Reader FAQ

How long have you been writing?
I began with a column in The Paris News back in August, 1988. My first submission came as a result of a bet with a coworker. During a particularly boring meeting, she bet me that she could write a column during the next hour, and get it published within the month. I took her up on it, ignored the meeting’s speaker and wrote a column which I submitted to Mike Condiff at The Paris News. He accepted it the next day and it was published a week later. I still write for that paper and thank them every day for getting me started.

How many columns have you written for newspapers?
If my math is right, to date I’ve written nearly 1,200 newspaper columns.

How many columns and articles have been published in magazines?
My best estimate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 300.

Where can I find your other published works?
As I mentioned above, you can find columns and articles online in The Paris News, Texas Fish and Game Magazine, Vintage Trucks Magazine, Country World Newspaper, Saltwater Texas, The Rockport Pilot. Google Reavis Wortham and there are dozens of links to magazine and newspaper articles.

Can I purchase any of them?
You can purchase the publications as they come out. At this writing, I don’t have a central bank of columns or articles for purchase. Urge your newspaper to pick it up and you’ll have it in your hands each week.

Is there any truth to your humor columns?
Yes, they all start with a grain of truth, and then I go where the story takes me.

Do you read a lot?
Only to excess. I average at least one to two books a week.

Who are your favorite authors?
That depends. I credit Robert Ruark, Fred Gipson and William C. Anderson for launching my writing career. I’ve read every book they’ve published, including articles and biographies about them. Sadly, they’re all gone now.
As for mysteries, Robert B. Parker and Donald Westlake are my favorite traditional mystery writers. They’ve passed also.
Today I read everything by C.J. Box, Bill Bryson, Lee Child, Tim Dorsey, Douglas Jones, Tom Lowe, Larry McMurtry, David Morrell, Ben Rehder, James Rollins, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Randy Wayne White, only to name a very few.

Is The Rock Hole a true story?
You’ll have to define true. It is very loosely based on my grandfather who was a Lamar County constable as I was growing up. The characters are fictional as is the incident itself.

The area is real, isn’t it?
Very much so. The story is set in Lamar County, in North Texas. I changed the names of several locations, but the Rock Hole exists, as does Sanders Creek, Center Springs and every other physical place in the book.

Do you outline your books before writing?
No. I usually just start with an idea and watch the characters appear and mature as the manuscript progresses. I am always surprised at what happens and what the characters do.

Will there be a sequel?
Burrows was released in July 2012. The Right Side of Wrong will be released in July 2013.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, from the time I learned to read. When I was eight years old, I remember an aunt asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said “an author.” She laughed and said she was sure it would happen. It took a few years, but I finally made it.

I have a story idea, can I send it to you?
Sorry, I can’t accept any magazine articles or story ideas due to legal considerations. Please don’t send unpublished stories, articles or manuscripts. Instead, write them, find an agent and get published yourself!

Glossary

Apt – will probably, might do

Airish – chilly or cool

Bar ditch – the shallow ditches running alongside rural highways

Billdukey/sharpshooter – long narrow shovel for digging trenches and deep holes

Boardark – bois ’darc tree, also called a horse apple

Booger bear – a fearsome, imaginary monster

Bottoms – a channel occupied (or formerly occupied) by a river. This was the richest land in the county, due to periodic floods.

Boy-howdy – An substitute exclamation for such words as wow or sure is.

Branch – a small tributary that is not a large river or bayou

Brickbat – a brick or partial brick

Browning humpback – Browning Auto 5 shotgun. It featured a distinctive high rear end that gave it the name.

