Currently viewing the tag: "historical fiction"

Blank Slate Press, now an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group, has had a banner year! We’ve published some amazing books and you’ll be hearing more about them as we do our best to keep this blog more up to date and active. Plus, there’s more exciting news coming in 2016, too! In 2015, we published:

And our first title for 2016 is coming out in February. THE WRECKING CREW  is an exciting thriller in the tradition of Clive Cussler and James Rollins written by, by Taylor Zajonc, a terrific new writer whose life off the page is almost as exciting as his characters’! Click here for an interview with Taylor.


SLLC LIT IN THE LOU posterWe are so excited by the amazing line-up we’ve got for our first annual LIT IN THE LOU Book Festival. We’ve got our program set, although there still might be a few tweaks! Please check it out here:

Please note that the schedule is a two-page spread, so that when you download the pdf, 
go to VIEW and select TWO PAGES UP to see the times.

Here’s how you can be involved:

  • Attend the Launch Party Friday night:
    • 7:30, 5th Floor of the University City City Hall building. We’ll hear from poets and politicians! And we’ll have music and appetizers from Racanellis and the first annual TRADITION OF LITERARY EXCELLENCE AWARD will be given to local literary lion William H. Gass.
  • ATTEND THE FREE READINGS AND WORKSHOPS ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY:  International bestselling and award-winning authors from our home town will be NOT ONLY reading, but participating in workshops and sharing their experiences with readers and writers like YOU. Don’t miss it! It is FREE.
  • SUPPORT LIT IN THE LOU by contributing to our IndieGoGo campaign so we can grow our book festival in the years to come!

We have some more big news here at Blank Slate Press! In addition to welcoming two new authors to the fold, Lynne Hugo and Deborah Lincoln, we’re also preparing to launch two new books from two tried and tested Blank Slate Press authors. The sequel to Kevin Killeen’s smash debut Never Hug A Nun is slated for release in July of 2014, and the second installment Steve Weigenstein’s timeless historical novel Slant Of Light will be released in September. As always, we’re incredibly excited about both novels, and we can’t wait to introduce them to the public. Now there’s not just warm weather and green trees to look forward to in the summer: there’s two more great books coming out from BSP.

Try to Kiss a Girl It’s July, 1969 and the Apollo Eleven astronauts are hurtling toward the moon, and somewhere down below,  two eleven-year old boys who meet on vacation launch their own mission — to try to kiss a girl before the week is over. Try to  Kiss a Girl is the title for the sequel to Killeen’s hilarious and heartwarming story of the misadventures of seven-year-old Patrick Cantwell. Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store for Patrick and his readers:

It’s a hot week in the Michigan resort town of Grand Haven, where Patrick Cantwell — the juvenile delinquent from Never Hug a Nun meets a new friend who reveals to him the secret of the ages… where babies come from. 

Astonished and ashamed that he has overlooked this hidden activity at work throughout history, an activity which apparently even Abraham Lincoln knew about, Patrick wonders what else he has missed and decides he needs to open his eyes and start living.

Shaking hands with his new friend Rex on a five-dollar bet, Patrick rockets into high orbit to try to be the first to kiss a girl before their vacation is over.

But it’s not that easy.  There’s Mr. Jawthorne, the protective father of the kissable, young Tammy and her ChapStick-loving friend Ginny.  There’s a biker just back from Vietnam on a road trip to no longer be a killer who meets two boys in Grand Haven he’d just love to kill.  And there’s Patrick’s big Catholic family whose puzzle nights, dirty diapers and warnings about sin and death threaten to cost Patrick five bucks.

Try to Kiss a Girl is Kodak snapshot of the station wagon era, when the simulated wood grain was unfaded, and parents were young and a cooler full of orange soda and WonderBread sandwiches prevented back seat anarchy.  Well, most of the time.

