Meet the legendary duelist Quentin Knox

coverThe Duelist is a story that I’ve had in my head for a long time, and was finally able to write late last year. The inspiration for the main character and the events described come from local legend. It seems incredible today, but there was a time when duels were fought for a variety of reasons (were any of them really good reasons?) and there were “serial duelists” who killed several opponents over the years. Quentin Knox is a combination of one of these duelists and a legendary local Revolutionary War hero who supposedly became so fond of war that he went on to become one of Napoleon’s officers.

Some of the research here comes from an earlier nonfiction book called Delmarva Legends & Lore. The weapon of choice for duelists in 19th century Americans was the dueling pistol, but the idea of a duelist who preferred a sword was intriguing. Quentin Knox is not an entirely good or likable person, not even to himself, but he does have a sense of humor and skill with a sword:

Revolutionary War hero turned soldier of fortune Major Quentin Knox returns from Europe’s Napoleonic Wars broken in spirit and impoverished. A deadly duelist and fearless soldier, he has seen and done things of which he is not proud. With his last coins, he buys passage to the Chesapeake Bay Tidewater country that he remembers from his youth. But instead of peace, he finds his skills as a swordsman called upon once again to teach a teenager from the local gentry the art of the sword in preparation for a duel that he is being forced into fighting. Knox soon engages in the most challenging swordplay of his life as he enters a dangerous game to keep two young friends from killing one another in a duel. And in a final act of violence, he may finally find his own redemption.

The Duelist is a bit more than 13,000 words long, or around 50 printed pages, so calling it a novella made more sense (I thought) than calling it a short story. This novella has three parts, rather than chapters. For a while, I wondered if I could add scenes and characters to make it into more of a novel length. However, some stories are as long as they need to be, and I think that’s the case here.

After reading it, you may agree that settling differences with a duel wasn’t such a good arrangement, particularly if Quentin Knox was your adversary!

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Author interview with Larry D. Sweazy

This is an interview I did for The Big Thrill with Larry D. Sweazy, whose forthcoming book, A THOUSAND FALLING CROWS, was a really enjoyable historical mystery. I could go on, or I could just share a link to the actual article. Read on!

From The Big Thrill interview  ….

By David Healey

thousand-falling-e1451574670375The setting and the landscape are as much of a character in Larry D. Sweazy’s new novel, A THOUSAND FALLING CROWS, as is his protagonist, former Texas Ranger Sonny Burton. After losing an arm and retiring as a result of his run-in with bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, Sonny is just as down and out as Depression-era Texas with its Dust Bowl storms and hard times.

Fortunately for Sonny (and the reader), it’s a case of once a lawman, always a lawman. He finds himself drawn into the search for a Mexican immigrant’s missing daughter. Wallowing in self-pity, the case brings him back to life. It also sets in motion a fascinating journey through 1930s Texas.

As to why he chose to write a western, Sweazy, a Western Writers of America Spur Award winner, said, “There’s a romance to westerns that’s universal. It’s the American genre. It’s the self reliance, it’s the journey, it’s the characters shaped by the landscape.”

For the rest of the article, please click the link below:

http://www.thebigthrill.org/2015/12/a-thousand-falling-crows-by-larry-d-sweazy/

 

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Enter to win a signed copy of Ardennes Sniper

 

Ardennes-Sniper-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundThis is a time of year when money can be a little tight, what with heating bills and holiday bills. The good news is that if you didn’t win the Powerball, you can still win a signed copy of Ardennes Sniper! What better way to spend a winter’s evening than reading about the sniper duel between Caje Cole and Kurt Von Stenger … or what better gift to pass along to the history buff in your life.

There are a couple of places you can enter. If you are a Goodreads member, you can enter the Goodreads giveaway, where three copies are being given away.

gr giveaway

You can enter the giveaway over at the International Thriller Writers website.

Or, you can post you name right here in the comments with something like “enter me!” and your name will be added to the giveaway.

Thanks so much, and books will be going out to winners in February.

