal people doing abnormal things.

I love it.

3: What genre does your book come under? Interestingly, The Rock Hole was pure historical mystery, Burrows was a historical mystery thriller, and The Right Side of Wrong is mostly a historical thriller with a light seasoning of mystery.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I was asked that question by the folks at The Campaign for the American Reader when The Rock Hole came out. The main characters are still the same in The Right Side of Wrong. The only thing I might change is the lead character for Ned Parker. I think Robert Duval is perfect for the role. The late Michael Clarke Dugan would have made a perfect John Washington, and I’m sorry for his loss.

The ten-year-old boy and girl cousins, Top and Pepper, are wide open to interpretation. The kids in my book trailer for The Rock Hole were local children who did a great job. They should be played by up and coming youngsters who can shoulder the characteristics of sickly, but adventurous Top, and precocious, foul-mouthed Pepper.

Colin Egglesfield, cold be a good Cody, the half-Choctaw Vietnam veteran who has just returned home. His chiseled features already tell the story of a man who is tormented by what he saw in the jungles just before the war truly exploded for the American people.

My youngest daughter votes for comedian Ron White to take the role of the old East Texas judge O.C. Rains. He has the hair, and the Texas accent necessary to invoke the soft-hearted curmudgeon very easily.

Tantoo Cardinal is the perfect Miss Becky, wife of constable Ned Parker. She is of mixed Native American and European descent and true to the nature of the book. She has a wonderfully careworn face that will haunt the audience and show the true spirit of a full blood Choctaw farm wife who wants nothing more than to keep her family safe, and to serve her savior.

 For details, you can find the entire discussion here at http://mybookthemovie.blogspot.com/2011/06/reavis-z-worthams-rock-hole.html

 5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? In the spring of 1966, Constable Ned Parker is trying to connect a string of seemingly unrelated murders in the small community of Center Springs, Texas, when his nephew Cody Parker tracks their main suspect into Mexico and Ned realizes he’ll have to cross over to the Right Side of Wrong to save him.

 6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? The Red River mystery series is published by Poisoned Pen Press, one of the most well-respect mystery publishers i7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? n the country.

This book developed quickly, beginning in December of 2011. I finished the draft in March, after writing 10,000 words in one day during a marathon dash toward the finish line. I haven’t matched that output since then, but let me remind you, that was10,000 unpolished words that were the framework of the novel. There has been extensive rewriting since then. I’m not Mickey Spillane. They said he wrote straight through without rewrites. Not me, brother, they call me the Rewrite Kid (not really, but it works there).

 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? My books have been compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, which is one of my favorite novels. It has also been compared to the works of Joe Lansdale, specifically The Edge of Dark Water. I think the readers of C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels will like them as well.

 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book? As I said, this one came about as the next installment in the series, and was inspired by a magazine article. All the books in this series come from stories that continue to rattle around in my head. The original inspiration was based on something my grandmother used to say. “We’re from up on the river.” I used that sentence to break me loose one night while I was on deadline. My high school English teacher used to tell us that in order to get started on an assigned paper was to “just put a few word on the paper and more will come.” She was right.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The Right Side of Wrong is a story of the end of Camelot. Times were changing in the early part of the late 1960s, from how people lived their lives, to politics, civil rights, the beginnings of the Free Love and hippie movement, and the appearance of drugs (marijuana) as moonshine began to lose its appeal. In these pages, you’ll find three different generations trying to find their way through the back end of the 1960s as rock and roll music plays on in the background and a mysterious old man (one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created) watches from the shadows and shapes their future.

 (That is not a good sentence, but I’m under deadline and don’t have time to rewrite it, so I guess I’ll have to give up on The Rewrite Kid.)

It is also a tale of good people trying to do what’s right, even though some people might say their efforts are wrong, and it shows that no matter what language some folks speak, or the color of their skin, we are all the same at heart.

Thanks to all of you who have read The Rock Hole and Burrows, and for taking a chance on a new writer. There are thousands of books published every month, and it is an honor to be chosen by you. Let me know what you think of The Right Side of Wrong when it is released this July, 2013. I’m working on book four right now, and there is a surprise in the future for fans of my work.

Thanks for author Sandra Brannan at http://www.sandrabrannan.com for tagging me for this post. Two other authors are right behind me, Charlotte Dixon Rains at http://www.wordstrumpet.com. He blog will post next Wednesday, January 30, and Annette Dashofy at http://annettedashofy.com will post on her blog on Wednesday, February, 6. Check them out. You’ll like what they produce. And as usual I want to thank my good friend John Gilstrap, http://www.johngilstrap.com who shook his head a year ago and with a sad look, took me under his wing and said, “Do it this way.” You were right, John, and still are. I owe you another scotch.

From Frisco, Texas, thanks, and I hope to see you soon.