Up ahead — beyond the Burger Chefs, the Sinclair Dinosaurs and Stuckey’s – was a rental cottage with crooked floors and a lake view, a land of relaxed adult supervision and freedom.  A place where an eleven-year old boy could body surf on a red flag day, ignore thoughts of the approaching school year, work on his pinball game at the Khardomah Lodge and try to figure out someway, somehow… to kiss a girl.

This uproarious tale makes a great companion to the first, and Killeen’s laugh-out-loud prose will ensure that everyone else at the beach gives you plenty of funny looks while you read.

This Old World is the second installment in Steve Weigenstein’s historical series Daybreak. The sequel to the award-winning debut, Slant of Light,  follows the development of the utopian colony Daybreak, as James Turner and his wife Charlotte struggle to lead a group of people with noble ambitions but very human flaws.

Weigenstein resumes the story in the aftermath of the Civil War, which nearly tore the colony apart. Turner, along with the other men who survived, return to Daybreak. But unfinished business comes back to haunt them all and they discover that the wounds of war do not easily heal. Now the colony faces the same challenges as the nation at large: How to rebuild in the face of such devastation? Can the innocence and idealism that was lost ever be recovered?

The cover isn’t finalized, but we thought we’d give you a peek at where we’re going with it. What do you think?

working cover for This Old World by Steve Wiegenstein

The Historical Novel Society’s 2013 Conference is almost upon us and we’re delighted to once again host an author interview in preparation for the big event. Today, we host Victoria Sutton, professor, lawyer and scientist. She writes fiction and nonfiction, including historical fiction typically involving biological or toxicological aspects.

Q – What got you first interested in historical fiction?

A - I think my first introduction to historical fiction that thoroughly took me in was through the British comedy series, Black Adder, starring Rowan Atkinson.  That probably drew me into reading historical fiction where I could find the world I craved to experience in an historically accurate way.

My first attempt at writing historical fiction was in my early years after working on geneaology research in the family and I needed to fill in some gaps, so I wrote a fiction piece about how I thought the family history had happened based on my understanding of the context of the period.  It was very satisfying and gave me much broader insights than I would have had doing strictly nonfictional notetaking in the research.  But I never forgot that process.

Q – How do you find the people and topics of your books?

A – I find people who have many of the same wants and desires as we do, today.  I have an endless number of story ideas, but they all tend to be created around an idea or conflict that is still with us today — gender bias, war, politics, power struggles.

Q – Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

A – I diagram the story from start to finish and have a rough outline and diagram.  I leave it open for changing it but it gives me a solid starting place.  The whole idea for me is to get a draft done first and then revise.  I have heard there are two types of writers – the planner and the gardner.  I am the planner type.

For research around the historical period, I look for the scholarly articles and books that have been peer-reviewed for accuracy and then go from there to other secondary sources.  I look at key historical events that may not be particularly important now, but were at the time.

Q – For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

A – The historical context has to be accurate as well as the setting and possibilities.  Most of the time the character is fictional reacting to factual history. That is the magic of being in that world in a convincing way and (hopefully) bringing your reader along.

Q – Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you’d like to share?

A – I have given a lot of talks about biological crimes and once I was giving a talk and suddenly realized that one of the convicted criminals I had highlighted in my talk was sitting in the audience, just released from prison!  I had a tense moment deciding whether I should omit that part of my talk, but decided I should give the talk as planned. I didn’t leave anything out, because it was important to my narrative of the law, but it was a rare moment I will remember.

Q – Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?

A – I see it growing with the popularity of “The Borgias”, the popular television series and even “Game of Thrones.” Though “Game of Thrones” is decidedly a fantasy, it is based on the factual War of the Roses and that world.  I definitely see a growing interest in the genre as a way to tell a fascinating story that has another world that can be explored and experienced.

Q – Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?

A – I enjoy all periods, but I am most attracted to the Medieval period anywhere in the world and the emergence from that period typically around 1500.  I am also interested in the Magna Carta period of 1251.

Q – What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?

