If we were having coffee today, somehow, somewhere, I’m sure I’d mention the upcoming release. My latest novel, The Hag Rider, is due out in two weeks! Once all the writing and revisions are done, the editing and resulting changes are in, the copyediting and final review of the galleys are done, and the cover art is approved and ready … then an author must wait. And wait.
If you self-publish, you can go ahead and push it out. If you have a publisher, you wait for them to work it into their schedule. It’s good, it teaches patience. It allows you to get a few pre-release reviews too, and in some instances gives you the ability to put in a few last-minute corrections your sharp-eyed early reviewers spotted.
So here we are … two weeks to go. I’m working on some promotions but it is still just a tad early … I need the buy links to be in place. I think that will be soon.
It’s got five good reviews now … check the book blurb and the reviews for The Hag Rider here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53125987-the-hag-rider.
Wait, what? What the heck is a hag rider? Okay, we’re friends, so I’ll crack the door open a bit. The entire story is loosely based on my great-great-grandfather, who enlisted in the 26th Texas Cavalry at the tender age of fifteen. He listed his date of enlistment on his Confederate Pension application in the 1920s. In fact, I think he flubbed his birth date (he was already in the initial stages of dementia at that time), but enlistment dates were checked against existing records (of which there were a surprising number). If we took that date he would have been fourteen, but I prefer to use the birth date on his death certificate, which would make him fifteen.
I don’t know anything more about his service except his affirmation on his application that he never deserted. There is, however, a very nice, if brief, sketch of the 26th Texas Cavalry written by its commander, Xavier DeBray, a French-trained military officer who relocated to Texas. The 26th spent most of its time patrolling along the Texas coast and participated in the retaking of Galveston on January 1, 1863; it had been occupied by the Federal blockade fleet the previous October. Later the 26th participated along with other forces trying to stop General Butler’s Red River campaign in 1864.
I read a lot of soldier biographies, where one gets a better sense of the war. So many people focus on the officers and the elites. I then decided to scan for his name in an electronic version of The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. It is a huge work, comprising many volumes. It usually takes up two or three shelves in the library stacks. It has the records from both sides, action reports, orders, all sorts of stuff. Officers from both sides participated in cataloging all of the information over a number of years. Anyway, I searched for his name, John Benson, and got a single hit. A John Benson, origin unknown, was released from Fort Lafayette in NYC in the Spring of 1863, for exchange at City Point VA, which was a common thing in 1863.
I knew it was almost certainly NOT my ancestor but still … I wondered to myself, “What if?”
As I did more research, I began to formulate a believable scenario … my problem: how to get young John from Texas to NYC so he could be repatriated to the South in the spring of 1863. This was the spark that gave me the idea for the entire story. I think my fiction works and is believable.
Anyone who has read my other books knows, I love to put a subtle bit of paranormal into all my stories and this one is no different. The Hag Rider is the person who helps John, who is usually known as Jack in the story. He is sometimes called Captain Jack — a nickname foisted upon him in jest by his mentor, an old man, a slave, who teaches him a lot about life in the early part of the story. The Hag Rider is an old woman, a mixed-blood with some Native American and white ancestry, but her black ancestry has kept her a slave. She’s a hoodoo trick doctor, and an aquaintance of the old man.
When young Jack is attracted to the hoopla surrounding secession and aspires to enlist, the old man falls ill with grief. He hires Vanita, the trick doctor, to protect Jack throughout the war. Her weapon of choice is called hag riding. It was a folkloric explanation of the time for night terrors; people would assume they’d been hag-ridden by a paranormal entity sitting on their chest. In Vanita’s case, she uses it as a way to instill something akin to a post-hypnotic suggestion in an effort to aid young Jack.
It is written as a Civil War memoir. Yes, Jack serves for the confederacy but he is no fan of slavery and is quite confused by the many issues bandied about. Once in the cavalry, he feels honor-bound by his duty to his fellow soldiers and his unit. He is captured and transported to that prison in NYC (the details work themselves out logically), then makes his way back across the south to his unit. Along the way … he finds that Vanita is following him every step and coercing help as needed through her tremendous power.
All initial reviews are very positive. People seem to really engage with the story. It is not pro-Confederate; if anything it is anti-slavery, although, in the context of the story, Jack admits there is nothing much he can do about that institution except treat everyone he comes across decently, as his mentor always taught him.
I tried to write through him and show the war as a product of the times, in a matter-of-fact style, just like many of the other memoirs I read during research. As Vanita tells him, she’s looked ahead and seen the outcome and knows the South is going to lose and understands that this war is a necessary thing to get rid of slavery once and for all. She tells him she’s helping because he is going to be fighting to lose. Word of caution: don’t mess with Vanita Valine. Seriously. Just don’t.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Keep checking his web page for information about The Hag Rider … this is a book everybody will want to read, it’s not quite like any other Civil War story you’ve ever read and is suitable for YA as well as anyone else. http://thefensk.com