I have to admit that I’ve been surprised that THE HAG RIDER is almost universally liked. It appeals to both adult readers and YA readers.
Yes, it’s about the Civil War and yes, it’s about a Confederate soldier, but it’s also about his struggle to come to terms with his conflicted viewpoints. And through it all, he is protected by a slave witch hired by his best friend and mentor, another slave. His allegiance is not to the South, it is to his soldier brothers for whom the war is camp duty and friendship.
Give it a try. It’s free May 18-21.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. His next novel, Harmon Creek, is due out in June 2022 http://tfenske.com
Harmon Creek opens with a man sitting uncomfortably in court. We find out his name is Claude, and Earl Swanger is his attorney. Claude is a black man at odds with the world he lives in. He was arrested for petty bootlegging during prohibition and the sitting District Attorney is prosecuting him like a hardened criminal. Why? Because Claude is represented by his opponent in an upcoming election.
Claude is not part of the real story, at least as far as I know, but he’s based on a real person. My wife knew the real Claude much later when she’d visit the house of Earl’s widow, Lily May. He was a common presence in the house and on the property. The two had an interesting relationship. Well, relationship is probably the wrong word because there was nothing romantic here. He was a neighbor who had an uncommon devotion to “Miss Lily May” … he was more friend than a handyman and he certainly did a lot of work for her, but for the mid-Twentieth Century in a racially divided America it was certainly a kind of Driving Miss Daisy sort of friendship. Knowing this man was one of my wife’s fondest memories of her visits.
I have always been intrigued by this notion, so I endeavored to add Claude to the equation to perhaps inject some sense to it, at least in my mind. Also, the character Claude adds a great deal of depth to the story and creates a side-story that interweaves with the rest of the novel to make it more compelling, or at least I hope so. In most ways, it is as much Claude’s story as it is Earl’s.
Although the family thought Earl’s death was outright murder, after digesting as many facts as I could, I didn’t think so. I’ve studied murders and although some are cut and dried, most revolve around something quite different, more likely a misunderstanding that got out of hand.
Some of the later witness statements devolved into insinuations by the mysterious woman that Earl had perhaps been drunk or possibly had been behaving inappropriately with her. She apparently changed her story several times, with each iteration becoming more prone to the latter notion.
Please understand, I’ve read family letters both from him and about him, and this man was a nice guy, not prone to cheat on his wife, certainly not a drunk, and anyway, to do so in the middle of a campaign would be political suicide. I also didn’t think an incumbent would be so stupid as to assassinate an opponent. It’s too obvious.
Cheating? I mean, this was a small town, and Miss Lily May was out campaigning for Earl in another section of the district. It was getting into the final stretch. No, this was out of character for this guy.
Ah, but a setup…that would work. Even a somewhat dirty DA wouldn’t be above hiring someone to lure his opponent into the appearances of impropriety. Once I created this premise, the rest of it pretty much wrote itself. I had a backdrop of truth to paint my story against and the increasingly sordid tale meandered across several of the complications that naturally follow these types of crimes.
It’s an old motif. Witnesses who can’t keep quiet, or who you can’t trust completely, must be kept quiet by whatever means. And if the DA is dirty, he’s probably in cahoots with organized crime, which wasn’t just active in Chicago and New York; Huntsville TX sits within the range of a major organization operating out of Galveston at the time. Similar operations existed in Dallas and New Orleans. It makes sense that if there is unwanted attention in even a backwoods part of the operation, it is in these organization’s best interest to help smooth the waters and, if necessary, help each other in the process.
I don’t want to spoil the fun … you’ll just have to read it!
Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina.
Look for HARMON CREEK in June 2022 on Amazon or ask your favorite bookstore to order it.
The basic premise of Harmon Creek revolves around the death of Earl Swanger, a Texas attorney seeking political office in 1930. His quest for the office of District Attorney was cut short when he ended up dead next to an under-construction bridge.
I first heard about this from my wife Gretchen. Earl Swanger was her great-uncle, he was the brother of her maternal grandmother. She grew up with stories about Earl, or Buddie as they called him. The family’s opinion definitely tended toward a politically motivated murder.