A – Anything by Philippa Gregory and the underrated and one of my favorites, Jeanne Kalogridis.  I also like David Liss’s “The Coffee Trader”.  I fear I am leaving out a lot on this question because I have broad interests.

As for favorite movies, I write about the subgenre biohorror, biothriller and bio-fantasy in a new book, The Things That Keep Us Up At Night:  Reel BioHorror at .   You probably will not be surprised some of my favorite historical movies are about the black plague and that period, the 1340s:   Black Death (2010), The Name of the Rose (1986) and The Seventh Seal (1957).  Other all time favorites are Doctor Zhivago (1965), Passion of the Christ (2004), Ben Hur (1959), and any of the Indiana Jones movies.

Q – Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?

A – Alexander Tolstoy

What book was the most fun for you to write?

A – The Lady and the Highwayman, aka 1511

Q – Can you tell us about your latest publication?

My latest work is “The Lady and the Highwayman” which won a place in the Golden Acorn historical romance category, last year.  I am excited about my character, Lady Rasa, a young woman from Lithuania who travels to Padua, Italy in 1511 after her entire family was killed by the black plague.  She resolves to go to medical school at the University of Padua in the region of Italy in hopes of saving humanity from the plague, but after all her planning finds that the University admits only men.  Just when she thinks she has her life planned, she falls in love with her classmate who she discovers is not what he seems to be — but then, neither is she.

Q – Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?

A – I suppose the oddest thing that happened was once not too long ago, when I was writing for a deadline I stayed awake far too long.  While writing, I fell asleep for awhile, but kept writing – apparently.  The next morning I read what I had written and it was like I had never seen it before.  It was actually not so bad but must have been generated in my subconscious brain.  I since had it happen again, and thought it was great, but a little weird.  I just hope I am not shopping online or writing an email to someone if that happens again!

Ok, I am sure it has happened to other writers who are pushing a deadline, too, but here I am, admitting it.  You have had this happen to you, right? Right? Yes?  Please say yes!

As authors, publishers, and readers of historical fiction gear up for the Historical Novel Society Annual Conference, which will be held this year from June 21, 2013 to Sunday June 23, 2013 at the historic Vinoy Renaissance Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida, bloggers are posting interviews with those who will be presenting or participating on panels. Blank Slate Press is delighted to feature author Jack W. London. For more on Jack’s books, visit his website at: (edited 6.10)


Q.  What got you first interested in historical fiction?  

A.  In the fifth or sixth grade, when I read Gone with the Wind and several Sherlock Holmes books.

Q.  How do you find the people and topics of your books?

A.  My novels are of people  who are ordinary in their own right but find themselves pulled up into extraordinary events.   My characters might be someone you went to school with, or married, or worked with in a shop or farm, but whose lives were changed by being pulled into the Army in World War II, or who left a small town to go to work in a bomb factory.  Ordinary people who by living in extraordinary times became extraordinary themselves.

Q.  Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

A.  I am emphatic about primary source research.   For example, in Virginia’s War, when I wrote about a young woman who is issuing ration stamp books  in March, 1944, I researched the Office of Price Administration records to learn precisely what stamp symbol (such as a stamp with an image of a tank or a stalk of wheat) was issued that month, for which commodities, such as butter, and how many stamps were required.    When I wrote about a young man who is applying field dressings to a wounded soldier, I researched the Army Medical Corps History of the European Theatre to learn precisely what the medical facility would be called, what its personnel roster included, where in Normandy it set up facilities, and the kinds  of dressings that were and were not available.  When you have that level of detail, the things the characters do is much easier to write because you already are in their ‘shoes.’

Q.  For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

A.  Events that form the background of a story must be reasonably accurate as to time, date, place, known participants, that sort of thing.

Q.  Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you’d like to share?  

A.  A French-speaking host on a radio interview confessed that he went to the municipal records office in St. Lo, France, to try to find the family names and actual facts of a woman I had made up as a character in Engaged in War.  He said that she and her family were so real to him that he believed I had been writing about an actual family and he woke up in the middle of the night worrying about what had become of them after the book ended.

