books, Civil War, historical fiction, Missouri, mysteries, racism, reconstruction, writers, writing
My fellow historical novelist Ed Protzel has a new book out today. It’s called Honor Among Outcasts, and it follows his very successful The Lies That Bind. Ed and I have mined similar veins in our work (Missouri during the Civil War), although Ed also has a mystery/thriller coming out this year, also. So it was a real pleasure to visit with him recently about his new release. Here’s our interview:
SW: Thanks for joining me on my blog today, Ed! To start out, I wonder if you could tell us a little about your new book, HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS, and how it connects with your previous novel, THE LIES THAT BIND.
EP: Thanks for having me, Steve. In HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS, the second book in my DarkHorse Trilogy, a Southern abolitionist and a group of runaway slaves form a Union colored cavalry regiment in western Missouri, plunging into the most brutal guerilla war in U.S. history. When the abolitionist and his fiancée are accused of spying for the Confederacy, they must face a corrupt military justice system and other obstacles.
Book 1 of the trilogy, THE LIES THAT BIND, centers on the relationship between these men and their efforts to build their own egalitarian plantation in slavery-dominated Mississippi. HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS begins two years after the end of THE LIES THAT BIND, with the group working as contraband laborers attached to the Union army in Missouri. Both books work as stand-alone novels or, even better, in tandem.
SW: What drew you to this time period in the first place?
EP: I read a lot of history, including the Civil War. Being from Missouri, it felt natural to set HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS in that time and place. However, in my research, Missouri’s terrible neighbor-against-neighbor guerrilla war really caught my attention; it said much about the depths to which hatred could debase the most noble cause. Great material for compelling storytelling. Actually, the periods depicted in the three books — antebellum Mississippi, Civil War Missouri, and Reconstruction Mississippi — form an arc through this pivotal time in American history.
Additionally, all of the DarkHorse novels decry violence, with the main characters attempting to avoid being victims of it. With HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS set during a brutal war to resolve slavery, I didn’t want to resolve the myriad conflicts in the book through violence. Instead, I chose to play out the conflicts through a courtroom, which tied the plots together very neatly. My characters are seeking justice, and what better place for justice to prevail than a courtroom?
SW: I see that you have a third novel on its way. Did you envision this series as a trilogy, or is that something that just happened along the way?
EP: Yes, I am now happily completing SOMETHING IN MADNESS, the final book in the trilogy. Actually, I imagined the “DarkHorse” concept as a trilogy originally, but had only written the first book (THE LIES THAT BIND). Still I pitched it to my agent as a trilogy, and she pitched the trilogy to the publisher (TouchPoint Press). It’s certainly been an adventure, and I’ll miss the characters once I’m finished, they’re so real to me after all these years.
SW: On a similar note, are you someone who likes to plot your storylines out carefully in advance, or do you discover things as you’re writing? What’s your creative process like?
EP: Actually, I don’t plot out my storylines in advance. Usually, I come up with a strong concept that offers lots of possibilities and powerful themes, plus good main characters that fit the situation. I also come up with an idea for what I think would be a terrific ending, one which will reveal my themes, and I try to keep that ending in mind as I create the story.
As for the rest of it, once I set the story in motion, the characters and the plot take over—that’s the fun of it for me: the reader discovers as I discover. The novel usually morphs into complex plots that gain power as they go forward, with lots of twists and surprises along the way. THE LIES THAT BIND and another novel, futuristic, that was just picked up (THE ANTIQUITIES DEALER) were written like that. Interestingly however, with HONOR I didn’t have an ending in mind when I began, just a number of conflicts and historical events, all of which I had to tie together and resolve. HONOR is quite atypical for me in that respect.
SW: So, you’ve also got a futuristic thriller coming out. I think working on two such disparate genres would make my head spin! Do you see connections between the two types of writing, or do you keep those creative endeavors in separate compartments?
EP: Good question, Steve. Writing THE ANTIQUITIES DEALER was a nice break from writing historical fiction and refreshed me, cleaned out my head. Historical fiction has so many constraints, including language and character viewpoints that can’t be used because they’re too modern, they’d be anachronistic. No such problem with futuristic and sci-fi genres. Further, I wrote THE ANTIQUITIES DEALER first person, which was also liberating, letting me get into the main character’s head in his own words. Also the contemporary setting (St. Louis) is relatively familiar to the reader, mixed with exotic portions in Israel, and partially in Paris and London. And taking place in modern times, with sci-fi-like elements, I was able to really let go and come up with imaginative plot devices that the reader won’t guess. I really enjoyed this genre and have another, EARTH EXCURSIONS, laid out and ready to jump on when I finish SOMETHING IN MADNESS.
SW: Finally, and I know it’s always a little presumptuous asking authors to comment on “themes” and the like, but what are you hoping that readers will take away from HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS?
EP: I hope readers will see a parallel to today’s world and its own set of challenges. I want them to grasp how HONOR AMONG OUTCASTS illustrates that no matter how unjust society may be, love and friendship can enable men and women, regardless of color or class, to stand together and to prevail. And that evil deeds and the lies upon which they depend can and will eventually collapse of their own weight. Think of our country’s advances in civil rights and the women’s movements, gay rights, etc.
Call me an optimist, but history does bend toward justice over time.
Find Ed Protzel at: