Interview: Red River Mystery Author Reavis Z. Wortham

reavis-picAs a boy, award-winning writer, Reavis Z. Wortham hunted and fished the river bottoms near Chicota, Texas, the inspiration for the fictional setting for The Red River Mystery Series. He was born in Paris, Texas, but lived in Dallas. “We grew up in the city and went to school there, but every Friday evening my parents put us in the car and made the 120-mile drive to Chicota, where we truly lived at my grandparents’ farm until Sunday evening, when we came back to the city. Our true home was that little plot of land in Lamar County.” Reavis has written a self-syndicated weekly outdoor column since 1988, newspapers across Texas. Hundreds of articles have appeared in magazines ranging from Texas Fish and Game, Texas Sportsman, and Texas Outdoor Journal to American Cowboy. A retired educator of 35 years, he and wife Shana live in Frisco, Texas. They have two daughters, Chelsea and Megan.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Reavis has been recognized for his unique style of outdoor journalism. In 2002, he received First Place in the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) in the Magazine Humor category for “Shooting Squirrels in a Barrel.” He also took second place in that same competition for a magazine article entitled, “Totally Retro: Hunting with the Longbow.” Additionally Reavis is a past president of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association (TOWA), and has been recognized numerous times by TOWA for his work in both magazines and newspapers. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas.

Dark Places - CoverTell us about your new release.

Dark Places is the 5th book in the Red River mystery series set in rural northeast Texas during the turbulent 1960s. As the Summer of Love draws to a close in 1967, the Parker family deals with the changes wrought by outside events. Constable Ned Parker and his nephew Sheriff Cody Parker work a hit and run murder on a country road, and at the same time look into the disappearance of two Dallas businessmen in nearby Chisum. Fourteen-year-old near twin cousins Pepper and Top are impacted in different ways for the counterculture movement. Pepper runs away to join the river of hippies flowing down Route 66 to California, but she finds that the Mother Road and the free love experience isn’t what she expected. While Ned abandons his job as constable to find his granddaughter, a mysterious man named Crow joins the search and may not be what he seems.

What led you to write this book?

Following The Rock Hole, the first book in the series, the lives of the Parker family have been an adventure for me as well as my readers. Events from that book have sparked psychological issues for the community of Center Springs, and especially the kids who took the brunt of the terror in that story. Dark Places explores those months following 1967’s Summer of Love, and shows us what this family experiences in the midst of cultural change, the civil rights movement, and the connected events they can’t control. In addition, my family traveled Route 66 several times in that decade and the history of that kitschy highway is fascinating to me, and I hope, to my readers.

How important is setting to your story?

I’d say the setting is a character, and there are two settings in Dark Places, so there are two very important characters. One is the rural farming community of Center Springs, and the other is old Route 66, from Texas to California. Both are integral to the plot. I’ve always felt that weather is a character also, and the incessant rain in this novel adds another dimension, dictating the actions of those within the story.

Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life?

Constable Ned Parker and his wife Miss Becky were originally based on my maternal grandparents in the first book. My granddad, Joe Armstrong, was constable of a tiny farming community when I was a kid and he’s the spark of this series. Of course other characters come from people I know or have met. Several are somewhat recognizable in the books, while most are complete fiction. It’s funny though, because I often hear from people who grew up in the area and insist some of the fictional characters are real. For example, in The Right Side of Wrong, a couple leaves their spouses and to run off together. An old aunt called me right after the book came out and gave me a chewing out because I was “telling family tales that shouldn’t be told.” Shocked, I asked what she was talking about and she named an aunt and uncle who married after the same set of circumstances. I was completely surprised, and explained that I’d made my characters up, not knowing the history of those relatives. When I pressed her for details, she snapped, “I’m not going to talk about that,” and hung up on me. You never know what skeletons are in those dusty old closets.

What do you hope readers take away from your work?