Q.  Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?

A.  Glutted with poorly-written books  by people who do not want to learn the craft of writing.

Q.  Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?  

A.  I trained as a medievalist and continue to be fascinated by the period between 1154 and 1485.   However, it is not the era that draws my reading but the quality of the writing.   Anya Seton wrote a fascinating novel about Katherine de Roet Swynford but was criticized by Alison Weir, an alleged historian, for writing in a number of unknown details as if they were facts, such as the outcome of the disappearance of her daughter, the existence and role of a serving woman who befriended her, that sort of thing.  When I read Weir’s own ‘history’ of Katherine Swynford, it was almost unreadable and relied on the words ‘may,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘is possible,’ ‘might have,’ and the kind to an extent that no self-respecting historian would do.

Q.  What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences? 

A.  Favorite reads:   The war trilogy written by Evelyn Waugh (Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, End of the Battle) and almost anything by Jane Gardam and William Boyd.  Favorite movies:  I’m a sucker for Out of Africa and Casablanca.  Dominating Influences:  story telling, romance, and accuracy.

 Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?

A.  Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Simon Schama, Rick Atkinson

Q.   What book was the most fun for you to write?

A.  Engaged in War

Q.  Can you tell us about your latest publication? 

A.  My series on writing advice, A Novel Approach, is being edited at the present.

Q.  Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share? 

A.  I am asked daily some variant of the question about ‘the other’ Jack London, most often whether we are related.  Every once in a while someone asks me the home run question:  Are you Jack London?    I have long since given up explaining and now simply say ‘yes,’ which now and then gets me a hotel upgrade or a seat at the front of the room, but that’s about it.

Click here to find out more about the Historical Novel Society and historical fiction. 

(Updated 12.5.2011 – More proof everyone needs a proofreader. Thanks to Elena Makansi for pointing out my misplaced apostrophe.)

Blank Slate Press was founded in 2010. With the help of our Editorial Board, we selected our first two authors–who, incidentally, had NOT finished their books–and guided them through the publication process with both books coming out in early 2011. While it was a learning experience for all of us, we successfully launched two debut novelists to rave reviews. THE SAMARITAN by Fred Venturini, our first book out the door, has received more accolades than we can keep track of and our second book, DANCING WITH GRAVITY by Anene Tressler, continues to receive glowing praise for the beautiful writing, the unique protagonist, and the startlingly revealing journey through one man’s crisis of character and journey of faith.

Besides kudos for the writing, both books have won awards (DANCING WITH GRAVITY won the 2011 Literary Fiction category from International Book Awards and THE SAMARITAN won the Cross-Genre category from USA Book Awards) and now both have been included on notable end-of-year “Best of…” reading lists. Shelf Unbound magazine named THE SAMARITAN as one of its top 10 Small Press books of 2011 (a list which was picked up by USA Today) and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has included DANCING WITH GRAVITY on its round up of favorite books of 2011.

For those of you keeping count, that’s an amazing 2 for 2. Not bad for a debut publishing house. Not bad at all.

But that’s only the beginning!

We’ve got more great books on the horizon plus we’re launching a sister imprint — tentatively titled Treehouse Publishing — to offer curated, collaborative publishing to authors interested in forging a middle path between working with a traditional publishing team and the new financial opportunities afforded by going it alone through self-publishing.

