Letters to Mary Susan chronicles the life and adventures of a Missouri outlaw that is in prison for manslaughter and is trying to reconnect with his daughter through letters. What was your inspiration behind this story?
The book’s main character, Jim Howard, was one of my father’s boyhood heroes and he’d retained “Jim Howard stories” for over 70 years. I’d promised him, in 2002 to make these stories central to a book with Jim Howard as its main character.
This is a great historical fiction novel that got a lot of the details right. What kind of research did you do for this novel to keep things accurate?
I did a lot of online and library research re: pre-Civil War, Civil War, post-Civil War “outlawry (“guerilla warfare”), Cattle drives, the rise of Montana outlawry and the “Wild Bunch,” Big Muddy outlawry, leading to personal interviews and old newspaper/library reviews regarding homesteading and personal interviews with prison personnel regarding prison characteristics as well as older individuals with recollections of the Prison Chaplain’s, Howard’s lawyer’s and Howard’s daughter’s roles in his release from jail.
What I liked about James’s character was that he held nothing back and didn’t try to cast himself in a good light, just told it like it is. What themes did you want to capture while you were writing his character?
That redemption and a new start is possible for us all.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
A book of poetry that I hope to have ready before the end of this year.
In his historical novel, LETTERS TO MARY SUSAN, Jerry Hammersmith chronicles the life and adventures of a Missouri outlaw, James Marion Howard. The novel is narrated by an aging Jim Howard as he begins to serve a sentence of fifteen years for Manslaughter. His lonely prison cell in the newly built Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert is the impetus to repent and reconnect with his past.
Through Jim’s reflections and letters to his long-estranged daughter, Mary Susan, the novel becomes a chronicle of the life of a Missouri outlaw who fled post Civil War America, leaving behind his wife and family and seeking escape from the law by racing across the western states, robbing stage coaches, trains and banks, until a posse chases him across the 49th parallel and into the newly formed Saskatchewan, Canada. He finds a new life and becomes a citizen of Canada after fulfilling the homestead requirements and establishing a new identity there.
As Howard recalls his outlaw past, Hammersmith leads the reader into the saga of the American Civil War, the tragedy of post war devastation and the flight of an insurgent guerrilla on the run to homestead in the ‘promised land’ of Canada. The surprising identity of that outlaw and his place in the small community of Teddington, Saskatchewan provides a tale of adventure, mystery and passion.
The twists and turns of this amazing story offer a glimpse into the ravages of the Civil War and the aftermath of the brutal and senseless vengeance that stole the lives of many young men. It leads the reader to an understanding of the path of a man’s choices and the hope that redemption is possible for us all.
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Although this is a work of fiction, if you have any interest in American history, and the mystery surrounding Jesse James, I urge you to read Letters to Mary Susan: From her Outlaw Father by Jerry Hammersmith.
The story line comes from a story told to the author, by his father. It’s nice when the author’s father ‘appears’ in the book! The author points out that this is a work of fiction, but it certainly leaves you wondering. It has an interesting concept, as it is told in letters from the main character, and his flashbacks through his long life.
The majority of the book is set in a prison. A rather stark prison in the 1920’s. It’s not a prison novel but rather the recollections of his life, by one of the prisoners. The story comes about as he is advised, by the chaplain, to write to his long lost daughter. She grows to know her father, who was presumed dead, through his letters.
The main character is Jim Howard, who started life as Jesse James, and who spent most of his life as an outlaw. The book begins with him in prison at the age of 77. I certainly didn’t wish to feel sympathy for the character. I mean, outlaws are the bad guys. Aren’t they? It is not possible though not to feel a tinge of pity. Especially at the thought of somebody so old, in those conditions.
Jim doesn’t come across as a bad guy so you feel more and more sympathetic as his story progresses. This is illustrated by the fact that he was held in high esteem by others, throughout the various phases of his life. He didn’t always make the best choices, but many of the things that led to him originally becoming an outlaw, were out of his control. Stealing is like a high, which is one of the main reasons he couldn’t stop. This adds to the sadness as he could have had a good life, if he had stopped robbing people.