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Christmas Presents

This story first appeared in Texas Fish and Game Magazine way back in 2001. Hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas, y’all!

            “This is stupid,” Doc complained.  Three days before Christmas it was raining outside and we were all crowded inside the trailer at the deer lease.  

            His statement hurt Delbert P. Axelrod’s feelings.  Secret Santas had been his idea, and we were involved simply because no one had the energy to tell him no. Excited, he’d drawn our names from a hat and assigned us a Secret Target.

            Then we were committed to finding a gift for the person. We brought the wrapped packages to the lease for the exchange on the final night of the annual Christmas hunt.

            “I didn’t want to do this anyway,” Doc complained. “This is the kind of thing that women like to do and it somehow becomes a tradition and then we’re locked into it for the rest of our lives. I want to come down here to hunt, tell lies…”

            “And eat bacon,” Wrong Willie completed for him. Willie loves bacon so much that he can eat an entire pound by himself, and usually does. His wife doesn’t allow him that much bacon in a month. In fact, he’s been known to simply roll out of his sleeping bag and start frying bacon instead of hunting.

            I once came in from the deer stand at ten in the morning and found him passed out in a plate of congealed bacon grease, with one final strip locked firmly in his fingers, moaning in ecstasy.

            “Let’s get this over with,” said the Cap’n. “I need a nap.”

            “It’s dark outside,” Youngster said. “Don’t you mean you want to go to sleep?”

            “No. I want a nap. Then when I wake up I can go to sleep. I’m tired. Jerry Wayne’s snoring kept me up all night.”

            Before the conversation could deteriorate into another discussion of nasal cavites, I handed Doc a present from under the tree. It wasn’t a real Christmas tree, only a mesquite limb someone had brought inside and stuck in a Mason jar on the table. Someone else tied a bright bandanna around the jar and the Christmas Limb was decorated with shiny pieces of chewing gum foil, half a dozen empty .270 hulls, some red berries Delbert had picked and threaded onto a string, and a few strands of yellow surveyors tape.

            Doc held the present like it might explode. It was from me, so I didn’t worry. The paper hit the floor and out of a plain cardboard box a Billy Bass slid into his hand. You know, the stupid rubber singing fish-on-a-plank. You move, the bass turns its head and sings a stupid song.

            “You shouldn’t have,” Doc said, looking at the stupid fish.

            “I know,” I answered.

            “No, really, you shouldn’t have. I hate these things.”

            “So do I. But I’ve already gotten three of them this year from relatives. They all think it’s cute. I think they’re idiotic and I just wanted to share the misery.”

            “It’ll make a good target,” Wrong Willie suggested.

            “Right.”

            The bass turned its head and began to sing Christmas songs. Doc immediately launched a search for the battery compartment. His pocketknife quickly appeared and the fish found itself field-dressed…and silent.

            I handed Jerry Wayne his present. It was from his Secret Santa, Wrong Willie.

            It was a Thomas Trout. A stupid singing trout-on-a-plank.

            We thought Jerry Wayne was going to cry. “I hate these things, too,” he wept.

            We know.

            Wrong Willie opened his present from Doc. It was a Charlie Crappie. It began to sing demonized rock and roll songs.

            Batteries hit the floor and rolled like marbles.

            And so it went. Each club member opened a present and found some version of the stupid singing fish that everyone wants to buy for everyone else. It was a cacophony of singing fish that no one wanted.

            We were amazed to find that no one had actually purchse any of the stupid fish. They were all gifts from someone else and the misery had been transferred to others.

            We were finally through. Club Members slumped exhausted amid the rubble of shredded Christmas wrappings, clutching a combined gluttony of Stupid Personal Plastic Caterwauling-Fish-On-Planks.

            I looked under the Christmas Limb and several small presents still remained. “What are those?” I asked. “They’re pretty small.  Don’t tell me plastic singing minnows.”

            Delbert cleared his throat. “Well, I knew you guys really didn’t want to do the Secret Santa stuff, so I brought each of you a present to go with them.” He passed the presents to the Club members.

            We examined the packages with suspicion.

            “What’s in here?” Wrong Willie asked. “You setting us up?”

            “No,” Delbert said. “Just open them.”

            Doc was first, tearing the paper off with a look of disgust, until he uncovered a worn whetstone. He started to say something caustic, but then he stopped and looked at Delbert, who smiled sheepishly. “This is old.”

            “Y’all remember Dad died just after Christmas last year,” Delbert said. “I put some things aside as we emptied the house. I just thought you’d like to have something of his.  IT was hid dad’s stone, my grandfather.”