Our next Blank Slate Press book, DAYBREAK by Steve Wiegenstein, is in production now and will be launched in the spring of 2012. DAYBREAK, set on the cusp of the Civil War, follows the story of charismatic author and speaker James Turner, his pragmatic wife Charlotte, and the idealistic abolitionist Adam Cabot as they work to build a Utopian society in the bottom lands of the Missouri Ozarks. While Steve does a fantastic job transporting the reader back in time and capturing the turmoil of the period, the thing that absolutely captivates me about this book is the amazing characters that populate it. Not only are Turner, Charlotte and Adam wonderfully drawn, but the secondary characters are so colorful and compelling that, even when they’re absolutely dangerous, good-for-nothing low-lifes and outlaws, you can’t help but love them. I can’t wait to introduce the world to Sam Hildebrand (a real-life Ozark outlaw), Harp Webb, Lysander Smith, and the men and women of the Daybreak community.

In short, DAYBREAK is fantastic.

And I can’t wait to tell you more about our first Treehouse title. I’ll be getting the revised manuscript mid-December and will write more about it then. For now, I can tell you now that it’s a fictional chronicle of one man’s experience in the Vietnam War. Torn between being a conscientious objector and doing his duty to serve his country, the main character ends up trained for the infantry but, at the last moment, he is pulled from his trip to the front lines and stuck in an office simply because he can type. It’s a look at running a war’s back office and is a bit like Catch 22 meets M*A*S*H meets The Office. If you’re interested in the philosophical pretzels we can twist ourselves into when it comes to war, this book is for you.

Stay tuned for more on this one!



We’re getting tantalizingly close to having ARCs ready for review. Set on the cusp of the Civil War, DAYBREAK is the story of James Turner, his wife Charlotte, Adam Cabot, and the founding of a Utopian community in the Ozarks of Missouri. It is a story of ambition and conceit, love and betrayal, loss and hardship and, above all, idealism and survival. DAYBREAK unfolds against the backdrop of Civil War agitation, abolitionism, and the hardscrabble life on the edge of the frontier. If you would like to read or review an electronic ARC, please send me a note at kbmakansi @ Scroll down for a preview of chapter 1 ….


Chapter One

August 1857

The keelboat moved so slowly against the current that Turner sometimes wondered if they were moving at all. Keeping a steady rhythm, Pettibone and his son worked the poles on the quarter-sized boat they had built to ply the smaller rivers that fed the Mississippi. Whenever the current picked up a little, Turner took the spare pole and tried to help, but although he was tall and muscular, with a wide body that didn’t narrow from shoulders to hips, poling a boat wasn’t as simple as it looked. He pushed too soon, too late, missed the bottom, stuck the pole in the mud, all to the amusement of Pettibone’s son, Charley.

“Limb,” Pettibone called. They all ducked.

Turner had unloaded his cargo at a steamboat landing in Arkansas and come the rest of the way on the keelboat, winding through the tangle of bayous where the rivers met, the countryside flat and swampy, the loops of the river indistinguishable. Pettibone claimed he knew the channel of the St. Francis, so there was nothing to do but trust him.

Turner wondered now about the steamboat captain’s advice to take a boat up the St. Francis instead of continuing to Cape Girardeau and traveling overland in whatever wagons he could rent or buy. Mosquitoes woke them before dawn and troubled them until the sun’s heat drove them to the shade, then troubled them again as soon as the sun declined. To give more purchase to their poles, they hugged the bank, but that meant fighting through overhanging brush all day. In the center of the boat was a stumpy mast, a four-inch pole draped with a canvas sail, fixed with a series of shaky-looking braces. Pettibone was constantly adjusting it, but most of the time it just hung slack in the hot, wet air. At night they tied up on the few solid-looking humps of land and slept on the boat for fear of snakes, netting draped over their bodies to slow down the mosquitoes. Even then Turner could not sleep well, dreaming of fat water moccasins slithering onto the deck.

On the eighth day a long low rise appeared before them. “That there’s Crowley’s Ridge,” said Pettibone. “Last piece of Arkansas you’ll see.”

“Thank God Almighty for that,” Turner replied.

The ridge sat to their left like a humped cloud bank on the horizon, but the countryside didn’t change. Arkansas on the left, Missouri on the right, it was all the same. Charley, a boy of thirteen, entertained himself by commenting aimlessly on everything he saw—turtles, herons, the stream of his pee into the river—until his father growled for silence.

