Monday, September 21, 2015

Author Reavis Wortham Explains Some Historical Jargon

Today we are treated to a guest post by author Reavis Wortham.

I was first published in 1988, and have honed my writing skills by producing a self-syndicated humor column once a week. To date, that’s over 1,400 columns alone in papers across Texas, not counting hundreds of monthly articles for Texas Fish and Game magazine. My first novel, The Rock Hole, came out immediately after I retired as a 35-year educator in 2011. Now, with 4 other crucially acclaimed novels in the Red River mystery series, Dark Places will officially hit the shelves on September 1, 2015. All that work allowed me to explore a way of life that is quickly fading away.

Like most writers, I wanted to produce a novel, and one single recollection sparked The Rock Hole, the first book in the Red River mystery series. It began with something my maternal grandmother used to say, “We’re from up on the river.”

From there, the book set in rural northeast Texas in 1964 was anchored in the customs, life-styles, mannerisms, and speech of those folks who’d survived the Great Depression and scratched out their lives on small cotton farms.

As the mystery thriller evolved, I found myself recalling their phrases and expressions. These “spices” sprinkled throughout the book brought out the true flavor of the times. To add authenticity, I talked with those same folks, and found that when I mentioned something from our past, they brightened and recalled something else that in turn found a place in series.

Readers became fascinated with those phrases and memories. Young people asked me for explanations. Even my editors were stymied by such words as dikes, (wire cutters), singletree (horse harness), billdukey (sharpshooter shovel), hob (the covered hole in top of a wood stove), or caissens (tires).

Regional phrases interested fans of the series as it grew. Fair-to-middlin’, hissy fit, holler calf rope, pulling boles, step-ins, crazy as a Bessie bug, bless her heart, ginning around, high cotton, hug my neck, playing possum, or Sunday clothes all required explanation.
That’s when I knew these books offered much more than a story to be read and placed on a shelf. In addition to being mystery thrillers, they became repositories of a fading way of life.

I wanted to preserve those customs and language, as well as their way of life, so the characters in the Red River books gained a life of their own. Constable Ned Parker and his wife Miss Becky remember what it was like in the early part of the 20th Century, and struggle with the changes they face in the turbulent 1960s.

In their late 20s, Vietnam veteran Cody Parker and Norma Faye (who eventually becomes his wife) see the world through different eyes. They have one foot in each way of life, and understand the challenges they will face as the 1970s rush toward them with startling speed.

Adolescent cousins and virtual twins, Top and Pepper, are growing up in that spectacular era. Ten years old in 1964, Top’s parents are killed in an accident and he comes to live with Ned and Miss Becky. He’s a bookworm and suddenly finds himself in a new way of life. Precocious Pepper is a handful and she struggles with her hatred of rural life, and the need to join the growing hippie culture. The kids are both influenced by the growing civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, television, and most especially rock and roll.

I sincerely hope that when I am long gone, and the memories of my own children and grandchildren have finally winked out, my great grandchildren and new readers will enjoy these memories and a way of life that was both wonderful and difficult.

Go to my website at if you need explanation for such Old Timey Words as, barditch, bumfuzzled, horse apple, yonder, tea cake, ‘toe sack, dukins…

As a boy, award-winning writer Reavis Z. Wortham hunted and fished the river bottoms near Chicota, Texas, the inspiration for his fictional Center Springs. Reavis Z.  Wortham’s critically acclaimed debut novel, The Rock Hole, was listed in a Starred Review by Kirkus Reviews as one of their “Top Mysteries of 2011.” Burrows, the second novel in this critically acclaimed series received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal listed it as One of Nine Historical Mysteries for the Summer of 2012. Vengeance is Mine, Book 4, was listed by True West magazine as one of their Top 5 Modern Westerns of 2015. A retired educator of 35 years, Reavis and wife Shana live in Frisco, Texas. Visit him online:


Kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimberly said...

I really appreciate authors that do their "homework", so to speak, and really get down and do the necessary research to see how people were talking (and the important customs they had) during the time that their characters were alive. The phrases they used, the accents, even the cuss words that came out of their mouth. It makes is so much more real to me as a reader. I have definitely come across more than a couple historical fiction or historical romance novels that completely threw me off with the modern language the characters used. It was impossible to transport myself back in time when the characters were talking to each other as though they were living in 2012! Some readers don't really have to worry about it, as they aren't fans of historical fiction, but I read nothing but hist fic, so I notice right away whether an author has done their research! lol! Totally not trying to sound like a know it all or anything...just saying I really appreciate the authors that don't think their readers will notice! :)


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