            Silently the remaining members opened their packages from Delbert. One held an antique Hula Popper still in the cardboard box, and another was a Peters box full of old paper shells. A folding pocket knife with a blade worn fingernail thin, a box of hand-tied flies, a battered Penn reel, a plain hand-carved decoy, a worn duck call and finally a tattered copy of Havilah Babcock stories were all unwrapped and placed in the laps of misty-eyed outdoorsmen.

            No one said anything for a long while as we cleared suddenly aching throats. Everyone mumbled an embarrassed thank you. The next day, the guys loaded their trucks and headed home with the treasures packed securely away, a little wiser and closer to the meaning of Christmas.

            When I closed and locked the trailer door, I looked up at the wall lined with nine battery-operated singing fish, without the batteries, and knew I’d remember this Christmas forever, thanks to the selfless gifts of a guy who valued our friendship.

           

 

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Help, They’ve Dissected My Novel

Back in high school, English teachers tortured us with one immensely horrific exercise. “Today’s lesson is symbolism. Rev, your assignment is to discuss the significance of windows in Wuthering Heights.”

What!!! There were windows?

In my opinion, Emily Bronte just wanted to write a good book, like Shelly wanted to write a scary-as-hell novel that she titled Frankenstein.

That’s all.

Which is what I wanted to do with my first novel, The Rock Hole. I wanted to tell a tale of mid-1960s small town life, with a little spice in it called “murder.” Then I realized I couldn’t be true to the time unless I added as much as possible about civil rights, music, cars, constables and small-time farming.

When Kirkus Reviews called it one of the top mysteries of 2011, I was convinced I’d done what I set out to do. Other reviews rolled in, all as gracious as Kirkus.

With that success, I wrote Burrows, which took up where The Rock Hole left off. Again, mixing in the same ingredients, along with a massive building filled with garbage (hoarding on steroids), I created still another mystery that garnered good reviews.

So when I sat down with a reading group one afternoon to discuss the novels, I was surprised at what they thought I’d written.

Let’s take one particular poignant scene for example. In Burrows, Top and Pepper, (a set of near-twin cousins) have reacted to a particularly violent assault in the first novel by getting into trouble through lying, stealing, cutting school, and smoking. Their grandfather, Constable Ned Parker, realized the trauma they experienced, and found a way to teach them that life goes on, no matter what.

He leaves the ten-year-olds one crisp fall morning with Mr. Martin, an elderly friend who is dying of lung cancer. The kids want to hunt quail with their family, but instead, have to stay in the house and relate the events of the hunt to the old man. They can see the fields through the open window of the bedroom, and despite his disappointment, Top gets into the spirit of the hunt by giving Mr. Martin a sports play-by-play. His girl cousin, Pepper, curls up beside the dying man and simply holds his hand while he eventually spins a tale about what makes Life personal and survivable.

Interestingly, one reader thought it was an anti-smoking chapter and felt Ned was trying to get them away from cigarettes.

Another felt the chapter was designed to show Pepper’s female compassion for a dying man.

One said I wanted to relate the spirit of those old baseball color commentators of the 1960s, to give the story even more authenticity.

Maybe, one suggested, I wanted to show how kinfolk took care of each other back then.

Truthfully, it was a chapter designed to heighten the sense of suspense and give a clue as to the whereabouts of the killer, because that individual was discussed in a throwaway sentence toward the end.

Well, that wasn’t the only reason. I wanted to include a subplot about how older people reach out to teach children the lessons they learned throughout life. The scene where Pepper holds his big, wrinkled hand in her small hands is telling, in my opinion, because men and women of very advanced years want the young close by.

“I liked where she curled up like a kitten against him,” one reader pointed out. “Young curling up against old to offer comfort was the best part.”

I’d forgotten that sentence.

Rereading it the next day, I realized I’d unconsciously written several levels into the chapter.

  1. It was about hunting, a tradition that defines rural life.
  2. It was about death and trauma, and how life will go on for the survivors.
  3. It was about healing, because the kids learned that both physical and emotional scars eventually heal.
  4. It was about a lonely old man who wanted to spend one of his last good days with youngsters.
  5. It was about childhood enthusiasm. Despite the somber events taking place, Top made a simple game out of describing the hunt, and therefore lightened Mr. Martin’s mood.
  6. It was about a man who had lost touch with his immediate family, and felt the pain as his last few days ticked away.
  7. In a way, it was about punishment. Ned Parker wouldn’t let his kids hunt, because they didn’t deserve it, due to their outlaw activities.
  8. Oh, yeah, it was in a small way anti-smoking.
  9. And finally, I can’t truly give you the reason, it was about rural kinfolk, because that would give the ending away.

Authors write, because that’s what we do. I know famous writers who outline and never deviate from their path, because they know step by step what’s going to happen. I write these novels, and am then surprised at what I see, once the scalpel is taken up and the inner workings are exposed.

Good lord, Miss Linda Adams has done it again. Now I’ve dissected my own writings.

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