The current strengthened as they rounded the ridge, and Turner had to wade ashore with a rope. At first he pulled directly on the boat, but Pettibone showed him how to snub the rope around a tree and keep it tight.

“Just take up the slack,” he said. “You don’t need to haul us upriver yourself.”

Turner filed away this information, as he planned to file away every piece of knowledge he gained for the next few years. He had to; this new chapter of his life depended on it. He was no farmer and had thirty years’ worth of experience to catch up on. But surely a man could pick up the tricks with attentiveness and study.

What in all creation am I doing here? he asked himself with every stroke of the pole. He didn’t know what he had been born to become, but by God it was not a farmer. He’d seen them every day back in Illinois, clumping into the newspaper office on their trips into town to hear the gossip, to sit around the desk and spit, leaving the editor’s boy—him—to clean up their misses. When he was small, he had disliked these men—their earthy smell, their beards, their ragged clothes. As he grew older, he saw that they were not dirty and ragged by choice, but by necessity, their lives swallowed up by their forty acres of ground, their debts, the prices handed to them by the local merchants and the railroad men. Of course they were ignorant of the larger world. Their world was no bigger than a quarter mile square, and that if they were lucky.

Even then, Turner knew he was not going to be a village editor like his father, listening with forced politeness to any son-of-a-bitch with a nickel, bowing to the county judges for the privilege of printing their legal notices. And now, if his father were alive, how he would laugh to see him on a keelboat, hauling a pile of tools and seeds into Missouri.

“Okay, jump on,” Pettibone said. “We’re crossing over.”

Ahead, the ridge finally came down to meet the river, ending in some low chalk bluffs. A ferryboat was tethered on the Missouri side where a wagon track ended in a ramp of packed dirt.

The ferryman, thin and toothless, walked out of his shed as they poled by. He was shirtless but wore a battered hat. “Well, Pettibone,” he called. “Come in and set. I got whiskey.”

Pettibone cast a sideways glance but did not stop poling. “My customer here is in a hurry. I’ll get you on the way back down.”

The ferryman touched the brim of his hat to Turner. “You’re welcome inside too, mister.”

“No thanks. Not even noon yet.”

“Where you headed?”

Pettibone interrupted. “Greenville, up by Greenville.” They were almost out of talking range. “Save me some of that old tanglefoot for when I come back.”

“I will, I will,” the ferryman called out, and turned back to his cabin.

They poled in silence until they rounded the next bend.

“I tell you what,” Pettibone said in a low voice. “That old bastard won’t cut your throat for your goods, but he knows people who will.”

By nightfall they had reached higher ground, and Pettibone’s mood improved. Ahead of them Turner could see the Ozarks rising up in the distant dusk, so low and hazy that they seemed like an illusion, no mountains, hardly even hills from this distance, but surely more than he had grown up with on the Illinois prairie. As they poled toward an angle of bank to tie up for the night, Pettibone, in the bow, suddenly dropped to the deck and motioned for Turner and the boy to be quiet. The boat drifted on, and as they floated to the bank, a deer came into view about fifty yards ahead, drinking.

Crouched behind the pile of supplies, Pettibone quietly removed a rifle from a box beside him. He tamped the powder and ball, wadded the barrel, and rested it across some sacks of flour. As soon as the deer raised its head, he fired. The gun made a deafening roar and sent a cloud of smoke across the boat, but when it cleared they could see the deer, dead, half in the river and half on the bank. It was a small doe, about eighty pounds.

Within half an hour they had the deer dressed and hanging from a tree limb. Pettibone set to butchering while Turner and the boy gathered firewood. Soon they had a foreleg over the fire.

“We’ll cook the rest tomorrow morning and take it with us,” the boatman said. “Get to Greenville, I’ll trade half of it for something. Full bellies tonight, boys.”