The chapters deal with his life, and wrong doings, in chronological order through his 3 incarnations; Jesse James, John Allen and Jim Howard. They deal with his life, and what he had to do to survive it, through being an outlaw, cowboy and farmer. He doesn’t try to present himself in a good light, he just tells it like it is, so his daughter can get to know him, and understand his actions.
There are some portions of the book that are a little repetitive. Some scenes are described several times. Also the swapping of first name and surname are a bit confusing. Especially as this is a character who has 3 different names already! There are some sentences where he is referred to as both Jim and Howard which takes some working out. But these are small annoyances and don’t detract from a good read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a great, interesting, and poignant read.
Pages: 189 | ASIN: B077PH4STR
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Song follows Rayph Ivoryfist as he gathers his friends to return the prisoners that escaped from Mending Keep. What was your inspiration for the setup of the story and how did that help you create the ending?
It’s a simple idea. There’s a prison break. The worst criminals in the world are released, and one man takes it upon himself, with no funding and no support from the crown, to hunt these fugitives down and end their reign of terror. It’s an idea we’ve seen before, but I got stuck on it, and I thought, “What would make this idea different?” I realized the thing I wanted to focus on was the characters themselves, their relationships, and the relentless nature of their leader. It’s not a crime story. We’ve seen crime stories. Song is an exploration of friendship. So that’s what I focused on. I’ve always had this idea that if real trouble ever hit, I could call on a small collection of men and women who surround me to face off any horror that entered my life. And I think it’s not unique to me. I think everybody has that group of people, that if things really went bad, they could call on to help them fight their way out of it. This book is a love story to that kind of friendship. It asks the question, “If my back was against the wall, and I desperately needed help, who would I call on?”
When you first sat down to write this story, did you know where you were going, or did the twists come as you were writing?
When I started writing the story, I had the prison break. I had the characters of the Manhunters themselves, and I had the villains. But when I write all my books, I do not know exactly how it will end or how the plot will progress. All of that comes to me as I write. This book just kept surprising me. I would write a scene and see that it was going in a completely different direction. I would write something and see a twist coming down the road. I let a friend read this book before it was published. His criticism of the book was that it paid off too many times. He said it reaches one climax after the next. I think Song is unique in the fact that I spend 250 pages setting up four different climaxes. But it wasn’t planned. The book is just complex.
As always, your characters are thoroughly developed. What is your writing process like for creating characters?
When I write a character, I like to do away with all archetypes. I think they get in the way. When I meet somebody in real life, I don’t think to myself, “Oh, that person is an underdog.” or “Oh, I know people like this. This guy is a survivor.” Those aren’t the kind of things that hit me when I meet someone. So why would I think that when creating a character? A lot of people talk about knowing the motivation of your characters. But motivation is pliable. I can tell you why Rayph does a thing because I want him to do it. The traits I like to concentrate on are my characters’ hang-ups, the things that bother them, the things they cannot tolerate. I think too often writers create characters in a bubble. They try to describe their character in artificial terms. They create a character outline or a character spreadsheet. They try to create their character in a sterile environment. But that’s not how we get to know people. I like to think about character creation as going to a soup kitchen and meeting people there. Real lives, real problems.
What is the next story that you’re writing and when will it be published?
Well it’s already written. The entire Manhunters series is completed. I will be doing some rewrites and final touch-ups of course, but the story’s already been told. The second book in the series comes out April 15th. It’s called Hemlock, named after the city that is the poison capital of my world. In this story, the main villains the Manhunters find themselves up against are vampires. These are not vampires as we know them in the modern world. I took inspiration for my vampires from the original legends. This is before Anne Rice, stories centuries older than Bram Stoker. In the original vampire legends, they were all monsters. No good, no mystery, no romance, just vicious monsters. When they were hungry, they were pale. After they fed, they took on a ruddy complexion. And when they were full, they were a close shade of purple, because their bodies were suffused with blood. My vampires are old and powerful, nearly immortal, and diabolical. Vampirism spreads like a poison, like a plaque, and the Manhunters fight to stem the tide. So look for it April 15, 2018.
