The tangy spring air, heavy with honeysuckle; the jackhammer sound of a woodpecker drilling into russet-colored pine bark; the thud of football-size pine cones on a red-dirt forest floor—this is the setting of my childhood in Longview, an East Texas town sandwiched between Marshall and Kilgore on U.S. Highway 80. It holds unimaginable beauty, but also dark secrets that won’t keep speaking to me.
Longview has become the thread running through both of my novels, Big Woods and The Hunting Wives. The town is situated deep in the midst of a lush, bucolic pine forest—so woodsy that it defies what most people think of when they think of Texas—and those woods are not just a backdrop but have almost become a character in my thrillers. As beautiful as they are, they have a sort of haunted eeriness to them, one that I can’t seem to shake.
Big Woods is about a young girl who goes missing during the era of the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, and Big Woods is an actual place in Longview. Growing up, it was rumored to be a gathering spot for devil worshipers, complete with smoldering fire rings, spray-paint pentagrams, and other creepy signs. Even driving through Big Woods as an adult, the trees so tall they snuff out the sunlight, still raised the hair on my arms.
When I wrote that book five years ago, I had recently moved back home from Austin to Longview for a few years. And I honestly don’t think I could’ve written the novel—or, at least, the novel wouldn’t have been the same—had I not had the chance to fully immerse myself in those woods again.
For my latest, The Hunting Wives, I mined a different sort East Texas scary: elite, oil-rich women with too much time, money, and booze on their hands to not get up to no good. Target practice by a posh lakeside cabin, late-night bar hopping, filthy martinis and unending pitchers of margaritas. This, too, is home. And even though these women are pure works of fiction, if I close my eyes and stay quiet for a moment, I can hear their chatter and gossip.
As I’m finishing edits on my third book, and beginning to tinker with my fourth, I ask myself: should this one really be set in Longview, too? But I know the answer before I even fully consider the question. Hell. Yes.