 

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Read The Revenant before you see the movie

Trappers gather around a campfire. IMAGE COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

Trappers gather around a campfire. IMAGE COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

There’s something about The Revenant that sticks with you. This novel by Michael Punke is one that I read and then wrote a review of The Revenant for our local library blog months ago, and yet some of the images stay with me—such as Hugh Glass fighting a pack of wolves for a scrap of meat.
What’s interesting about this rather thin (in length) novel is that it harkens back to stories that were more popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. There used to be a notion that the frontier was something to be conquered and exploited, and this novel echoes that tradition. As a society we have come to the realization that this thinking is what brought us to decimating both the natural resources and the Native Americans of 19th century America.
However, Hugh Glass is more concerned about his own survival than self reflection. Facing an angry grizzly bear tends to give life a certain amount of focus, particularly in those seconds before the jaws come clamping down.
The novel is based on the real-life adventures of Hugh Glass, a genuine mountain man. Mauled by a bear during a trapping expedition in the early 1800s, he is left for dead by his companions. (This is where the title of The Revenant comes into play; the word is defined as a person who comes back from the dead.)
8999_revenantWhen he comes to, Glass must survive in the wilderness without his rifle or so much as a knife. There is no Motel 6 just down the road with its light on, but only savage beasts, cold, hunger, and Indians on whose land Glass is trespassing. More than simple survival, he is also motivated by revenge. (Interestingly, one of the mountain men he seeks to get even with is a very young Jim Bridger, who goes on to become one of the better-know frontiersmen today.)
Whole stretches of pages here rely on narration rather than dialogue because Glass is very much alone in the wilderness. In many ways, the story reminded me of the classic young adult novel, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. It is a novel about using our humanity to survive in a most inhuman wilderness.
The film based on the book comes out in general release in a few days, and by all accounts it is a gorefest. The beauty of the novel is that it has the grit without the gore. It will take you just a Sunday afternoon to read it, and you will thankfully settle back in your recliner, mug of coffee at the ready, and be glad that the trials of Hugh Glass were not your own. You will reflect on your own manliness for a few minutes, and then your thoughts will drift to the pizza takeout menu. Finally, as a realistic portrayal of the mountain men and the time in which they lived, The Revenant is a fascinating and worthwhile read.

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Historical thrillers that bring history to life (and teach us something about the present)

history roundtable thrillerfest July 2015_2

Our “Does History Matter?” panel at Thrillerfest in New York, with Steve Berry moderating. PHOTO COURTESY THRILLERFEST STAFF

Put several historical fiction writers together in the same room and ask them the question: “Does history matter?” The answers, in story form of course, touched on politics and humanity, and spanned the centuries. And as it turns out, many writers would say that the past is a glimpse into the future.

That discussion took place in July as part of Thrillerfest, a gathering of authors and fans of the thriller genre in New York. Hosted by best-selling author Steve Berry, the roundtable included David Morrell, Ann Parker, Terrence McCauley, Francine Mathews, Kay Kendall, Anne Cleeland, and Jerry Amernic. Though diverse, the answers to the questions that Berry asked us had a similar theme that history matters more than ever.

ss-cov_163x250Fiction writers do their share of research to get the details just right. For my Civil War novel Sharpshooter, I donned a heavy wool Confederate uniform and participated in several re-enactments. The largest battle re-enactment was at Gettysburg, where in the sweltering heat we “fought” against blue-coated Yankees. Sweat stung my eyes as I ripped open black powder cartridges with my teeth and poured the gunpowder down the barrel of my reproduction Enfield musket, then took aim again and again. It was about as close to time travel as you can get, and frankly, a little too realistic. Staring into a row of cannons pointed at our lines evoked some visceral emotions along the lines of oh crap. Caught up in firing at the Yankees, and watching them fire back, with the salty taste of black powder in my mouth, I had to remind myself that the battle wasn’t real. The experience definitely added a whole new dimension to my writing.

Morrell, the creator of the iconic character Rambo, discussed how he immersed himself in the Victorian era for years as he researched a new series set in 1850s London. The first book, Murder as a Fine Art, is both thrilling and fascinating as Morrell describes everything from the opium habits of everyday Londoners to the sooty fog that descended upon the city due to the smoke from thousands of coal fires.

Amernic’s novel, The Last Witness, focuses on the Holocaust and how in the not-so-distant future the history of this event is all but forgotten. Another writer, Mathews, imagined the young JFK as a spy on the eve of World War II in her novel,  Jack 1939.

For most writers, research has so much appeal because we are natural scholars who love studying historical events and learning about the people who witnessed them. The trick is to use that research to add realism to the story but not overwhelm it—we’ll leave the more esoteric details to the nonfiction writers. For historical fiction writers, it’s all about character and plot—what did the events of the past mean for the people of that time on an emotive level? What inspired them to hate, love, and fear? Again, it’s about using fiction as a time machine to get into the heads and hearts of characters from fifty years ago, or a thousand.