The Red River books were originally intended to preserve a way of life and the particular speech of those who lived in northeast Texas back in the 1960s. That decade was a period of cultural Reavis Z. Wortham (Continued) change for the entire country, and those times manifested themselves in this microcosm that became Center Springs in the series. Before WWII, this country was 80% rural and 20% urban. Today that percentage has reversed, and much of that change came during the 1950s and 60s. The people of this region struggled to preserve their way of life in light of these changes. They still grew and raised their own food and processed all of it on their farms. The women wore virtually the same style clothes through those decades, and clung to the traditions of their ancestors. What I can offer to my readers are the real old sayings and speech patterns, in addition to my fiction. I used them in daily conversation when my daughters were small, and had to explain the meaning of those phrases. That’s when I knew they were fading into history, because as the older folks pass away, their rich heritage of speech goes with them. Many reviewers have noted how accurate the dialogue is to the people and period, and that’s what I wanted to preserve for my own descendants.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m a serious outdoorsman who loves to hunt, fish, and camp. I’m drawn to moving water, beaches, and the mountains. My biggest vices are travel and books. I’ve visited every state in this great country, plus Mexico and Canada. Now we’re revisiting every state, seeking adventures that include hiking, skiing, camping, and canoeing. We have an extensive library, and books are in every room in the house. When my bride and I aren’t in the outdoors, I’m a serial house renovator. We built our home in 1998, and since then I’ve remodeled every room in the house. Now I’m back to the master bathroom…if my Bride will agree to a complete gut job. Finally, when I’m not writing and doing all those other things, I’m reading, and I somehow read to excess.

Which book impacted you as a teenager?

I have to point at two books which influenced my life almost at the same time. The first was Recollection Creek by Texas author Fred Gipson. He wrote about a way of life in the late 1800s that was very similar to the way I grew up with in the 1960s. In it, I recognized the people and their environment, and it made me want to write my own stories about that wonderful time in my life. The second book reached my hands not long after I finished Recollection Creek. The Old Man and the Boy, by Robert Ruark, literally defined my life and in many ways made me the man I am today. I still give it as Christmas presents as much as possible, in the hope that Ruark’s work will have the same effect on others.

Do you read the same genre you write?

I write what I call historical mystery thrillers, and read what I find in that genre. I’m a voracious reader as my home library will show. The shelves are loaded with Donald E. Westlake (still another influence), Joe Lansdale, and a Texan named William Humphrey. But there are others as well. I’m a big fan of thriller writers such as John Gilstrap, Lee Child, David Morrell, C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Sandra Brannan, Jamie Freveletti, and Jeffery Deaver, to name only a few.

Have you ever written a scene that ‘creeped’ you out?

Yep, that was the opening chapter in Burrows, which was originally written as a short story. Many reviewers have called it the creepiest chapter they’ve ever read. There’s a twist at the end of that left me sitting there with my fingers on the keys, wondering if I needed to be committed. For years I had disturbing dreams about tunnels and openings under the foundations of houses that led to a warren of other tunnels under buildings. I had these dreams so often the tunnels were familiar, and I knew each twist and turn. My wife suggested that I use those dreams in a novel, and the short story became Burrows, a novel about an abandoned cotton exchange building packed full of refuse by hoarders and booby trapped throughout by still another lunatic with a dark background. Those dreams haven’t returned in the three years since the book was finished. Hummmmm.

Do you have a favorite writing place or writing rituals?

Nothing about my writing is conventional. I’ve reached my word limit in moving cars, in the coffee shop of gun ranges, while camping out, on the patio at my home, on a Hawaiian lanai, under a tiki hut shaded by palm trees in Key West (you can see that one on my website), and propped up in bed at home like Mark Twain, using a laptop instead of a typewriter. I don’t have a set time to write, but always strive for five pages, or 1,000 words a day, no matter where I am. I edit hard copy in my easy chair or on the couch.

What are you reading now?

I never have only one book open. There are different reading spots throughout the house and a book in progress is waiting there. Right now I’m reading Make Me by Lee Child, Hosts by F. Paul Wilson, and Signal by Patrick Lee. Craig Johnson’s Dry Bones and Reed Farrel Coleman’s Blind Spot (the new Robert B. Parker) are stacked and waiting to go.

What’s next for you?