When I delved into the case by looking for existing newspaper accounts of the incident, I was surprised at the apparent flurry of these articles. The first headline that caught my eye was from the Bryan Daily Eagle, July 10, 1930:
HUNTSVILLE ATTORNEY, CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOUND DEAD UNDER BRIDGE, WAS STABBED, AUTOPSY SHOWS
That’s interesting enough, but let’s take a look at the accompanying article:
HUNTSVILLE, July 10 AP
An autopsy performed on the body of Earl R. Swanger, 37, candidate for district attorney, found beneath his wrecked automobile, under the Harmon Creek bridge, revealed three stab wounds, officers announced late Wednesday.
Dr. J. L. Martin, who conducted the investigation, said one of the wounds was in the chest, one above the collar bone, and one on the shoulder. He said a large blood vessel had been severed by one of the cuts and that Swanger had bled profusely inwardly. Dr. Martin said the wounds could have caused Swanger’s death.
The coroner’s verdict was withheld pending a further investigation in connection with Swanger’s death.
Swanger, who was formerly county attorney of Leon county had been electioneering in Trinity county and was en route home when he was killed, officers believed. At first, it was thought his car had plunged from the bridge accidentally.
HOUSTON, July 10 AP
A woman who left Huntsville Tuesday night with Earl R. Swanger in his car for Trinity was questioned late Wednesday at her home in Trinity by Sheriff N.L. Speer.
Swanger’s body, with three stab wounds, was found beneath a wrecked car near Huntsville this morning.
She said she had been to Huntsville on business, and had accepted Mr. Swanger’s invitation to ride back to Trinity with him.
She said that en route to her home a man who she knew drove up behind them, and that she decided to complete the trip with him instead of Mr. Swanger. She said that she got out of the car and that Mr. Swanger proceeded to Trinity.
She did not even know that Mr. Swanger was dead until informed by the sheriff, she said.
The county attorney’s force, headed by County Attorney R.T. Burns and Justice of the Peace R.J. Camp, in addition to Sheriff Speer and his deputies, are conducting a probe into the candidate’s mysterious death.
You can see that this story was pulled from the Associated Press news feed. I found many similar articles from small-town newspapers in the Texas area. The death of a political candidate was big news. It even got a huge headline in The Houston Post-Dispatch: TEXAS CANDIDATE MURDERED ON ROAD.
All the early articles had the same basic information: apparent stab wound along with a mysterious woman and man. By the next day, it was reported that the sheriff overruled the other county officials and pushed for the official explanation of the death to be ruled an accident. I think this was when I first started to realize that things were very fishy with this story. His reason? He said the wounds were caused by nails from the construction. This ruling was less than forty-eight hours after the death.
There were other details, to be sure, but they were inconsistent throughout the stories. In a couple, the woman claims she “didn’t kill him but if she could have she would have.” There was also a mention of a possible previous altercation with a man from Houston. I know enough about journalism to know that newswire articles were often embellished, especially at the time.
The most intriguing aspect of the story was how quickly it faded from the public eye. The story disappeared from the news less than two weeks after it was first reported. I mean, gone, disappeared, kaput, nada.
I’ve written murder mysteries, and this seemed to me to be a fertile ground to be explored. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a true story in there too, but I’m a novelist, not an investigative journalist. So, I dusted off my plot generator and percolated all the known facts into what I think is believable crime fiction: Harmon Creek.
More next time!
Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina. Look for Harmon Creek in June, 2022.http://tfenske.com
Today at 12PM EDT my friend and fellow writer Staci Morrison will be hosting an event on Facebook to celebrate both the one year anniversary of the inauguration of her MILLENNIUM epic fantasy series AND the publication of the fourth volume in that series, Sword OF THE SPIRIT.
Congratulations to Staci … four books in one year is quite an accomplishment!
I’ll be participating at 1PM EDT with some information about my own books … You can join at 12 for Staci or you can join at 1 to see what I have to offer. Other authors will be participating. There will be drawings for free books and some other stuff as well. I’ll be giving away a copy of THE HAG RIDER!