In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree takes place in the 1860s and follows the lives of three people trying to find their way in post-Civil War America. What was the inspiration for your characters; the Henry the ex-slave, Clara and lieutenant Elliot?
I have always been an omnivorous reader. From horror to historical and most genres in-between. The American western is genre that seems to have sort of faded into obscurity over the last thirty years or so. I suppose I can understand why. A lot (not all) of it had become dusty, formulaic, trope-worn, overly-romanticized, and historically inaccurate. I set out to write a story set somewhere between the gold rush and the turn-of-the-century. Something with a different kind of hero from the gunfighter or bank robber. Something that would dust off the genre, add some real humanity, and hopefully spark some renewed interest in this fascinating and sometimes troubling time period.
Henry as the main protagonist was an easy choice. I read a short once, about a man who was freed after the civil war and went on to become a well-known cowboy in Texas. The man had a remarkable way with horses. He was the inspiration for Henry. The challenges African Americans faced even after they were freed from slavery were monumental, and so many extraordinary men and women overcame this adversity and went on to live noteworthy lives.
With Clara I wanted to highlight challenges that women of the period faced. Their oppression can’t be compared equally to African American’s enslavement, but neither can it be marginalized. I also used her character to showcase the disconnect between wealthy easterners and the reality of what was going on in the rest of the country.
John Elliot’s inner conflict wasn’t that uncommon for soldiers both during the civil war and the years following. I have read truly heartbreaking letters sent home disillusioned soldiers from the period, particularly ones from soldier’s involved in what could arguably be called the Native American genocide.
This novel gave a good view of life in 1860s America for slaves and Native Americans. What were some themes you tried to highlight throughout this novel?
Henry and Clara’s relationship is touching but anchored with fear and a desire to find their way to the right side of things. What served as the basis for their relationship while you were writing?
Henry and Clara’s relationship is one of self-discovery for both of them. Henry begins to forgive himself, and finds that he is still capable of love. Clara discovers that her prejudices were misinformed. Her interactions with Henry, and his honesty, later affects how she later handles John’s disturbing revelations.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I have two novels in the works. One is a contemporary drama about a twelve-year-old whose parents both die tragically less than two years apart. He’s subsequently injected into the foster care system and eventually runs away hoping to find an estranged grandparent who lives off-the-grid in Montana. The second is about a man searching for his daughter years after a global catastrophe. Both novels should be released in 2019.
In 1865 a shadow hovers over the nation: the shadow lingers still…
Born into slavery, Henry’s young life is spent working in tobacco drying sheds on Missouri plantations. Freed at the onset of the Civil War, he’s alone, starving, and on the run from Confederate militiamen.
Five years later, Clara Hanfield, the daughter of a powerful New York shipping magnate, escapes her tyrannical father and travels west in pursuit of John Elliot, the man she loves. John, a U.S. Army lieutenant, was sent to the Dakota Territory where he discovers a government conspiracy to incite an all-out war with the Indians; a war meant to finally eliminate them as an obstacle to the westward expansion.
Henry finds himself caught in the middle.
Aided by Clara, John, and his native ally, Standing Elk, Henry must battle hatred, greed, and the ghosts of his past during this turbulent and troubling time in American history.
Posted in Interviews
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In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, by Michael A. McLellan, takes place in the 1860s and revolves around the lives of three people trying desperately to find their way in post-Civil War America. Henry, a man freed from slavery but never free from the horrors he endured, finds himself assisting Clara Hanfield in her quest to reunite with Lieutenant John Elliott, the man she loves and her father loathes. All three are caught up in the government’s plot to push the Native Americans from their land once and for all. Fate has dealt quite the hand to Henry, and his introduction to Clara and her mission to find John poses yet another obstacle to Henry’s quest to find the freedom and peace he deserves.
McLellan’s writing is simply breathtaking. The richness of the language he gives his characters immediately reels in the reader. The exchanges between Henry and Eliza are tender, and her early attempts to refine his speaking habits are affectionate and determined. The trials the two endure to survive as slaves in the South and their attempt to escape the lynch mobs running rampant tore at my heart. McLellan’s words ring all too true. Henry and Eliza’s story is painful, tragic, and well-crafted to convey the horrific circumstances of the era.
Clara’s rescue by Henry is one of those moments in the book worth rereading. Henry, for all intents and purposes, is making amends in any way he can for the loss he has suffered and the guilt he feels for that loss. Sweeping in and pulling Clara from the hands of the enemy, Henry begins a friendship he never could have seen coming. Theirs is a touching relationship punctuated with fleeting moments of light-hearted banter and anchored with fear and a fierce desire on both their parts to find their way to the right side of things. Clara, described as being much like her father, uses it to her advantage as she faces insurmountable challenges on her journey with Henry. Hers is a character refreshingly unlike any other I have read in the genre of historical fiction.
Randall breaks my heart. He is one of those characters the reader will root for from his first appearance. Without giving away too much of Randall’s subplot, I will say that from those first moments of indecision with Clara at West Point. I wanted to see Randall come out on top. The backstory involving his own child and his love for Clara makes for a unique connection and offers the reader all the more reason to admire Randall.