Beyond the craft aspects of writing historical fiction, there was a unanimous concern among authors that history isn’t being taught in school and is no longer part of the public discourse necessary to inform decisions about current events. All the writers seemed to have some anecdotal evidence of that.

For me, that evidence came while teaching a composition class at a community college. I picked out what I thought was a good “compare and contrast” essay to use as a model for student work. “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts” by Bruce Catton was one of the essays in our textbook, and I thought it was a topic and an example that many students could easily grasp.

Sigh. Teaching that essay was my Pickett’s Charge because it was a dismal failure. Instead of the finer points of “compare and contrast” I found myself explaining that there was this thing called the Civil War, when the South fought the North, and the two key generals were Grant and Lee, and … oh, never mind.

So what can a fiction author do about that? As writers of historical thrillers, some on the roundtable mentioned our role as entertainers who were slyly mixing in some history lessons, like a mom who sneaks spinach into the brownies. Those vitamins (and that knowledge) might just be useful later, to be called upon at just the moment that our bodies (or or minds) need them.

I was reminded of this later at Thrillerfest, when Morrell interviewed Nelson DeMille about his new book, Radiant Angel … a novel about the new Cold War. The two veteran “thrillermasters” were of an age to remember air raid drills and shared darkly humorous childhood memories that involved crawling under their desks at school to prepare for nuclear war. Of course, thrillers writers everywhere watched their reliable plot lines evaporate along with the Soviet Union, but as DeMille pointed out, the neo Cold War thriller is alive and well again.

For thriller writers, history is a rich vein to be mined for characters and stories, but those frightening plots are not necessarily safely in the past. If you want to imagine what the future will bring, just ask a writer of historical thrillers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holiday season book signing set

Old Gray books

The bookshelf at The Old Gray Mare. Are these on YOUR bookshelf yet?

Chesapeake City will host a holiday candlelight house tour on Saturday, Dec. 12. There is a lot of history in Canal Town, and it really comes to life when the historic homes are decorated for the season. If you have not seen Winter Fest in town or taken a turn on the skating rink, this should be your night to visit. Even if you don’t go on the house tour, it’s a good night to stroll the decorated streets.

On this special night, I’ve been invited to The Old Gray Mare Gift Shop on Bohemia Avenue to sign books (which make great presents, if I do say so myself). Please stop by and say hello … I plan to be there roughly between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

House FBIf you haven’t read it yet, keep in mind that THE HOUSE THAT WENT DOWN WITH THE SHIP is set in Chesapeake City. This mystery is about the cast of an online home renovation show that finds a body in the house and must stop the killer before he strikes again.

Beach Bodies WEBSITE USE-1Set just down the road at the Delaware Shore, BEACH BODIES is another local suspense novel. You will recognize a few local landmarks in the story. The Delaware News Journal wrote a great review of the book.

Ardennes-Sniper-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundAnd finally, I hope to have copies of ARDENNES SNIPER available. This World War II thriller is the follow-up to GHOST SNIPER, with a final duel taking place at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The ebook is out and has been on Amazon’s Top 100 list of Historical Thrillers for much of November and into December. With some luck, we will have at least a few print copies for the book signing in Canal Town.

Hope to see you there!

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Ardennes Sniper ebook now available!

Ardennes-Sniper-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundDecember 1944. As German forces launch a massive surprise attack through the frozen Ardennes Forest, two snipers find themselves aiming for a rematch. Caje Cole is a backwoods hunter from the Appalachian Mountains of the American South, while Kurt Von Stenger is the deadly German “Ghost Sniper.” Having been in each other’s crosshairs before, they fight a final duel during Germany’s desperate attempt to turn the tide of war in what will come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Can the hunter defeat the marksman? Even in the midst of war, some battles are personal.

Comments from other writers about the book:

“Healey writes the way a sniper works, in close. He knows his craft, his writing is clean and, like a good shooter, he stays out of the way. Healey’s in command, too, of his landscape, the battle of the Bulge, told from both cold and desperate sides of the fight. Ardennes Sniper will transport you to the place, the time, the struggle that was the Bulge, with a novel that has the crosshairs dead center on a well-told tale.”
—David L. Robbins, best-selling author of War of the Rats and The Devil’s Horn

“Wartime snipers: The soloists in vast orchestras playing symphonies of death. In Ardennes Sniper, David Healey continues the duel he began in Ghost Sniper, once again capturing the science and cunning of those who wage war one well-aimed shot at a time.”
—William Peter Grasso, author of the Jock Miles WW2 series

Get the ebook here. The print version of Ardennes Sniper is scheduled for release on December 15, to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

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An interview with Texas author Harry Hunsicker

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to interview several authors for The Big Thrill, published by the International Thriller Writers. Sometimes I’ve been able to talk over the phone, but at the very least we exchange a few emails. Meeting these other authors and learning about their own struggles and successes is something that I’ve really enjoyed.

