I was born and brought up in Mexia (that's pronounced Muh-HAY-uh by the natives), Texas. The town's most famous former citizen is Anna Nicole Smith, whom my brother taught in biology class when she was in the ninth grade. I've always lived in small Texas towns, unless you count Austin as a large town. It wasn't so large when I lived there, though. I attended The University of Texas at Austin for many, many years. My wife (the lovely Judy) says that I would never have left grad school if she hadn't forced me to get out and get a real job. I eventually earned my Ph.D. there, writing a dissertation on the hardboiled detective novel, and thereby putting my mystery-reading habit to good use. Before that, I'd gotten my M.A. at the University of North Texas (in Denton), and afterward I taught English at Howard Payne University for twelve years. Then I moved to scenic Alvin, Texas, where until 2002 I was the Chair of the Division of English and Fine Arts. I retired in August 2002 to become a either a full-time writer or a part-time bum. Take your pick.
What kind of books do I write? All kinds, but mostly mysteries. The Sheriff Dan Rhodes series features the adventures of a sheriff in a small Texas county where there are no serial killers, where a naked man hiding in a dumpster is big news, and where the sheriff still has time to investigate the theft of a set of false teeth. The first book in this series won an Anthony Award for "best first mystery novel" in 1986. The latest book in the series is Murder in Four Parts. I also write about a couple of college English teachers. Carl Burns teaches at a four-year school and is a reluctant amateur sleuth who, according to one reader's complaint, frequently gets beaten up by women. He works at a small denominational college, and his latest case can be found in . . . a Dangerous Thing. Sally Good is the chair of the English Department at a community college near the Texas Gulf Coast. She's also a reluctant amateur sleuth, but nobody beats her up. Check her out in A Knife in the Back. And then there's my private-eye steries. Truman Smith operates on Galveston Island, not far from Houston. The first book in the series was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private-Eye Writers of America, but to date no one has had the wisdom ot publish the books in paperback, and the series is out of print.
But wait! There's more! Yes, I write nonseries books, too. In the mystery field, there's The Texas Capitol Murders in which you get murder, politics, and a bunch of pretty odd characters, some of whom aren't even Texas legislators. Blood Marks is my venture into serial killerdom, and it's completely different from anything else I've ever written. It's bloody and violent and the reviewers (even Kirkus!) loved it. Probably my best-selling book.
And of course there are the westerns, including Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante.
So what do I do in my spare time? I run five or six days a week. I used to run in the afternoons, but now that I'm retired, I run in the early mornings. In scenic Alvin, Texas, it doesn't make much difference. It's always hot, and the humidty is always about like it is around the equator. Judy says I'm a fanatic about running, but she's wrong. I just try to do it regularly.
And I listen to music. I have an extensive library of CDs, and I pop in whatever I'm in the mood to hear. Most of this music is from another era, which proves once and for all that I'm an old fogy, but I can't help it. Mostly I listen to New York doo-wop, rockabilly, The Platters, the Coasters, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Dion and the Belmonts, and any group or solo singer from the 1950s that you can think of. There's earlier stuff, too, like Les Paul and Mary Ford and the Ink Spots. I also like the music of the "folk era" of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Lots of that has been reissued on CD recently, and I'm an eager customer. Of course, I don't really hear the music most of the time; I tend to get so involved in the writing that everything around me disappears. But I like to think that the songs have some kind of subliminal effect and maybe even seep into the novel I'm working on. I'd love to write a book that was like a Buddy Holly record, with that same infectious sense of fun, or a book that caught the spirit of the end of the school year like the Jamies' "Summertime, Summertime." I have the five-CD set of Elvis' 1950s' masters and the four-CD Roy Orbison set, not to mention a lot of great stuff by the Everly Brothers, CDs containing all the records of the real Kingston Trio (the one with Dave Guard), the Atlantic "History of Rhythm and Blues" CDs, a double set by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, and more wonderful stuff than I can list here.
I'm also a big mystery fan: I've had a letter in every single issue (more than 150 now) of Cap'n Bob Napier's "letterzine," Mystery & Detective Monthly. I also do my own fanzine, Macavity, which appears in DAPA-Em, the only amateur press association devoted to mystery fiction. I haven't missed a mailing in more than twenty years.
And then there are the cats: Three of them. Geri, Speedo, and Sam. All three are different ages, and all three of them just turned up here. I was too soft-hearted to turn them away, so by now they've just about taken over the place. Not that anyone seems to mind.