They were waiting for the venison to cook, Pettibone and Charley resting against a log and Turner sitting on an upturned nail keg, when a man on horseback appeared out of the darkness on the other side of the fire. He had arrived so quietly that he seemed to materialize out of the air. None of the three even had time to be surprised.

“I heard a shot,” said the man.

Pettibone and his son sat stiffly against the log. There was an awkward pause. So Turner jumped to his feet. A quick mind and a firm handshake had gotten him this far.

“Yes, indeed,” he said. “My friend here had some fine luck. Won’t you join us? We have plenty.”

The man glanced around the camp. He was tall and thin, with a narrow face and a long, bony nose. “Just you three?”

“Just us three.” Turner took a step toward him. He was a young man in his twenties, with black hair and an attempt at a beard. From his saddle horn hung a rifle in a homemade canvas scabbard. A rope trailed from his saddle, and in the darkness behind him, Turner could hear the snuffles and snorts of hogs.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said the man. He dismounted and Turner saw the glint of firelight on the barrel of a revolver stuck in his belt. He guessed by their frozen expressions that Pettibone and Charley had seen it too.

“James Turner,” he said, extending his hand.

The man shook it solemnly. “Sam Hildebrand.” He glanced behind himself. “I am taking some hogs to my cousin in Bloomfield. Hope you don’t mind a hog.”

“You are welcome,” Turner said. “Hog too.”

They settled by the fire and carved off pieces of venison with a long knife Hildebrand produced from a saddlebag. Turner introduced him to Pettibone and the boy; Pettibone muttered a greeting and shook his hand, while the boy stood mute.

“You’re a fine shot,” said Hildebrand, eyeing the carcass of the deer.

“I had a rest,” said Pettibone.

“You men afoot? I didn’t see no horse pickets.”

“We’re aboat,” Turner said. “Heading upriver.”

“The piggies will go after those guts over there, if you don’t mind,” Hildebrand said.

Sure enough, in a moment three big sows followed by a cascade of piglets came into the clearing and took to the heap of entrails, shoving and squealing over the choicest parts. The sows were tied together with intricate loops of rope that wound around their necks, behind their forelegs, over their backs, and then to the next hog.

“That’s quite an arrangement,” Turner said.

“Ain’t that so,” said Hildebrand. “A hog don’t like to be interfered with. That biggest one damn near cost me a finger, but I’ll get her back come winter. Fortunately, a hog cannot go backward with any strength, so even a small man can hold them with a rope. If they ever figure out this stratagem and start coming at us, we humans are in trouble.” His voice was soft, with an odd lilt, almost singing his wordsThe sows had finished off the deer guts and settled on the ground to rest, the little ones tugging at their teats. The smallest of the three got up occasionally and snuffed among the leaves for a missed tidbit.

“Enough of hogs,” Hildebrand said. He rubbed his hands on the grass to clean off the venison juices. “My curiosity is aroused. What brings you gents out here in the middle of creation on a boat?”

“I’m starting a settlement,” Turner said. “I’ve been granted some land upriver, in Madison County.”

“Granted? By the state?”

“No, a gentleman named George Webb.”

Hildebrand lowered his head and spat thoughtfully between his legs. The meal was finished, and he plunged his knife into the dirt to clean it. Pettibone and his son had inched their way to the end of the log, their eyes on Hildebrand’s revolver.

“I know who George Webb is. Good man. Never figured him for a town founder.”

“It’s not so much a town as a social experiment. I lecture on social reform, and Mr. Webb follows my ideas. All who come to join the community will own it together. All of our earnings will go to a common treasury, and we will decide democratically how to spend them.”

Another long pause. “Free country, I guess,” Hildebrand finally said. “Well, I better mount up. I can make another six, eight miles before bedding down.” Then he spoke more softly to Turner. “A word with you, sir.”

They walked to the riverbank, out of earshot. “You can read and write, then,” Hildebrand said.


“Could I trouble you to write a letter for me?”