Some of the darkest minds in Perilisc attacked Mending Keep, releasing all its prisoners. Despite his strained relationship with the crown, Rayph Ivoryfist calls old friends to his aid in a subversive attempt to protect King Nardoc and thwart terrorist plots to ruin the Festival of Blossoms. But someone else is targeting Rayph, and even his fellow Manhunters might not be enough to save him.
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Set in the world of Perilisc, Jesse Teller returns to this world with another series sure to captivate readers. The Manhunters series starts off with Song, and tells two story lines that intertwine. Rayph Ivoryfist is an immortal magician that has his own personal demons to fight, but is bound by honor to protect the land and the boy he believes to be the next great ruler. When the prison he built is destroyed and all the evil had brought to justice is released he knew he needed help. Rayph than builds his own army of powerful beings, with his old friend Smear at his side. Parallel to the story of Ivoryfist preparing for battle is the story of Konnon, the father that wants a cure for his daughter’s paralysis. To help his daughter Bree, Konnon must work with his partner Glyss. Together the two of them have a reputation for being unstoppable and deadly. They live up to this reputation, knowing each other inside and out. The two pair’s separate missions will unavoidably end them up together in the town of Song, the question is, who is alive in the end?
Jesse Teller has a way with describing the setting that really makes you feel like you are there. The swamps that Rayph visits, you can almost feel the mud clinging to you, smell the decaying woods and animals used for sacrifices, and feel the tension that the people around the main characters create. The level of detail that goes into settings, also goes into the action. While this is great for really getting into things, those with a weak stomach for gore might not be pleased. Teller describes in detail the torture of some characters, and details the death of many. This level of detail may not appeal to all, but Teller can also detail the compassion and love between two characters just as well. The example of Konnon and his daughter Bree. There is no question about the devotion and love he feels for his daughter, it is relatable and pulls at the heart strings. A father’s undying love and willingness to do whatever he must to save her, no matter what the cost is to himself.
One of Teller’s greatest skills is relationships. Not romantic quest love relationships, but bonds between people and spirits. These bonds draw the readers in sometimes more than the story lines do because they are so powerful and relatable. As I read Song, I felt the bonds that form between Rayph and his army. The magic that makes it so they can all be connected is just a piece of the puzzle, they genuinely build a brotherhood and work as one. Konnon and Glyss while not blood brothers move as one unit together, they are bound and know each other so well there is no need for words. It is a great read for the relationship factor alone. If you enjoy studying and reading about human (or in this case non human) relationship Teller will not disappoint. Through his use of many magical creatures from humans, to fairies, to demons, all working together for a common goal the passion for survival and willingness to put all differences aside for is apparent. Perhaps it is a good lesson for modern society, put our differences aside and work together to defeat the evil looking to rip our world apart.
Pages: 319 | ASIN: B074GP13JC
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Stygian is a collection of poems that are presented as a poetic autobiography. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Great question. As you know the biographical material in Stygian shows that I had a very disturbing childhood, and the things that happened to me then have weighed on my mind for many years. I had to write this book in order to get my feelings about this stuff off my chest before I could ever write about anything else. Since the release of Stygian, I have written poems about the gold rush, politics, war, the discovery of King’s tut’s tomb, and so much more. I’m really interested in historical stuff right now. Stygian opened up a doorway of creativity to me by releasing me from the past. In writing this book, I learned quite a bit about the craft as well as myself.
My personal favorites are “The Man in the Box” and the “Endless Tunnels of Darkness” which are beautifully descriptive. What was your favorite poem in this collection?