Bumfuzzled – confused

Caissons – tires

Cattywompus – askew

Chopping cotton – an operation that involves the manual thinning of the small cotton plants, as well as the removal of any weeds that had sprouted along with the cotton

Churchkey – beer/bottle opener

Clabber – the solids in soured milk

Clobber – a punch

Conniption – sometimes pronounced “conniptia,” a seizure or fit

Contrary – cranky

Corker – a remarkable thing or person

Craw – the crop of a bird or insect

Creep feed – supplemental feed for calves before they are weaned

Cull – select the best of a crop or herd

Dab – to apply a small amount; also, dollop, a small amount of something

Dally – to dawdle, comes from cowboy term to wrap a rope around a saddle horn to slow or stop a cow or calf

Dawdle – to be slow

Diddly – Not much

Dikes - strange acronym for Diagonal Wire Cutter

Directly – in a little while

Dirt dauber – a member of the wasp family that uses mud to build nests

Doodad – some small, non-important item

Doozy – something outstanding or unique

Dote – to be extremely fond of

Double shovel – a plow with two small shovels, one on each side, one slightly higher than the other for working between crop rows

Drawers – your underwear

Druther – rather

Dugout house – a rough shelter or dwelling formed by an excavation in the ground, in the face of a bank, or in the side of a hill

Fair to middling – originally intended to grade cotton, this phrase is used to describe how something is feeling, or how something strikes an individual.

Fit – seizure

Founder – to collapse or sink

Frazzle – wear away on the edges or to fray

Gaggle – a term meaning a flock of geese on the ground. Folks together could also be called a covey, herd, or flock.

Galls – severe pain or irritation

Galoot – clumsy or oafish person

Gee-haw – a trinket

Goozle – throat, windpipe, Adam’s apple

Gusset – triangular insert in apparel to add strength

Hissy – fit

Histe – Lamar county word for hoist

Holler – yell

Holler calf rope – Texas saying similar to “cry or say uncle,” an admission of defeat. I think it comes from branding, when the calf is tied up and can’t get away.

Honky tonk – a bar that provides country music, drinking and dancing

Hooey - nonsense

Hoosegow – jail 

Icebox – I still call the refrigerator an 'icebox." Some call them a "fridge" or even the longer "Frigidaire," but icebox refers to those days when food was kept cool in a wooden box lined with tin or zinc, insulated with everything from sawdust or cork, and cooled by a block of ice that kept everything fresh, but not cold.

‘I god – short for “by god”

Jalopy – ragged old car

Juke joint – a small building operated by African American people. providing music, dancing, gambling, and drinking

Laws – cops

Looky – pure country word to telling someone to look. "Looky there."

Mosey - Here in the south, we use it to mean wander slowly or aimlessly. Interestingly, I've read where mosey was used in the early 1820s in place of "hurry." No one knows when it changed to our present usage, but some sources say the word's origin traces back to Moses himself, who wandered the desert, possibly aimlessly, for so many years. Moses=Mosey. Either way, it just sounds good to tell someone to "mosey on down here and let's see what trouble we can get into."

Nary – nothing

Noggin – a person's head

Nubbin’ – the worn stump of something

Ornery – bad tempered or combative, sometimes pronounced “annry”

Outlawed – made illegal

Peckish – feeling bad or hungry

Piddlin – to do something minor

Plank bridge – a rough, flat bridge, usually made of oak, used primarily on dirt roads

Plumb – completely, or all the way. "She's plumb crazy."

Poleaxed – knocked out

Polecat - skunk

Proud – Nope, not the way someone feels. This word describes the infected flesh around a wound, large or small.

Pulling boles – picking cotton involved plucking out the white fibers from each open boll, but pulling boles meant harvesting the cotton, dry boll and all.

Punky - rotten

Pure-d – pure (damned)

Range cubes – substitute cattle feed. High protein range cubes are designed to be fed to beef cattle on dry winter forages.

Rascal – mischievous person

Reckon – a person’s view or opinion

Rigor – shivering or trembling

Sap – the shoe-sole shaped sap was two thick pieces of leather sewn around a flat piece of lead in the widest section. Imagine being hit with a lead weighted shoe sole and you get the picture.