“Of course.” They stepped onto the boat, where Turner fetched a pencil and his notebook from his bag. He saw Hildebrand cast an appraising glance over the mountain of goods. Turner sat on a stack of flour sacks and turned his notebook toward the firelight. “Go ahead.”

Hildebrand paced back and forth in front of him, his voice low. “The address is Mrs. Rebecca Hildebrand, Desloge, Missouri.” He cleared his throat. “Dear Mother, I hope you are well. I will reach cousin’s by morning. The gentleman who is writing this for me will post it in Greenville.” He paused. “You can, can’t you?”

“My pleasure,” said Turner.

Hildebrand nodded. “My travels have proceeded successfully and with no incident, although I am developing a dislike for hogs, or I should say one hog in particular. I believe my business may take me into Arkansas, Greene County or perhaps even farther. It may be more than a month before I return. Please give my fondest greeting to Father and brothers and keep a spot warm on the hearth for me. Your loving son, Samuel.”

He stopped pacing and watched Turner finish the letter. “The art of the pen is something I never acquired,” he said. “I do regret that at times.”

Back at the fire, Hildebrand shook their hands again. “Best of luck to you on this venture,” he said to Turner, and to Pettibone, “Thanks for the meat.” He twitched the rope on his saddle to get the hogs to their feet.

“I bet you stole them hogs,” Charley blurted out.

Hildebrand did not appear to move quickly; his motion seemed to Turner casual and deliberate. But it must have been quick, for in one moment he was twitching the rope and in the next moment he had his pistol out of his belt, leveled at Charley’s chest, the hammer back. Turner stood in the sudden silence, his heart thumping.

Hildebrand held the pistol still. “You are a boy,” he said after a long time, all the lilt gone from his voice. “A boy is likely to forget his manners. And this gentleman has done me a favor, so I will indulge your lack of manners this once.”

Then as quietly as he had arrived, Hildebrand disappeared into the darkness. Turner, Pettibone, and the boy watched the spot where he had gone.

“I didn’t—” Charley started to say.

Pettibone slapped his son across the cheek, hard. The sound echoed across the river. “Load up this meat,” he said. “We are sleeping upstream and across. That fella may decide to come back, and I do not want to be here if he does.” He kicked the chunks into the fire and walked to the boat without saying another word.

“Yessir,” said Charley, rubbing his cheek.

They poled across the river by lantern light, feeling their way upstream in the darkness, until Pettibone found a campsite on a sandbar. “No fire tonight,” Pettibone said. “Sorry you can’t write your letter to your wife.”

Turner squinted at the moon rising through the trees. “There may be enough light.”

“Suit yourself,” Pettibone said. “We’ll hail Greenville by noon tomorrow and reach your place the next day.”

Turner braced himself against his rolled-up blanket and angled his body so the moonlight fell on the notebook page. He’d made a practice of writing Charlotte every night since his departure and wasn’t about to stop now.

My dear Charlotte—

But what to say? We were very nearly robbed and murdered today, and left on a riverbank for the crows? I have no idea what I am doing? Hardly. There was no purpose served by adding to her fears, and besides, his principle had always been that the idea preceded the action. If he pretended to know what he was doing, and pretended to be unafraid, then soon enough he would figure out what to do, and the fear would go away. He must act as if he had a clear purpose, and soon enough the purpose would emerge.

We had a most interesting encounter with one of the native folk today, a real woods ruffian, although his manner was gentlemanly. We are out of the swamps and into the hill country, and I believe I can detect a change in the air already—

He laid the notebook aside. He couldn’t bring himself to write what was in his heart. I am afraid. I feel a fool. I never meant for people to take my ideas so seriously. I wish I was with you, back in Kansas.

He would have to finish the letter in the morning. As he rolled out his blanket on the rocky riverbank, Turner thought of the words his father-in-law had spoken to him before he left, trying to talk him out of this scheme: Man is a wolf to man.