I am giving In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars. McLellan has written a piece of historical fiction incorporating elements for every reader. His plotlines involving a family divided and the tragedy surrounding Henry’s life as a slave intertwine to create a beautiful story of friendship, trust, and stand as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I highly recommend this book to any fan of novels from the Civil War era. McLellan’s characters are truly unforgettable.
Pages: 268 | ASIN: B071YMXDQL
Posted in Five Stars
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American Flowers is a fantastic story that follows Chris who’s a drug addicted young man trying to find his way in life. What was the inspiration that made you want to write about drug addiction in this way?
I made a lot of poor decisions when I was a teen and gained first-hand experience with the world of drug addiction. Most particularly the meth subculture. I witnessed young people completely unravel their lives in weeks. A lot of times it begins with no more than a weekend of partying. Meth addiction is insidious in that way. I came out the other side. Many never do. All these years later I feel compelled to share some of my experience with others. I don’t think there’s many of us here in the U.S. who hasn’t been affected by drug addiction in some way; either first-hand or through a loved one or coworker.
After Chris meets Allie, a young lady who has her own set of problems, and gets her addicted to the needle, things go south quickly. How did you set about creating their relationship and what did you want it to be like in the end?
Their relationship was toxic from the start. Chris was already deep into his addiction and Allie was vulnerable, regardless of her self-confident exterior. As far as setting it up and where I wanted it to lead, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve written three novels and several short stories and I’ve never written an outline. I just let the story sort of go where it wants to go.
I felt that there was some inspiration from Stephen King in this intriguing story. What authors have been an inspiration for you in this story and in your writing?
I’ve always been amazed by Stephen King’s talent for writing truly three-dimensional characters and his ability to tell engaging stories in plain language. I believe these two things are the main reasons he’s so successful. Beverly Cleary is responsible for my earliest interest in reading, and John Steinbeck and Harper Lee inspired to write about social issues.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will the book be published?
My third novel is completed but as of today I still haven’t decided on a title. The story is set in the 19th century and it deals with racial tensions and injustices in the years immediately following the civil war. The events are seen through the eyes of a freed slave, a wealthy heiress, a disgraced army lieutenant, and a Native American. I feel it’s timely. I hope to have it on the market (complete with title) in the next six weeks or so.
People thought nineteen-year-old Chris Shafer had everything going for him. Lives, however, are rarely as they appear from the outside, and not all scars are visible. Seventeen-year-old Allie Laughton’s life is turned upside down when her trust in another is horribly betrayed. Finding herself in a strange town, a chance meeting with Chris Shafer changes her life—and his—forever. American Flowers follows the lives of Chris and Allie as circumstance and poor choices transform them from promising, young adults to something else entirely. Caught in the undertow of drugs, crime, and death, their lives spin out of control. Ultimately pursued, they are forced to reconcile the people they believed they were, with the people they’ve become.
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This novel follows Chris, a drug addicted young man who is trying to find his way. After meeting Allie, a young lady who has her own set of problems, and getting her started on the needle herself, things go south quickly. He quickly finds himself on the wanted list of the police, his supplier, and Allie’s relatives. The plot quickens and keeps the reader entertained as Chris struggles to come to terms with his past and find a way out of the mess he has created.
The novel has a dedication to Stephen King at the beginning, which influenced my reading of the rest of the text. The descriptions of the characters and the gritty diction is King-esque. The author creates a believable world with characters that act just like one might expect when under the influence. While the world and characters are believable and relatable, they do fall flat in a couple of areas.
First, Allie and her naiveté lead to some questionable choices on her part. As an example, she chooses to trust and follow Chris on his downward spiral even though she had known him for less than a week and had never done anything more than marijuana before the events of the novel. The author provides her background, which some would indicate as an influence on her choices, but it is still too much self-destruction for this reader to find believable.
Second, the plot is just a little too predictable, and a little too gritty for my taste. Chris’ choices are too simplistic in the first third of the book, leaving the reader to easily decipher how those choices are going to play a role later in the story. This is especially true of Jesse James, a character who only appears for a couple of pages before the plot moves itself forward. The middle of the book gets violent and shows just how far Chris had fallen since the events of his past had derailed his life. This reader won’t post any spoilers, but Chris’ choices are extreme and the text is not for the faint of heart.
The final third, though, is fantastic. To see how the author deals with his characters and their pasts is just beautiful. I won’t say anything more, no spoilers!
Overall, the novel is more than entertaining. Once the reader sees the mess that Chris created for himself and starts to see how his past is affecting his current situation, it makes for a thrilling, heart-wrenching read. Watching Chris and Allie try to battle their pasts while dealing with an ever more dangerous present causes the pages to turn faster and faster through all of the poor choices and self destruction to the conclusion. Personally, it was heartbreaking to watch Chris and Allie cling to each other as they attempted to find a way out of all of the wrong choices they had both made. Any reader who gives this story the time will not be disappointed.
Pages: 297 | ASIN: B0147NL0UE
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