I’m on the downhill side of book 6 in the Red River series, titled Unraveled. Poisoned Pen Press is my publisher and have been very supportive, stating they’d publish this series as long as I want to write it. You can’t get better than that. I’m also in final edits for a different kind of novel. Shell Game is my first thriller and a new style of writing that’s dramatically different from the RR books.

LINKS:

Website: http://www.reaviszwortham.com

Facebook: Reavis Wortham and Reavis Z. Wortham author page

Twitter: @reaviszwortham

Review: THE KILL BOX by Nichole Christoff

515VW7PtWhL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_THE KILL BOX: A Jamie Sinclair Novel by Nichole Christoff

Mystery/Thriller Released Oct 20th by Alibi

“What kind of a private investigator wears silk to a sting operation?” Marc Sandoval grumbled. Marc is a special agent with the DEA who has a special interest in Jamie, his partner in the opening investigation. But Jamie’s interest, Adam Barrett, lies back at her apartment recovering from a broken leg.

With plans to get away with Adam, Jamie raps up the investigation and rushes home only to be accosted by a strung-out soldier who holds a gun on Jamie and Adam. And with one word motivates Adam to grab a bag and leave Jamie with nothing but questions.

Torn between anger and concern, Jamie struggles with the “what now?” question when a phone call in the 51U7daFZDcL._AC_UL320_SR242,320_middle of the night from Adam’s grandmother sends her to his hometown to investigate why the straight arrow man she loves has landed himself in jail.

So begins the third installment of the series featuring security specialist PI and daughter of a general, Jamie Sinclair. Pitched as perfect for fans of Lee Child or Lisa Gardner this series is one of my favorites.

Teacher, writer, broadcaster, military spouse and world traveler, Ms. Christoff’s life experiences enrich each page. Her characters have depth and action scenes are realistic. As good as her debut novel, The Kill List, was she is definitely growing as an author.

51JHDkkSCwL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_Though the third in the series, this book can easily be read alone. Although I loved the first two books so much I recommend you read them all.

Review: THE NATURE OF THE BEAST by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache series) by Louise Penny

Minotaur Books MysteryThe Nature of the Beast

Louise Penny has another winner with a new adventure in Three Pines exposing the secrets the peculiar collection of people who live there have carefully tucked away. Penny’s hidden village seems the idyllic solution for disappearing and enjoying a peaceful existence, but murder explodes their pristine world. The death of a child is always a tragedy, but the death of this child resurrects the horrors of World War II seductively hidden for seventy years and uncovers the devious plans of terrorists. With her consistent aplomb, Penny blends the intimate lives of her characters and the influence of the mysteries surrounding them with historical information, a look at global issues, and the universal human condition. The irascible, Ruth, has a few new tricks up her sleeve, while Gamache struggles with his own demons and decisions about his future. Does he want to return to police work? Is it worth the risks to his family and his own life? Does his country need him? Perhaps, he should look into teaching at university? We will have to wait for the next book to find out. I’ve no doubt those questions will be debated and decisions made with input from his friends and family while solving a new crime. And, of course, this will be done over delicious meals eaten together at the bistro, in the Gamache home with Reine-Maria as chef, and in Clara’s comfortable kitchen. If ever a series of books needed a companion cookbook, it’s Penny’s delicious Gamache series.

Review provided by Mahala Church for her column Barefoot Book Reviews in the October 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.

Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

the Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Thorndike Press Mystery/Thriller

Hawkins has twisted a story scrupulously complex and emotionally intricate. Her protagonist, Rachel, is absorbed with the people she watches from the train as she rides the same commuter train to and from work every day. Similar to Agatha Christie’s foreshadowing devices, Hawkins deftly reveals on the first page a clue of immense proportion. Rachel’s ordinary treks into the city take on a life of their own while Hawkins jars the reader’s sensibilities and ramps the tension. In this taut tale, a world is exposed that is anything but what it seems to Rachel. As with Alice who rambles in Wonderland, readers are drawn into the story with carefully crafted prose that demands they help Rachel to unravel what is happening to her. Rachel’s voyeurism borders on stalking as the book unfolds, but she is convinced she has sensitive information the police need. They are convinced she needs to be put in a psych unit. With this heartrending tale, Hawkins proves that the world is indeed a very small place.