Wow, let’s see. I love to utilize nature and animals in my writing so a couple of my favorites are “A Forest Called Madness” and “The Elusive Bird,” as well as “Lies Kill,” which features a purple elephant.
What I like most about this book was that it was frank and dark and didn’t hold back. What do you hope readers take away from Stygian?
I think that there is a stereotype attached to poetry that it is always lovey-dovey, flowery hillsides, and blue skies, but that certainly was not the case with Sylvia Plath or Edgar Allan Poe, nor is it with me. I hope that readers will see how powerful poetry can be and range of emotions, thoughts, and ideas that can be expressed in verse. Furthermore, I hope to inform the uninformed, but most of all I hope to touch a wounded soul, so that they know they are not alone, that no matter how broken one’s life seems there’s always the choice to build something beautiful from the ugly pain.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Since the release of Stygian, I have finished a complete autobiography, and compiled another collection of poems. I am also working on a full-length novel called Broken Homes. I’m usually working on a few projects at a time. Most recently, I had a short story called “A Murder of Crows” published in the British horror magazine, Morpheus Tales. I’ve had several other short stories and poems appear in on-line publications. Two of my poems have been accepted for a poetry anthology to come out sometime this year. I’m hoping to get a release date soon. My dear grandmother maintains a blog for me, where I post about my current life and opinions, give updates about my work, and talk about writing techniques.
Poverty, drugs, child abuse… The streets’ incarceration… Questions of life and contemplations of death, Stygian is the darker side of poetry collected from teen years into young adulthood and composed in homeless camps, churches and a jail cell. The emotion is raw, the poetry is real.
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Stygian, by Sean Michael, is a thematic arrangement of 52 poems based on the author’s life, interspersed with occasional quotes. The anthology is completed by an additional three poems in memory of three late friends. Stygian is organised in chronological order, from the author’s tragic childhood to the events that likely contributed to his incarceration, as mentioned in the author’s biography; in this way, the collection presents itself as a poetic autobiography. It’s a frank and dark work, which doesn’t hold back from the usage of swear words or in the stark descriptions of abuse, neglect and self-harm, so readers should use their discretion.
There’s a lot that could be said about this author, but after a read through, what stood out the most was the wide variety of poetic styles he used. The contents range from poems that read almost like a rap, written with short staccato lines and a regular rhyme scheme, to others that feel classical, with long and flowing verses. Partly, this seems to be a stylistic choice, and a clever one, too. Poems from his youth embody the language of a child, such as the word “doggie”, while the adult mind raids the full English lexicon to produce descriptions containing such gems as “empyrean” and “tenebrous”. It’ll give your linguistic knowledge a workout, that’s for sure. Other poems have a more contemporary feel; one appears to be a piece of prose, while The Monster is written entirely in capital letters.
However, there is much to recommend; poems like Sleeping with my Shoes On, which throws away a rhyme scheme to convey a sense of childish excitement, at odds with the glimpses of a deprived childhood. My personal favourites are The Man in the Box and the subsequent Endless Tunnels of Darkness which are beautifully descriptive and flowing summaries of the author’s life (and therefore Stygian) and his emotions about his current situation.
The order of other poems feels like an emotional jump as a reader, yet this is easily explained by the author’s unsettled life – art reflecting life in every way. It is uncomfortable to read the memories described in Away From the Disarray or Something to Cry About, but this is beside the point, which is to honestly portray everything the author has been through.
With this in mind, it can only be said that this is an effective piece of work. Just as no human can be fully understood by another. The content cannot be dismissed, because it is true, although it could be argued that it was still a little raw in places – like the emotions it conveys. The author does show great competency with a range of styles, though, and I would personally love to read more from him on other topics after he has developed some of his ideas further.
