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
If we were trying to have coffee today I’d no doubt be all excited! It’s release day for my latest novel. PENUMBRA.
Some people make a big deal about release day. For me it is a bit anticlimactic…okay, it’s official. Distribution is a little wonky today too. This month my publisher is expanding the print copies into a new supplier. We have been exclusively Amazon for a while. Now Amazon will provide print copies sold on its platform and the new supplier will be able to more easily provide copies to bookstores and libraries.
Of course with anything new, the publisher had no real guidance into how long the new books would be in limbo. When they are available, they’ll be available. To make matters worse, the print copies on Amazon are delayed as well.
It’s a good thing I didn’t plan anything big for release day. Today’s big “release” activity? I cut the grass!
If we were having coffee today, I’d be beaming. “It’s on me,” I’d say. “Go ahead and have a pastry too.”
Several developments have cropped up on the author front. For one, December was one of my most promising and successful months ever. We’re not talking about a big moneymaker yet, but a very good free book promotion on my first novel, The Fever, resulted in a definite uptick in sales for the other two books in the trilogy. I also saw a distinct spike in the number of pages read on KindleUnlimited. In this case, readers pay a monthly charge and they can read any of the books contained in the KindleUnlimited program. The royalty is a bit reduced but then again, these folks are a different market too, prolific readers who aren’t going to buy individual books. I tend to focus on the “prolific readers” part of that equation.
A while back I dusted off an old manuscript I wrote five years ago; it was still a rough draft. I pitched it to an agent at an author conference I attended and was invited to submit it. It was a lark. I mean, I already have a publisher who likes my writing. I wondered if maybe I could step it up a notch. I quickly worked it up and submitted it. No word in seven months. I even requested an update a couple of times, within the timeframes on the agency’s website.
Disheartened, I considered self-publishing. It is indeed a viable option. I requested quotes for the various stages of pre-publishing work. The costs are high. I was willing to invest the money, but I also decided to do a little pragmatic introspection. I already had a relationship with a small publisher, Wings ePress. It’s a small step up from self-publishing, but in many aspects, it is very similar. In the end, I decided to submit the manuscript to them. I am happy to report that I have now contracted to publish this new novel, The Hag Rider. It is not part of my published series, it is a stand-alone historical fiction book with a strong paranormal component. I’ll give you more information about it in the coming months.
Right on top of that, I’ve been actively working on a new installment of my Traces of Treasure series. I just finished the first revision pass. It is working up very nicely and in a very short time. I can see that my story development and writing is getting better with every project. I did something this week I’ve never done. I enlisted one of my trusted beta readers to give the manuscript a quick read … after the first revision. I have always waited to complete the second revision to do this. I got a glowing report. Very encouraging. I still want to complete a second revision, but if I still feel the same way, I’ll be submitting it very soon. (Oh, geez, I’m committing myself now).
Anyway, I’m hoping my progress continues into the rest of 2020, but I do know that editing and manuscript reviews of two different novels in quick succession is going to be a challenge, and it will take time away from new writing. And working on two books in quick succession is confusing … “Wait, is this Sam or is this Jack?”
Anyway, I’m stoked. Go ahead and order something else. What do you have on tap in 2020?
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. Get more information about him and his current books here: http://thefensk.com
If we were having coffee today I’d be telling you all about my big Labor Day Sale this weekend on my current backlist.
With the third novel in my Traces of Treasure series due out in a few weeks, I thought this would be a great time for the teeming masses to catch up on the first two books. Both ebooks for The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep are on sale through Monday 9/2 for just 99 cents on Amazon (99p on Amazon UK).
Of course, for your convenience, you can buy the paperback versions from both sites — but they aren’t on sale. That’s out of my control.
Don’t sell ebooks short though, they have a lot of advantages. You can carry an entire library around with you. You can easily read in the dark. You can adjust the text size. They are less expensive. They save paper. You can buy and get them 24 hours a day. There are free reader apps for almost any device.
The biggest comment I get is that people like to hold a book. I got over that limitation by buying a nice folio cover for my tablet … it feels like a book, it really does, and the apps have a flip page function and you don’t even have to lick your fingers.
What excuses do you have for not buying a nice ebook for a great price?
Thomas Fenske is an author living in NC. More information on his books can be found at http://thefensk.com