Review provided by Mahala Church for her column Barefoot Book Reviews in the October 2015 issue of The Book Breeze

Review: UNLEASHED by Eileen Brady

UnleashedUnleashed BY Eileen Brady

Poisoned Pen Press Mystery (cozy)

An ideal mystery for animal lovers and mystery devotees. Brady does an excellent job of explaining veterinary terminology in a seamless way and taking readers into the field with her protagonist, Dr. Kate Turner. Dr. Kate is a woman on a mission, a woman who is usually immune to gossip, but not other tongue wagging like her patients share. However, once she discovers that the gossip trail is where the information she needs to solve the crime lurks, she deftly inserts herself into situations that yield the leads she needs. When a young man critically injured in an accident, which left him mentally challenged is accused of a murder, Dr. Kate is determined to prove that her young veterinary worker, Eugene, is innocent. First, she has to prove to the local police that the dead woman was not a suicide, but murder. A discreet intermingling of clues takes some serious thought to unveil.

Review provided by Mahala Church for her column Barefoot Book Reviews in the October 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.

Review: SHADOWS AT SUNSET by Tonya Royston

Shadows at SunsetShadows at Sunset by Tonya Royston

Black Opal Books August 2015 4 Stars

Blurb: She never thought her ability to communicate with wild animals was anything more than a unique gift. But this gift is tied to a long history of secrets that threaten to shatter her one chance at true love…

Laken Sumner isn’t your average teenager. Ever since she realized that wild animals could hear her thoughts, she’s spent more time in the woods with them than with other children. Even her wolf is a better friend to her than most people. She trusts him—so much so that she follows him out into the wilderness in the middle of the night to find a lost little boy. But the boy’s disappearance is only the beginning. The one bright spot in her life is Noah Lawson, the handsome new town deputy. Charming and mature, he almost seems too good to be true. Then she meets Xander Payne, the new boy at school, who seems to know something about her. But how could that be possible? As strange things begin to happen in her sleepy New England town, Laken wonders if Xander has something to do with it. Or is it just a coincidence that danger targets her soon after he arrives?

Review: This was a fun read. What’s not to like about 17-year-old Laken Sumner who can literally talk to animals? Granted, it’s only the wild ones but since she lives close to the woods near her New England town, that works for her especially when she and her pet wolf save a missing little boy. This is only the start of an ongoing mystery since her father, the town sheriff soon discovers a murder victim in the forest. Is he the one who abducted the child? If so, why?

This isn’t the only mystery needing to be solved. Noah Lawson is the new deputy in town and Laken finds herself attracted to him, but her pet wolf, Dakota has his suspicions. Since this is the start of a trilogy, readers will have to wait to learn whether Dakota is right or Laken may be in more jeopardy than she thinks. Personally, I’m opting for the wolf’s opinion. Something about this guy just makes me suspicious, but that’s okay since I also have doubts about the other new boy, Xander Payne. Both these fellows pursue Laken pretty much as soon as they meet her and while she’s too young as a high school senior to worry about their motives, I worry enough for both of us.

Laken is a very likeable character and as a twist in the plot, she has two best friends, Ethan, the boy next door and Brooke, a bubbly extrovert who knows how to find the best parties around and insists Laken and Ethan join her at these extravaganzas. The three stand by each other, seeming more like siblings than buddies. They are the only ones outside of the family who know the truth about Dakota which seems a bit of a stretch. Since Laken’s uncle brought the wolf pup to his niece, wouldn’t the neighbors have seen it back then? What about the cops who worked with him? Wouldn’t they wonder what happened to the animal or even ask? These questions haven’t been answered yet, but maybe later since this is the first book in a trilogy. Still the characters are always consistent, not an easy skill for a debut writer, but Ms. Royston shines here.