Sap – We've used this once, in reference to a lawman's tool. But this usage was originally a British term, meaning a fool, simpleton or dope. "You sap, you're the only one who did his homework last night, and that makes the rest of us look bad." Sap is short for "sapskull," or "wooden head," from the late 1600s. Unfortunately today, our words are much more harsh when we're annoyed.

Sashay - "sashay" into a store to return a Christmas gift, the crowds are still horrible. Our Old Timey Word of the Week means to glide or move casually. I remember the Old Man telling me, "Don't you sashay in here with that attitude, boy." The first recorded use is from the mid-1800s, chassé, was a dancing term referring to a gliding motion, possibly in a square dance.

Sass – to talk back. "Don't sass me."

Scat – to away, leave

Shoat – a young hog that has been weaned. Folks tended to sometimes switch between pig, piglet and shoat without much conscious delineation.

Scooch – to inch in some direction

Shinny – to climb

Skedaddle – to leave hurriedly

Slabber – to spread in a very messy way. You can slabber paint on a wall, or you can carefully paint it.

Snapping turtles biting until it thunders – old saying that means a snapping turtle will bite and hold on for a very long time.

Sorehead – bad tempered

Sorry – useless

Spell – a period of time; you could have a bad spell, meaning you were sick, or you worked on something for a spell.

Spinning our wheels – old saying for when you’re stuck

Squall – to cry

Step-ins - "Don't be running around in your drawers, put on some britches." Or, my dad, the Old Man, pronounced, "those are her step-ins." I guess you can also pronounce, "draws," if you want. These items, so much a part of life, are seldom discussed, except during Super Bowl or Victoria's Secret commercials, and they ain't the kind I'm talking about.

Sulled up – being quiet. It comes for a possum’s predisposition of playing dead when in danger.

Sweet feed – high protein pellet food for horses

Swanny – version of swear

Take and get – this is also similar to “take and carry,” which simply means to go get, or to carry.

Target gun - .22 caliber rifle

Teacakes – lightly sweetened flour cookie

Telephone table – small, single seat table on which early telephones rested

‘toe sack – Short for potato sack, the large burlap bags used to ship potatoes

Tote – to carry

Touchy – a little sensitive. "He's touchy about that," or "my muscles are touchy today."

Towhead – little blonde or white-headed kid.

Tump – to turn over

Waller – to roll around on something. Hogs and buffalo waller, but a kid can waller around in bed and mess up the sheets.

Widder-woman - Where I'm from, any word ending in "ow" became an "er," i.e. window/winder, pillow/piller, or widow/widder. So a widow was defined by her gender, widow-woman. It usually referred to the widow living alone, and the phrase possessed a subtle level of pity, or the need for someone to help in some way, or affirmation. "She's a widder-woman, but she sews pretty good." I never heard widow-man, though, simply, "He's a widower."

Wolf – While it usually means the four-legged cousin to coyotes, I believe the wolf described in the manuscript was the result of the botfly larvae.

Wooled her around – to lightly wrestle or hug with vigor

Y’all – This is the proper way to spell the single compound Texas word for “you all.”

Yellow jacket – a member of the wasp family that builds small, paper-like nests and stings to excess

Yonder – a place other than here

Those Good Old Sayings

Blow it out your barracks bag – The Old Timey Saying of the Week is on of my Old Man's favorites. When frustrated or annoyed at someone, especially politicians, he say, "Blow it out your barracks bag!" I was grown before I realized it was a WWII expression that meant, in a polite way to "blow it out your a**." We should probably use it more often...in a demure way, of course.

Ginning around – Okay, so I'm a little late on the Old Timey Phrase of the Week. Instead of taking care of my readers, I've been "ginning around" since we got back from Colorado on Friday. I'm pretty sure it's a southern phrase, but it might have made its way north at some point. It comes from the days when farmers took their cotton to the gin. If you've been busy doing simple stuff, especially if you're on your feet, you're ginning around. Don't gin too hard in this heat.

