Father and daughter: a fate bound in the books

I+achieved+my+dream+twenty-four+years+later+in+1988+when+I+published+my+first+newspaper+column+in+The+Paris+News%2C+Wortham+said.+

Chelsea Hamilton

“I achieved my dream twenty-four years later in 1988 when I published my first newspaper column in The Paris News,” Wortham said.

By Rachel Kim, Liberty High School - TX

It’s almost as if her fate was bound to be in books as her dad’s work foreshadowed her career.

The oldest daughter of author Reavis Z. Wortham, campus librarian Chelsea Hamilton, knew what she wanted to do ever since she was a child. 

“Growing up and hearing [my father] talk about writing and revising, and getting ideas about everything, it was never a question,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to be a teacher. It’s going to be English, and eventually when I grow up I want to be a librarian, and that just happened a lot sooner than I anticipated. But, both of my parents were educators, readers, and writers, so this was what I have decided that I was going to do.”  

Both of my parents were educators, readers, and writers, so this was what I have decided that I was going to do,”

— Librarian Chelsea Hamilton

Hamilton, however, was not the only person in the family whose destiny was to be centered around books and novels: it was also her father’s. 

Ever since he learned about the school library as a child, Wortham laid the foundation for his writing career. 

“My mom provided books at first, but the selection was limited at our house because it was back around 1960 and my folks didn’t buy many at that time,” Wortham said. “She and my dad encouraged me to read though, so when I discovered the school library, I read everything I could get my hands on. In fact, I was one of the few second graders to get permission to check out two books at once (back then the limit was one).” 

When Wortham entered fifth grade, he found himself envisioning his future: being an author. However, his intended career was not easy to achieve. 

“I told an aunt that I wanted to be an author when I was only ten years old,” Wortham said. “I tried and tried for years, and failed more times than you could count.” 

I told an aunt that I wanted to be an author when I was only ten years old. I tried and tried for years, and failed more times than you could count,”

— Author Reavis Z. Wortham

Wortham’s first few years in seeking a publishing opportunity were challenging and discouraging as he faced refusal after refusal. 

“I taught hormone-driven middle schoolers for eight years, and high school for the next two, all the while trying to figure out that writing thing,” Wortham said. “We were paid once a month in  Garland ISD and I received ten times as many rejection notices during that same period from a wide range of state and national magazines.”

However, after more than twenty years, Wortham finally accomplished his goal.

“I achieved my dream twenty-four years later in 1988 when I published my first newspaper column in The Paris News,” Wortham said. “[But], my first novel was published in 2011, and I guess that’s when I [truly] became an author.”

Publishing his first book, The Rock Hole, was not what Wortham imagined. Instead, the whole process, although valuable, was completely ineffective in issuing his earliest work.  

“All told, The Rock Hole took nearly ten years from the first line to publication. I had plenty of time to learn the craft of writing, and to see my proficiency advance,” Wortham said. “I sold that novel as a standalone, but my publishers wanted a series. That forced a re-write because I killed everyone off at the end of the original manuscript.”

After turning in his revised copy, Wortham was asked to complete the second book in The Red River Series in less than a year. 

“So instead of ten years, I sat down and wrote Burrows in a short amount of time. But I’d already made all the mistakes of a beginning writer, and with my editor’s advice and encouragement, I streamlined my writing style and brought it in at 90,000 words, on her deadline,” Wortham said. “Now, it takes between six and nine months to finish a manuscript.”

When writing his stories, Wortham ensures that the beginning engages his readers and their imagination. 

“The most important element is a good story that catches the readers’ attention within the first couple of pages, written in a conversational tone,” Wortham said. “It needs strong characters, with a moving plot that is realistic, engaging, and believable.”

When gathering inspiration for his books, Wortham recognizes that he needs to construct an idea that is original and innovative.   

“I read to excess, keep up with the news, study history, and watch a lot of well-written movies. At the same time, I draw from stories I’ve heard throughout my life. I take all of that, blend it together, and hopefully come up with something engaging that readers will enjoy,” Wortham said. “I look for something different in all of them. Ideas and situations that most authors aren’t writing at this time. I find a niche and fill it.”

Just seeing him work on something that he loves so much, and his kicked off novelist career after he retired shows that you have to keep going and doing, and even if you get a bunch of rejections, eventually it will happen,”

— Hamilton

For Hamilton, her father’s accomplishments demonstrate his commitment and perseverance in achieving his goals, leading her to feel a sense of pride and joy. 

“I am so proud of him. I know that he has worked so hard to get his books out,” Hamilton said. “Just seeing him work on something that he loves so much, and his kicked off novelist career after he retired shows that you have to keep going and doing, and even if you get a bunch of rejections, eventually it will happen.” 

This love and encouragement that Wortham receives from his daughter has always been a significant component of his life, especially his career.  

“She was in my lap when I wrote those first columns, and has been a strong supporter of my work through the years. She keeps me in tune with current events, technology, and young people,” Wortham said. “She reads my work and offers advice on the stories, characters, and plot. I bounce ideas off her on a monthly basis, and she always offers valuable suggestions. She is one of my strongest supporters, and that is a foundation stone for a writer.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on December 8, 2021.