In addition, she provides hints that the ensemble cast will also grow and change, something that is especially welcome since much of the story revolves around activities at the high school. In addition, she effectively builds a beautiful world with an assortment of wild animals that Laken befriends. Descriptions of the setting don’t overshadow the story and while the pacing falters at times, for the most part it will keep readers engaged. For the most part, although this is a paranormal story, it felt realistic with authentic issues, but more eerie events would have added to the tension. Still, it will be hard to wait until 2016 for the next installment.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the October 2015 edition of The Book Breeze.

Review: PRETENDING TO DANCE by Diane Chamberlain

Pretending to DancePretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

St. Martins’ Press – October 2015 5 Stars

Blurb: Molly Arnette is very good at keeping secrets. She lives in San Diego with a husband she adores, and they are trying to adopt a baby because they can’t have a child on their own. But the process of adoption brings to light many questions about Molly’s past and her family–the family she left behind in North Carolina twenty years before. The mother she says is dead but who is very much alive. The father she adored and whose death sent her running from the small community of Morrison’s Ridge. Her own birth mother whose mysterious presence in her family raised so many issues that came to a head. The summer of twenty years ago changed everything for Molly and as the past weaves together with the present story, Molly discovers that she learned to lie in the very family that taught her about pretending. If she learns the truth about her beloved father’s death, can she find peace in the present to claim the life she really wants?

Review: Normally I review Young Adult and New Adult novels, so this book came as a bit of a surprise. It probably won’t interest many young tweens or teens, but older ones should enjoy this story of Molly Arnette, a woman in the midst of an adoption crisis. Successful lawyers, she and her husband really want a baby of their own and because of health reasons, adoption is their only option. However, Molly has secrets – ones that she’s hidden from everyone for more than twenty years and as everyone knows, eventually the ‘truth will out!’ even if Molly prefers to keep her past hidden.

Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of 14-year-old Molly which may make it seem as if it belongs in the young adult genre. Yet, there are just as many adult themes and a mystery that only the adult Molly can solve. The chapters flip back and forth between these two aspects of the same character, but the transitions are flawless. Some writers would have trouble detailing the concerns of a teen, then doing the switch to adulthood, but Ms. Chamberlain pulls this off beautifully. As a teen, Molly faces problems with her parents – all three of them. Nora, the adoptive mother who raises her, Amalia, the bio-mom who lives close by and Graham, the handicapped father who not only loves all the women in his life, but also manages to sustain fairly positive relationships with them.

Suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Graham has been forced by the limitations of his disease to shut down most of his therapy practice where he uses what he calls ‘Pretend Therapy’ or Cognitive Behavioral Self-Intervention to help kids and adults. He says, “If you pretend you’re the sort of person you want to be, you will eventually become that person.” During this last summer that Molly recalls as the ‘worst of her life’ – gotta love that teen drama – he dictates his third book so she can scribe it for him. He also wants her to come with him on the book tour for his second book, the one about ‘Pretend Therapy’ for kids. Graham’s theory that ‘pretense’ can help solve problems strongly influences Molly’s life. She wants desperately to believe his health can improve, although he tells her that isn’t possible.

The characters are extremely well-drawn to the point that it became difficult to remember they were fictional. It seemed as if it would be perfectly natural to meet them in a restaurant or on the street. The setting, whether it’s San Diego, California or Morrison Ridge, North Carolina evokes strong emotions from Molly and she shares those with the reader. Molly provides wonderful descriptions and realistic dialogue as a teen and an adult add to the story. Her husband, Aidan provides amazing support as well as love, empathy and understanding for the grown Molly. He seems a bit too idealistic at times, yet this is a minor flaw in such a wonderful book. Most readers would have accepted it if he occasionally lost patience, yet women tend to fall in love with men like their fathers and Molly chose the perfect mate for herself. Her relationship with Aidan is never in jeopardy, but she needs to face the mysteries of the past in order to have a secure, loving future and that’s what I wanted for her.

The strong writing in the story kept me enthralled and I ended up rooting for Molly throughout the entire book, even if there were times when I also wanted to shake her out of a ‘dream’ state. While Pretending to Dance may not appeal to a younger audience, older readers should love it. Do keep the tissues handy – at times, the powerful writing and heartbreaking themes in this ‘coming of age’ tale may also bring other readers to tears.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the October 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.