Pages: 97 | ASIN: B01G5WFHUE
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Suzy Spitfire is a take-no-bull fugitive on the run. Her best friend Aiko, who was her father’s lab assistant and is also on the run, wants to see her and she’s taking a big risk by coming back to Earth. She wastes her time at the bar flirting with Ricardo until Aiko shows up. Her friend reveals the location of a top-secret Artificial Intelligence her father developed for the government, and also informs her that her dad’s death was a murder, not an accident. Almost on cue, the bar is raided by the feds. Ricardo comes to their rescue (while stealing a case of whiskey on the way out) and they are on the run again, this time with a price on their heads and Special Forces on their heels.
With the feds, a fleet of pirates, and a criminal gang all gunning for them, this crew of outlaws has nowhere to turn. Blurr, the Special Forces commander, has no qualms about using extreme methods to get what he wants. Getting to Suzy – and the secrets she knows – would be even better.
I really got into the rapid-fire action. There’s never a dull moment in this book. Suzy is a larger-than-life antihero who would rather shoot than talk, and when she does speak, it’s usually a string of smartass remarks. Surrender is for weaklings and arguments are best ended with her pistol set on “stun” so she can mock the loser later. The action escalates through the book, with the crew of the Correcaminos Rojo bouncing between criminals, pirates, and the law, trapped on posh spaceships, hell-hole prisons, and domed spaceports. Her banter with Ricardo is fun, and her inability to keep her mouth shut gets her in trouble more than once.
Along the way, Suzy begins to second-guess her impulse to fight and starts listening to Ricardo. There may be a lot more to the guy besides his stunning good looks and bad poetry. She realizes she might be falling for him, but she can’t be sure that he’s not working for one of the factions trying to chase her down. It makes for a nice romantic subplot that may or may not involve bullets before it’s all over.
I also liked getting occasional glimpses into the stories of the people on the other side of the fight. Getting insight into what was going on behind the action provided a break between fight scenes and added a lot of scheming and intrigue. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but getting the inside scoop on other key characters added a lot of excitement to the story.
If I had to criticize one thing, it would be that the action gets a little repetitive. Several encounters with enemies are similar, but the great thing is that none of these situations resolve in the same way. It was nice to see the characters playing to their strengths and weaknesses, and the author does a great job at blending screwball humor into the mix. There is a minor loose end concerning a secondary character, but that might be covered in a sequel.
I would absolutely recommend this for a quick, fun, summer read. It’s a great blend of over-the-top action that reads like classic pulp fiction, and characters who play their tropes for all they’re worth. Suzie Spitfire Kills Everybody will leave you smiling.
Pages: 297 | ASIN: B072PXT1P7
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Point Apocalypse is a fast paced techno thriller filled with nonstop suspense and action that only lets up to deliver a meticulous description of the fictional world of Pangea. Pangea is a prison world where Earth sends its worst criminals. One shipment of criminals includes Mark Posner a former soldier, but Mark slowly learns that he is not a prisoner. He is on a mission; a mission that will change both worlds. Earth has been sending people to Pangea for years and a community has emerged that brings some semblance of structure, but otherwise it’s a world where everything is hazardous to your health and only the strongest survive. Mark must navigate his way through this world and find a traitorous general that is plotting to destroy Earth so that Pangea will no longer be subservient. But things are not what they seem and while Mark is fighting off cyber-troopers, and hired guns he learns of a shocking truth that moves the book in a whole new direction. Point Apocalypse focuses on action and world building while character development and dialogue seemed not to be an important factor. I found myself not really sympathizing or connecting with any of the characters as they all were either spouting generic lines of dialogue or fighting off characters that were introduced as a bad guy a few sentences ago and then were killed off. What really nagged at me was that the writing was constantly discursive and circuitous (ask your English teacher what those words mean). But all that aside I constantly felt like I was hurtling headlong toward a dramatic ending and I couldn’t wait for it to come. If you don’t care about character development or eloquent prose and care more about super charged sci-fi action then this book is for you.
Kindle Edition, 258 pages
Published March 16th 2013 by Sky Bridge
Find out more about Alex Bobl and his books at his website http://boblak.blogspot.com/