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
First things first. I realized after pushing out my last post that I neglected a few things about web site development. I’m trying to remember the first web site I created, but it was way back. 1992 or 1993. You read that right. I had a web site before most people knew the wide wide world of webs even existed. I created it by hand. I remember a colleague who I shared it with asked me “what book did you use?”
I blinked. “Book?”
Anyway, using tools to build websites is a new thing. And moving to a single page format like my cheap new web hosting site requires a bit of tweaking to get it right. But I can use things through links. Like it links this blog just great. And I have a perfectly good Amazon Author Page out there, listing all of my books. They pay developers six figure salaries to do a better job than I could ever do with my multiple book pages on my old site.
Enough about that. Here I am a little more than five weeks out and I am slowly gearing up my massive marketing machine. That’s how it feels sometimes. I often tell people that writing a novel is hard, revising the manuscript is harder, and marketing the sucker kicks me in the ass. Yet, with this being my sixth novel, I’ve learned a few things.
There are plenty of people waiting in the wings just dying to take my hard earned money and help me market my new release. I call most of them “preaching to the choir” services. They prey upon authors and, sadly, most of their focus is to other authors. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that in order to be a good author one must read a lot. But in my experience, most newer authors don’t read very much in the realm of other newer authors. Some do, (and I love you very much) but most don’t.
Then there is the whole eBook/print book thing. My small press is geared primarily toward eBooks, although print books are available and, more recently, available at places beyond Amazon. More on that later. I still don’t understand the aversion to eBooks. I’ve actually read more since I embraced eBooks than I had for years. My Kindle App is loaded on both my tablet and my phone, and it keeps my place on both. If you’ve ever been stuck waiting some place and wish you had something besides a two year old weathered magazine to read, well, pull out your phone and you can just start reading.
Anyway, the key to actually making money in the book biz focuses on getting your books into bookstores. It’s a tough nut to crack for unknown authors. I worked in scholarly publishing for 20+ years and can tell you this: you have to be able to carpet bomb them and that takes capital. See, when bookstores order twenty copies of your book in the hopes that it will sell, they expect that they will be able to return the unsold stock for full credit if the books don’t sell. Huge publishers absorb this cost of doing business. For every best seller they likely have dozens of not-so-best-sellers. Small presses and Indie authors can not compete on a national level so we have to resort to … well, whatever the hell we can.
Here. Now. Me. This. This is what I am doing here, trying to entertain you in a lame attempt to get you to remember my name and even better, my new release, HARMON CREEK. See what I did there? I put in a link. New authors take note. EVERY TIME YOU MENTION YOUR BOOK, put in a link. I don’t have a sales link yet, so I put in a link to a book page I set up on my old website. I have lost count of the book tweets and Facebook posts with authors mentioning “my new book” and they will say “available at Amazon” … yet NO LINK! I should already be navigating there. I guess I should search for you or your book? Really?
Another thing that helps is catchy graphics. Believe it or not, that was originally the purpose of this post, to illustrate the importance of catchy graphics. I’m a writer, not a graphic artist. I do, however, have visual representations that pop into my punkin haid from time to time. All of my book covers were first conceptualized by me. Thankfully, all but one were actually designed by someone who knew what they were doing. The lone cover I designed myself is my free cookbook (companion to my adventure mystery series) and it shows. But I think it matches the cookbook itself, which was designed to mimic the type of local self-produced cookbooks one might find in a rural cafe in the 1980s. I collect vintage cookbooks, I know that genre well. What I came up with, in my lame and crude attempt at design was this:
My book cover, surrounded by true life headlines relating to the primary subject matter of the book itself. Not too bad but I knew it could be better. Enter my awesome and talented daughter Audrey. Dancer turned social media expert that she is, she took my photoshop file and made it into something truly inspiring:
Same cover photo, same headlines, but she knew how to do things I did not and she made it both visually stunning and, well, amazing.
So, basically, what I wanted people to know was that the book is based on a true story. It’s personal to our family as well, the subject was her great-great uncle, her mother’s great uncle. I’ll be sharing more about the back story in coming posts, so stay tuned.
Thomas Fenske is an author living in North Carolina. More information here: https://tfenske.com
Time to load your electronic media for your summer reading pleasure. Escape from the stress and hassle of your vacation by reading about someone else’s stress and hassle: Catch The Fever! Both Kindle Books $1.99 each, June 17 through June 23 http://www.thefensk.com/spec.html
Did you know … you don’t need a Kindle device to read these books?
You can get a free Kindle reading app for your iPad, tablet, phone, or computer.
Read standing in line, waiting for a table, wondering where your wife/husband is … you can even pretend to be working while you are reading!