Write what you know? Many writers get their inspiration from where they know. Author Reavis Z. Wortham's Red River mysteries are set in a fictionalized version of Chicota, Texas, where he grew up. In a guest post, Wortham talks about the good people of Texas and the flavor of his Texan setting, and gives a preview of the newest book in his series, The Right Side of Wrong.
Guest post by Reavis Z. Wortham
As my writing career has progressed, I’ve come to realize the setting has become just as much a character as Constable Ned Parker et al. in the Red River mystery series. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but the rural, bordering counties along the river in northeast Texas are alive and well in my memories of the 1960s. My family roots are from that area, and their stories from that time and location are the reason I began this series.
The '60s were a time of change as this country evolved from a primarily rural society to an urban environment. Though the U.S. race to the moon was well underway, a large part of the population still scratched a hard living from the ground. In The Right Side of Wrong, the small community of Center Springs is a microcosm of life and the social and civil changes going on in this country. In addition, this setting is flavored with the speech patterns that define the small community of Center Springs where American Indians, “coloreds,” and the white population struggle to co-exist in a rapidly changing world.
It was the land that defined them.
It was the rural location that encapsulated them.
It was a time between two worlds, as their rural roots withered under the tidal wave of urban change.
My first book in this series set in 1964, The Rock Hole, came about because I wanted to preserve the memory of those coming-of-age years when I was 10. The speech patterns, old words, the simple and changing lifestyle and, of course, the stories told on the porch of that little country store were quickly fading as the old folks passed on.
See, here’s the deal. I believe my mysteries hold the reader’s interest because it’s the land that makes the good, moral characters what they are. Both men and women back then were strong. They stood up for themselves and their neighbors, and they learned the difference between right and wrong from their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and in the tiny clapboard churches that called them to worship every time the doors opened.
In each of my three novels, evil is eliminated when good, honest people cross to the right side of wrong. That’s where Ned Parker comes in. He’s both a farmer and a constable, and a Renaissance man. In a world filled with bigotry and hatred, Ned is simply a decent person who surrounds himself with noble Texans, such as Deputy John Washington, the first “colored” deputy in my fictional Lamar County.
Both of these strong, caring and fair men come from old-fashioned root stock. Big John and Ned are also human, in every sense of the word, and live to defend their community against whatever may come. In their own way, they always try to do the right thing.
Ned, kinfolk Constable Cody Parker and Big John forge strong bonds as this series progresses. In Burrows, John and Cody find themselves trapped in a five story Cotton Exchange warehouse full of garbage. It is a hoarder’s world á la Stephen King. In fact, someone said it was Stephen King meets Harper Lee. To survive their horror and find a serial killer in the monstrous building John and Cody learn to rely on each other without question. It is a bond Ned and John welded years earlier, and now Cody comes into the fold.
In The Right Side of Wrong, Constable Cody Parker follows his main drug smuggler across the Rio Grande into Mexico and is thrown into a prison run by a crooked officer. Ned and John traverse the Lone Star state, and that took some doing back in 1966. When they reach the Rio Grande, a far different artery than their Red River, they find themselves in a radically different culture than their own, but at the same time, they find good people south of the border.
I think you’ll also find the setting in Mexico has also influenced inhabitants of that country, both good and bad. Like those on the Red River, the people who live across the Rio Grande are also defined by the land, but despite the corruption, most mirror their good neighbors to the north.
The land is in the people, it shapes them, and it provides the background for the mysteries in all of us.
Thanks, Reavis! The Right Side of Wrong (Poisoned Pen Press) is out now.