"He's crooked as a dog's hind leg" is usually used in reference to politicians, both local and national, but the old men often used it for anyone who skirted lawful or moral regulations. I bet you know someone who fits that description.

"He's madder than an old sore-tailed tomcat." This was used quite a lot up on the river. I've never seen an old sore-tailed tomcat, but I can imagine he'd be a little irritable. I've always wondered if the tomcat was mad through a combination of being old and sore-tailed, or just generally aggravated.

High cotton – When things are good, our Old Timey Saying for the day comes into play. "Money was rolling in and we were in high cotton." Reaching back toward our agricultural roots, high cotton was used in a literal sense. When the cotton was high, it was easily picked and usually equated into good crops, bringing in the money. Hope you're in high cotton this week.

Hug my neck – Those old aunts of mine used to see us when we were kids and say, "Come here and hug my neck." Those last three words are our Old Time Saying of the Week. If the old folks missed someone, they might say, "I hope she comes by so I can hug her neck," or "He needs to hug my neck before he leaves." It's an old country gesture of affection, usually for relatives, and doesn't require some bizarre neck hold. Even though we might not be kin, you can come hug my neck at any book signing.

Let the gate down – When the War Department and I built our house, the street behind us was only two lanes. Fifteen years later, it's six lanes, and very busy. When I tried to get out of the neighborhood yesterday, there was so much traffic coming from one way that I said, "Looks like somebody let the gate down." This old country term originated with the cattle business, when a gate in the fence was opened, or a wire fence pulled to the side and laid down. Once opened, all the cattle flow through and when there is a big herd, it takes a while for them to pass.

Much Obliged – Up at the store, I remember the old timer's finishing a transaction by saying, "Much obliged." It's a wonderful throwback to the days when folks were genuinely thankful for service, assistance, or even advice.

Playing possum – Meanwhile, back to the Old Timey Saying of the Week, we have "playing possum." Leave out the O in opossum if you're going to say it right. This critters have a perfect way to save themselves when in danger. They simply roll over and play dead. It works most of the time. The Old Man used to pretend to be asleep when us kids were wanting to play with him, so he was playing possum. Wonder of the Possum, country singer George Jones, ever played possum. Possum. I just like the word.

Sunday clothes – Our Old Timey Phrase of the Week is short, but long on meaning. "Sunday clothes" were those duds purchased to be worn only for church (sometimes called church clothes), but also for weddings, funerals or any other special occasion. The phrase expands to include "Sunday hat" and "Sunday shoes." We were forever warned not to scuff our Sunday, or "dress shoes," and to be careful of the Old Man's dress hat. We even had a "dress belt." The Old Man once told me, "Wipe the grease off the wrenches in your tool box so when you're wearing your Sunday clothes and need a tool, you won't get dirty." Take care of your dress clothes and they'll last until you outgrow them, y'all.

Straighten up and fly right – Then there were the days when Mama would get mad at me and tell me to "straighten up and fly right." This Old Timey Saying of the Week usually made me roll my eyes, but after my back was turned. With that warning, we were supposed to get a better attitude, and I guess I did. I heard this came from a WWII Nat King Cole song, but he got it from somewhere, I bet. From what I have discovered, it came from "flying straight and level." Maybe the old barnstormers?

"They had a falling out." When folks have a falling out, it's a disagreement that usually results in the silent treatment at the worst, or little or no communication for a long period of time. You can have a falling out in your personal life, or in business. I've read where it originated with the idea of two or more people in a wagon and one of them "fell out." Now, don't confuse the phrase with fainting. Folks, usually women, fall out from overwork, nerves, or maybe sickness. "I don't know what happened to her, she just fell out."

Up Under – There's no definition here for "up under" but something can be up under the icebox, up under the car, up under the porch, or up under a barrel. The possibilities are endless. From my extensive five-minute research on this phrase, it may be a shorter version of "up and under," but I can find no reference of either usage. It's simply the way folks talked up in northeast Texas.