Below is the article I wrote about a wonderful Texas writer named Harry Hunsicker. I worked on the article on the train coming back from Thriller Fest in New York, so I had all sorts of writerly inspiration zinging around inside my head. If you would like to read the entire article, please click on the link at the end of the excerpt to go to The Big Thrill.

TheGrid-Cover-e1439913096560The Grid by Harry Hunsicker

Harry Hunsicker’s third book in the Jon Cantrell thriller series could be described in many ways as a twenty-first century Western. For starters, THE GRID is set in Texas. Cantrell is a lawman but also a drifter, having found employment as a rural county sheriff after a prickly history as a DEA contractor. He wears boots and carries a gold-plated star. Instead of a violent death in a saloon brothel, he is soon investigating a killer who knocks off cheating husbands looking for hookups online.

Cantrell’s challenges don’t end there. However, in THE GRID, it’s not a cattle rustler or a train robber who rides into town, but rather a terrorist that is attacking power-generating stations.

It’s all in a day’s work for a lawman in the New West, and Cantrell is more than up to the task. He’s savvy, tough, and has a lot of compassion—but he’s definitely got a burr under his saddle. He’s always ready with a quick-draw quip: “Not counting the power plant, I figured the town’s three biggest industries were food stamps, bass fishing, and diabetes.”

Harry-Hunsicker_153-427x640-e1439912984516This lawman is also something of a philosopher: “On some level we all live in a special world filled with mirrors that flatter the image of how we’d like things to be.” Well said, Cantrell.

Recently, author and native Texan, Harry Hunsicker answered a few questions about Cantrell, terrorists, and cowboy boots.

Read on at The Big Thrill

 

 

 

 

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Cover reveal for ARDENNES SNIPER!

Ardennes-Sniper-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalIt’s very exciting to share the cover for the new book! Set at the battle of the Bulge, Ardennes Sniper features a rematch between American sniper Caje Cole and the dreaded German Ghost Sniper, Kurt Von Stenger.

If you’ve read Ghost Sniper, you know that they have some unfinished business.

I think that the cover does a good job of capturing the frigid weather during the Ardennes Forest campaign in which Germany launched a surprise attack to push back Allied forces. It was not much of a Christmas present for the American soldiers.

The final edits are being made to Ardennes Sniper, and the book should be available soon in both print and ebook!

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Update on progress of the next book

Ghost Sniper was where Caje Cole and Kurt Von Stenger first matched wits. They have some unfinished business to settle in the follow up.

Ghost Sniper was where Caje Cole and Kurt Von Stenger first matched wits. They have some unfinished business to settle in the follow up.

I’ve had a few emails asking how the next book is coming along … so here is an update. First of all, this book is a follow up to Ghost Sniper. That’s the World War II story where an American sniper named Caje Cole faces off against the legendary German ghost sniper Kurt Von Stenger, also known as Das Gespenst.

Cole is a sort of modern day mountain man (actually, his friends call him a hillbilly) who uses his trapping and hunting skills from growing up in the southern Appalachians to match wits with Von Stenger, who is an amazing marksman and strategist.

Short of a spoiler, let’s just say that that Cole and Von Stenger have some unfinished business. This next book is where that business is concluded (in rather spectacular fashion, I might add).

Most of the other characters also return, such as the wisecracking Vaccaro and the intriguing French Resistance fighter Jolie Molyneaux. There are also a few new characters to make this a fresh story.

It was tough picking a title for this novel. I loved the title Wolves of Ardennes, but wiser minds have suggested using Ardennes Sniper to make a better connection to the previous book. When writing, I always seem to need the title first, and then everything else just falls into place. So, changing titles is rather monumental for me and I hope that the wiser minds were correct and that Ardennes Sniper (that’s pronounced Ar-Den) was a good choice.

While the draft of the novel is finished, there is some revision to do, some answering of questions about things like 88 mm guns and Springfield 1903A rifles, then the whole editing process, cover design, etc., etc. … let’s just say it’s quite a bit of work involving several people to get a book into print.

But Ardennes Sniper is well on its way. You’ll see the snipers in action soon … in December 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge!

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